Not everything can be sparkly

We are lost living in our tech bubble sometimes.

We rarely acknowledge the fact that part of a job is to maintain things. Not every project can be a shiny rainbow-fest of redesign or refactoring magic. Most of the things we do are actually everyday upkeep: the minor iterations, the ones that are invisible, the parts that are powerful in its quietness.

You can’t call attention to every moment you tweak a palette of greys or rewrite the bit of script that sorts the items more elegantly. You just can’t, it doesn’t make for an interesting news article. However because we don’t present the everyday as desirable we become unhappy. We think we’re doing something wrong.

So this is a reminder.

Hairstylist – For every rainbow colored cut styled, there were 100s of uninspiring, but necessary, bang trims.

Mechanics – For every vintage car refurbishing, there were 1000s of Toyota Corollas with routine problems that needed to be serviced.

Designers and Developers – We’re not so high and mighty that we are excused from the daily grind that comes with making a living.

While there’s no reason to be particularly happy doing the routine things, we could do better making it easier for everyone to enjoy ourselves by shedding that ‘gotta be a rockstar, all day, all the time’ mentality, thus moving closer to a healthier culture of making things.

Purveyor of good vibes, Sometimes righteously angry

Ever heard this advice? Write the email reply to yourself, just don’t send it.

Expressing anger and resent is an important part of being human. Sometimes things are wrong, sometimes things make us angry. Most of the time, these are repeatable situations and offenses people deserve to know about, so they can avoid what you just lived.

It’s so important to have a support system and stating it like so makes it sound obvious. But what’s tricky is actively maintaining your support system. Don’t exhaust your friends or your audience, yet, warn them about the darker side. Take it in when your friends need it, but don’t forget, they are there when you need it. I admit I have trouble with bothering my friends in times of need.

Put out what you want to see more of. For me, I want to surround myself with good vibes. And thus, by virtue of that, wish to surround as many people as I can with good vibes.

Yes,  my family makes me angry.
What happened with Airbnb makes me angry.
Hearing about marginalized women makes me angry.

Understand that when we sound angry sharing angry stories, we don’t want to stay angry. We want you to know why things make us angry. We want you to be aware these issues exist.  We want to learn from it and improve.

At first, it made me nervous to publish anything not positive. Then I realized it affected my livelihood, our livelihoods, as creators and people. With the first post I heard from friends and new friends. Simply reading the post helped. These are constant reminders we’re not alone. And reminders things may never be the ideal at all times. But also it’s a reminder that it will get better if we are aware something is wrong and push back.

Let’s make it better, together.

20 something people showed up in Seattle and stuck together for a whole weekend in June.
What did it mean?
The internet helped me crawl out of my painfully shy self.
My friend mrh_is was the first to consistently favorite (or like, or star) the majority of the things I posted. It didn’t seem like much and I even thought it was an experiment with a Twitter robot. It amassed into a sort of confidence.
The internet lets me hold up pictures forever.


I started being able to meet new people at events whilst carrying around a sketchbook, freshly adorn with a new sketchnote. Before I discovered this strategy, I usually left events early due to intimidation. I do realize I wouldn’t be able to hold up my sketchbook forever.
The internet facilitated the meeting of some great people.
When I read the original Design Play manifesto, it piqued my interest. Would I even be invited to come? And if I were, how would I stack up to the legends? That all without the crutch of the sketchbook if I’d showed up. There was a moment I considered saying “Nevermind! I’m not cool enough!!”
I’m glad I showed up. It was time well spent. Watching Design Play come to life from a thought, participating in long email threads, meeting everyone, doing everything and nothing in particular for 3 days, saying goodbye last Sunday made me realize things don’t have to be so extravagant to be awesome and the legends you admire from afar are also people a slew of embarrassing moments.

20 something people showed up in Seattle and stuck together for a whole weekend in June.

What did it mean?

The internet helped me crawl out of my painfully shy self.

My friend mrh_is was the first to consistently favorite (or like, or star) the majority of the things I posted. It didn’t seem like much and I even thought it was an experiment with a Twitter robot. It amassed into a sort of confidence.

The internet lets me hold up pictures forever.



I started being able to meet new people at events whilst carrying around a sketchbook, freshly adorn with a new sketchnote. Before I discovered this strategy, I usually left events early due to intimidation. I do realize I wouldn’t be able to hold up my sketchbook forever.

The internet facilitated the meeting of some great people.

When I read the original Design Play manifesto, it piqued my interest. Would I even be invited to come? And if I were, how would I stack up to the legends? That all without the crutch of the sketchbook if I’d showed up. There was a moment I considered saying “Nevermind! I’m not cool enough!!”

I’m glad I showed up. It was time well spent. Watching Design Play come to life from a thought, participating in long email threads, meeting everyone, doing everything and nothing in particular for 3 days, saying goodbye last Sunday made me realize things don’t have to be so extravagant to be awesome and the legends you admire from afar are also people a slew of embarrassing moments.

Growing up in a traditional Chinese family & now tech

image

Not the golden grandson

Summer of 2000

I was excited to meet my grandmother and visit China for the first time. That excitement quickly dipped. During our three week visit, my brother got to play The Golden Grandson — her words, not mine. 

“What do you want to eat for dinner? I’ll make you anything!”

And me? To her, I’m just a granddaughter, eventually 1 of 2. A nice to have. 

“Come quietly to the dinner table. We’re having pigeon again because your brother loves it.”

My first time facing gender discrimination. 

It was ugly.

~

Her accomplishments don’t matter

December of 2010

Right before break, I received my acceptance letter for the graduate program and promptly enrolled. I was relieved. My dad was glad. He decided to throw a party in excitement. We invited his dreaded in-laws and my dreaded relatives, because family is family and Christmas is Christmas.

A few drinks in, the accusation begins.

“How the hell can she start a Masters degree, it’s only been 3 years?! There’s no way she could do it.”

Disbelief I had the ability. After all, I was the dumb one who got into the least number of state schools. Another relative chimes in.

“Who cares! In a few years, she’ll drop it all to marry and make grandchildren anyway.” 

Yes, I was the dumb girl whose accomplishments didn’t matter regardless. Proof any good news can be twisted and turned against you. On Christmas nonetheless.

~

She needs to negotiate harder

April of 2011

After a few stressful months of interviewing, I received my first job offer. I asked my advisor about what previous graduates of the program made. We talked averages and expectations. Then came the final piece of advice. 

“They’re going to rip you off because you’re female. Negotiate harder.”

These words haunt true.

I thought I negotiated hard enough, I didn’t.

~

You’re only in because you’re a girl

October of 2011

I applied for YC Start-up School the first fall I was in the Bay Area.

I got to go, my male friends of presumably similar caliber and heart didn’t. 

“You’re only in because you’re a girl” is a reason I’ve heard many times when getting an invite for an event or program one had to apply for.

~

To hire or to date?

October of 2011

This is the “gender issues in tech” canon I tell all my friends. 

Once upon a networking event (or three), I encountered a new connection. It starts off pleasant.Where do you work? What do you do? How is it? I don’t hold it against anyone when trying to recruit me. I try not to hold it against anyone if trying to ask me out in the right context. 

However, I will hold it against you when you fail at one (usually hire) and then try for the other immediately after (date) 

Put bluntly, a failed hire on a woman is not saved by you trying to fuck her instead.

~

Still not a grandson

December of 2013

When is she gonna get married? 

The first question that is asked every phone call ever with grandmother back in China since the moment I finished school. Everything else is secondary.

~

I can’t tell you how much hope I want to have for gender equality in tech. It’s an issue close to me. Yet, at the same time, having never been able to convince my own family to be more open minded, I find the rally and cry distant at times.

On a good day, I feel like Mulan, but instead of fighting the Huns, I build internet using what I’ve learned from the experiences some think I don’t deserve or will eventually throw away to make a family.

On a bad day, I remember how much I’ve tried and how little of a dent I’ve made on everyone’s ways so far.

Somehow, despite all this, the hope remains.

We must keep on keeping on.

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Lettering from 55Hi’s I like a lot.

Fuck Perfect

Every visit home is bittersweet.

I get to hangout with my parents. The reality is they’re getting old. I get to play with my mom’s buns and her pups. All of the fun and none of the responsibility. Home cooking tastes so good. I miss it.

Yet whenever I’m home, I’m reminded of how I grew up. I grew up under huge pressure to be perfect. Those terms look like this: Straight Perfect A’s, Perfect SAT scores, a preference to study into Perfect University above all, finishing Perfect University with a PhD, dropping it all to marry a Perfect Man.

Fuck perfect.

If I were trying to be perfect, I’d probably be several hundred thousand dollars in debt trying to study medicine whilst having a fear of blood.

Fuck perfect.

Because if it were that easy, I wouldn’t have been so motivated to secretly play Neopets and accidentally learn HTML/CSS to relieve stress of not being able to achieve.

Fuck perfect.

Because it had me overcorrect by studying what I loved which was completely impractical (Fine Art) to accidentally discover something I like which is somewhat practical (Interface Design)

Fuck perfect.

Because life done is better than life perfect. Be nice to your parents, but live your life as if it were completely yours, because it is completely yours.

Today is my last day

I’ll remember heading to a meeting and seeing someone I’ve never met before using this Paper Marker drawing as their desktop wallpaper. She distinctly said, I always wondered if I’d get to meet you.

You’ll see this post is all about people, which when we say the most clichéd “My favorite part of the job is the people,” it’s very true.

There are two great designers who influenced the way I do design today - Sean & Sha. They fundamentally changed the way I approach creative problems, taught me the value of knowing the medium, inspired me to keep looking outwards, and gave me what is now my stance on what I believe in today. The two of them always do amazing things out of work too which makes me aspire for great things out of work as well.

I had opportunity to learn how to charm. We built a mini MHCI alum circle with Sunny and Drew. Then there’s also this unity — Sunny and I had with Donna which confused some with our like-desks. I know they will continue to do great things with the Trulia product. I also want to thank David and Lee who despite my minimal fulltime experience back in June 2012, treated me as a full fledged search designer when I first started.

It’s here where I gained a deep appreciation for the people who build. The OOCSS project in conjunction with Search is where my minimal level CSS evolved into working knowledge of complex styling systems. I had the fortune of working with Nicole and Fiona, incredible front-end developers in the industry. Then there was August who kindly spent at least a week’s worth of time setting up my dev environment and explaining everything to me. At the height of it all — I was empowered with enough knowledge to hold the attention of a crowd for 20 whole minutes on the topic.

Through the time we all worked together, I realized it wasn’t about the pictures, but the people you worked together with to bring it beyond pictures. I just kept getting more excited about the things we could build.

A list of everyone I got to work with just continues.

For my first major project, Suggestions, I will remember getting to work with Skulski and Matt. And all the strawberry wafers I tried to give them in exchange for buttons.

It was with Brandon we learned a lot of hard lessons about complicated product and the village it takes to get it together. What patience it took sometimes.

I found myself in mobile and polished Android with Alice. I was humbled by the thought in the platform and the team who cared so much for it.

In rentals, we moved quick. I’m thankful to have spent time with Sol and Susan. And also, Vaughn, Puru, and Shane (plus August) who all were awesome and didn’t need much guidance from me to get the UX.

There were so many lulz and GIFs in unofficial. Thanks for a good time Evan, PJ, Grace, Skulski, VLam, frambot.

The first holiday season, I even made felt grumpy cats. A boston terrier. (I’m bummed I just started really working with Louis, but I’ll remember his strong vote of confidence of how I could work with the whole stack had I really desired.)

It was a crazy place where the relationships transcended the job.

I’ll remember my first day and the kindness Azi extended. He showed unprejudiced pride in his work even so it was just his first day. it’s people like him who make your day.

Board games night is where I met Rishi and Chris, the one responsible for me having a giant box of Dominion. Ivan put together an epic Mario Kart night and DS brigade. I’m still planning to invite myself to both of these.

I also had the fortune of meeting and socializing with great people by virtue of the ones I did work with. Specifically, I’m incredibly lucky to later meet Derek, Glen, and Damiano, even so we’ve technically not worked together, I feel like we have.

Of course, I can’t finish this post without mentioning JD. (Sorry I left you out earlier, because three mentions would be too much!) He worked with me on the Search / OOCSS projects and we crossed paths during board game nights. There are so many reasons I’m thankful that I had this job, but of course, I’m totally biased when I say he’s at the top of those reasons.

Corollary. My favorite thing about Sha is he would always lift up friends. And that’s what I hope to do too. I hope we’ll still be friends and that goodbye isn’t actually goodbye. That we’ll always find a reason to lift each other up, centralized or distributed. That we read posts like this and not feel sad, but happy because everything was so beautiful the way it happened.

Man, this piece ended up really sobering. At the end of it all, what I meant to say is that I’ll miss you guys!

Small Habits

This year I’m going small. Instead of a new lofty grand mission, I’m continuing the streak of doing things that scare me and adding small habits.

How

I’m keeping track of four selected top small habits of the moment to work on via Lift. They are currently –

  • Waking up by 9am (yeah, laugh, I know)
  • Yoga (min once a week)
  • Seeing a friend (making an effort to keep in touch more than I ever have)
  • Working on a side project (this pertains to actually keeping track of sessions where I work on them, ‘cause I sure don’t have a problem biting off more than I can chew)

The decision of four is both arbitrary and intentional. I wanted a finite number and four happened to be the number which fits on the screen of the app without scrolling.

Priority

While habits like reading or writing more are always in the back of my mind, I’m giving myself clarity in how I use my time by focusing on the four listed.

Flexibility

That being said, one thing I’m anticipating is that some habits will be more regular throughout the year. Soon, I won’t need the app to be the main motivator anymore. I hope I’ll be able to retire habits and bump up more small habits to facilitate.

Why

While I’ve figured how to throw myself at accomplishing the big things, I haven’t done so at the expense of my health or my social life at times. I think of this similarly to bad user experience by the hand of 1,000 paper cuts. The analogy meaning, without taking care of the small things, the big accomplishments won’t be as awesome as they could be. Thus, this year’s emphasis is taking care of myself beyond career and taking care of my friends.

Holding Out

Whilst yoga. I tend to like the 90 minutes classes the best. For about minutes 0 to 40 minutes, I’m still rather antsy about being there. “So much to do, so little time! Why am I standing still tormenting my weak frame to ups and downs?” But, about 45 minutes in, I stop thinking about what’s going on outside the studio, right around when the tougher poses kick in, and suddenly, that stuff doesn’t matter as much anymore. And it also means about 50 minutes worth of focused appreciation for being alive.

Whilst abroad. Vacations work like this too. For the first half, I’m always worried about what I’ve left behind. There’s always something left undone (the messy room, the unfollowed-up email). During the second half, all of that fades away, and the focus becomes the immersion. The appreciation that we could even hop on a plane and be taken somewhere across the globe. The fact we can walk on our feet and walk along strangers. The welcoming we’d get despite our strangeness into an open door somewhere out there.

I don’t know if there was any lesson to this post aside from Hold Out, It’s Worthwhile. It’s not my most flowy post as well, but I’m holding out for that too whilst being okay with publishing this one.

A New Year

Every year I’ve felt like I haven’t really lived life until each past year. This year is no exception. It feels like after much guidance, lack of knowledge, catching up, and sometimes serenity disguised as misfortune, I have a little bit more idea of what I’m doing with myself here.

January

February

  • Started the Snake year, my zodiac sign.

March

April

May

June

July

August

  • Gave my first public talk, Speaking the Code.
  • I mean, holy shit! Talked in front of people!

September

October

November

  • Visited South America! Santiago, Lima, Cartagena, y Bogotá. All for the first time.

December

fin

During the beginning of the year, I challenged myself to do more things which scared me. Between all of these moments, I met new friends and reconnected with old ones, some life changing ones from both buckets.

The highlights definitely include — Shipping a major project. Doing a bunch of side art and design. Traveling out of the country on three occasions. Moving to the city. Giving a public talk! Starting to see someone new.

Maybe I’ll have to consider this a success. 
And I do have ideas of how top 2013, but it warrants a post of its own.

See you in 2014!

I am my own female protagonist in the game of life

With all the discussion around this, I thought of penning this one down. The bottom line is, I’ve always struggled with my stance on being a girl in geek worlds.

Before

Growing up, I was always alone. My bullies of 7 years were girls. I was an easy target as one of the few smaller, quieter girls. The pressure those bullies exerted on me caused all of the other girls to not have anything to do with me.

Boys were still afraid of cooties, so when they were too kind to me, they would face the wrath of their peers. I spent many after schools as a child with my imagination, and later my machines.

Not too long ago

I’ve gone to geek events alone where I’ve purposely dressed down in a hobo outfit to draw less unwanted attention to myself.

Even in these hobo outfits, many of the interactions I had networking there were an awkward mix of people trying to hire me or ask me out. Sometimes both at the same time.

At some point, it was so much hassle I stopped going to events alone. Soon enough, with the dependency of having to have a buddy every time, I stopped being interested in said events.

Now

Raising a voice means having to continue to stand up.

I’ve only told these stories to friends, because saying something out loud instantly gets a girl labeled.

In the spirit of yearly resolutions, this is going to change. If I could make it so a few more girls feel less alone and more welcomed growing up into the geek world, it’ll all be worthwhile.

~

Meta – What prompted this…

This amazing article on Marketing to Female Geeks and this hashtag.

On Hiring Tech Designers

Once upon many times, I was on the other side of the table selling, selling, selling. Not as many times, I was on this side of the table armed with nothing, but eagerness and a whole hell lot of I have no idea what I am doing.

If I were the hiring manager—

  • No means no. Meh means no.
  • If you are a technology designer. That means you are responsible for Chrome, Firefox, IE, (Opera?), iOS, Android, AND Windows. No exceptions. None of this trendy unnecessary segregation.
  • You must code for the web. Or at least make an effort to speak its language. No exceptions.
  • Knowing how things work does not make anyone a ‘worse’ designer. In fact, my experience is quite the opposite. These folks are quite superior.
  • Portfolio still matters. Gut check. Refer to bullet one. If passed…
  • Is the candidate using a custom font? If so, what methods? There are so many good tools. This is less about the font itself and more about trying a little.
  • Is there any part of this website that is modified, if not built mostly from scratch? How is that organized? A little peek into how details are organized.
  • Is credit given to project teammates or portfolio building help in general? How does the About copy strike you, humble? arrogant? Nothing else matters if he/she is impossible to work with.
  • Click off to a social media profile of choice. Are the items assembled of good taste? Photoshop can be learned, taste less so.
  • Never force your team to choose between a hire who is worse or worst. Pressure to pick only creates a bigger cost in the future.
  • It only takes 1 poison apple to drive the apple pickers away. Firing is also as important as hiring.

It’s so important to have a philosophy if you aim to build great things. And even if I’m never hiring manager, writing this is a step towards figuring out that philosophy.

This is, as always, a work in progress.

Thanks to all my friends who unknowingly seeded this post recently, because all of these tenants are not completely my own, <3

Strange Confessions

Sometimes, even now, I find myself lingering in the toilet longer than I should. And rarely to fix up my hair.

In my childhood house, the toilets were the only rooms that locked from the inside and not out.

I remember getting chastised for something, something I don’t think I deserved to be—usually something a child wouldn’t need to worry about just yet. They say knowledge is power, and when I discovered the other kids at school were allowed to play so much, so freely, be themselves, I tried my hand in controlling my own fate.

It didn’t go so well.

I ended up on the toilet.

And in the toilet I stayed, sometimes for hours, wondering, dreaming if it ever gets better.

Unnecessary Segregation between “Desktop” and “Mobile” UX’ers

I really, really don’t believe in the segregation between so-called “Desktop” and “Mobile” UX’ers.

A large portion of my work has and still is web design. When the rise of mobile came, some constantly made a point to hint that’d I’d be out of a job along with all the other “Desktop” designers.

Guys, don’t buy into it.

Learning how to create effective desktop AND mobile experiences isn’t binary.

At the crux of it all, the most important thing is to use the platforms. Get your hands on an Android and play with some highly regarded apps. Slow down in your iPhone consumption and notice the interactions. If you need to do a little Windows work, take a bloody Surface home and use it as if it were own.

As for the web, use the internet. Use the internet and notice what works. Observe which sites are “copying” interactions from each other. Chances are, if you see that interaction everywhere, there’s some charm behind it. Look outwards and hoard every visual and interaction worth stealing for any platform.

It totally pisses me off when there’s a post for “Mobile Designer” as if a “Desktop Designer” can’t do the job. Similarly to how I believe internet designers should code in a know-how capacity, if anyone were motivated enough to take on a project, he or she could just spend some quality time trying it out, failing once or twice, and become really great at it.

Also, there needs to be just about 4 more hours in a day because it’s 2am again. Also, these are just my opinions and not my employer’s something something legal-ease.

Happiness is the destiny you need to make for yourself

The beginning of Fall is my true New Year. It’s around this time I’ve reflected on my career, finished degrees, and asked the hard questions.

This time, I tell you my Personal Vision 2014 and Beyond. Just kidding, these are simply things I’ve figured out for myself.

Be honest with yourself

When explaining what I do for a living, I kept following up with this corollary—One day, I’m going to retire and become an artist.

This was always the ten year plan, a far cry in the distant future, so shining.

I asked myself, have you looked at your own work? It’s heavily sketch, heavily art, my best design pieces were always the artiest ones. You don’t need to use a watercolor pencil for your wireframes people. In fact, that’s totally absurd.

People, first and foremost, think of me as a great sketcher, not a great designer.

Granted, I think I’m all right at design. Though, I think it’s the same as how Lady Gaga had a fantastically trained voice pre-Lady Gaga. That didn’t get her very far.

That’s how I feel about my designs these days. I’m not sure if I can get that far. I’m not sure if I want to get that far.

It’s a balancing act

Throughout this entire self reflection process, a smart fellow reminded me that identity is a constant struggle—No one figures it out all at once. There’s always some amount of back and forth.

Maybe this time next year, I’ll look back at this post and think “Boy, what kind of funk was I in?”

To declare what I aim to do today does not define what I’m bound to do for the rest of my life or even the year after.

I realized life itself is iteration, really.
It’s very okay to be in this state. This state of not liking what I used to like doing as much.

The impossible is totally possible

Previously, I’ve said all it took was an email. I’m going to say it once more—Having a hand in putting design event together is and was, in fact, a bunch of emails!

On the same note, when the possibility of putting together a friends-centric gallery showcase, that possibility lit up something in my conscience. It is possible.

I thought, maybe it’s not a world where all it takes is emails. Instead, it may be phone calls or charming some friends-of-friends.

When the dots connected, the idea of a gallery showcase was the turning point. Suddenly, what I thought would be ten years later could be ten weeks from now.

Suddenly, I felt empowered.

Happiness is a destiny you make for yourself

Everything may change, but you remain constant in your world. It’s really up to you to define your requirements of a happy existence. And then figure out how to make it a reality. 

No one else is going to be waiting to do this for you.

 

~

This post is inspired by brilliant blog posts written by my friends. Writing isn’t my core competency, but damn, it’s like they say:
Just do it.

Here’s to the 4th year in a row writing a post like this.