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101 East

East meets tech

101 East heads to Silicon Valley to investigate the Asian influence on America's high-tech boom.

Last updated: 01 Aug 2014 11:40
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Beijing, Bangalore, Singapore and Shenzen are vying to become the world's next Silicon Valley, yet the place to find cutting edge Asian-led innovation is the United States.

Dreams of rubbing shoulders with companies like Facebook, Google and Apple is luring high-tech Asian immigrants to the US at an astonishing rate.

Over 100,000 Asians move to California each year, more than any other ethnic group. Stereotypes abound about a "smart race" and start-up companies are seeking out Asian brain power.

In this age of digital transformation, 101 East asks if Asia is losing its best and brightest to the US.

What makes Asian entrepreneurs so successful in #SiliconValley? Tweet us using hashtag #EastMeetsTech 

Filmmaker's view

By Aela Callan

Silicon Valley is seductive.

I knew I would get hooked from the first time I walked down Palo Alto's tree-lined University Avenue. An Asian guy, wearing oversized headphones rested his Mac computer on the side of a rubbish bin and started writing code.

I'd been reporting from Asia for six years, most recently from Myanmar, so Silicon Valley led me to wonder if I had landed on a different planet. At that point, this futuristic world of Google Glass and driverless cars seemed impossible to penetrate, even as a full year stretched before me in the US.

Silicon Valley believes in its ability to change the world far more than its actual ability to do so. 

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But that is the magic of the Valley. In as little as a few months, I was sitting in a computer coding class for journalists, tweeting like it was going out of fashion and diving into user-centered design at Stanford University's famous d.school. Even an old-school, "legacy media" hack like me was completely sucked into the Valley's culture, which some have described as a cult.

Cultish, it may be. But a lot can be said for the absence of hierarchy, the encouragement to fail fast and often, the culture of collaboration and sharing of ideas. It is easy to see why this environment is attractive to hundreds of thousands of people who migrate each year from countries with a distinct pecking order in Asia, and all around the world.

Silicon Valley does not judge you by where you come from, but where you are going. It is not the strength of your family ties that help you to get ahead, but the strength of your ability to execute ideas. At times, I felt that all the advice, help and mentorship I needed were available at the click of a mouse.

There is a flip side. Silicon Valley believes in its ability to change the world far more than its actual ability to do so. It's often accused of being out of touch with the real world, of being an isolated bubble. Which is why I think it's so important that as many outsiders as possible are encouraged to participate and bring their real world problems to the table.

Some of the most innovative projects I witnessed were at an event called "Code for India," which partnered programmers in Bangalore with programmers in Google's headquarters at Mountain View. It was a sleepless weekend affair of non-stop coding via video link. People half my age wrote mobile phone apps for women to report violence, to track and publicize corruption in school infrastructure projects and analyze real-time data from election polling booths.

It was a whirlwind of tech expertise applied to real life situations and problems that people were encountering. That's the magic that happens when "East meets tech".

Aela Callan appears regularly on 101 East and is a 2014 Stanford Knight Fellow for Journalism Innovation at Stanford University. Tweet or Instagram her @aelacallan

101 East  airs each week at the following times GMT: Thursday: 2230; Friday: 0930; Saturday: 0330; Sunday: 1630.  

Click here  for more  101 East    

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Al Jazeera
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