Category Archives: personal

What would it take to start my own company the way I want to?

I’ve been having the same conversation with myself over the past few months. Whenever I end up in a cycle like this, I like to write everything down. I think writing gives my brain permission to stop ruminating because it feels assured that I won’t forget. So this time, I’m going to share a little about what I’ve been thinking regarding starting a business!

Why do I keep thinking about starting my own business?

Ownership. I think I’ve romanticized the idea of being my own boss and not having to answer to anybody.

For example, I don’t like having to make sure that I don’t misrepresent my employer – sometimes I talk about things that are important to me, like abuse in the tech industry, and I feel guilty because I don’t want to imply that it’s happening directly to me right now. If I were self-employed, maybe I would feel differently.

Another appeal of ownership for me is not wanting to represent tough policies I don’t agree with. My mentor pointed out to me that one unglamorous part of being an engineering manager is that sometimes you will have to tell your direct reports about some decision or policy handed down to you from leadership and you can’t always say “I think it’s stupid but we have to deal with it.” Sometimes you have to explain and support rationale for decisions that you wouldn’t have personally made. I hate that!

Some people have pointed out to me that even if you own your own company, you’re still beholden to your investors, customers, and employees. I don’t know how to think about this point. Maybe I’d hate this too?

Mission. I’ve written a couple of tweets about how much I want to work on making mental health resources (such as therapy) more accessible for everyone. I think I have some good ideas for how I could achieve this and I think it’s one of the most important things I could do with my combination of skills and interests.

Glamour? I guess I was raised in a culture that puts a lot of value on prestige, even if I hate to admit it. I still wish I could be on 30 under 30. I want to do unique and impressive things.

What scares me about starting my own business?

Stress. I don’t handle stress well. I don’t want to work long hours. I don’t want the pressure of supporting other people’s livelihoods. I don’t want to let people down. I don’t want to feel like I have to be 10x hypergrowth crushing it. I don’t want to break regulations. (HIPAA, PCI, general security.) I don’t want to face pressure from investors.

Not being able to figure it out. What if I decide to go for it, and then I realize that I don’t actually know how to run my own full stack application and I was just too cocky? What if I don’t know how to file taxes? What if I’m not prepared to go to fifty meetings a week? What if I have this grand vision in my head of how this thing should look and I can’t actually execute on it?

What’s the opportunity cost?

I keep dreaming of lots of things I could do, like wanting to be a leader at a large, established tech company, or becoming a senior individual contributor, or switching into a different technical field (mobile? ML?), or becoming a product manager. I wouldn’t get to do all of those things if I seriously think I could dedicate the next ten years to building my own company.

How could I mitigate my fears?

I don’t have to do things the way Silicon Valley has told me things must be done. I’ve been questioning the venture capital / hyper growth narrative and I’m not sure if I fully understand why things have to be this way.

In my mind, the only reason hyper growth matters is because investors want to see major returns on their investments. Of course it makes sense that they wouldn’t want to invest in my lifestyle business if it won’t produce better returns than regular investments. There’s no big reason why I personally need to create a hyper growth company outside of this (I think?).

What would happen if I didn’t take venture capital?

I would need some other way to support myself at the beginning. I would have to have sustainable revenue more quickly because I wouldn’t have the option of taking more and more series of funding. I wouldn’t be able to hire quickly. If someone wanted to take my idea and run with it, they could secure funding and outpace me.

Would I be sad if someone took my idea, got a bunch of funding, and executed faster than me?

Maybe it’s naive, but I think this would be okay.

I think whatever idea I’d end up picking (not necessarily mental health resources!) would end up being something I deeply care about seeing exist in the world.

If someone took my ideas and executed on them even better than I did, I would be really happy that people are getting the help that I think they need. I want more people to find therapy, for example. If I saw a startup that 100% matched my vision of how things could be better, I’d probably just ask for a job there. There are quite a few startups in the mental health space right now, actually. None of them resonate with what I think needs to be fixed. So if I had to make this a binary, I’d say the two paths are that I find a company that matches my vision, or I would feel confident in working to create my own vision.

What would be my ideal future life?

I keep imagining two paths. In one, I run a small, sustainable business, work 40 hours a week, make a reasonable income, and don’t feel immense pressure to match Silicon Valley’s measures of success.

In another, fuck, I’m probably obsessed with climbing a career ladder, working 60 hours a week, pretending I’m not working 60 hours a week, doing a bunch of Personal Branding to seem like a role model to young people… I’m realizing that I have a pretty twisted perception of success that I should examine further at another time.

What could I be doing right now to make small steps towards my goals?

I could be frugal and avoid lifestyle inflation. I don’t live like a broke college student anymore. I think when you start your own company, you should expect to take a pay cut because you’re pretty much creating your own runway. I was happy when I didn’t make my current income, but I’ve let myself get used to a lot of unnecessary luxuries. I used to spend $40 to take the six hour Vietnamese bus ride back to Los Angeles because I was too cheap for the $70, 45 minute flight. Now I throw $40 at a taxi from the airport because I can’t be bothered to sit an extra half hour on public transportation. That’s money that could be going to my dreams! What am I doing!

I could be building sustainable habits right now. If I maintain healthy sleep, diet, and exercise habits now, they’ll be easier to keep up with once things get harder. I’m not doing great on these aspects of my life.

I could be learning more about business development in my personal time. I’ve been getting a bunch of reading recommendations lately and I want to compile them into a separate list! (Too many to list here…)

 

I wonder if anyone else has been thinking about these topics in a similar way? Or is there some big fact of business that I’m missing that would explain why I should follow the traditional startup path?

Moving to another country

I moved to Singapore a few weeks ago! I’m not going to go into great detail about all the why (awesome job! awesome country!) but I promised some people I’d write down all the stuff I had to do in preparation for the move.

Employment Pass (Visa)

I had to submit an updated resume, employment contract including my monthly salary, and certification of my university degree. Fortunately, the legal team for my employer took care of everything beyond this, so I don’t have a lot more to say on the logistics.

I got a time estimate of how many weeks it would take for the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) to process my application and they were faster than expected. In order to apply for an apartment, I needed to wait for MOM to send me my in-principle approval (IPA) letter. The IPA lists my Foreign Identification Number (FIN) and instructions on how to enter the country and get the official employment pass after landing. With the IPA, I was able to apply for an apartment while still in the US. (This required a lot of document scanning and coordination with my agent, though, so might not be feasible if you don’t have a professional on the ground.)

In order to get an employment pass, you have to sign off on several statements about whether you’ve ever been barred from entry, etc, and whether you are HIV positive. If you’re a US citizen, you simply have to sign a document stating you are not HIV positive. In some other countries, you have to take a medical exam within 2 weeks of landing, or send medical exam results to MOM. I’m not familiar with the non-US process, but that is something to watch out for.

Apartment search

I was fortunate to get to work together with a relocation agency who helped me find an apartment. I asked my local coworkers for suggestions on neighborhood and made a list of what was important to me, what didn’t matter, and what my budget was. My list of requirements included short commute (near public transportation or walking distance), a minimum square footage, in-unit washer/dryer, a fitness center, and a neighborhood with nearby food options and things to do on the weekend.

I used Property Guru and 99.co to get a feel for my apartment options and also received listings from the relocation agency. They scheduled a general tour of Singapore neighborhoods for me where I told the agent my likes/dislikes so that they could get a sense of what listings to suggest for me.

My coworkers strongly pushed me towards a neighborhood that they described as somewhat hipster-ish with lots of cafes and bakeries and things to do. They steered me away from living near the central business district area of Singapore because it would be quiet and empty on the weekends. It was helpful for me to walk around the surrounding neighborhoods on foot at different times of day.

For evaluating my commute, I checked gothere.sg in addition to Google Maps because I found that they had different options. gothere.sg tended to be a bit more creative with the routes it would suggest, but it sometimes suggested walking paths that were impossible or overly optimistic (claiming a 15 minute walk would only take 5 minutes… Euclidean distance in a mapping application is a bit ridiculous). I also found it useful to enter different MRT stations and bus stops as my to/from locations to see what each app would suggest from those routes. Both apps seemed somewhat unreliable in their suggestions, so trying lots of inputs helped me narrow down some realistic commute routes. Google Maps satellite view can also reveal some useful routes that Google Maps won’t suggest. For example, they sometimes aren’t aware of pedestrian bridges that help with crossing large streets, so they’ll suggest strange roundabout routes.

The last thing I’ll say is that walking outside for 15 minutes in San Francisco is significantly different from 15 minutes in Singapore. In one city, you’ll have good weather, poopy sidewalks, and a fear of listening to music while walking. In the other, you’ll be sweaty and dehydrated. I’ve been taking a lot of single stop bus rides (distance-based fares!!!) in Singapore just to take advantage of the air conditioner!

Packing / shipping

I decided to forego shipping and moved with three suitcases and a backpack. I brought clothes, miscellaneous electronics (including an ergonomic keyboard), two laptops, three books, my entire tea collection, and a couple of sentimental items (my tea mugs!!).

I realize my minimalism was only practical due to my support system in the US and being able to afford a furnished apartment in Singapore, so I don’t have much more advice here on what it would have taken to ship larger boxes or furniture to Singapore. Singapore does have stores like IKEA and Muji, so it might be easier to just buy things here if you can afford it.

Utilities

Within a few days of landing, I got pretty sick. (I even went to a 24/7 urgent care unit but was too embarrassed to tweet about it because I didn’t want to worry anyone! I’m healthy now! And I didn’t get bankrupted by the Singaporean medical system!!!) Because I was sick, I missed an appointment with the gas technician who was charged with enabling gas in my apartment and checking for leaks. I thought this wasn’t a big deal, until I realized that my water heater was gas-powered. Cold showers suck. Don’t miss your appointments.

Internet

I went with Starhub for internet out of arbitrary hatred of Singtel. Singtel’s prepaid phone plans are downright awful, so I didn’t want to give them my internet business. The process was pretty straightforward for entering my address in their website and scheduling a 2 hour time slot where someone would come and install a router.

To elaborate on Singtel’s awful prepaid phone plans: they offer a 120 day plan with 3 GB of data, but with time restrictions on when you can use the data. You get 1 GB in general, and then 2 GB that can only be used from midnight to 8AM. Bullshit.

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That said, it’s best to get a somewhat longterm prepaid phone plan as soon as you land. Many of the accounts you have to set up require you to have a local phone number. Even setting up my permanent phone plan required a local phone number.

Phone plan

I wanted to keep my US phone number live for a lot of reasons (SMS 2FA…), so I wasn’t sure if I’d end up carrying multiple phones. Luckily, it turns out that Apple just recently released dual SIM support with iOS 12.1. With iPhone XS/XS Max/XR, you can have one regular physical SIM card and one eSIM card and switch between phone plans on the same phone. My primary phone number is now my Singapore phone number, but I get to keep access to my US number on the side. Apple’s dual SIM support is extremely new, so Singapore’s telcos are just barely starting to release support for it right now. In fact, M1 was the first provider to support it, and they released their eSIM feature in December of last year. The M1 employees I talked to seemed a bit wary of my request and warned me that it might not work (with my US iPhone) because they didn’t have a ton of experience with it. Pretty exciting times!

Hong Kong’s iPhone actually supports two physical SIM slots. I considered finding a way to get a Hong Kong iPhone, but was too impatient to wait for a chance to fly over there or have someone bring me one, so I went for the bleeding edge eSIM route.

Banking

Honestly I think I’m fucking up pretty badly on the banking side and I’m not sure if I’ve made the wisest choices. My coworkers suggested that I open a bank account with a local bank (e.g., DBS, HSBC, OCBC) and use a service like TransferWise to transfer money back to the US. Maybe I should have listened to them.

I wanted to be able to cheaply and frequently transfer money from Singapore back to my US bank accounts in order to pay my US credit card bills. (I’m still using the Chase Sapphire Reserve card as my main credit card out here because it has no foreign transaction fees.) I also know I will eventually move back to the US, so I figured I needed a bank that would support me closing out my account and transferring money back to the US eventually.

I’m in the middle of figuring out what this will entail with Citibank and I’m not sure yet whether they offer what I have in mind. I think their Global Transfer system will allow me to transfer money between a US Citibank account and a Singapore Citibank account, but I haven’t set it all up and tried it yet.

Taxes

I still have to pay federal taxes in the US along with regular taxes in Singapore. I can apply a foreign tax credit to my federal taxes in the US. For every day that I work in California, I have to pay taxes in California, so I have to be careful about tracking my days. If I work (not vacation) outside of Singapore for a significant chunk of time (on the order of ~2 months or something?), I can look into whether I can exclude that time from my Singapore taxes. I’m hiring some tax professionals to handle this because it’s overwhelming.

Medical

As soon as I realized I was moving, I started writing down all the miscellaneous doctor stuff I wanted to take care of before leaving. Everyone’s list will vary, but mine included a lot of appointments with my dentist/periodontist, gynecologist, therapist, and sleep doctor. Start early with making phone calls and appointments!

Shopping

I found shopping at Plaza Singapura very convenient! They have the Muji flagship store (includes a cute cafe!), Akemiuchi, Daiso, and Spotlight (a cheap-ish home goods and craft store).

Singapore’s queen bed dimensions are different from the US in that they’re approximately 5 inches shorter in length, so you should carefully measure your bed. Akemiuchi offers Singapore-sized bedsheets. Muji, Spotlight, IKEA, and other non-local stores will offer western bedding sizes. At Spotlight, I asked an employee where to find the shorter sheet sets and he said they didn’t have any. I asked how that was even possible, and he said that many people just tuck their fitted sheets in a little extra. He also suggested that I go to a local HDB shop to find the right sheet sizes, which I think are just the various small shops you find around neighborhood markets. I really hope a Snowe/Parachute clone comes to disrupt the millennial Singaporean bedding industry. I’m losing my mind out here with these low-quality sheets.

 

I’ll keep updating this post as things come to mind.

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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