Category Archives: personal

2017 Retrospective

I want to write down my memories of this year because I might forget them otherwise. I debated whether to publish this because, for the world, 2017 has been an awful year, worse than any other in my short memory. Yet it was a year of huge personal growth and professional success for me, and I still want to celebrate that, in a way that acknowledges my own privilege. I’m not sure what else I should say on this note other than that I recognize that I am fortunate, and I am grateful for what I have.

Without further ado, here’s my year in numbers and lists:

Degrees obtained: 1

  1. B.S. Computer Science, Systems Track (Stanford)

“Classes” completed: 5

  1. Essentials of Electronics – Measurements and Passive Circuits (City College of San Francisco)
  2. Engineering Mechanics – Statics (City College of San Francisco)
  3. Introduction to Mixology (SF Mixology)
  4. Essential Mixology (SF Mixology)
  5. Understanding Diabetes Mellitus (Stripe Classes)

Places visited: 8

  1. Thailand (Bangkok, Koh Samui, Chiang Mai)
  2. Singapore
  3. Berlin
  4. Zurich
  5. Portland, Oregon
  6. Amsterdam
  7. Vietnam (Saigon, Da Nang, Hue)
  8. Honolulu, Hawaii

Talks given: 6

  1. TechSummit Berlin
  2. Monitorama
  3. TechSummit Amsterdam
  4. #MonitorSF Meetup
  5. SF Metrics Meetup
  6. LISA17

Books read: 16

  1. Whistling Vivaldi, Claude M. Steele
  2. The Circle, Dave Eggers
  3. The Charisma Myth, Olivia Fox Cabane
  4. Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, Amy Chua
  5. Grit, Angela Duckworth
  6. The Secret Lives of Dresses, Erin McKean
  7. The Manager’s Path, Camille Fournier
  8. The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood
  9. Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn
  10. Sharp Objects, Gillian Flynn
  11. A Guide to the Good Life, William B. Irvine
  12. Flowers for Algernon, Daniel Keyes
  13. No Game No Life Volume 1, Yuu Kamiya
  14. Gossip Girl #1, Cecily von Ziegesar
  15. The Partner Track, Helen Wan
  16. Nonviolent Communication, Marshall Rosenberg

Blog posts written up until today: 5

  1. Whistling Vivaldi: A Stereotype Threat I Didn’t Know Of
  2. Giving the Same Talk Twice
  3. Not Your Exotic Fantasy
  4. Look What You Made Me Do, Chrome
  5. My Coding Interview Style

Jobs held: 2

  1. Pinterest: Visibility Team
  2. Stripe: Observability Team

Now that I’ve been looking at this list of things that I thought were worth highlighting, I noticed some broad themes in what I care about tracking.

Education

Education became this whole warped thing for me over the past few years and I’m slowly undoing that. I was supposed to graduate from college in 2015, but ended up having some complications that prevented me from finishing on time. A lot of financial and bureaucratic complications came up over the past 2 years as I tried to finish the last 2 classes I needed. It had been hanging over me like a cloud for so long that I couldn’t believe that I had really graduated until I got my diploma in the mail. Sometimes I still can’t believe it. Finishing my degree is one of my proudest highlights of this year.

I’m working myself back up to learning things for fun again. I enjoyed the classes I took on cocktail making and I’m hoping to sign up for more food-related classes (cooking? chocolate? wine?) next year. I’m also enrolled in Japanese 1 for the winter term! Japanese is a language I’ve always wanted to learn properly and I’m hoping to finally learn how to read and write the basics.

I’ll write a separate post eventually about the books that I read this year! The short version of it is that I was hoping to read at least 12 books this year, so that’s cool. The most useful one that I keep referencing to other people is “Nonviolent Communication”. The most fun one would have to be “Gone Girl” – I loved the way Amy’s point of view was written and I could totally relate to her throughout the entire book, as concerning as that might sound!

Travel

I have mixed feelings about travel. I’m pretty susceptible to travel loneliness – if I’m alone, I end up with too much anxiety to go outside and enjoy my surroundings, and then I feel guilty about that, and I sometimes end up having entire days of hiding in my hotel feeling awful about myself. I wish this weren’t true about me. There were some times this year where I pretended that I didn’t know this about myself, and went to other countries convinced that I would finally be the type of person who could spend an entire day alone traveling without feeling a great deal of anxiety. Those trips ended up going less-than-great. I want to be more honest with myself in 2018 and recognize that when I travel alone, I won’t always be as adventurous as I see other people being.

The places I visited with other people were magical experiences. I learned phrases from other languages, tried great food, and saw beautiful things. If I had to pick one favorite city, I would pick Chiang Mai. I got to play with an elephant and take a Thai cooking class where I made pad thai, green curry, and a bunch of other dishes!

I also realized that I was really naive about work travel this year. I got started with public speaking because I wanted a way to travel to other countries more often. This sounds so obvious in retrospect, but a work trip where I’m expected to be responding to my teammates, working on slides, and attending a conference is not the same as a vacation where I can turn off my phone. I shouldn’t have conflated the two, and that’s another aspect where I need to set clearer expectations for myself.

On a positive note, I already have three international conference trips planned for next year, which I’ll put on my speaking page when they’re announced publicly! I’m hoping to tack on legitimate vacation time to one of them, and then I think I’ll be done with my travel plans for 2018.

Public Speaking

This year was my first year of public speaking. In 2016, I met some really cool women at a conference and they were all talking about conferences that they spoke at and I wanted to be like them! I was so inspired! I’m really glad that I got to talk to them, because I realized that I didn’t have to have years of experience to start doing public speaking, and I could just jump into it.

I was pretty methodical with my talk proposals and saved them all so I could track my progress over time. I wrote a couple of proposals I felt good about and cast a pretty wide net in submitting them. I ended up with a lot of rejections, but I also ended up with a lot of acceptances!

I added all of my proposals to my GitHub profile here. I am fascinated by other people’s processes and progress over time, so I hope other people can also benefit from seeing how my proposals evolved.

Writing

I only wrote five posts this year! That’s okay! It would have been nice if I wrote 6, because then I could say I averaged one every other month, but it wasn’t an explicit goal of mine.

I believe that there are times when someone writes because they want to introduce an idea to a new audience, and times when someone writes to connect to their own people, and that both are valuable. When I wrote “Not Your Exotic Fantasy”, it was coming from a place of pain. I wasn’t trying to provide a thesis or give a call to action. I needed to rip all of the feelings that I had out of my chest and put them into words and say to my fellow Asian women that I was hurting, and that we could understand each other’s pain. So many Asian women reached out to say that what I wrote resonated with them, but so many people from other demographics said that I was generalizing too much, they didn’t get my point, or that Asians are racist too. When I look back at that essay now, I know that it was a narrative mess because I was a mess at the time and I needed to convey that. I can stand by what I said because I know I was writing to connect with my people, and not for a broad audience. In 2018, I’m reflecting on what that means and how I can make that more clear.

On a much more light-hearted note, my 2017 retrospective would not be complete without me mentioning that TicketMaster offered me an internship on their Verified Fan team because of my post about how to exploit Verified Fan’s system using Chrome Developer Tools. Of course a woman writing about Taylor Swift should be offered an internship rather than a full-time software engineering position.

Overall, I’m satisfied with my pace of writing. I don’t want to write for the sake of meeting a quota. I want to write when I feel that I have something important to say. So I’m not setting any goals for myself in 2018 besides to say what I really want to say. This post I wrote back in 2013 is still one of my favorites on what my goals are with writing.

Work

I made it this far without acknowledging that I switched jobs this year!!!

I think it would be difficult for me to explain all of the thoughts and reasons I had about changing jobs without saying something that could be taken the wrong way – that’s just what happens when you make a comparison. What I can say is that I am happy where I am. I’m on a team where I’m supported, learning, and encouraged everyday. I’m so thankful for that and so excited when I think about all the projects I’ll work on in 2018.

2018 Hopes

I don’t bother creating resolutions because I don’t ever stick to them. Every year, I have hopes, though! (Like, in high school, I told myself I would stop swearing… that hasn’t worked out.)

In 2018, I hope I take care of my health. I hope I can travel, speak, and write more. I hope I stay close to my family, friends, and partner. I hope I make more time for hobbies outside of tech. I hope I can get a cat.

Whistling Vivaldi: A Stereotype Threat I Didn’t Know Of

When Whistling Vivaldi was first recommended to me, my initial response was, “I already know what stereotype threat is. Why do I need to read about it?” In other words, I was your standard punk-ass college student. I had never really given concentrated thought to stereotype threat in the broader context of society, or how it affected people who weren’t me. But this book gave me a deeper understanding of how stereotype threat happens and how it can be combated. My only regret from finally reading it is that I didn’t read it before starting college. Now that I’ve finally dragged myself to the finish line for my bachelor’s degree (after 6 years!), it seems especially bittersweet that this book helped me recognize some of what was happening to me right at the end of my journey.

I haven’t felt so compelled to share a book with other people in years. Reading, for me, is usually for entertainment or personal development, and I go from book to book without wanting to sit down and reflect in a way that is useful for others. This book is different. I feel obligated to share Whistling Vivaldi because it made me burst into tears from recognition of my own past pain. I didn’t think I needed affirmation that my experiences in college were shared by others, but I did. This book gave me time to reflect on moments of self-doubt from the past and helped me re-interpret them in the context of stereotype threat instead.

This book is useful both as a tool for self-reflection (even if you don’t consider yourself as a minority!) and as a tool for supporting others. I want more people affected by stereotype threat to read this book so they can have the time to think back on their own experiences and how they were impacted. I want more people in general to read this book to gain empathy for what students, coworkers, and friends might be suffering from without realizing.

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The Harm in Being a Diversity Pick

When I was 17, I desperately wanted colleges to accept me based only on my academic achievements — my “merit” — without consideration for external factors. My family and school counselors insisted that I emphasize my immigrant family / low income status in order to gain sympathy from admissions officers. To me, that meant not getting into my dream school through my own talent. I spent my first year at Stanford doubting myself and fearing that people would realize I wasn’t talented enough to be there. This sounds like textbook impostor syndrome, but it was worsened by constant comments about my minority status. Students from other high schools said they wished they had my background so they could get into whatever schools they wanted. Everyone assumed it must have been easy for me to get accepted. Stanford likes poors like me. Of course I got in. I learned to not mention my upbringing because people would think less of my qualifications and belonging at Stanford if they knew.

At the end of my sophomore year, I was lucky to end up in a required writing course with a black professor who understood what I was going through (having spent over a decade working on social justice issues). She encouraged me to investigate affirmative action stigma for my term paper as a way of understanding my own feelings about being a “diversity pick.” My paper focused on research surrounding the psychological impact of being considered a diversity pick on minority students. That research is what I want to summarize now.

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The Impact of Diversity on Everything

I’m a Vietnamese American woman in technology. That is not synonymous with being an Asian American in technology. Here’s the shortest summary of my background I can give: My parents escaped Vietnam on a boat and moved to the United States in 1990 with barely any understanding of the English language. We grew up poor and I pulled myself through high school and university with little guidance from others. I worked after school until 10–11pm several nights a week throughout high school for my family. My high school nearly lost accreditation while I was there, which would have made my diploma useless. There’s so much more to my upbringing than that, but I’ll save it for another time.

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On Sincerity, Effort, and Authenticity

I don’t know when it became uncool to be sincere. I used to think it was a problem with kids these days, but it seems to occur among people of all ages. I have a hard time defining the exact attitude that I’m so bothered by, but it’s… it’s the embarrassment and shame that is somehow associated with hard work, sincerity, and failing at something you tried so hard for.

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Passion, or the Supposed Lack Thereof

One of my favorite outreach activities at Stanford is being a Project Motivation panelist for ethnic/socioeconomic minority high school students. As a panelist, I talk about what it was like for me to go to a low performing high school, what they can do to get into a good college, and what doubts I had about going to a competitive university. Participating in these types of panels requires a different form of empathy and understanding that isn’t as necessary in regular college admissions panels.

There is a particular moment that keeps ringing in my mind when I think about college admissions and the way we talk to minority students.

I was answering the usual questions students tend to want to hear about: my high school preparation, financial aid, and leaving my hometown. One student asked about how to set himself apart from other students in his personal statement.

Another panelist gave the spiel everyone has heard at least once in their lives: just follow your passions, find something you’re truly dedicated to, start a charity, build something cool, etc. He glowed as he talked about making movies with his friends, then going on to do film studies at Stanford.

I could feel the tension building behind each student’s eyes.

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What’s the point of turning on the light?

In my natural state, I am a sloth. Setting aside basic human needs, I would nearly always choose curling up in a warm bed over having to deal with the outside world. The outside world is loud and unpredictable and kind of smells weird. My bed is soft and warm and comfortable.

On my way home from work, I was thinking about why I bother to do anything. Sure, I enjoy things like learning and eating tasty food, but school is stressful and buying food requires interacting with people. Why do I get so worked up over my grades and other little things when none of it will really matter, anyway? I could be okay with living a life of minimal effort. I could avoid anything that requires exertion.

I reached the stairwell of my apartment building. It was pretty dark out, but I could still see the steps. I only had to walk up two flights of stairs. I mindlessly wondered whether I should turn the light on for such a short distance.

Why do I ever choose anything but bed?

What’s the point of turning on the light when it’ll take less than a minute to get inside?  It might disturb my neighbors. It stays on for a set amount of time, so it’ll stay on after I get inside. I don’t like the dark, but I can get upstairs just the same either way. It’s a waste of electricity. It seems like a bother for such a short distance. The end result won’t change and it’s really the most insignificant thing in the world. It doesn’t matter.

Why do I do anything?

I turned on the light.

Stop Following the Script

How a guy blindly following bad advice unwittingly led to harassment, manipulation, and me questioning my safety.

It began innocently enough: A classmate read my first Medium post and messaged me on Facebook to discuss it. It soon devolved into a debate about the women’s rights movement as a whole, rather than just the aspects I had discussed in my post. This debate spanned several days. I felt as though we were having the same argument over and over, and he eventually said he believed the women’s rights movement was “overblown” and that the glass ceiling was not really an issue.

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Time Constraints and the Bare Minimum

On the last night of finals week this past spring quarter, I was exhausted from finishing exams and still grading my students’ programming assignments. I couldn’t fall asleep because my mind didn’t want to forget what I was feeling by the next morning, so I had to write it all out in a journal (on paper! whoa!) before I could finally stop thinking about it. I neglected transcribing this until now, half out of embarrassment and half because it’s something I still change my mind about. Here it is, (mostly) unedited.

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