Communication is the most high-impact skill in a knowledge-based economy – Grace Chang, Founder and Principal Software Engineer at KintsugiFeatured

In the past few weeks, we interviewed our community managers. Starting this week, we're kicking off a new, ongoing series of interviews with Elpha members. If you'd like to nominate a member, let us know via DM.What’s your name and your current role? If you’re a student, what are you studying?Grace Chang, Founder/CEO and Principal Software Engineer at Kintsugi.Where’s the place of your origin?I immigrated from Taiwan, grew up in Denver, and went to grad and undergrad in Los Angeles. Today, I’m based in San Francisco. I am grateful to have had the opportunity to live, study, and travel internationally - it’s definitely shaped my world views.How do you define tech? Innovation through scientific inquiry. Every generation, we have an opportunity to reshape industry as we discover new, better infrastructure. If AI is the new electricity, I often think about how buildings, neighborhoods, farming, highways, education, finance, healthcare, climate, government, and connection will evolve.How many years have you been in tech? Many - over two decades. 😅What's the most technical aspect of your job?How to enable rapid discovery: how fast can I learn a new language, framework, or model to validate a set of hypotheses? For example, in my previous role as the Head of Product for a machine learning startup, we utilized signal processing from mobile phones and wearables to authenticate users. Though similar to the signal processing for voice in my current startup, our application relies much more heavily on the state-of-the-art for natural language processing. From 0 to 1, much depends on finding experts in the field and forcing yourself to immerse in the new and challenging. A few months ago, I wouldn’t have been able to tell you much on transformers, tokenization, masking, and distillation. But today, I have a working grasp of the latest and a technical team of engineers including myself and clinicians, who are building new features to test our understanding every day with real users across 250 international cities. We are using sensors to create objective measurements, algorithms to scale the doctor, and developing novel therapies that do not include pharma in an emerging category of digital therapeutics. What is the one skill you find yourself using every day?Communication. Even though English is not my first language, I constantly find myself refining my writing, listening, speaking, connecting, and storytelling skills. Growing up in Colorado was really hard as a kid. I had lower-income parents who struggled to speak English and navigating awkward teenage years as a shy, minority woman at a 92% caucasian, National Blue Ribbon public high school was isolating. I excelled in math, computers, drawing, reading, and debate, but largely felt like an outcast, emo, and anti-authority--maybe the perfect recipe for how I ended up in so many entrepreneurial endeavors! It was okay to have a non-conformist point of view :)During my career, I’ve learned that communication is the most high-impact skill in a largely knowledge-based economy. Whether it’s having tough conversations with people you care about, creating compelling narratives to funnel people into your ecosystem, building worthwhile products with users to fuel the health of our collective future, learning storytelling from experts outside my industry, or taking time for myself in indulging in a great read, as strong as I’ve become as an individual contributor across disciplines and truly full-stack, teams power change. Communication fuels scale.What’s something that you’ve done that you’re proud of?Having the courage to start something new again. Surprisingly, life has a lot of unintended restarts. For me, that has been in career across industries, education across disciplines, and relationships in marriage and divorce. At the time, I felt were moments of true despair, all recovered and then some in the roller coaster we call life!Tell us about someone who has inspired you a great deal. Who was it and how did they inspire you?Most recently, Ruth Bader Ginsberg and Hedy Lamarr, two incredibly badass women with very fun documentaries that showcase their genius. Over my lifetime, Warren Buffett has played an instrumental role in how I view the long game: relationships matter, values-based thinking matters, generating long-term wealth matters, and how you conduct yourself in business matters. In college, I became obsessed with equities investing and Jim Cramer’s Mad Money, an outlandish but engaging radio broadcast, introduced me to Benjamin Graham’s Intelligent Investor and Warren Buffett’s Security Analysis and his essays, seminal works in value investing. For someone like myself, raised in a socioeconomically challenged immigrant household, these people made a financial and material impact on my livelihood. Twenty years of investing and a little bit of luck have provided the financial freedom to explore entrepreneurial endeavors I would not be privy to had it not been for them sharing their wisdom and my parents’ emphasis on the value of a lifetime of learning.What do you do when you aren't working or studying?Celebrating the small wins! I’ve been researching the benefits of developing habits around celebration, and part of the delight in meditation is being very connected with the present and feeling grateful for the ordinary. I’ve always felt a strong connection to nature and nothing is more decadent than spending an afternoon hiking or cycling through a forest. You may have heard of Shinrin-yoku or “forest bathing” which grew in popularity in Japan during the 1980s and has become a cornerstone for preventative health care and healing in Japanese medicine. I love spending time with wonderful people in nature. It is spiritually nourishing. What is one piece of advice that you’d share with the Elpha community?You are a powerhouse! Despite our trials and tribulations, women are stronger for all of our struggles. Our authentic friendships, empathic intelligence, and unbridled care for our collective well-being are what makes each one of us so special. Thank you for keeping on!Grace Chang is the Founder/CEO of Kintsugi Mindful Wellness. Kintsugi is a smart voice journaling platform for mental health. We use voice biomarkers to measure and predict well-being. Grace was previously in technical leadership roles at several startups including a machine learning company specializing in signal processing for authentication. Grace was a past winner at TechCrunch Disrupt, RSA Innovation Sandbox, and SXSW.
Hi Grace, thanks for sharing your story! I love how you define tech and it's one of the best definitions I've read. As a scientist/engineer/researcher - I agree that it's "innovation through scientific inquiry" and even when at face value it may not appear to be because of scientific inquiry is so much is as tech tries to push the boundaries.
@amazzocchi, I had to mull that one over for a little bit of time :) glad you appreciated it!
GRACE! HI!!!! I love me some RBG! My parents, in an effort to make me a better communicator, "strongly encouraged" me to enter storytelling contests in elementary and middle school. I hated it back then, but now I'm actually kind of grateful, haha. Also wanted to say that no one would have a clue that English isn't your first language!
Hahaha, seriously, she is AH-MAZING! Thank you to your parents for having the foresight to push you there! You are an incredible storyteller so I think that has definitely paid off in spades :)
Hey Grace thank you for this! As an immigrant founder myself and new member of this community I'm glad that there is a platform that allows us get this first hand information. I'm fairly new to tech, so I want to personally thank you for the candid answers. They'll be part of my blueprint as I navigate this journey and yes! we will continue to celebrate the small wins!
Hi @tatendagumbo! Congratulations on making the leap :) Enjoy the journey and definitely tap into this network for spiritual nourishment which you'll definitely need and i'm sure you'll make a lot of lifelong friends along the way ...
Thank you Grace.
Hi Grace, yes 100% agree communication is the most valuable skill we can have! I have often found that it can be a big pain point working in tech as often times technical output is rewarded and encouraged more than soft skills such as communication. I also love what you've built at Kintsugi. As a yoga instructor, I believe that many of our world's problems result from lack of mindfulness and wellbeing. Thank you for sharing all of this, so encouraging!
@jennko, thank you so much, not only for your kind comment but also that you give back in the way that you do! <3
Fantastic interview. Thanks for sharing your story.
Thank you, Bridget! :) Glad to be here
What an amazing story, Grace! You are an inspiration. Totally agree with you that the speed of discovery and effective communication are key factors for success in tech and innovation. Your courage to "restart" many times in life and career after facing significant challenges is inspirational. You're proving that it is possible to not only start over or start again, but to go on and pursue even more ambitious ventures. Congrats to you on your success to date with your AI-based startup, Kintsugi!
@aziza, I'm so happy there is a place where I can share my voice and that there is a warm, welcoming community! Thank you for your courage in bringing out the best in everyone :)
👋Grace :) Great interview. Keep up the great work at Kintsugi!Wishing you the best!Sindhu
Ahhh, so great to see you Sindhu! Thank you and hope to grab a bite with you soon again! ^Sindhu is pretty amazing too for those following this thread :) Reach out!
Grace,I’m so glad to read your comments about communication. As a psychologist who consults with corporations, I’m excited and impressed to see an upsurge of interest in how we can make things better by incorporating humanity into tech products. Social sciences have so much to offer tech, and yet the knowledge is sequestered in old-school academic silos. When tech and social sciences work hand in hand, we have incredible outcomes! Communications are a huge part of that. Cultural variations, age/gender/generational/developmental variations — nobody gets taught all that in school. It’s somehow just supposed to be “absorbed” from the larger world. Which is crazy - that’s like thinking computer coding should just be “absorbed” magically somehow. These things are complex, and need to be learned and refined constantly. I’m so glad you’re shining a light on the process.And PS: I 💛 RBG so much. Tiny lady - huge powerhouse! I wear my “Notorious RBG” t-shirt all the time. She gives me strength ✊🏽
@heatherwittenberg, yessss - huge powerhouse!! Thank you for your work as someone who has the vision and EQ to tackle social sciences in practice every day! People are beautifully complex and glad we can keep on in our refinement of the world around us :)
Thank YOU for bringing the issue to tech, which has the smartest people in the world. Building a bridge between psychology/social science and tech is what I’m all about - because the potential for positive change is huge! ...BTW, I just scrolled past this Nature article on Twitter again. Had you seen it? An algorithm accurately detected PTSD and Depression from tweets at about the same level as primary care docs...
Thanks @heatherwittenberg! We are aware of this study from 2017 and a lot has moved forward since, including being able to detect depression from audio signals: Kintsugi was just awarded a National Science Foundation grant for new Artificial Intelligence technologies to further global research and model development here :)
I've been mulling the results over for the past couple years...the thing that strikes me is how it could assist with our totally inadequate healthcare system. Because people with mental health problems typically don't advocate for themselves, right?? Ergo, we have this system stapled together from these crummy old legacy healthcare processes...which is why I am SO glad to see non-profit/social enterprise approaches. For-profit models are destined to fail here until we completely remake the system....until then, it's bleeding hearts like us trying to forge ahead, despite the lack of sufficient monetization models... I've been 20+ years in the trenches of program design serving disadvantaged healthcare consumers using public funding, so if you ever need help with that angle just give me a shout! And thanks again for what you're doing :)
Completely agree on the inadequacy of today's healthcare system. We're definitely of the opinion that consumer-driven healthcare will get us closer to precision medicine and value-based healthcare. Mental health is as important as physical health, and it's not so much that people don't want to advocate for themselves, it's that the tools and processes are inaccessible at the time of need. Would love to hear your POV on the trenches. It's likely our naiveté in thinking we can change access to healthcare with technology from the ground up, but we're still going to take a shot. We're at a time and place where pervasive access to cheap, sensor technology in our mobile phones makes sophisticated measurement and analysis possible, empowering consumers and providing the real-time feedback loops to enact change.
I’d love to hear what you’re finding RE consumer-driven healthcare. Our experience with both “standard” insurance covered folks as well as Medicaid-eligible people is that huge segments simply are totally naive as to how to navigate the system of care; or too ill/stressed to effectively try. Even super high SES folks often fall into the above categories. Oh yeah - also add in cultural factors. So many will culturally defer to the authority of the doctor figure and therefore hold back from asking questions or challenging denials/inadequate care etc.Stigma is still another big limiting factor in accessing mental health care. Still lots of people believe if you do so, you’re “crazy” - and then there’s the severe shortage of behavioral health practitioners outside of the metro areas. Sigh....The good news is that there are simple fixes for lots of these problems— plain old Case Management goes a long way to addressing these problems. A few hours of inexpensive Case Management conducted by a BA level person is usually all it takes.... but the system usually only pays for case management in high-utilization, severe situations. It’s so sad because a simple intervention like directly walking a patient through the steps to accessing care is super cheap and effective. However, Case Management isn’t a new or exciting healthcare topic that gets discussed much, in the literature or otherwise. So it’s really not in the conversation enough.Eager to hear how you’re addressing those access to care barriers and thanks again for what you’re doing :)
I’ll send you a note! We’ll schedule time to chat! Thanks Heather! ☺️🌿
Loved your story and totally different from Candice Kumai's book. Thanks so much for sharing!
I just checked out Kintsugi... and I think it could be EXTREMELY helpful for me. I know that I could benefit from cognitive behavioral therapy, and I'm excited to check it out! Thank you for this!
Thank you @NicoleCanovas! If you need anything, please do not hesitate to reach out to the team!
Amazing interview @gracechang. Like @amazzocchi I enjoy your definition of tech. But what I enjoy even more is your story around learning and plunging into new worlds ('rapid discovery'). Learning is such an integral part of who we are now and what we can be in the future. Aparently as a kid I told my granny " I want to know everything". Now I got a PhD in communication science and while I love research and I'm looking for something to make a bigger impact. Thank you.