It comes as little surprise that the woman behind one of the hottest autonomous vehicle startups is also trying to optimize the more mundane mechanics of parenting. "I've automated everything in our home that I can, from the lights to the white-noise machine, and grocery deliveries," says Carol Reiley, who dropped out of her computer science PhD program at Johns Hopkins to move to Silicon Valley. With a team from the Stanford lab run by her husband, Andrew Ng, she co-founded self-driving car company Drive.ai, of which she was president. In February, during the early days of starting her next company, this one in women's health care, Silicon Valley-based Reiley gave birth to her daughter, Nova. The serial entrepreneur opens up about her new journey straddling motherhood and her career--from the Marissa Mayer problem to teaching her daughter the virtues of having a "growth mindset." --As told to Christine Lagorio-Chafkin
My husband and I are both in tech and are super nerdy. I 3-D-printed our wedding bands. Our engagement was announced in IEEE Spectrum [a magazine published by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers], and featured photos of us posing with robots in a Stanford robotics lab.
We approached the whole idea of building our lives and our family from a really analytical place. What are our priorities? Would multiple children help apply economies of scale? What do we want to contribute to the world? The very first thing I decided was that I didn't really want a fancy wedding. But what I did want was to invest in myself. I said to Andrew: Let's use this wedding fund and just put it toward a startup.
That became Drive.ai. We got married in 2014, and Drive.ai officially incorporated in 2015. I was the co-founder and president of the company. We started as a computer-vision company that built best-in-class technology that could recognize people and cars on the street, and could be tacked onto a consumer car. We raised over $77 million, and I led the fundraising for the company. My background is in robotics, though, not just A.I., so I pushed the company to think bigger: "Why not solve the entire problem?" We encouraged the company to break outside of just thinking about what they knew, which was a deep-learning perception problem [for technology] that you would tack on to your car, to actually being a whole car and providing the entire service from the app to the car itself. Today, it's actually probably the first company in the self-driving car with a business model--with revenue.
I had another idea for a startup, one I'd had before joining the Drive team, and decided last year to leave and start it. It's in the women's health care space, and we're fewer than five people right now. I hope to launch later this year. I got pregnant very early into starting it. I felt very focused through my pregnancy, and it sort of gave me nine months to really think through things.
One of my biggest fears about parenthood was really mentally checking out. I had a freak out. One: Am I going to be a good mother? Two: How will it be having this new being who might influence me so much that I might not want to take myself away? I was really afraid of this whole "leaning-out" thing. A lot of my friends were looking to switch jobs, basically, to become a mother. Or they'd quit their jobs. There's a lack of high-powered or very successful role models who display any sort of balance. It's Marissa Mayer going back to work after two weeks--and that's it. But we worked fairly hard to get where we are, and I didn't want to give that up.
I had our daughter, Nova, two months ago. I'm not ready to go back yet, but if anything it's made me more ambitious, not less, because I want to do more for her. I still need to figure out how to build the village of support that we're going to need. I've automated everything in our home that I can, from the lights to the white-noise machine, and grocery deliveries, and that helps. My parents help a lot.
Andrew is a key figure in the A.I. area, so when we announced our daughter's birth, we did a blog post on our future thoughts of A.I., and how it will change, and the key issues we will be focusing on. It was sort of inspired by how Mark Zuckerberg posted his children's births. In Andrew's tweet, our daughter was wearing a "Hello, World" onesie, of course [that phrase being one often used to introduce new programmers to the syntax of the code they are learning].
Nova's initials are N.N., like neural network. Her full initials are N.A.N., as in computing talk for "not a number," or NaN. Because no matter how into data science we are, we want her to be raised as not a number.
We do lots of data logging, from the goals that we want to reach--the weight, the height. Nova's in the 75th percentile, so she's a big eater. We have all the diaper changes, and the feedings, plotted out as well, and track every milestone.
So I'm not sure how it'll be when I go back in the office, but I think if I'm there I want to be 100 percent committed. And then during my off time be 100 percent focused on Nova.
For Andrew, already, let's just say for him--and I think with any entrepreneur--time and energy are the most precious resources. He is a VC, he founded Coursera, he teaches the most popular course at Stanford. He has seven jobs right now, I'm not kidding. But I am very, very impressed with how he juggles so many things. I knew he was busy when I married him, but it's gotten more intense. I told him that every day I want to have one meal together. I don't care if it's dinner at midnight or a 5 a.m. breakfast, but we are having one meal together a day.
We're hoping not to put too much pressure on Nova to go into tech. She can dive into whatever she wants to do. For Nova, what I really would like is for her to have a skill set, no matter what she does, for a job that might not exist yet. I don't want her to know what she wants to be. What I want is just for her to have a growth mindset, and be able to change, and just grow into whatever she wants to do.