The following is an edited transcript of our interview with Rose Wang, founder and CEO of Binary Group, a technology solutions and strategic consulting firm based in Rosslyn.
Rose Wang: I grew up in China in the 70s and 80s. I was a nerd. My first career aspiration was to be an astronomer. I’m a space geek. Then, I changed it to being a mathematician. I’ve always been into science and technology. I recently visited a good friend who was running the Very Large Array radio telescope funded by National Science Foundation in Mexico. I had a field day. It was so cool. I got to climb into one of the telescopes. I didn’t want to leave. It brought back those childhood dreams.
Rosslyn: What influenced your interest in science and technology growing up?
RW: My parents were the biggest influence on me. Both are retired now. My dad is a civil engineering professor and my mom is an environmental science professor. From early on, I loved math. I liked playing number games. My dad was a great teacher and got me hooked at an early age. It was never a question that I wouldn’t be in a science and technology field. I remember building a transistor radio when I was in the 4th grade.
Rosslyn: What were some of your earliest experiences with computers?
RW: I started programming when I was 13 on the Commodore VIC-20. I got my first computer in high school as a present from my parents. My dad knew how to program in FORTRAN. He got me books and I started teaching myself how to program in BASIC. My school had a computer club. We had one computer in the school. It was a MAC. About a dozen kids would get to take turns and play with it, so that was fun.
Rosslyn: What was it like growing up in China?
RW: I was born in Shanghai and raised in Beijing. At the time, it was a very inwardly looking society, but my parents always believed that the world was much bigger than China and that there were a lot of things we could learn from others. They exposed me and my sister to every opportunity they could, and we benefitted tremendously. I started learning English when I was 7, and that made a difference. That’s part of my parents’ foresight. They said, ‘Learn a couple of foreign languages.’ I have also studied Japanese a little bit and German.
Rosslyn: What are some of your best memories of childhood?
RW: My best times were spent reading and going to book stores. My dad and I would go to my favorite bookstore in downtown Beijing. We’d spend a day there browsing. It was like going to the library here, but back then there were no libraries for us. I remember the book I got for my 10th birthday: Grimm’s Fairy Tales. It wasn’t part of our curriculum and it was new to me. It was in English and Chinese, so I could go back and forth between the two languages and improve my reading.
Rosslyn: When did you come to the U.S.?
RW: I came to the U.S. as a college student right after Tiananmen Square. I was part of the student population that demonstrated for democracy. It didn’t end well for us. I came right after that to finish my studies in Texas.
Rosslyn: What advice would you give young women interested in science and technology?
RW: Start young and go where your passion is. It’s okay to be a girl geek. It’s really tough, especially for teenage girls. There’s a lot of peer pressure to be cool, or be this, or be that. Fortunately for me, I went to a pretty strict and disciplined school. I’d tell girls to look for those environments that foster discipline and passion. There’s an old Chinese saying from Mencius, a student of Confucius: ‘If you want your kids to grow up avoiding bad influences, you may need to pick up and move.’ Mencius’ mother picked up and moved the family three times just to get him away from bad influences. That’s something girls need to ask themselves: Am I hanging out with the wrong crowd? If my friends are giving me a hard time for being into math and science, then maybe they aren’t the right friends.