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〔Women in Tech〕 25 Profiles in Persistence - Dr. Yong-Fen Hsieh


Yong-Fen Hsieh:"There is no gender preference, just expectation bias"

Yong-Fen Hsieh is the founder and CEO of Materials Analysis Technology Inc. (MA-tek, Taiwan), an internationally accredited materials analysis and test-services lab. The first woman in Taiwan to earn a doctorate in materials science, Hsieh has more than 20 years’ experience in transmission electron microscopy (TEM) analysis, fault isolation/failure analysis, analytical lab operation, quality management, and fundamental research. She says her ambition and work ethic have been self-imposed, noting that while women must battle society’s low expectations, men face more societal pressure to succeed. 



1. What is the proudest accomplishment of your career?

One of my greatest achievements was the establishment of MA-tek. When I started the company, almost all of my friends expressed serious doubt that this kind of laboratory would generate revenue, but I saw a demand for the kinds of services MA-tek offers. The semiconductor industry in Taiwan spans the complete supply chain, from IC design to manufacturing and packaging, and the companies in those sectors all have requirements for material analysis. Therefore, I had great confidence in the business model.


MA-tek today plays a vital role in the semiconductor industry by working to support yield enhancement. We have a full range of instruments to provide outsourcing services to semiconductor companies that also have their own testing labs. We provide professional advice and help our customers solve critical problems. Because of our high-quality service, we’ve built a reputation for trustworthiness among our customers, such as TSMC.



2.Becoming a leading engineer or executive in your field is no accident. Please describe the “vision” that motivated your professional decisions and choices. Did you start out with this goal, have you changed direction, and do you anticipate changes?

I owe my success to having good timing and adhering to my beliefs. I’ve been focused on the field of materials science since I first studied the topic in school. During the oral defense of my doctoral dissertations, Chin-Tay Shih, [who at the time was] the general director of ERSO/ITRI and a member of the oral defense committee in the Materials Science and Engineering Department at National Tsing Hua University [Hsinchu, Taiwan], asked me an impressive question: “How will you contribute to society after graduation?” I don’t even remember what my response was, but the question has long lingered in my mind.


After I received my PhD in materials science and engineering, I joined AT&T Bell Labs as a postdoctoral researcher with an elite team in the United States. My research covered superconductors, one of the most popular fields at the time, and vertical-cavity surface-emitting lasers, which have been applied in LED technology. Specializing in materials analysis via TEM, I was involved in a number of research projects and co-authored some research papers, but the work wasn’t challenging for me. I began thinking about establishing a company that would provide material analysis services to the industry, believing such a service might make a contribution to society.


By the time I left Bell Laboratories and came back to Taiwan in 1991, the semiconductor industry had started to grow. I worked as a researcher at ERSO/ITRI and in division management roles at UMC, Unipac, and AU Optronics, gaining experience and a thorough understanding of the production processes for ICs, display panels, and other semiconductor products.


In 2002, I founded MA-tek to provide laboratory services in materials analysis. We have been committed to the materials analysis business since our company was established, and [in the process] we have made worthy contributions to the industry and to society. Our primary motivations will remain unchanged.



3.Women are still a minority in your field. Right or wrong, the perceived differences between men and women are part of the reason there are fewer women in technology. What specific challenges have you faced in making yourself and your accomplishments visible to others in your field? And how have you overcome such challenges?

I have [known] female students who were smarter than male students and achieved better grades in school. Women and men are equal in abilities. Women can even show better performance than men. In Asia, however, men are under more pressure from societal expectations.


I once said jokingly that my epitaph should read, “Unexpected success.” My parents didn’t ask me to achieve good grades in school, nor did they provide any additional resources during my studies. I worked diligently and persevered on my own in school and at work. After I graduated, I got a few high-paying jobs at leading companies. After that, I started a business on my own. My parents were amazed at my achievements.


I just cannot stop working. When I worked at UMC, I went back to work only a week after I gave birth to my son. I think there is no gender preference in this industry. As long as you are capable and have outstanding performance in the company, you can be recognized as an excellent employee.



4.Who were (are) your career role models or mentors? How has their example or guidance helped you?

My role models include my professors and industry veterans like TSMC chairman Morris Chang, but my family also influenced me quite a lot.

My grandfather was a traditional artist and musician in Taiwan, but it was hard to make a living as an artist. Therefore, he advised my father to find a job that would support himself and his family as well as be useful to society. That way of thinking has influenced me significantly and has pushed me to work toward my dreams and goals with professionalism.



5.Women often face double duty with family demands and professional advancement. Please describe your experience balancing on this tightrope.

It’s hard to strike a perfect balance between the demands of home and work. You have to choose one side or the other. Work is my first priority. Fortunately, I had a good nanny to take care of my three children, and I had the full support of my family. That gave me the freedom to develop my business.


I am not a stereotypical Asian mother who nags or imposes restrictions on my children. I do not ask them for great achievement or judge them based on my personal standard. My hope for my children is that they live happily.



6.What should be done to encourage more women to become masters of technology and science and take on greater roles in tech in general?

Men and women have distinct personalities. Men are action-oriented and forward-thinking; they are often good at creating strategic plans. I have found they love being in the spotlight. Women are more detail-oriented and low-key while working. They are usually unsung heroes in the workplace. When I hire people or promote employees to supervisory management roles, I don’t have any gender preference. Women are not given special privileges at the company. Our policy is to achieve workplace gender equality by providing a healthy environment for female workers in pursuit of personal achievement.




Eric Mao, Vice President, Sales and Development Business Group, MA-Tek:

I joined MA-Tek a half a year ago (having worked for TSMC earlier), but I've known Dr. Hsieh for many years. We both graduated from the Department of Materials Science and Engineering of National Tsing Hua University.

It’s my pleasure to work with Dr. Hsieh. Her integrity is what I most admire about her; she always knows the right thing to do and insists on doing it. She runs a business, but not like a “businessman.” She never goes against her conscience or plays tricks for profit, even in the face of competitive pressures from other companies.I really admire Dr. Hsieh’s professional skills and her knowledge of leading-edge material technologies. She always understands what customers need and maintains good relationships with them.

I would also say that not only at MA-tek, but in the whole industry in Taiwan, the gender gap is nonexistent. Whether men or women, we respect each other, and we let a person’s professional performance speak for itself.