Pixar Cover Letter

A beautiful summer, a beautiful internship, a beautiful company, and a beautiful team have come to a goodbye this past August 2018, and it will forever be the best internship I’ve ever had. To be honest, I grew more and more anxious starting from January 2018 about what my expectations of the summer should be: what if I’m coming with too high of expectations and I’m let down? How do I make sure I have reasonable guidelines about what to experience during my internship? The weekend prior, I literally didn’t know what to do with all of my nervous energy. But it was all folly. From the moment I drove through the gates of Pixar Animation Studios to see the Cars Logo emblazoned on the concrete road, I was on Cloud 9. And the summer did not fail. In fact, it so exceeded my expectations of what a 9-5 job can look like, and I was always so excited to see my team of 4, to watch exclusive screenings followed by Q&As with directors, to see Ed Catmull and Jim Morris before my very eyes communicating their vision to the entire company of ~1200 people.

It’s incredibly nostalgic to think back to this summer, but even more nostalgic to see where everything started: my cover letter. My manager actually informed me that the reason my application stood out was for the well written cover letter. Much to my relief that “wow people actually read cover letters!,” I’m reminded about the sincerity and diligence I put into this one pager and how far it took me. So to whoever might find this useful for job hunting or care to know why one person would have so much enthusiasm for Pixar, here you go!

Dear Pixar Hiring Manager:

My name is Da Eun Kim and I am currently pursuing my Master’s in Computer Science at Stanford University, having just graduated with my B.S. in Symbolic Systems at Stanford. As I go to pursue full-time opportunities, I can’t help but wonder how to best combine my two interests: technology and the arts, specifically filmmaking. It’s probably a no-brainer that Pixar fits perfectly into this category.

I’ve always been a lover of Pixar movies. Recently, I read Creativity, Inc., which allowed me to peek at the behind-the-scenes of many of those acclaimed movies. Not only was there the novelty aspect of getting to see the process of creating these movies, but I became filled by a whole other fascination: while Pixar’s unique point is in its 3D animation, the company absolutely refused to settle for less in terms of content, plot, music, and story. It recognized the empathy that its movies had the potential to bring to its now audience of wide age range. People say Pixar is for kids? Even as a 21-year-old, I learn so much from the lessons and subtleties, not to mention I have a greater appreciation for the computer genius that rumbles away in the background. Pixar’s impact on especially the younger generation astounds me, and I am eager to see how Pixar could enact change in the next generation to come. What would happen if we took a step further from the cultural adjustments Pixar made in Inside Out? What if we could even reduce the likelihood of implicit racism by destroying stereotypes that are often so engrained in media? These questions leave me almost begging to be a part of this near-magical process.

I am applying to be an intern this upcoming summer, particularly for the Software Development – Post Production Engineering Internship, because even after several software engineering internships in the industry, I am still longing for the creativity that comes about from being part of the storytelling process as well as the product development process. I believe my work experience speaks to my technical abilities as well as my ability to quickly learn in fast-paced environments. I love solving technical problems and making sure things are pixel perfect on the UI/front-end side. On top of this, I believe that my academic background with several film classes fuels my enthusiasm to be even more hard-working and excited to work at Pixar, and I really hope I get the chance to dip my toes into the entertainment industry while using my technical skills. For more insight to my portfolio, please see my resume below, or my website web.stanford.edu/~daeunk in addition to my YouTube channel youtube.com/user/daeunkim1024.

 

Regardless to say, I am incredibly excited about the prospect of being involved in Pixar’s mission and community. I plan to find inspiration from the people, from the works, and from my projects at this company. Thank you for your time and I look forward to hearing from you soon.

Sincerely,

Da Eun Kim

IMG_20180525_173724-EFFECTS.jpg

Advertisements

Movies: Summer 2018

I was lucky enough to intern at a place where it’s socially acceptable to watch a 2 hour movie followed by 30-60 minutes of Q&A with the director in the middle of the workday. This was absolute heaven for the aspiring filmmaker, and I find myself recommending so many movies to my friends, so here’s the list to whoever is wondering:

  1. Eighth Grade – Do you remember those happy days of 8th grade? Yeah, neither do I. This movie perfectly captured the rawness of emotions that happen in 8th grade/adolescence. Even if you don’t want to remember middle school, you’ll definitely be rooting for Kayla.
  2. Blindspotting – A movie that is repping the local city of Oakland and uses the friendship of two locals to unpack the complex issues of police brutality and gentrification through two different perspectives. I would give an air of caution because this movie is hyper-realistic and heavy, but for someone like me wanting to better understand these issues, it does a great job.
  3. Sorry to Bother You – freaking. mind. blown. The perfect complement to movie #2 because they capture similar themes but this one is more fantastical. I won’t say more because it would give away the movie, but just go watch!
  4. Kim Swims – A documentary about a brilliant, resilient woman who conquered the hardest swims in the world. Resonating quotes are “Trust the timing of your life” and “When you’re afraid to do something, that’s when you should do it.” It left me in awe and motivated to go out and conquer my own fears.
  5. Ant-Man and the Wasp – The great feel good movie to come out after that depressing ending of Avengers: Infinity War. Paul Rudd never fails to make my stomach hurt from laughing, and you get to peep the familiar landmarks of San Francisco.
  6. Incredibles 2 – omg how can I not include this movie? Forget the nostalgia factor of having to wait for this movie for 14 years, this was a legitimately great movie. I would’ve expected the sequel to focus more on the kids, but it chose to focus on the mom which was refreshing. Pixar was amazing in playing with Elastigirl’s powers since flexibility is not seen often in media (let’s be real, Mr. Incredible and superhuman strength is way overdone), and the train scene was exhilarating. And the scenes with Jack-Jack and Edna are the best.
  7. Bao – Okay Bao is technically not a movie, but it cannot be ignored. A short that plays before Incredibles 2, it is the first Pixar work with a female director AND she’s Asian American! For anyone who grew up with a parent who shows their love through food, you’ll love this. As for the plot twist, many people don’t get it; but if you are someone who does, then it’s an even bigger heart pang.
  8. Crazy Rich Asians – The movie I at first had many reservations about, but in the end I was rooting for it with all my heart. You don’t need to read the book in order to watch this movie, and the stellar cast speaks for itself. This movie certainly was not meant to tell an Asian American narrative or the narrative of MOST Asians; that’s simply impossible. It certainly could’ve done better in being inclusive of South and Southeast Asians. But a movie can ALWAYS do better, so watch it for the great storyline. Conversations I’ve been having about this movie has been giving me LIFE; we are only able to give praises and harsh criticisms because this movie EXISTS. This work coming onto the big screen IS a feat, whether or not it’s THE win for Asian Americans, and it makes me look forward to where these cast members are next seen and future movies with Asians in prominent positions.
  9. Christopher Robin – I had forgotten the tale of Winnie the Pooh, but once I heard Pooh’s voice my heart melted. It’s another feel good movie about friends and family and it’s easy to digest. Hoping to watch this with my parents soon 🙂
  10. To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before – Another movie based on a book by an Asian American author that just came out on Netflix! It features a half Asian female protagonist and it’s truly one of those hilarious young adult romance novels you might’ve read when you were younger – just on the screen.
  11. One Small StepA short animated film by an up and coming studio called Taiko Animation Studios. It’s about a Chinese American girl hoping to achieve her dream of becoming an astronaut with the support of her father.
  12. Honorable Mention: Kim’s Convenience – First off, this is a TV show. Secondly, this has been out for a while, but I only just watched this on Netflix this summer. I’m totally biased because this is about a Korean-Canadian family, but it’s been greenlit for 2 more seasons so that must mean SOMETHING. The church scenes are so hilarious, I totally get the daughter’s frustrations and quips with her parents, and the parents are totally the stars of this show, which is only appropriate because we all owe everything back to our immigrant parents!

Documenting an Inspiring Convo

Note to self: bring a notebook around so that you can take notes on things people say that shake you to your ~core~

This past year, I decided to challenge myself: by talking to adults. Yes, I’m an adult as are all other college students. But by “adult,” I mean people who are at least in their 30s, who I wouldn’t find myself talking to at midnight in the dorms. I wanted to do this because for the past 4 or so years, I’ve always been talking to people who are going through life in the same stages as me: figuring out what to do post-grad, trying to apply for internships, etc. And I realized that what I really needed was some new perspective, maybe from seasoned people who have gained wisdom from their years of experience.

I also had another motivation behind doing this: I literally know no one in film. Film is becoming something I want to make more than just a hobby. It’s becoming something I want to keep myself accountable in pushing myself to find stories and document them into something beautiful and relatable. I’ve been able to exercise those muscles more, but I know that it can’t just be in a void of my own room.

I was lucky enough to reconnect with one of my d.school professors in Movie Design, and I finally got the chance to sit down with him on the last day I was on campus actually. (PSA: Scott Doorley is one of the kindest and most affable professors ever!) Here are some thoughts I came out of the conversation with:

  • Film schools have only really been a thing since the 70s-80s. They’re still quite relatively new, so contrary to popular belief, the majority of people in the film industry do NOT have a film education background.
  • The top film schools are USC, NYU, and UCLA. USC is in the heart of Hollywood and tends to focus on funneling people into the mainstream industry. NYU has a greater focus on independent filmmakers, and UCLA is a good mix of both. UCLA being a public school, tends to be underresourced compared to USC and NYU.
  • Networking is key. I’ve gotten this advice from a lot of people affiliated with the film industry, actually. I used to abhor the word, BUT now I do think there are genuine and authentic ways to build relationships around your career. Doorley had a great way of putting it: “Networking doesn’t have to feel like a relationship where you only take. Networking can simply be approaching someone and expressing genuine interest in their work. A simple ‘Hi, I’d love to learn more about what you do, can I come by your desk sometime when you’re not busy to see what you’re up to?’ can suffice. And in fact, you’re helping them by giving them the space to express their passion wholeheartedly, something you can’t always do when your passion is your 9-5 job.”
  • Response to my question “How do you make sure your film/video is able to stay true to your original intent?”: In the d.school, we talk a lot about embracing change and letting the process guide us through. While being malleable is important, it’s also important for you to deliver on your intent. But it’s the balance of being able to adapt and to always have an intent in mind. It may not be the original intent, but as long as you are grounded in an intent, your product will ring true.
  • This quote by Ira Glass is life:

    “Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.”

2018 New Year’s Fears

I now so appreciate the beauty of the digital footprint in that I am so easily able to go back to older posts and read what I wrote and reflect on those to only now have new thoughts about old topics. While it’s still January, I wanted to go back and address last year’s fears, write my new fears, as well as reflect on the year that was 2017 for myself. Let’s go!

Addressing 2017 New Year’s Fears

  1. I’m scared that CS 110 will destroy me/make me feel insecure about my abilities to be a competent software engineer (much like CS 107 made me feel). I still find myself oftentimes paralyzed from starting CS assignments because they seem so daunting. It’s never much of a problem once I get knee-deep in, but the feet have to go in first. It’s also not a pleasant feeling for the deadline to be like a flame under your bottom. I’ll admit that CS 110 did destroy me. I was constantly in office hours (with no fellow peers for that matter) feeling like I was stabbing the problem to death without making any headway. It definitely lived up to my rather lowly expectations, but on a related note, I think CS 110 was just a band aid I needed to rip off in order to realize what I can do. From CS 110, I moved onto more application-based classes, a third internship, and 2 classes that were way outside of my comfort zone. In said 2 classes, I found myself being excited for the parts where I get to code and being excited to see what I develop. I’ve come such a long way from the abyss that was 110.
  2. I’m really excited for 2 of my classes for the winter, a filmmaking class and a UX design class. These are areas I am semi-serious about pursuing, and there is a fear that they won’t pan out to be what I expect and I’ll be back in square 1 of “what the hell am I doing with my life?” UX Design was a wonderful space to explore the field and I definitely don’t regret taking it. But the hours of straining my neck over the small computer screen to make sure everything is pixel perfect drove me a little nuts rather than keeping me excited. Nonetheless, I absolutely loved my filmmaking class. I had a wonderful group with a wonderful idea, and this passion has carried over to my career aspirations. So… no, I’m most definitely not back at square 1!
  3. I’m scared I won’t be in an important position for an organization I’m involved in, and I’m scared that if I am in that position, that I won’t meet my goals and get a lot of hate for it. Hmm, I don’t quite remember what I meant by this, but I did end up taking a back seat from organizations for the first half of this year. I learned that this was actually the healthiest decision for me as I found myself still helping out my organizations in ways that I knew I could be of help rather than doing it out of obligation. I think this helped me relearn my interpretation of doing things that I like versus I need. Ultimately, in a very non-graduate manner, I ended up rejoining an organization that I had joined my freshmen year–primarily because I believe in this leadership and I’m excited to give back to the freshmen and the community that has had such a huge impact on me in my 4 years.
  4. I’m scared that my family will continue to adamantly refuse my relationship. I’m telling myself to give it time, but it’s brought a lot of tears and heartaches tbh… I’m tearing up right now even writing that. I wish they could see the potential of good and happiness it brings into my life rather than the list of differences in background that amount to how communication will be terrible in the long run. This is definitely still an incredibly hard conversation that has not been passed yet. Each conversation brings tears, but I do think we’ve taken baby steps to better understanding one another. Most of the time, we just don’t talk about it, which I think is fine given the emotional exhaustion it stirs up.
  5. I’m scared that I have too high of expectations for my internship this summer after having had an amazing experience in NYC summer 2016. I definitely wouldn’t say this was my favorite internship, BUT it did force me to grow in very different ways from my previous 2 internships. I was given a lot more freedom and independence to make decisions and I was given ambiguous problems to find very specific solutions for. I think I not only grew my technical skills, but I grew my ability to be an engaging part of the team, putting out my ideas and constantly asking for feedback. I would say that I am most proud of my growth from this internship.
  6. I’m scared that I will continue to body shame myself. On top of that, I’m scared that I will be motivated for vanity reasons rather than longevity and health reasons. I’m learning to love myself with the support of many of my loved ones. My theme for 2018 is actually focusing on health in all its forms: physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, and environmental. I want to be stronger and more confident, which are both physical and mental goals that are complementary and not at odds.
  7. I’m scared that as a grad student in the fall, I will feel lonelier than ever. I am definitely more alone but I think I have grown to be more of my own person with my own agenda.
  8. I’m scared that I will fail at managing money lol. lol always a work in progress!
  9. I’m scared that I will never feel comfortable enough to voice my own political opinions on social media for fear of being not well-read enough. I’ve learned that the most I can say is based on my own personal experiences, and those experiences are what are most valuable and unique to put out. End of last year, I wrote a blog post talking about my name, and I got an overwhelming response to this from friends. Friends opened up telling me that they actually never say my name (which I ironically didn’t even notice), they told me that they have similar experiences, they validated and affirmed me in so many ways that I wouldn’t have even fathomed.

2018 New Year’s Fears

  1. I’m scared for all the changes up ahead: from leaving a place I called home for 4+ years to needing to relearn how to socialize and find my own community.
  2. I’m scared that in my first time ever doing research, that I won’t be able to deliver because the guidelines are so loose.
  3. I’m scared that I won’t be able to make the best use of my time not in school/work. The general idea right now is to travel, but who knows if 1) it’ll pan out and 2) if it’ll actually add value to my life outside of having cool photos for Instagram.
  4. I’m still scared that I won’t learn to fully accept my body for how it is! It’s a constant battle, and I want to slowly develop healthy habits for the longevity and health of my body, which is a gift from God.
  5. I’m definitely scared that my internship won’t live up to my internal hype because everyone knows how excited I am, but I still feel this need to keep myself in check and be realistic.
  6. I’m scared about the potential LDR that will be a reality by the end of 2018.
  7. I’m scared that I’ll just be a big mouth talking about all the terrible things happening in this world and not actually take action! ~time to mobilize~
  8. Still scared about not being able to manage money. Send help pls.

My 2017 Recap

meant to celebrate my successes, however big or small!

  1. Created wayy more video content than ever! a rush video, an intro video for freshmen, and 2 videos for personal exploration of classical music
  2. I got an offer to the internship of my ~dreams~ and secured my full-time opportunity for 2018.
  3. Overcame my fear of driving
  4. Developed a joy for coding
  5. Learned handlettering
  6. Grew distant from friends and learned that it’s OK
  7. Joined a summer orchestra and remembered that joy of being in a musical community
  8. Went to GHC and felt empowered & so inspired
  9. Last but not least, I graduated from the school of my wildest dreams.

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.

A Rambling of Thoughts: GHC

I am a strong woman in tech

I am a strong woman in tech

I am a strong woman in tech

I kept telling myself that as I waded my way through the monstrosity called the career fair at the Grace Hopper Conference just last week.

I skirted around the fabulous booths of Google, Facebook, and Microsoft, because well unlike many others who were throwing their resumes at recruiters and engineers, I had already gotten rejected. But I couldn’t stand the awkward air when one of those recruiters made eye contact with me multiple times as I walked past, and I couldn’t help but go talk to her. As she took photos of my resume and asked me logistical questions of when I would graduate and where else I’m interviewing, I couldn’t help but think “She’s gonna find out that the person she spent 10 minutes with has already been put in the throw away pile.”

I went to other company booths mainly to ask questions about their engineering culture, what’s been their favorite part of the company, etc. All those questions where you would hear the same words used over and over again.

“We have such an open culture!”

“We’re incredibly collaborative”

“Work-life balance here is amazing”

But I still asked these questions in hopes of finding somewhere where I could feel more at home. My previous experience in tech had pushed me and I have come out with the joys of feeling accomplished for finding bugs and fixing them, but that feeling wouldn’t last beyond that. I couldn’t bring myself to make an elevator pitch, the way many others would simply whip out their resume and start listing off their technical passions and their accomplishments. I feel incredibly indebted to the people I have gotten support from, and I still struggle to really believe that I am a strong woman in tech.

I am a strong woman in tech… right?

I find that my interests in college have varied significantly. My academics in computer science are not reflected in my leadership in the Asian American community, and then both are not reflected in my escape from reality with playing violin. I want to do all of them, but I’ve felt constrained to prioritize and only pick one for a career. I had now just accepted that if I stay in tech, I would be siloed to just code and not have any other sort of influence or part in other spheres of my life, because I’m not good at multi-tasking! I’m not good at letting my life be day and night, work and life.

But really, all I want is to be enthusiastic, to be excited for the work I end up doing. That has made me very impressionable because I want to reflect the enthusiasm that others show me at each and every booth I’ve gone to. So while I am hearing these same words over and over again from each recruiter, I find myself more and more enthusiastic…but when I go back to try to unpack what it is I liked about them, I turn up empty-handed.

But even before I delve into thinking about where I want to work, am I even qualified or worthy to work in these places? I’m afraid of overestimating my abilities and not being able to follow through with my claims. Maybe that’s why I air on the side of talking very little about myself and what I do. We all know there’s that thing called imposter syndrome and we all know that theoretically everyone experiences it. I’m glad to say it’s not crippling me as it used to…but it is still a huge presence in my life.

While I do have all of these thoughts running through my head, Grace Hopper is an incredible space. While I have these doubts, GHC works to dismantle them and to remind us that we are affected by the system that works against us, a system that is not in our favor. Hearing testimonials of women who have accomplished so many and overcome many hardships does remind me that we are our own biggest and harshest critics, and a lot of times we put limits on ourselves.

I can always change. I can always work harder, seek more advice and input. And while it is important that I do my own part to better myself, it’s okay and it’s actually important to find a community such as the one in GHC to remind myself: I am more than my resume and my interviews.

Tidbits of Summer 2017 (July-October)

“I can’t think of a better place to start the tour than SF. Dunno how else to say it in any way other than that this is a woke place hahaha, it’s great to start performing in a place that truly celebrates the message behind this musical and truly welcomes and embraces us for who we are just as we are. But…it’ll be interesting to see when we go to places that may not agree with us, and we at least get the opportunity to challenge their thinking”

 

“when I was auditioning for Hamilton, it was the first time I wasn’t thinking about my race. I know I look ambiguous and most of the time I’m worried at auditions whether I look white enough black enough for the role. But this was the first time those questions were not on my mind and I could focus less on whether I look like I fit the role and focus solely on the art”

 

What role would you wanna play if not your own?
“I used to think I wanted to be Aaron Burr. But I play Eliza and I realize that all the female roles I’ve ever seen and played…. They talk about the man. And Hamilton is the same way kinda, Hamilton wants a wife and Eliza pops up! And tbh while Burr isn’t a girl….. He does talk about Hamilton a lot almost like a love interest haha. So now I wish that I could have a role where I talk about my own thoughts interests desires! SO IF I EVER GOT THE CHANCE TO PLAY HAMILTON I WILL TAKE IT!”

 

“Create a world like no one has ever seen before”

 

“If you wanna be there, that’s already 50% there”

 

“Everything we do will have tech involved, and if we don’t have good people building these products, it can literally change the course of someone’s life”

“You are your only constraint”

The Power of Names

I am rarely someone who puts my opinion online or offer my opinion publicly when events are in motion, unless it’s with the very closest of friends. Oftentimes, I broach the topic to hear others’ opinions… because I never felt like I had much to offer or anything new to add. But this summer has got me thinking a lot about something that may seem minute but it has taken ahold of me and I’ve only now recognized how important it is to me: my name.

My name is, first and foremost, 김다은. That’s in the Korean language. It’s the name gifted to me from my grandmother, meaning “warmthful love.” Coming to America at the age of 10 months old, not even a year old, my parents attempted to romanize my name, which brings us to Da Eun Kim. Of course when I was younger, I was not self-conscious about my name, and when I was living in Texas, I was surrounded by a community of family friends who were also all Korean. So there was never any trouble in saying my name. But after I moved to New York and started going through elementary school, I began to realize that my name was difficult to pronounce. In the hope of not attracting too much attention to myself, I went ahead and manipulated the way I pronounced my name to DAH-OON so that it was easier to roll off the tongue for people who spoke English. Not only that, but I couldn’t bear to have people stare at me in confusion and contempt when I tried to introduce myself. And in my new New York school, there were 2 other Asian Americans and they were also Korean. But the biggest difference between me and them was that they were born in America and given English names as well as Korean names from birth. I was left with just Da Eun.

Needless to say, I spent much of my childhood pouring myself over books and reading about the Mirandas and Sarahs and Lucilles and just wishing for myself that I could have an English name. And the most dreaded question to this day for me is: “What’s your name?” In elementary school, I got a myriad of responses similar to this:

“What’s your name?”

“Da Eun.”

“…uh what?”

“Da Eun.”

“…how do you spell that?”

I get this response still, even after trial and error of me trying to figure out the best way to say my name without departing too much from the actual name while desperately hoping that people can pronounce this romanized name in one try. As I have gotten older, it has definitely gotten better to an extent. I don’t get looks of disgust and confusion, and I’ve grown a thicker skin in braving through those conversations where I’m asked to repeat my name 5 times.

But it really doesn’t just end here.

In high school, I was incredibly fond of the teachers I had, especially in the STEM field. While English and history were not my strong suits and I for the most part dreaded writing coherent papers, math and chemistry and science were solvable in my book. I never hesitated to raise my hand to ask questions and participate. Those were also spaces where I found myself getting courage to speak up and occasionally question the answers and explanations teachers gave me. I thought I felt mutual respect.

One day in the middle of May, less than a month away from the end of the school year, I was doing my work in one of my science classes, taught by one of my favorite teachers. I’ve gone on errands for her and I have been able to talk to her about things other than school. That day, she looked up at me, looking a little confused, and said “Da Eun, can you bring me that book at the back of the room?” Everything about this question was normal, except for my name. DAY-OON, she said. For a split second, I was shocked. How could my favorite teacher, who I talk to every single day, in the classroom where I talk to my friends all the time and they say my name… miss my name? At the end of the school year? She’s pronounced it fine this entire time, why now? For the rest of year, I kept mental note of how many times she would call my name. She said my name only two more times, but both times it was DAY-OON. I wasn’t necessarily frustrated or angry, I was just flustered because this was the first time anything like this had happened. It was a situation where you would think you’ve gotten past this big obstacle of introducing yourself with a name that should be romanized enough to be pronounced that you can move on and nurture that relationship further… but I felt like I was back at square 1, except I had already had this connection with this person FOR A YEAR. I didn’t do much about it, but as you can see, I still have that memory to this day, 7 years later.

NOTE: By high school, I had moved to California and I went to a school that was predominantly white, but there was a good percentage of Asian students. I actually lived in a neighborhood of all Korean families, and many of the girls were in my year. The common narrative I would hear from those girls was how they would be talking to a classmate and they would mention me, but the classmate would have no idea who they were talking about, something like:

“Yeah, I think 다은 is taking this class!”

“Who?”

“DAH-OON”

“Oh! Cool!”

Luckily, these girls had caught on that I completely mispronounce my name just to make it remotely easier for non-Koreans to pronounce my name, and they would readjust immediately depending on who they talked to, but it also gave me this pretense that oh, only Koreans will ever be able to pronounce my name correctly or care to.

Now comes college. I still went through this motion of introducing myself as DAH-OON and it for the most part went off without a hitch. Winter quarter of freshmen year, I was mainly hanging out with 3 guys in my freshmen dorm. Jokes were always being had, and it was overall a group that I genuinely had a lot of fun with. One day, I came back from class and met up with the 3 guys, and one of them looked at me really seriously and said,

Can you teach me how to pronounce your name correctly? I know that you must be saying it wrong so that it’s easier for me to say it, but I genuinely want to learn the correct way.

I originally brushed it away, saying “oh no, it’s totally fine, I don’t mind at all.” But then the other two hopped in, saying that they wanted to learn. After maybe 5 minutes of repeating my name over and over again, I thought to myself “It’s whatever, they’ll probably forget how to say it, and that’s still fine.”

To my surprise, for the next three weeks, each one of them would stop me when they’d see me down the hall, and they’d repeat my name multiple times and wouldn’t stop until I told them that was the right pronunciation. And to this day, those 3 guys now say my name. My true name. 다은. And while I couldn’t have said it then, I can say now how I want to thank them for taking my name seriously.

Fast forward to this summer when I was interning. I still haven’t gotten rid of the habit of calling myself DAH-OON but again, for the most part, people are able to say this fine. I felt mostly supported, especially as a woman in tech, and I know that’s not what many people get to say. Halfway through my internship, I found myself in a biweekly meeting and by this time, all of the interns’ names had been added to the agenda for the part of the meeting where we go around the room talking about our upcoming tasks. The meeting is led by the person who usually reviews my code after my host, so I would say that a relationship had been established by this point where I could ask him for help and we could make small talk. But when it came time for the interns to speak, he said, “Okay DAY-YOON, what are you up to this week?” A jolt ran through me, kind of like deja vu, because this was so similar to what had happened to me years ago in the science classroom. Like…really? Again? After the meeting, I sort of sat in my chair in a daze, replaying that moment. It might seem like a small little detail, but what was eating away at me was that this summer, I had come in with the mindset of wanting to do my contribution of creating a more inclusive workspace. I made it a challenge for myself of where if I saw or heard any sort of microaggression toward coworkers, I wanted to say something for them if they couldn’t say anything themselves. I had been thinking along the lines of racial or gender-related microaggressions that I always read about in those Medium articles. But here I was, dazed and upset with myself for not being able to stop the meeting lead for a second and say, “it’s pronounced 다은.” And you know why I couldn’t bring myself to say that? Because I was afraid that I would be rude to interrupt the meeting to correct him. I can’t even begin to explain how much that ate away at me for the rest of the summer, every time he said my name in that biweekly meeting, completely butchered.

And you know what sucks even more? The fact that I thought I was right for thinking it would be rude of me to correct him. I didn’t fully realize how harmful that mindset was for myself until I grabbed lunch with a coworker for the first time near the end of my internship, and the first thing he said to me was, “I’m sorry, but am I saying your name correctly?” My immediate reaction was relief. Relief that it wasn’t so crazy for me to hope that people would want to pronounce my name correctly. And when I say correctly, I mean the way I had romanized my name to DAH-OON, so NOT EVEN THE REAL TRUE PRONUNCIATION 다은.

Okay but what is the whole point of all of this?

I’m not saying I expect people to pronounce 다은 correctly. It’s a hard name to pronounce and it does not even come from the English language. I’m not saying I expect people to all act like my 3 friends from freshmen year who spent time in their day to pronounce it correctly. I’m not.

But I want to shed light that something as simple as your name… can hold so much power and influence over the person, and it is in fact an issue that many immigrants and minorities face. We are now in a time where we talk about recognizing gender pronouns and slowly institutions are following suit, where people make memes about Starbucks baristas not being able to spell “Katie” correctly (okay but seriously, imagine my name with 3 consecutive vowels and a space in between. I can’t even begin to tell you how many emails I get that say “Da” even if I make sure to leave the Middle Name field blank on forms). And I guess on top of that, I just find that something I’ve been missing and something I wish someone said to me was that “Your name is valuable and it is literally your identity. It is LITERALLY how you present yourself.” It’s an experience that so many marginalized groups have, of training themselves to mispronounce their own names enough just for teachers and peers who are not bilingual to not look down at their names and think they’re weird. It’s an experience that many people in this country have where no matter how many different ways they try to say their name, people still mispronounce it no matter what and will never bother to ask again how to pronounce your name correctly, or worse, they make jokes about your name. It’s an experience where many people must second-guess themselves and their true pronunciation, because they’re afraid of coming off as too sensitive about their name or too pretentious. But why should they be?! It’s their name! It is their identity! It is the name that their loving parents and grandparents have given them at birth, and it is the name that in many ways holds centuries of heritage and history from the land that they left to have better lives in “the land of opportunity.” They should not feel shameful for having a non-Anglo Saxon name and for not “conforming” to Western standards of names. They should not have to second guess themselves and be flooded with the internal monologue of “how should I pronounce my name this time?” every time they have to make an introduction. If you have not felt these feelings or sentiments, that probably means you have a privilege that truthfully thousands of Americans do not have.

But wait, hold up. This isn’t meant to be a message of “make sure you’re saying all of your friends’ names right and ask them repeatedly!” I think at the very least, be respectful if someone corrects you on their name and remember that a name, being just a few scribbles on paper, is still a name and their identity.

I would tell my younger self “Don’t be ashamed of your name. In fact, this should push you to learn more about your heritage and the beautiful history and background that you come from. Be proud that you are Asian American, Korean American. Be proud that you’re Da Eun Kim.”

And if you do have a friend who has a “foreign”/”non-Anglo Saxon” name, maybe one day try asking them what their name means. You may learn something new about your friend.

*Don’t even get me started on the discrimination/stereotyping that happens with a “foreign” name. I have been assumed to be an international student (I am a US citizen), I have been assumed to not know English, and the list can go on…and I am even lucky to have only faced this. This conversation is for a later time, but for now this video does a good job of putting everything in context.

*I can only speak to my personal experience and I do not mean to speak on behalf of any group I do not identify with.

*If you have similar stories like this, please share with me! I would love to hear your narrative and how you’ve tried to overcome this obstacle.

Detangling the experience “college”

2017 has been a bit of a whirlwind, and honestly I didn’t think it was going to happen so quickly. June 18 happened, graduation happened, and the events blur–getting my diploma, rushing into my parents’ car to move out of my dorm, all just to haphazardly/sort of mentally prepare myself for another software engineering internship the very next day. Needless to say, I have not had a chance to fully decompress and reflect on the past 4 years, the years my frosh self said would be “the very best years of my life.” Even now, I am on a time crunch where I get this weekend to relax, but I’m immediately getting on a plane on Monday to blaze through interviews for full-time. But life never stops, and I better jot down my thoughts before my memory fails me.

Don’t get me wrong, Stanford was amazing and I would not have traded it for anything else. The people and the wisdom I encountered in these four years were so invaluable and everyone has had an incredible impact on my life and on the person I have grown to be. But it definitely wasn’t without its dips and turns, and there are some lessons I’ve taken away from this that I’d like to hold to heart moving forward. I don’t think I’d want to necessarily tell my frosh self this, because I have only learned these things through trial and error. But I can at least hope this is potentially helpful for other 18-year-olds who are about to enter an incredible chapter of their lives.

882817_10201593206089456_1685928870_o.jpg

(Me as a wee little freshman moving in)

  1. There are so many great opportunities on campus, and you’re most of the time trying to choose between wonderful options. Don’t sweat it. College is in many ways a portal to new activities and opportunities that you have never even known about. And college is really a chance to try new things! Do you want to learn how to ballroom dance? Great, because no one here knows yet that you have two left feet. Want to work on a side engineering project? Cool, put yourself out there and make new friends who are interested in this! Want to be low key and focus on yourself for your first year? That’s totally fine too. It is so easy to see how amazing everyone is and all of the cool activities they are doing. But let’s be real: you’re not a superhuman. You can’t do every single thing on campus without sacrificing your health, and your health is arguably of most importance. And all these people who are doing great things have made sacrifices of their own. So take advantage of these opportunities, but make sure you’re able to balance it with personal goals.
  2. Surround yourself with a community, a community that uplifts you, challenges you, and motivates you to be the person you hope to be proud of in 4 years. No matter what people say about the importance of classroom learning and career development, it’s also important for you to be grounded in yourself, and the best way I’ve been able to feel comfortable and assured is through the wonderful community I have found much support from. Being in a community empowers you to perhaps do something for that community, and the people in it encourage you through your endeavors. But at the same time, be sure to recognize when communities are toxic to you. I don’t mean that communities are right and wrong universally; it just means that maybe this community does not make you feel the best and discourages you. If so, it’s important to always step back and think about why am I in this community? Is there worth in me being part of this community?
  3. …But surround yourself with a plethora of perspectives as well. College is one of the first places you get to be going to class and living in dorms with people who come from wildly different backgrounds from you. Echochambers are a real thing. It can be so easy to get swept up in the midst of events and to agree with everyone. But it never hurts to try to stop and question for a moment, to try to understand the other perspective a bit better. ASK QUESTIONS!
  4. Take your education seriously. I was definitely very much into this idea of college being a transformative experience where my social circle explodes and I learn to be a social butterfly and break out of all my awkwardness from high school. But an analogy my friend has given me has stuck by me all these years:

    Going to college while not going to any of your classes is like paying to stay in a 5-star hotel and choosing to sleep on the streets.

    Be sure to remember why you are getting an education. Another quote:

    If you are getting an amazing education such as that at Stanford, you better be chasing your passion, if not searching for it, because there are so many others who are dying to be in your position, and you have all the privilege of the prestigious education to help your family, your communities, and yourself.

  5. You never know until you try. What I mean by this is: you can seek advice from upperclassmen and friends all you want, but ultimately you may need to try it yourself to decide for yourself whether this opportunity is worth your time or not. My biggest regrets throughout college all start with the statement “I regret that I didn’t try to____.” Try to apply, try out a class, try auditioning. So be sure to satisfy your curiosities, take opportunities to widen your perspectives.
  6. It’s okay to say no. You’re not disappointing anyone, and you don’t owe anyone anything.

Reminiscing on 4 Years at Stanford: Letter to Roommate

Can confirm this was pretty accurate 🙂

Dear Roommate,

The next four years will be our journey of getting to know each other, as we spend literally every moment of the day together. One question I must ask: do you like peaches? Because I love them! You may agree that not only are they delish, but they’re also very healthy, with lots of fibers to clean your digestive system, plenty of vitamin A to improve night vision, and water essential to living!

Why am I talking about peaches? Well, the peach is nature’s work, and nature is not perfect all the time. You never know how the peach will taste until you take the first bite. Even with the first bite, the next bites are drastically different and unique. A general idea of the peach from touch and smell is not enough to determine the succulence of the peach until you actually taste it. Similarly, you can watch me from afar and make small talk with me, but you’ll be quite surprised by your second, third, and even fourth impressions of me. On the outside, I appear timid and passive; in reality, I’m not afraid to raise my voice. I’m in love with my violin, but if you’re annoyed at my practicing at 1 o’clock in the morning—like when you take that sour bite—I’ll respect your need for sleep and stop. I myself am a really deep sleeper who rustles in her blanket, but if at dawn you whisper to me that you want to go running on campus, I will be out of my bed and changed in no time; you’ll be as surprised as when juice from the seemingly dry peach starts to run down your chin. Surely, these will be the sudden jerks and turns in your otherwise smooth journey of getting to know me, like a peach tasting sweet in the first bite but bitter in the second. In order to get a better sense of the peach’s taste, continue to “take a bite or two” into my character. Like peach fuzz, I will take every effort to make you feel homely and embrace our companionship. I look forward to an adventurous four years.

Fondly,

Da Eun Kim