Austin Vaday is a 20-year-old software engineer, innovator, and entrepreneur. After becoming deaf at the age of 3, Austin has overcome unbearable challenges -- proving to the world that disabilities are super-powers, not disadvantages. At 17 years of age, Austin experienced his first of three software engineering internships at NASA and Amazon. Currently a Computer Science student at UCLA, his technical skill-set includes web, iOS, and backend development -- using scalable technologies such as Amazon Web Services (AWS). Austin is the Co-Founder and Chief Technology Officer of Aquaint, and currently lives in Los Angeles, CA.
How did you get to where you are today?
I’m only 20 years old, but the journey sure does feel like a long one. I’d have to say that emotional intelligence is how I got to where I am today. Sure, I may be extremely hard working, passionate, and driven – all which are very important traits that helped me throughout my journey – but it wasn’t what got me here. Emotional intelligence is how I survived (and still survive) my 80+ hour work weeks. Emotional intelligence is how I manage to maintain friendships and build relationships with a diversified range of human beings. Emotional intelligence is how I powered through my greatest challenges and obstacles in life. Without my emotional intelligence, I wouldn’t have the compassion that drives me to work harder each day.
What was your toughest obstacle and how did you overcome it?
I lost my hearing when I was three years old, and didn’t start learning American Sign Language (ASL) until I was 12. Communicating with peers, classmates, and even family was quite a challenging task. Imagine performing your daily tasks with earplugs on; if you can’t imagine it, I encourage you to take on a challenge and try it out. Throughout these 9 years of my life, I was deprived of language – and thus was forced to learn and gain knowledge through a visual form of learning. More specifically, during this period of time, I mastered the art of reading. And although I could barely communicate verbally with others, I still managed to self-learn and took the imitative to do so. Sometimes in life, we’re given challenges that seem unbearable; but with the right amount of love and support, these challenges become manageable.
What is the key to staying focused and motivated?
I would strongly suggest setting multiple goals for yourself: an ambitious goal that coincides directly with your mission/vision; a few long-term goals, and multiple short-term goals that are undoubtedly attainable. My ambitious goal is to create positive change in the world. Vague, right? Well, it’s supposed to be. The word “change” can be extremely small, or extremely large. Who knows what I mean by that? The purpose is that I aim to do something positive for my community. My long-term goals are to revolutionize the accessibility and education industries. These are two very important topics to me. Without accessibility improvements, those with certain disabilities may not have equal access to education. I myself did not, and thus my aim is to ensure that no one has to go through the struggles I had to endure. My short-term goals are numerous, and they range from graduating from university with a great GPA, creating positive impact through my startup, and learning something new every day. So in short, the key to staying focused and motivated, in my eyes, is to set many layers of meaningful goals to better yourself and your community.
What is the best piece of advice you have ever received?
The one single piece of advice that resonates with me every single day is from my dear uncle Sal. He’d tell me: “If it was easy, anyone could do it.” So simple, yet extremely powerful.
What advice do you have for another person who is looking to start a new venture?
My piece of advice to you is this: It’s not about you. It’s not about me. It’s about us, and our community. As an entrepreneur, pursue your passions with an incentive of helping your community grow and thrive. Think about how you can fulfill your social responsibilities, in any way possible. Too often are people materialistic, with a love for money and objects – and thus may forget about the bigger picture of making the world a better place.
How do we get more women leaders?
It all starts with educating and empowering our children and youth on the importance of equality. Equality of race, gender, sexual orientation, religious belief, and much more. Too often are women overlooked and treated differently based on the social standards and biases people may have today. We need to respect each other; we need to take a step back and realize that we’re all the same species; we’re all intelligent human beings with a goal, drive, and passion. It starts from educating and empowerment.