Under any circumstances, alumnus Jimmy Tang’s recognition by Forbes as one of the elite ‘Thirty Under 30’ leaders in the game industry would be remarkable.
But as the shy, first-born child of refugee parents, who grew up in Hartford speaking English as a second language, his meteoric success is even more impressive.
Now 29, Tang is director of finance at Twitch, a livestreaming video platform owned by Amazon. It is the leading livestreaming video game service in the U.S., with more than 15 million daily active users, predominantly men ages 18 to 34.
“I’m pretty interested in video games, but over time, I have played less because of work and other priorities,” said Tang, speaking from his office at the company headquarters in San Francisco. “When I came here, I was a big user of the platform, and I still am. I’m passionate about the product.
“Most of the people who work here are Twitch users,” he adds, “and it fosters a culture of always wanting to do better for the community.”
Tang’s responsibilities include supporting the sales business, and assisting in launching new features and products for Twitch, which Amazon bought five years ago for $970 million. Twitch allows broadcasters to livestream themselves as they play popular games including “Fortnite,” “League of Legends,” “DOTA,” “PUBG,” and many more.
Growing Up in Hartford
Tang was born in the United States to parents who were Chinese refugees. Because they were still learning English, as he grew up he would translate the mail, help them with the taxes, and assist his younger sister with school work.
“Money was definitely a concern,” he says. His family lived in a small, two-bedroom apartment, and he shared a room with his sister until she was 8 and he was 15, and they could move to a larger apartment.
Despite life’s challenges, his parents encouraged him to pursue his interests, whether sports, video games, robotics, or simply hanging out with friends.
From the early days, Tang was an insatiable learner.
“Growing up, I was very curious about learning in general,” he says. “I was very interested in history in high school. I took multiple AP history courses, and wanted to continue my education. I found the internal motivation because it was just interesting.”
At that time, Hartford Public High School was very diverse, and included students who were White, Latino, African-American, and Jamaican. “I hung out with people of various races and backgrounds,” Tang says. “It allowed me to become my own person. I didn’t feel I needed to fit in with a particular group, because we were such a mix of cultures and personalities.”
Some of the folks he went to school with at Hartford Public High were as motivated as he was. They took classes together and developed a core group of friends.
His parents [Huyen and Jin] did not go to college, nor even finish high school. In China, education ended for women after 8th grade, Tang says. So they did not feel strongly about him going to college. “I don’t think they were aware of the benefits,” he says, “it just wasn’t on their radar.”
But he had excellent guidance counselors who encouraged him and his friends to pursue a college degree. “My parents were supportive,” he says, “but they wouldn’t have been disappointed if I went right to work after high school.”
At UConn, ‘I Was Happy From Day One’
Tang grew up a stone’s throw from Trinity College, and his mother works there today in food services. But through grants and scholarships offered to Hartford’s top students, Tang was able to attend UConn at no cost.
“UConn was a top choice for me,” he says. “I live in San Francisco now, but at the time I was a big ‘home body.’ When I knew I was going to UConn, I was happy from day one.”
He completed his bachelor’s degree in finance in 2011.
At first, he planned to major in engineering, but soon switched to the School of Business, where he opted for a major in finance. “In finance, the professors really dove deep into the fundamentals, but they always touched on other things that were interesting. I learned so much at UConn.”
He says the most beneficial course he took was business writing. “Amazon has a culture of ‘documentation, not presentation’,” he notes. “At UConn I learned to write in a very factual, scientific way, and I learned how to properly frame a paper. That has helped me tremendously in my career.”
Outside of academics, Tang says, living in UConn’s Global Learning House and being active with the Asian-American Cultural Center were among the highlights of his UConn experience.
“One of the things that was helpful at UConn was participating in extracurricular activities. I was introverted going into college,” he says. “Now I have no problem approaching people, talking to them, and asking them questions.”
As an undergraduate, Tang also spent a semester in Singapore. “It opened my eyes to travel,” he says. “I’ve been back to Singapore two more times, and traveled many other places because of that experience.”
Tang not only led the way to higher education for himself, but also for his sister and cousins, a number of whom are UConn Huskies.
His younger sister, Jenny Tang ’18, graduated from UConn last spring, and is a data engineer at Traveler’s, joining a family Husky network of engineers and nurses. “We’re all big fans of the University,” Tang says.
After graduation, Tang accepted a job with an insurance company in Boston, working in strategy and finance. But then, while visiting friends on the West Coast, he networked and found an opportunity at Twitch.
Award Came as a Surprise
The ‘Thirty Under 30’ award was unexpected. Tang knew that he was nominated, but didn’t give much thought to actually winning.
He didn’t even know the results would be released that day. He was in a meeting, when he began receiving messages of congratulations.
Tang says his parents were particularly proud. “Forbes is very big in China,” he says, “but it is called by another name. When I first told them, they didn’t fully grasp [the significance], but when I clarified, they were like, ‘Oh, that’s a real publication!’” he says, smiling.
Ironically, Twitch is banned in his parents’ native country.