the website that gives you answers to questions you never thought to ask: Quora

To prevent myself from foolishly scrolling through Facebook and Instagram whenever my thumb impulsively grazes over my iPhone home button, I’ve fill phone’s home screen with my news app, a vocabulary learning app, and MOST IMPORTANTLY, my QUORA app (insert heart eyes emoji). Here are links to a few of my favorite questions/answers:

Who was the most interesting person you’ve ever been seated next to on an airplane?

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when prom askings become engagements

4 years ago, we were all asking each other to winter formal and prom.

as of now, ~10% of my high school graduating class is engaged (some folks to each other, but most to the significant others they met in college)

while i’m happy for my classmates, it’s a distanced happiness, for three reasons:

first, i haven’t stayed in touch with anyone from my high school, and second, i certainly don’t even remotely understand what it’s like to be in a relationship in which engagement is the proper next step.

third, it further emphasizes to me just how different i was from most people from my high school. the fascinating and rare experience of stepping out of the world in which i grew up — a world full of 2nd-generation asian americans — catalyzed a discipline i only later understood to one called theoria (thank you, Susan McWilliams!). however, while i deem it worthwhile, it was undeniably challenging and isolating.

there’s an unique guilt that comes from disliking my private christian high school. there’s the vague religious guilt (“if you’re so christian why did you dislike your christian community and why do you feel uneasy about some of its religious teachings?”), and the biting guilt that comes with being the first child of chinese immigrants (“mom and dad are paying so much for me to go here i should try to like it more WHY DON’T I LIKE IT MORE”).

i’ll share a snippet of my Watson application essay:

My tiny, pudgy hands meticulously sorted the 500 puzzle pieces sprawled before me, until Lin ah yi’s voice broke my trance. “Look at Sophia’s focus — she’s only 4 but she could become an incredible scientist. I recently heard that Stanford admitted an international puzzle competition winner — that could be Sophia!” she gushed, framing something in which I had intrinsic interest in terms of its utility for the venerated college application process.

Lin ah yi had welcomed my family to the US when we immigrated from Singapore 3 months prior. Although my parents had always known the importance of academic achievements, their arrival into the immigrant population of Cupertino, California threw them into the frenzy of ensuring that every academic and extracurricular opportunity was given to me, so that I could eventually seize admission into globally-renowned universities.

The narrative of success touted by surrounding immigrant families focused intensely on measurable outcomes that are relevant in the college application process and directly feed into the most stable, prestigious careers in engineering or medicine. This narrative is unsurprising; after all, most immigrant parents endured and succeeded in hyper-competitive education systems, relied on their academic abilities to escape unimaginable poverty, and were permitted to immigrate to the US because they possessed serviceable technical skills. However, when I was in 8th grade, my parents noticed some unhealthy manifestations of the narrow narrative of success that was perpetuated by my peers from my church, public school, and musical communities. Thus, they transferred me to a private high school.

Although my parents intended to remove me from intense academic and extracurricular pressures, I experienced a growing, irreconcilable tension between the values of my former community of predominantly middle-class, 2nd-generation Chinese-American peers, and the values of my new community of wealthier, non-immigrant Caucasian classmates. Before transferring, I had always experienced a disconnect between myself and my childhood friends, most of whom, due to cultural and familial influences, perceived the value of an experience to be primarily derived from its utility in the college application process.

However, transferring schools provided me with the unique opportunity to view these deeply-ingrained values from a distance, and this unique opportunity further prompted me to explore my own educational values…

attending my private christian high school gave me the invaluable opportunity to think, for myself, about what my educational values are — values that reflect, more broadly, my perspectives on success and how one’s time (and life) should be spent. however, i think i ultimately felt too different from most people in my high school to really internalize aspects of many admirable values that i witnessed. i think i had a radically different hs experience than most of my peers, and my inner world developed very differently.

i wish all my friends well, and will always remain distantly admiring of and curious about them.

The Software Engineer’s Job Hunt

As of two days ago, I have finally finished up my search for a full-time job by signing an offer for a software engineer role in NYC. I’m incredibly excited for this new chapter in a new city that will take place a little under a year from now, but the past three months were definitely not without their hardships, doubts, blows to esteem and confidence. But they also weren’t without a lot of support, encouragement, surprises, and gratitude.

As many people know, the tech industry recruits students in their last year of school at an obscenely early time. For many, once they’re back in school, they find themselves at a career fair by the second week. I’m not so sure why this is the case, but it doesn’t hurt to assume to start early in applying to jobs as they open up. For me, I had been interning at the same company for the past three summers, and I had generally been risk-averse in venturing to try other places for internships. As a result, knowing that the next job opportunity will be my first full-time job, I felt the need to try applying for other places and to consider opportunities elsewhere.

This took the form of the usual endless online job applications, but it also took the form of me deciding in April to attend the Grace Hopper Celebration in October, a conference geared towards women in tech. To put it simply, there are workshops and speakers just like any other conference, but it is also a massive 3-day career fair. It also took the form of me reaching out to recruiters that I had been in contact with previously, asking to start my interview process as early as possible. I found myself doing phone interviews in my workplace’s conference rooms.

As I kept putting myself out there, I kept inching ever so slowly towards my insecurities–insecurities that have been inside of me ever since I took my first computer systems class in college: not being technically competent enough. I remember spending day and night in a friend’s room, fixing bugs only to have created more. We would go to sleep at 5am with me crashing on his futon, just to wake up at 7am to continue this quest of trying until we felt like we had done all the work we could do to even pass the first starter tests, not even bothering to check our work even further. I have a distinct memory of one of these days where the fluorescent bedroom light kept us awake and alert, until one of our friends swung by asking “Do you all want to head out to lunch?” Not even knowing it was already noon, I walked out of the dorm only to be greeted by the warm California sun. This left me with feelings of frustration (frustration that I have been working for hours and I had just gotten past getting the code to compile), dread (dread knowing that 1000 bugs were waiting for me after lunch), and sadness (sadness that I wouldn’t feel fulfilled after even solving one bug, because there was much more to be done).

Rather than feeling motivated, this class ultimately crippled me. In subsequent classes, I put off opening the assignment until I had a full day free to work on it, which kept me from visiting office hours early on or to even get past the know-how of setting up the program. Bugs leave me pulling my hair out and tears coming down; looking back, it seems a bit ridiculous, but it is the feeling of running towards the finish line only to find that you’ve been running in place on a treadmill the entire time. When I did conquer those bugs and those assignments, a wave of relief washes over me. It’s the sort of fulfillment of reaching a destination, but not the fulfillment of the journey itself. The joy that accomplishments brought me were incredibly fleeting, and they left me questioning whether I was worthy.

Like I said before, I worked at the same company for three summers. My internal reasoning as to why I didn’t venture out to other companies is that this company has much more data on me from my internship performances, and it’s been very comfortable. It’s okay to be comfortable, but at the same time interviews reminded me all too much of those homework assignments I’ve consistently struggled with. Not being able to prove myself in 45 minutes a company allotted for me was a door shut in my face because of my abilities.

But if there’s anything I learned, in order to overcome these sorts of fears and insecurities, I have to face them head on.

These interviews–yes, they were brutal. There were many times I hated myself for not studying up on that one concept or not explaining myself enough to the interviewer. But I’m learning to take pride in the small things, and I’m proud that I put myself out there for failures and successes! Things looked really bleak for a few months, and I had turned into someone who couldn’t stop thinking or talking about jobs because of how stress-inducing it was. I had learned to love a company to only be pummeled by two phone interviews. I eventually learned to not really get my hopes up because… it wouldn’t pan out most likely. But the patience and work definitely paid off in the end. I did end up with offers for places that I knew I would be grateful to be working at, and I’m forever appreciative of these opportunities.

Now, some key things/tips I would tell myself for the future, especially when I get unmotivated/stuck in searching for a new career:

  1. It never hurts to start early. You’re never too early to apply or interview. If anything, they may tell you they’re not ready to accept your application, but at least then you know when they would be.
  2. Do it (as in the job hunt/interviewing) for the people. Do it to meet people who are seasoned and well into their careers. Do it to hear about their passions and why they believe in the company.
  3. Do it to learn more about the company. The company is rarely what is said about it in gossip magazines. You can almost think of a company as a celebrity; you would only know by seeking out the truth yourself. I had the opportunity to interview with a company that peers tended to avoid because of word around its culture. It turned out to be the company where I fell in love with the people, trumping all things I had heard about the company through the grapevine. In fact, 3 offers came from places I would’ve never thought I’d see myself at.
  4. Do it to negotiate. There are companies that may not negotiate your offer without a competing offer. Companies are not like college; your offer is not one dimensional like an acceptance letter. There are many conditions attached to your offer letter, and you should do all you can to leverage it to your advantage.
  5. It’s okay to leverage your connections. Ultimately, you do want as much data as you can find in this information-saturated world. If you know someone working at the company you’re interviewing at, don’t be afraid to reach out! Of course, express your gratitude/appreciation and don’t take them for granted!
  6. The interview is very much you interviewing the company as it is the company interviewing you. If there’s anything I learned from the few work experiences I’ve gotten, prestige and impact could mean nothing to you if you’re not excited and happy to come into work. Make sure wherever you go, you go knowing that you will be respected and welcomed with open arms unapologetically!
  7. Establish your own priorities. Maybe you want to stay close to family. Maybe you want to be in the middle of the tech scene. Maybe you want to try a new city. You don’t need to be influenced by other people’s choices if that’s not in your best interest.
  8. Don’t forget to be proud of yourself. You need to be your biggest cheerleader.

Amidst this experience, my greatest takeaway can be traced to an interview where he asked “Do you love to code?” And I said “yes.” Never, never, never in a million years would I have thought I could say that genuinely without any hesitation. This experience on top of the years taking CS classes and stumbling and picking myself back up half-heartedly have led me to not necessarily be confident in my skills, but rather to be excited what I can build and create in the next few years. I do truly now see computer science as a craft, allowing me to build something for my needs. In this past quarter for school, I built a web scraping program to grab nationalities of actors and I implemented an image analysis algorithm, and I’ve never felt more empowered in tech. It’s been a long time coming, and I’m so relieved? happy? full of joy? to have arrived at this stage.

Again, I don’t want to forget the ton of support and love I’ve received throughout this journey. A job is a job, but this is my first opportunity and I so appreciate the sincerity people took to my ponderings and worries. To all the people who patiently listened, who gave their 2 cents, who talked to me about their work experience, who believed in me… I really can’t be where I am without you.

2018 is going to have a lot of changes, and I’m so ready.

I do recognize the ton of privilege I have from my track record of growing up in a well-educated household, having a robust high school education, as well as my college education and previous internship experience. To even have interview opportunities is a huge opportunity that many others don’t get. This post is meant to be a reflection of my personal experience the past few months to better inform my future endeavors and for anyone else who might find this even remotely useful.