Weili Dai’s commencement address to UC students

(This article appeared on page A – 8 of the San Francisco Chronicle.)

Entrepreneur Weili Dai, the co-founder of Marvell Technology Group Ltd., may be the first woman to deliver the commencement address to a UC Berkeley College of Engineering graduating class. This commentary is excerpted from the speech she gave to the Class of 2012 on Saturday.

Monday, May 14, 2012

I am deeply humbled to deliver the commencement address at my own school, UC Berkeley. In 1988, my husband, Sehat Sutardja, received his doctorate in electrical engineering on this stage, and my first son, Christopher, was 1 month old in my arms. In 2010, Christopher walked this same stage to receive his bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering – he is now a doctoral candidate at Berkeley. Today, my youngest son, Nicholas, who is seated here with the graduating class, is about to receive his bachelor’s degree, also in electrical engineering. I am so thankful to UC Berkeley and this is such a special moment with great memories for me and my family today.

Nearly 30 years ago I was in the same position as you are in today, graduating from Berkeley. As you know, the only thing harder than getting into Berkeley is graduating from Berkeley. Dear graduates: Reaching those seats where you are now was no small accomplishment – you should feel very proud and humbled by what you have achieved. You should also be thankful for the good personal foundations given to you by your families and professors. In the years ahead, you will rely on that foundation more than you realize.

Shortly after my graduation, I got married. My husband, Sehat, was a Berkeley grad student working toward his master’s degree at the time and I encouraged and supported him to keep working for his doctorate. I worked as a software engineer, and within a few years, I was raising and caring for our young family. It was a crazy, busy time in our lives, but I learned valuable lessons in multitasking and time management that I still use today. In fact, I believe that a woman’s natural talent to be both a caretaker and a leader at the same time gives us a unique advantage in the business world.

In time, after my husband and I gained experience in high tech, it became even clearer to us that if we wanted to do something truly different and revolutionary, we would need to start our own company. Was it risky to start our own company? Sure! But the backside of risk, to me, is opportunity! I had no doubt that we would be successful because we were passionate and committed.

Graduates are always told to follow your passions. Most of the time – at best – I find that people follow their enthusiasms – until they run out. Passion is a very different thing. Following your passion means a willingness to give everything you have every day. Anything you aren’t truly committed to – night and day – is not really your passion, so don’t do it.

Today, we live in a world that seems filled with many big challenges. But every challenge is just an opportunity waiting for a brilliant entrepreneur or engineer. This is a marvelous time to be an engineer. We are heading into a new world which will see the combination of engineering, the arts and the humanities … all dedicated to inventing new products and using new tools to solve society’s biggest problems – from health care, to education, to the environment and the economy. This new age of the “connected lifestyle” will open up many new opportunities for you to make the world a better place to live, work, and raise your family.

In the past, we engineers worked on discrete problems and stand-alone systems. No longer. Today, we work in a world of connecting every aspect of the digital lifestyle – whether at home, at work, or on the go, always-on devices, delivering interdependent products and services. That is the beauty and challenge of cloud technology, the hope and potential of mobility and video technology, the power and the promise of social media and social networking. But in a way, today, these technology foundations are mere pipes waiting for you to pump life through them.

In order to scale this opportunity globally, we will need more applications – hardware and software – to pull us in new directions that translate into huge opportunities for you all. The new world is connected in real time with streaming live content anywhere, anytime, and on any size devices. We will need new and advanced materials and chemistry to push technology boundaries forward. We’ll need new smart infrastructure to test us; new design schemes to propel us. No matter what specialty engineering field you are in, whether you work for a giant company or choose, like my husband and I, to start your own, I envision a lifetime of opportunity ahead of you starting today. Your future is very bright!

Will you succeed? Of course.

If a young girl from Shanghai, China, can come to America knowing almost no English, graduate from Berkeley, raise a beautiful family, build a meaningful career, keep her traditional values and principles and co-found one of the largest semiconductor companies in the world, truly anything is possible in America – certainly it is for each of you. Believe in yourself! Yes you can! And yes we all can!Posted in NewsResearch Interests Nanotechnology