In order to highlight Austin Tech Alliance’s growing membership of individuals who support our mission to promote civic engagement in Austin’s tech sector, this is a regular feature profiling members of ATA.
Up now: Ruby Ku.
Introduce yourself and where you work in Austin’s tech sector.
I’m currently the director at Austin Center for Design (AC4D), an education institution exists to drive social innovation through design and design education. I also graduated from the first class of AC4D myself so this role is extra special.
Previously, I was the VP of Product at Aunt Bertha, a search and referral platform for social services, where I helped grow the company from 4 to 40 people (and more since I left).
In general, I work at the intersection of design, technology, and social change. I am especially passionate about working at startups, where I get to drive initial concepts all the way to launches and into the users’ hands.
What do you love about Austin?
There’s of course the creative energy everyone talks about.
I also really love the nice weather. It gets people out of their houses. They have parties in the front yard, work on their trucks on the driveway, and sit outside when they’re at a restaurant. People see their neighbors. They make eye contact. They just smile a lot more! Who wouldn’t when it’s 80 degrees while your friends on the East coast are having a snow day?
What do you think are the community’s biggest challenges?
A report came out in 2015 naming Austin the most economically segregated major metro area in the U.S. As a city who prides itself in being progressive and innovative, it’s embarrassing and we can do better.
Many are driving initiatives to fix that. Our city has an Equity Office, aiming to develop programs and deliver services with an equity lens. Impact Hub has an issue-based accelerator in affordable housing and workforce development to get different sectors working together.
However, on a daily basis, most residents still feel pretty powerless on what they can do. When our students at AC4D spoke with the residents who recently moved to East Austin, they consistently heard things like, “I often wonder, do my black neighbors hate me?”
There is a divide in income and opportunities, but also in our connectedness to other humans and the community.
Why is it important for the tech community to become more civically engaged?
Two thoughts on this:
First of all, did you know about 7 percent of all Texans determined our state’s current policy agenda for the other 93 percent of us? That number is equally low at the city level. Many people don’t take action because they feel that their opinions won’t matter anyway. However the results, I still strongly believe one should never take democracy for granted – as many still don’t even have the right to vote (such as in my birth place Hong Kong).
The tech community are building products and services that have become so integral in our daily lives. With great power comes great responsibility. These creators need to understand the implications of what they’re putting out in the world and be intentional about the decisions. For example, a designer needs to think about how her product’s algorithm affects her users even though “she’s not the engineer.” Too often, we’ve shifted these responsibilities to someone else. What has happened at the end of the day is that we found out no one is actually thinking about them. Getting civically engaged provides exposure to people and issues beyond your own circles.