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Priscilla Chan: 'Figure out what gets you out of bed'

The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative co-founder spoke at the Grace Hopper Celebration about using your skills to do good.

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Priscilla Chan spoke at the Grace Hopper Celebration. 

CNET

When Priscilla Chan got to Harvard University, she hated it.

It wasn't until she started volunteering to tutor underprivileged children that she found a reason to stay and path toward pediatrics.

Chan spoke to a packed room during the Grace Hopper Celebration, a conference for women in computing, on Thursday in Houston about how to use skills to tackle societal problems.

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As a pediatrician, Chan said she might be able to help a child with a health issue, but might not be able to address much beyond that, like systemic issues or problems at home that contributed to that kid getting sick. Sometimes, it's not easy to see the whole picture. 

To put it in tech terms: "The applications might not be perfect, but the most critical bug existed in the operating system itself," she said.

Chan, in addition to being a pediatrician, is married to Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg. The pair founded the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative (CZI) in 2015. The organization focuses on the areas education, criminal justice reform and biochemical research, as well as topics like affordable housing. In 2016, the charity said it would invest more than $3 billion in the next decade in order to cure all diseases by the end of the century.

She and Zuckerberg launched CZI as they were having their first daughter, Max. Chan said she was in labor and Zuckerberg was asking her for her thoughts on a letter they'd written to launch.

"Honey, we're done. The baby's here," Chan said she told her husband.

On the topic of Zuckerberg, during a moderated Q&A section of the session, Chan was asked whether Facebook's issues overshadows the work of CZI. She noted that CZI and Facebook are separate organizations.

"Everyone in Silicon Valley is thinking twice about what it means to be good stewards of data and privacy," she said.

Overall, she described the importance of just making the decision to help tackle some societal problem you face, whether it's via tech or not. It's a matter of using your skills and "figur[ing] out what gets you out of bed," Chan said.

"You have to ask yourself, if you're not going to do it, who is?" she said. 

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