Jean Hsu - Geek Girl Rising
Jean Hsu

“As a student, I wish I had delved deeper into a few topics and explored them at my leisure, instead of checking the Got-An-A box for each class and moving on.”

Years in industry? 6

Who or what inspired your career in tech? How so? 
My first programming teacher was a woman, whom I wrote a short Medium post about. I don’t think I knew then that I would pursue a career in tech, but the earlyish exposure definitely helped make it an option. Later, I really fell in love with coding and the joy of getting something to work after working for hours late into the night. I knew very little about what the tech industry was like or even what a software engineer did, but I decided to major in it, and thankfully, it’s worked out well.

What’s been your best hack ever?
Professionally, I recently”defragged” my calendar, moving all my one-on-one meetings to Friday and clearing up time to work heads-down on other things the rest of the week. The cost of context-shifting many times a day is extraordinarily high. Personally, my husband and I stick to a short bedtime routine for our daughter (less than 10 minutes). The parenting books suggest you take a bath, sing a song, read a book, etc. to help condition your kid to go to sleep after the routine, but we figured a short routine is just effective as a long routine for conditioning. For a long time, it was literally– pacifier, sleep sack, crib, close door.

What has been your greatest career challenge and how have you handled it?
As I take on more leadership positions, a lot of the challenges shift from the more technical to things related to interpersonal tensions or conflict. Mediating that and coaching people to resolve these issues on their own has been a challenge that I’m learning to deal with more confidently. It’s mind-boggling that communication between humans is so difficult, yet we receive little to no training in how to be effective at it. I work with a coach at Medium whom I bring situations to, and he helps guide me through thinking about the issues and coming up with actionables to resolve them.

What is your biggest career success to date? 
In the past year, I can feel that I’ve grown a lot as an engineer (on an individual contributor level), as well as a leader. It’s not really a discrete incident that I would consider my biggest career success, but I think the realization that some of the mental barriers I had about myself were holding me back, and figuring out ways to get past those, really helped me accelerate my learning. For a while, I considered myself not interested in more “engineering”-heavy areas like Platform or Infrastructure. In the past year, I’ve come to embrace those areas and see them as a challenge that I’m perfectly capable of tackling.

Who are your role models?
Cathy Edwards is a good friend of mine, and also a role model for me. She was the CTO of Chomp, and we met when we were both on a panel many years back. We kept in touch, and have become good friends over the years. I feel like I can always go to her to get honest advice.

If you could go back in time, what’s one tip you’d give your teenage self?
To not separate academic topics too much in my mind from things I did for fun. I excelled in school, but getting good grades was a separate compartment for me than my “fun” activities. I wish I had delved deeper into a few topics and explored them at my leisure, instead of checking the Got-An-A box for each class and moving on.

What do you do when you’re not kicking butt at work?
I mostly hangout with my husband and my 2 year-old daughter. I try to write on Medium once a week. Writing and reading are important to me, but sometimes they fall by the wayside.

Flats, heels or kicks? 
I have a longstanding shoe problem of wanting shoes that are comfortable, look good, and are not outrageously prices. The shoe industry doesn’t seem to produce shoes like that for women. When the Vibram FiveFingers came out, I thought it would solve all my shoe problems, because they were weird enough that they could go with anything. Unfortunately, they smelled horrible, so I’m back to sneakers. I wish I magically suddenly had a few pairs of nicer shoes that would go with nicer clothes so I could upgrade my wardrobe.

Best career advice book?
This is not strictly for career advice, but the book Getting to 50/50 opened my eyes to different ways of combining work and family. I had always assumed I would take many years off to have kids, and I didn’t look forward to that. I don’t think today’s society is very supportive of families with two working parents, but reading a lot of examples of couples who made it work in various ways was really inspiring. I’m also currently reading What Works for Women at Work by Joan Williams and Rachel Dempsey and it seems very promising, but I haven’t gotten to far into it yet.

Who are the women in tech that you most admire and why? 
Cathy Edwards (as I mentioned before): I brought her on to be an engineering advisor at Medium. I also admire the women I work with daily at Medium. Some of them are quieter, and some are more outspoken, but it’s inspiring to go to work everyday in an engineering organization with such talented, smart, and strong women.

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