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FEATURE STORY March 7, 2019

Thinking Equal in China: Ye Yan’s Path Developing Multimedia Standards


On International Women’s Day 2019, we are sharing stories of women doing inspiring work across China. Their diverse contributions highlight the transformative power of women in the country. Ye Yan works in the Machine Intelligence Technology Lab of the Alibaba DAMO Academy (Academy for Discovery, Adventure, Momentum and Outlook) dedicated to the development of multimedia standards.

Tell us about yourself.   

I’m with the Machine Intelligence Technology Lab at DAMO Academy leading the Video Standardization group. I joined Alibaba in October 2018. My mission here is to build a world-class video standards team to participate and contribute to the development of multimedia standards at international standardization organizations such as ITU-T/VCEG and ISO/IEC/MPEG. Besides standardization, my team will also develop high performance video encoder and decoder solutions to benefit Alibaba’s products and businesses.

Prior to Alibaba I worked for Qualcomm, Dolby and InterDigital. I have worked on three generations of video coding standards. Through my years of video standards development, I have invented more than 200 U.S.-granted patents and patent applications.

In my spare time, I like hiking, running, biking, and yoga. I also enjoy traveling, shopping, and going to the movies with my family and friends.

What inspires you to get up in the morning? What drives you?

I like to exercise in the morning. I find it to be the best way to wake up and get myself ready for the day.

Many things drive me. One of them is my work, because it’s something I am truly passionate about. I enjoy working on challenging problems. Though it takes time and sometimes even failure, the joy of finally overcoming a challenge is worth everything.

What set you on this path?       

Both of my parents were engineers so it was a natural thing for me to choose it as my major in college as well. But, it wasn’t until after I started working on standards when I started to really appreciate and understand how much impact standards have on the industry, the ecosystem, and people’s daily life. Once I found that importance, everything else was very easy and natural.

What advice do you have for young women who want to take a similar path?  

I grew up in China but have lived in the U.S. for many years, so I have a chance to understand what it means to be a woman engineer in both countries. I think China offers a great environment for girls who want to be in the science and technology field. I would encourage them to just fully embrace their passion and go for it. Be prepared to study hard and work hard. And also be prepared for obstacles, because not everything will be rosy and sunshine. However, if you have the passion and the willingness to work hard, you will succeed.

Do you have a favorite quote or saying?

“The only thing that doesn’t change is change itself.” Sometimes the changes come at a bad time and make things a lot harder. But if you’re prepared to take it on, and you have a little bit of patience, you will prevail in the end.

What are the biggest issues in China right now and how can they be addressed?

This country has seen amazing transformation in the past decades, especially in the big cities. I think the next step is going to smaller cities/towns and the villages and repeat the success story there. There will be a lot of challenges and hardships, but I really trust that the Chinese people will succeed in the end, because I know how smart and how hardworking these people are.

Where do you see China in 25 years?

China will undoubtedly be the biggest power in the world in 25 years. Why? The answer is simple – because we have the biggest, smartest and most hardworking population in the world. The challenge is for us to be ready for that No. 1 position when we get there. We have seen great economic development. But what about the environment? What about caring for each other, especially the weak ones in our society? Are we willing to slow ourselves down a bit to wait for the weaker ones to catch up? Are we willing to have a support system to make sure that portion of the population is well taken care of? We must have good answers before we can really claim the No. 1 position in the world.

What change would you like to see that could bring greater equality in China?

Talking about gender equality, I think China is one of the countries that have done it right and has a high proportion of women in the workforce. So from an economic point of view, I think Chinese women are quite independent. But we also must make sure that our culture and our tradition value women in the same way – for example, we still see women treated as second-class citizen (or even men’s asset) in some rural areas. We must work hard to change that perception before we can say that we have achieved gender equality.

If you could use one word to describe women in East Asia Pacific what would it be?

I have met and interacted with many women from East Asian and Pacific countries. To me it’s almost impossible to describe them in one word, because they are all different, unique, and interesting in some way. For example, the Korean women are different from the Japanese, who are different from the Chinese. So maybe we shouldn’t even try to describe all of them using one word.

*The views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of the World Bank Group and its employees.