IT expert turned social entrepreneur Linus Liang co-founded Embrace, an organization that has developed a low-cost infant incubator for poor communities in developing countries.
Linus is currently in India where the product, Embrace Infant Warmer, is being piloted. In this phone interview with Devex, Linus explains why and how he left a lucrative career in the IT industry and shifted to full-time development work.
You’ve worked for the biggest IT companies in the world. When did you realize you wanted to take the plunge into development work?
It was really right after college where I was working for a very big company. And yes, it’s a great job and it’s a great opportunity; It’s a great environment. But the problem was I really felt that my impact, my role, was very, very small because you are just one person in a large company. And I wanted to have more.
Obviously, I was right out of college so I had a lot of excitement and I had a lot of desire to make a huge impact. So, it wasn’t really the right role for me. And fearing that I was young, and I had relatively no, sort of, liabilities, no commitment to anyone to support, I had to take that plunge and do my own thing and sort of have more control over what I wanted to do.
I worked for a big company, and then I left that to do several start-ups. And then after I did several start-ups, I went back to grad school, and then I took this class, where this company [Embrace] came out from. And after the class was over, and after I graduated, then I decided to just do this full time, and that’s sort of how it progressed.
I’ve always been sort of an entrepreneur. The last one [of the start-ups], I was actually able to sell it, so it’s pretty good. I did OK.
Of all the development issues in the world, why babies?
The reason is, the way that this company came out from was actually a class at Stanford University. It was a class that I took. The idea the class did was to combine the different schools at Stanford together and get experience from each of these different schools: from the law school, from medical school, from the engineering school. Combine them together and put them in one class where they can collaborate and sort of work on a social cause.
That year in particular was a cause for developing a lower-cost infant incubator. It was kind of how the project and the company came about. And after the class, we just took it further.
So it was sort of a problem that was bestowed on us, so to speak.
In your current job, when was the last time you were glad for your private sector experience?
I draw a lot of stuff from the work I did at Microsoft — where I was working before — in terms of program management, which was basically managing the project and the release of the software with all the developers and all the testers and all that stuff.
So the skills you learn in the corporate world are very relevant. They actually are very applicable to what you need in any sector. So, managing tasks, making sure you have allocated the right resources, making sure you stay on budget, all that stuff I learned are very, very helpful.
[For instance], managing timelines. What I did in my job was to basically plan out all the different tasks involved in getting anything released. So whether it’s a certain feature set, or certain designs, there are processes that you have to follow.
And just conveying that, and implementing that, was the same thing that we’re doing here where we’re making a product. It is the same sort of planning and, I guess, strategy.
Read our previous 3 Questions, for ‘philanthroteen’ Katherine Cochran.