And now, the Filipino engineer, who grew up watching That’s Entertainment and Okay Ka, Fairy Ko (and shipping her favorite love team of Aga Muhlach and Janice de Belen), is now the person making sure that the latest season of Stranger Things can be viewed in its best possible quality.
Yet it’s not something she grew up thinking she’d do. It’s just something that came naturally to her as she answered arithmetic workbooks at only four years old, before her interest eventually led to her attending the highly competitive Philippine Science High School. As with most Filipino families, her excelling in science was taken to mean she should become a doctor—but it just wasn’t a right fit for someone who gets queasy when they see their own blood.
Instead, she opted to take a double major in Physics and Computer Engineering at the Ateneo de Manila University. This time, she was expected to become a management trainee in a multinational company. But she wanted to explore the world, so she took her chances and sent out applications to the best engineering universities—and got into the prestigious Stanford University.
Netflix actually first offered her a job back in 2009 but she declined and joined another company. Two years later, Netflix again offered her a job, which she finally accepted. “In 2011, Netflix had one-fifth of today’s members and didn’t have original shows and movies. But even then, the company had an intense focus on developing a product that people enjoyed and I knew that video expertise would have a big impact in improving that product.” And it looks like she made the right decision.
Being a woman in a male-dominated field like tech isn’t something that’s always on Aaron’s mind as she tries to focus on the job, but there are instances when it would be too obvious to ignore. She recounts, “Earlier in my career, an executive told me that I had too much of a balanced life to be successful—‘You have a boyfriend, a family, and friends.’ I told a fellow Filipino and she said, ‘Do you think he said the same thing to your male peers?’” It’s these seemingly small things that eventually get to her over time. “I’ve had my share of biases and microaggressions, and many times they are subtle but can slowly chip at you.”
But she’s doing what she loves. She gets to rub elbows and “geek out with the smartest people in the Valley” and at the same time, she gets a text from her brother back in the Philippines saying, “I just watched Bright, when are you doing a sequel?” She shares, “I get to solve technical challenges while sharing joy with people through entertainment.”
At Netflix, where 43% of their employees are women, Aaron feels like she has a place to develop her career while also being a strong parental figure. And it all starts with the company placing importance on freedom and responsibility—not as individual values but as complements of each other. “This means that employees are trusted with freedom to make decisions, and given the responsibility to do the right thing in all aspects of the job,” she explains. The employees have a hold on their time, so their work at the office isn’t counted by the hour (or days). Still, Aaron explains, “You are responsible for being excellent at your job.”
This allows Aaron to be flexible with her time, which is especially important for a working mom with two kids and an equally busy working spouse. She can arrive at any time, go home early, or take a day or two off, if she needs to tend to her kids.
The company's conscious effort to work for gender diversity is a welcome step. And she says she’s lucky enough to have male allies who question and work towards a better environment for women in the tech industry. “They recognized my abilities and helped advocate for me and my work.” Their company culture also allows for an open communication between employees, no matter the position. “Our strong culture of courage and feedback allows us to discuss these issues openly and candidly, which hopefully will lead to smart solutions. I’m comfortable asking tough questions, even to our CEO or Chief of Product.”