Meet Gique Lisie Michel
Tell us about your background & how it led you to where you are today.
"I have always had a diverse set of interests. I was homeschooled for elementary and middle school, so my studies were often interdisciplinary and self-driven. For high school, I went to an arts school, where I majored in ballet, but also took all the advanced math and science classes and led the math team. I loved having a balance of arts and sciences in my life.
For college I went to Vanderbilt, I majored in computer science and math (and did a master's in computer science during my senior year), so the academic side often took precedence. To maintain balance in my life, I did a minor in philosophy and also continued dancing ballet. When I started working in computer science (first at MIT Lincoln Laboratory and now at Google), I stopped dancing. I thought my ballet days were over. I tried running, gymnastics, yoga, partner acrobatics, and even contortion.
Eventually I came back to ballet. I found a ballet company that I could dance with part-time and still keep my job at Google. This December, I performed in the Urban Nutcracker as the lead role of Sugar Plum Fairy. It felt amazing to be back on stage and I was so glad to find a way to work as a software engineer and still dance."
What motivates your creative work?
"I stay motivated and passionate by having balance in my life. When I'm busy with both dance and software engineering, doing either feels like taking a vacation. Dancing lets me relax the analytical side of my brain and it feels great not to be in front of a computer screen; programming gives me time to rest my body and challenge my mind. Some people wonder how I have energy for two serious pursuits in my life, but I wonder how they have the focus to do just one thing without burning out.
For me, living life to the fullest isn't about skydiving or eating frogs legs, it's about developing myself as a person and making a difference. The more ways I can do those things--through STEM or through the arts--the happier I am."
What does being a gique mean to you?
"Being a gique is about being a balanced, well-rounded person. It's easy to limit a person with labels like "engineer" or "musician," when really people may have multiple or interdisciplinary talents. Being a gique means not limiting your expectations or identity to simple labels. Gique describes someone who excels in multiple areas, which gives them perspective and depth."
Any words of wisdom?
"One of the hardest challenges about being a gique is balancing depth and breadth. To become excellent at something requires focus and dedication--yet to be a gique means excelling in both the arts and in STEM. My advice is, don't try to excel at everything. The best dancers don't perform ballet and breakdancing and Irish step; they have their specialty. Learn about as many things as you can, and then pick just the few that excite you the most and dedicate yourself to becoming excellent at them."
"It may seem as though computer science and ballet are on opposite ends of the spectrum, but Michel has found that the two are quite synergistic, noting: "It's not that CS is particularly artistic, but rather that ballet is very technical. Writing code is like executing pliés and tendus. You have to do a lot of repetition in order to produce anything that looks pretty. Everyone still takes ballet, even if they go into modern or contemporary. The same applies to writing code. No matter the application, you always need clean technique."
Michel's experience can serve to encourage students with diverse interests, or those pursuing an unexpected path. She advises: "Think big picture. Ask yourself, 'What are all the things I care about in my life and what are the trade-offs if I pick one or another? What would my life look like 10 or 15 years down each path? What do I want my family to look like?' The options you have for your lifestyle and family are very different as a dancer than as a computer scientist. You have to look beyond the first layer, at the secondary and tertiary effects of a career choice. The challenge is to balance practicality and passion."