In this episode, Jenny Shen talks about not giving a f*ck and why that’s okay, design and UX for international users, paid mentorship, and the intersection between privilege and open source.
01:51 – Jenny’s Superpower: Not Giving a F*ck and Sticking Up For Others
05:00 – Living a Remote Lifestyle and Cross-Cultural Communication
08:34 – Design and UX For International Users / Research for Local Users
18:08 – Designing to Include All People: Is it possible?
27:07 – Paid Mentorship
34:32 – Offering Mentorship Scholarships
37:15 – Privilege and Open Source
40:22 – Advice for People Looking to Freelance and Work Remotely
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Jamey: Weaponizing the sunk cost fallacy for themself.
Sam: The importance of humans in tech and tech culture.
Jessica: The difference between internationalization and localization.
Jenny: Scholarships as a way to signal and inform other people what she values and what she wants to promote.
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JAMEY: Hello everyone and welcome to Episode 98 of Greater Than Code, a very exciting number. I’m one of your hosts, Jamey Hampton and I’m here with one of my great friends, Jesitron.
JAMEY: Jess has a last name but I just blanked on.
JAMEY: She’s done it to me like a hundred times, so I don’t feel bad.
JESSICA: Right, because you are [crosstalk].
JAMEY: Jessica Kerr. I got it.
JESSICA: Thank you. That’s okay. Twitter as the unique ID, totally useful and I’m happy to be here today with geek Sam, also known as Sam Livingston-Gray.
SAM: Yey! It’s so great to be back. Thank you, Jessica and I am super pleased to introduce our guest today, Jenny Shen. Jenny Shen is an independent Senior UX and Product Designer who has worked with startups and globally recognized brands and she’s received the Top 40 Under 40 honor from Girls in Tech Taiwan. She’s given speeches and workshops in more than 10 different countries and has lectured at National Tsing Hua University and Simon Fraser University. She loves helping newcomers in UX to grow and she has a mentorship program to make that happen. In her spare time, she also advocates for diversity and works on global strategy as the Regional Director of EMEA at Ladies that UX, an international non-profit organization active in over 50 cities around the world. Jenny, welcome to the show.
JENNY: Hi, everyone. I’m excited to be here.
JESSICA: Yey! Are you from Taiwan but now you’re in Amsterdam?
JENNY: Yeah. I was born in Taiwan and also I have a background of moving abroad, living in different countries but now I am in Amsterdam.
JESSICA: I want to ask more about that but I know Sam is excited to ask the important question.
SAM: Yes. Jenny, what is your superpower and how did you acquire it?
JENNY: My superpower, in my understanding, superpower is something that other people don’t have but then I have where I have the ability. I think my superpower, the first one — actually, I have two — is to be able to not give a fuck about what other people think. I just like do start whatever I want to do and I really don’t care what other people is going to see. Of course, not doing any bad stuff and the second superpower is that I have the ability to stand up for others for anything that’s injust. If I see my friend being harassed or whatever, something uncomfortable or bad happens, I will stand up for her or any friends, and I will voice for them.
SAM: In combination with the first, that’s a hell of a combo.
JENNY: [Laughs] Yeah. How did I acquire it? I just think that’s kind of how I grew up. Perhaps the first super power would be that I learned it from my parents. They moved abroad very far from their parents. Our family moved to Canada when I was young and then my parents being really sort of indifferent about what other people think and that kind of just taught me like, “Just live a life that you want and what’s best for you and we’re not going to try to control you or micro-manage you.” That’s kind of how I acquired that super power. The second one is maybe due to the fact that, like the Taiwanese culture where people kind of have a strong sense of justice. They really like to point out if you have done something wrong. I’m not the kind of person who just stand on the side when something wrong is happening.
JESSICA: Nice. I’m happy to hear that because I tried to raise my kids like that, like I don’t care what you do as long as you choose what you do and so, I hope they grow up like you. That will be great.
JENNY: Oh, thank you.
JAMEY: I wonder if you have any tips on how I can also not give a fuck about what other people think?
JENNY: It is an interesting question because my partner, he’s very conscious about what other people think as well and I try to keep on telling him, “Oh, just don’t care. It doesn’t matter.” But he still minds. I’ve heard of this book which actually he read, it’s called ‘The Art of Not Giving a F*ck.’ I haven’t read it because I have the superpower, but perhaps, it would be useful.
JAMEY: I’m putting it on my list.
SAM: It’s funny that you haven’t read it because sometimes I find that it’s really interesting, as somebody who is an expert in something, to go back and read a beginner’s book on a topic and see how that thing looks from the outside. I don’t know. It might be fun.
JESSICA: Yeah. As an expert in not giving a fuck, I think it would be entertaining to read that book but I would skim it.
JESSICA: So Jenny, you said you’ve lived in many different countries?
JENNY: Yeah, that’s right. My family moved to Canada and between Canada and Amsterdam, I moved to Singapore. That’s one other country I’ve lived in and I’ve also lived in a few months, for a very short time in India and also the States.
JESSICA: Nice. I guess it helps to be able to not give a fuck what people think of you when you’re going to exist in all these different cultures where you’re bound to do stuff wrong, but whatever.
JENNY: Yeah, sort of. Even though I’m also kind of aware that it’s better to not cause other people inconveniences. But then still, if I want to do things my way, not give a fuck about something in a country that I’m staying in, I’m also kind of doing that a bit.
JESSICA: Okay. That’s interesting because you mentioned having some awareness so that you can avoid like inconveniencing other people and I agree with that. As someone who is also never giving a fuck really that I remember, I think my memory is flawed, I’ve tried to learn to be more sensitive to the other people around me because I want them to feel comfortable. What pointers can you give me for the cases where I give a fuck just not too much of one?
JENNY: I’m trying to understand what you’re saying, so you’re saying like when I move to a different country and trying to understand having the right balance between caring too much and caring too little where it cause other people’s inconveniences, I would think it’s just understanding about the local culture. Like when I moved to Holland, I learned about what Dutch culture is like and how people usually interact and behave with each other so that I can know where I’m at and where they’re at. Actually when I moved to Holland, I started to become more direct because usually, I have to tone it down in my directness to not offend other people, especially when I was living in Asia, in Singapore and Taiwan but in Holland, it actually helped me to just be myself and say whatever’s on my mind. I think knowing certain cultural aspects probably helps, at least in my case and it helped to know that in where I live right now that people are more receptive to more direct language or do things in a more direct way, pragmatic way.
SAM: Yeah it’s good to have a sense of what some of those cross cultural communication issues are, so that if you are going to upset somebody, you can at least do it on purpose.
JESSICA: Jenny, do you learn that from people, from books or just observation?
JENNY: The first time I think, my initial contact would be my traveling. Before I moved here, I travelled here before and then I try to make some local friends or at least I go to the local meetups and I just also ask other expats what their experiences are living in the Netherlands. I also read up about in blogs, mostly other expat experiences and also my friends who have moved here. I ask them what are some of the things I should be aware of. I would say that’s how I learned about those things in the beginning. Later, when I lived here, then I actually experience the culture first hand and I understand where the lines are and what’s the acceptable behavior and language.
JAMEY: One of the things that you mention that you want to talk about today was design and UX for international users and I think it’s really interesting that you have lived in a bunch of different places and experienced a lot of this first hand and so, I’m wondering in what ways does that inform your decision making with design and UX and things of that nature.
JENNY: I would say that it’s perhaps the other way around is that while I have lived in multiple places, traveled in multiple places and then I have the opportunity to design for international users. Later on, I learned that this is something I’m very passionate about and it’s just kind of all part of my brand. Now, I tell other people that I design for international users, clients can hire me for localizations or research for local users and whatnot.
SAM: You said researching for local users. Is that something that you’ve done a fair bit of? Do you go somewhere and try to figure out what people are up to and how to talk to them?
JENNY: Yeah. I have done that in several different ways. I’ve done that research on site. When I lived in Europe, I have a client that asked me to do the research and I was able to interview multiple users from different nationalities, different countries. I’ve also done that remotely when I was sourcing users to interview and also do usability tests from multiple countries in a region and it has actually proven to be very insightful. The way that the local users tell you about like their preferences and usually, it’s something that is different from what we will expect.
SAM: I’m curious, how you elicit those answers, especially if you’re working across one of those differences of direct versus indirect communication and so on. What kind of questions do you ask and can you tell when there might be more to the answer?
JENNY: Yes. It’s more about these art and science of interviewing users. Most of the time, I don’t ask them specifically about what users of that country would do. I just asked the user personally like what he or she or they might do and then if I find it interesting, I just keep on probing further but it’s at the end when I summarize and synthesize all the answers, I try to look for any patterns between one group of users versus another group of users.
For example, the things that go into user research questionnaire, it’s not that much different from the standard user research questionnaire. For example like, what shops you usually shop at or how would you rate the user experience of this site or how would you rate a customer support. But I would say the main difference is that before the user research, we would also look at the user interface pattern and we will also be familiar with the customs and maybe culture, for example like how the user could respond to questions directly/indirectly and knowing whether to probe further or not. I think that’s one of the key points for international user research.
JAMEY: Can I ask you a basic question? I totally get why UX could be very different for people who have this basis in other cultures that have very different customs but I’m wondering if you could give us one or two concrete examples of this is how you might do something that you’re familiar with, in say the United States and this is a different way that would be better in another context.
JENNY: Is the question more about user research or is that more about the interface?
JAMEY: I guess at this point, I’m asking about the interface. I’m trying to wrap my head around like a real example of what might be different to get a full understanding of what we’re talking about.
JENNY: Of course. A classic example is the pattern of East versus West and one of example is the home page portal design. In Eastern cultures, it’s more common to see a more busy, newspaper, dashboard-looking kind of home page with a lot of information, a lot of advertisements and just stuff everywhere. But then when you look at an American one and English one, it tend to be more minimal. They tend to have little information with a clear call to action.
I provided the example in one of my conference talks where I used a Mozilla Firefox as an example and in the American one, it was just minimal with a call to action button and the one for China, it was super busy. One of the assumptions for why there, as you say, is such a big difference is due to the way the users type in the language and also, the preference to browse or to search information. The assumptions or the educated guesses is that Western users, especially say American users, they like to have the power. They like to decide what is it that they want to search. While generally speaking, maybe Chinese users, would prefer to be like just give me the information that you think I should read. Give me the top five and I don’t want to spend time to type in because typing takes me a really long time to find the right word with the same pronunciation so just give me the top five news that I should know for today.
JESSICA: Can you tell me more about it’s harder to find the right word to type in?
SAM: Yeah, I’m curious about that too.
JENNY: Yeah, of course. In Mandarin Chinese, the language that I speak, the input method is different from English. For example, English is made up of alphabet and then you put different alphabet together and you get a word. Even though one word might have different meanings but the meanings are not that differently from each other. You might get like maybe at most, three or four different meanings for the same word. However, for Mandarin Chinese, you can have a word, for example, dao, but the dao can mean very many different things. It can mean like a religion. It can mean a principle. It can mean a road. When we type in dao via [spoken Chinese], we type in many different methods. We have to search which dao is it that we mean. We have to look through 20 or 30 different words like, “Okay, this is the dao I mean. I mean road.” Therefore, when we are type in a sentence or even a news headline or a keyword, we have to look through 20 or 30 words and pick for each one which is the one that we mean.
SAM: Suddenly my partner struggles with spelling seems so much less significant because if you type a word, you can usually make a guess and search on the page again or Google will say, “Did you mean this?”
JAMEY: Yes, that’s fascinating.
JESSICA: If you spoke a sentence, a person would understand which one you meant?
JENNY: Yeah, if you speak a sentence. A language is usually more contextual that we will try to think about what context you can be in as long as this whole sentence is spoken. But when a person just says one word, it’s really difficult like we don’t understand what dao the person actually mean. But when a person says book, we understand what a book is, even though we don’t understand a full sentence of what is it to do with a book but at least, we know the person is talking about a book.
JESSICA: That’s true and even like book has an additional meaning as a verb but book has one strong meaning, which is the noun of a book and you wouldn’t expect anyone to say book by itself and mean a verb without some clarification.
JESSICA: So that implies that natural language processing in a computer is a lot harder in Mandarin Chinese than in English.
JENNY: I don’t know about that but one thing I do know is that because of the additional difficulty of selecting the right word when we try to say something, it is actually more common and way easier for us to use voice typing or voice input. For a lot of messaging apps, it’s actually much more easier and common to people, to friend to send message to each other with voice messages, instead of just typing on the keyboard.
JESSICA: Voice messages that are transcribed into characters or voice messages that are recorded?
JENNY: Both, actually. That is what I know for users, at least in Taiwan and also in China. It’s actually, much more common for friends to send voice messages to each other.
JESSICA: Thank you for this. I mean, as a monolingual American, I don’t often get the opportunity to learn this stuff and it’s a good illustration of how much of the world I just have no clue about. How do you design when you’re looking to include everyone?
JENNY: My process is first, knowing the inclusive design principles and trying to be aware in advance what might exclude people in terms of their language, technical ability or their social status or their ability, all these other things and there are a lot of actually like guidelines and books on them and also, be aware of where it might exclude people and make an effort to make sure that it does not exclude people and ask people to test the product so then that we know that it’s not excluding anyone.
JAMEY: What do you do if there is something that like, I’m picturing a case where doing it this way looks good, this person doing it this other way looks good, like when people’s preferences or needs conflict, how do you handle that?
JENNY: That’s a really good question. I think it’s really difficult when there’s multiple conflicts. Ultimately, if I was a designer, I’m one of the decision makers who are involved in a process. I also look how it impact to the business and impact to the users or even the greater picture like if it’s related to any ethics and if there are just two people being affected but what if there’s actually a deeper reason that there’s a whole set of people being affected for the decision, so I will try to look at that. But when it comes to making trade off, we do we all the time in terms of product design. It’s never easy. Ultimately, we still have to make a decision.
SAM: Is it even possible to have one design that includes everybody or do you basically wind up having to localize?
JENNY: Different companies have different approaches. For example, companies like Dropbox or maybe Microsoft, I think their aim is to try to be inclusive to everyone using it. As far as I know, they don’t really do a lot of localization but they do instead, internationalization. They design with internationalization in mind and that kind of focuses on how to make sure that people around the world will find minimal friction. In my mind, it’s kind of like finding the average or above average point of usability across the world, instead of trying to optimize for every single locale the user is using the product.
There’s also different pros and cons in internationalization and localization. I specialized in localizations and for each market, we want to design it so well that the users will find the most value and of course, gives the business the most value, even though the design for one country or one locale could be very different from each other.
SAM: It’s interesting. I’ve been spending a lot of time shopping for bags recently because I have kind of a bag problem. I’m always looking for the one true bag and it doesn’t actually exist. But in that process, I ran across a couple of bag companies that appear to only do business in the European Union and they have localized versions for different languages. I have looked at all of them and I’m like, “Well, I don’t speak any of those languages,” but thinking about it, maybe I should go back and look at them again and try to see what the differences are.
JENNY: Yeah, I think that will be an interesting to study. Sometimes when I come across a localized version of eBay and whatnot, I’m always just interested to compare the different versions and see what the local specialty is or the special pattern is.
SAM: Partly for fun and partly because it might lead us to learn something interesting, do you have an example of an instance where somebody fell down hard on trying to reach out to a different audience?
JENNY: Yes. I saw this example and I believe it’s a real example. A business was going to China for a business meeting and with the best intentions, they translated the business cards into Chinese. As a native Mandarin Chinese speaker, when I look at the before and after version, comparing the English and the Chinese version, I sensed that they didn’t hire a copywriter or a translator for the translation. What went wrong in the translation was that in the phone number, on the Chinese version he actually wrote ‘M’ and then the Dutch number format, which actually doesn’t really make sense for a Chinese user because if I show it to my friends in China, they probably wouldn’t understand it, nor would they understand what M means.
What something better to do was actually to use the universal icon like a phone or mobile icon and use the international phone number format but that’s not the worst thing in design. They actually mistranslated one tagline of their, I guess company. On the bottom of the card in English, it says, “Best from Amsterdam,” but into Chinese to actually read, “Better be from Amsterdam.”
JENNY: Maybe the Chinese partners who receive the card will find it a bit humorous or unprofessional. I’m actually not sure. What I saw in Dribbble was actually not the final design. I would hope that the designer got the designs verified and translated properly before they give it to their Chinese business partners. That’s something where a mistake in translation and localization can actually have probably a big impact.
JAMEY: How do you come back from that and be like, “No, we didn’t mean it?”
JENNY: I am not sure. If I would like to suggest anything to the company, perhaps in the Chinese working culture, it will build trust easier once they know their business partners like in social contact. This is based on what I learned from Erin Meyer and her book, The Culture Map, that when you have social drinks with your Chinese clients, maybe they can just laugh it off and like, “Hey, we forgot to translate it properly,” but when they actually become friends, they trust each other, then probably, it’s easier to come back from that.
SAM: So both in that and in the example overall, I’m seeing the importance of having humans in the process and especially humans who are familiar with both cultures. I actually just this week, got into some trouble with a Google Translate from Japanese where something came across in Google Translate as social justice fighters, which I interpreted as social justice warriors and then reacted very strongly to the English connotations of that. When I actually talked to the person in question, they said they thought that what they were saying was more or less equivalent to social justice activists, which of course has very different connotation. I guess this week, I’m just really thinking a lot about slowing down, thinking, talking to people.
JENNY: Yeah, absolutely. One of the key things in localization design or even internationalization design or inclusive design is to actually involve real humans of different backgrounds, different experiences —
SAM: Even though it’s theoretically more expensive when you look at it at first, right? “You mean, I have to pay somebody to do the translation for me?” Yeah, you really do.
JAMEY: I had a project where I did the translations on my Google Translate and my intention was to hire someone to do them for later but at the time when I was just developing, I had to do them and we did a lot of it like AB testing and we had this whole section called records. It was about medical records and it turns out the word that I had used was specifically connotating like, “You beat the record in the race.” I was like, “Oh, no. Sorry.”
SAM: Yeah, medical record takes on a whole different meaning when you see it that way.
JESSICA: Your maximum blood pressure for today.
JAMEY: You got the highest score.
JESSICA: Speaking of real humans, I think there’s something about mentorship in your bio.
JENNY: Yeah. I started my own mentorship program when I realized that a lot of folks were looking for mentors. They are looking for somebody to guide them in their career, give them feedback on their portfolio, résumé, cover letter and etcetera and also just overall feedback on their designs. But there are very few seniors who actually make the time to do that. When I speak to designers, basically almost everyone is looking for a mentor, so I thought, I could mentor. I have mentored before. Let me just start my mentorship program and see who is interested. Because I’m an independent consultant, I do have to make time for mentorship and also set aside time for clients or conference speaking. I do charge for mentorship the same way as I would charge for consulting.
I put up a landing page. I just talked about it on Twitter and Facebook on social media and to my surprise, a lot of folks signed up. It proved that there is a real need and I have just been continuously mentoring people for more than a year. I mentor about three to six mentees a month and it has been actually quite a rewarding journey, so far.
SAM: So do you find that most people need pretty much the same things so that you sort of develop a rhythm as you go or is it a lot of one off like, “Oh, you need a lot of this and so, I have to go in for a lot about it?”
JENNY: There are, actually many different kinds of mentees. Some people just want feedback on their designs. Some people are looking for feedback on their portfolio. I find that a lot of people generally have this same goals. It’s related to job searching or having a location independent lifestyle like I do or jumping to freelancing like what I do now. Overall, I do see a few things emerging but each mentee situation could be different, their starting point is this is different, so what I do know is that I have a strategic call with each mentee at the beginning of the program. I asked them about their career goals, where they want to be and I set up a game plan for them to achieve their goals.
JESSICA: Nice. How do you think this differs from informal mentorship where there is no consulting fee for it?
JENNY: In my experience, charging people from mentorship actually has shown me that the mentees selected are really devoted. They are really proactive and they come to me with really interesting questions because they know that they are paying for it. Their time and my time are both valuable, so they really think about what is it that they want to ask and in return, I feel rewarded. I get to contribute to their success and I don’t have to carve out a lot of time to volunteer for this and I get the same satisfaction.
Mentees also feel that because they are paying for it, I feel that it motivates them even more to achieve their goals. I also have talked to other mentees inventors who engage in an informal mentorship where it’s not paid. There’s no fees. Many people have told me that their mentor or mentee got busy, maybe just told them like, “Sorry, I cannot continue on this. Good luck with everything,” but the mentor or mentee is just hanged there. I feel that charging for mentorship gives a mentee this assurance that because I am being paid, they are my clients, so I actually do have to be responsible for it and I do have to make time for it. It’s kind of a commitment when it’s a paid relationship.
JESSICA: That sounds really healthy.
JENNY: Yeah. I think it’s a more healthy relationship and also, it’s more sustainable because I have mentored for free before for a program called ‘Out of Office Hours’ and it pairs mentors and mentees with a chat and during my Christmas-New Year holiday, I offered to mentor and I got about 40 mentees for a period over two weeks and —
SAM: Oh my.
JENNY: — I wanted to help people, so I didn’t want to say no, so it ended up that I actually took on 40 people but about 30% were no show. That was a bit disappointing in that. I offered my break, my holidays to help people but yet, when I blocked out a time, people didn’t show up, so I was a little disappointed. That was another reason I decided to charge for this mentorship.
SAM: It’s interesting how that affects the way you frame it too because ultimately, what happened was you took your break and you mentored 25 to 30 people but because it wasn’t 40, it felt like a disappointment. Is that accurate?
JENNY: I will say my disappointment is that from my perspective, if I were to reach out to a more experienced person in the field that he or she or they could spend 30 minutes or an hour to mentor me and give me advice, then I have the responsibility to show up and to respect the person’s time but because as a mentor I didn’t get that, so I feel disappointed. It wasn’t that I didn’t achieve this goal of 40 mentees. I did have the time. It’s just that I blocked out a time and when I was waiting on Skype, then I got this last minute message like, “I couldn’t make it,” or even some people just didn’t get back to me at all.
SAM: Yeah, that is disappointing. Although it actually reminds me of when I first got into programming about 20 years ago, I got into it sort of accidentally. I needed to learn Microsoft Access to help my dad with a project and about two weeks into that, I was like, “Well, I need to learn Visual Basics,” so I signed up for a Visual Basic Class at the local community college and the very first day, the instructor introduced himself and was giving his whole spiel and he said, “I know from experience that only about half of you will make it all the way through this class,” and I was pretty young at the time and I just immediately said, “Why would someone who signed up for this class and then not complete it?” And lo and behold, several weeks later, something came up for me and I wound up doing other stuff. I had to take paying work and I did not in fact complete that class. Yeah, things happen but it is still super disappointing.
JENNY: That reminds me, I heard of this somewhere and also, I put this in my web page that if people can get something for free, they tend to value it less so once somebody have actually invested time or money, they are actually more likely to achieve that goal.
JESSICA: Like most things. It’s a circle. We pay for what we value and we value what we pay for.
SAM: Now, I’m thinking about the sunk cost fallacy and how we can exploit that for good.
JAMEY: Do you worry that there are people that can afford to put any money into this that would benefit from mentorship? How do you deal with that feeling?
JENNY: Of course, sometimes I get emails from people that tell me that they come from a low-income family or they cannot afford mentorship right now and ask if I can make an exception. I thought about it. I think it’s fair and my decision was that I will offer mentorship scholarships to folks where that come from a non-first world country and where there’s really a limited access for mentorship or even teaching or even credible design materials or any professionals. That are the groups of people I really want to help and I hope that it will help to contribute to a more even playing field across the tech and design industry.
SAM: I was wondering also if you ever get pushback from people who say, “No, you should be doing this for free. You owe me all this time,” and then I was thinking about the website clients from hell and thinking there might be — [Laughs]. Do you get pushback on that?
JENNY: Definitely. When I announced my mentorship, I get two extreme sides of feedback. Some designers are encouraging. They said, “It’s great that you’re charging,” because they also don’t agree that people should work for free and the other side of designers say, “No, they don’t have money to pay for mentorship. It’s not ethical to charge for mentorship.” When I promote my mentorship, actually one time in a Facebook group, somebody actually flag it as a self-promotional thing, which I get it. It’s fair that it’s not supposed to be self-promotional but below the comments, they were talking about why I shouldn’t be charging for mentorship. In my application form, I actually got an anonymous criticism where somebody was pointing out that I am taking advantage of designers seeking knowledge and it’s not a good example. Basically, they are just trying to bring me down that the fact that I am charging for mentorship.
JAMEY: I think it’s really cool that you are able to offer scholarships and kind of decide what the parameters of those are because that’s a really cool opportunity for you to really say something about what you value and I really admire that.
JENNY: Thank you.
SAM: This actually brings up something that I’ve seen a lot of people and especially Coraline, who was not with us on the show today, talk about which is how privilege intersects with the world of open source software and how a lot of the people who are able to contribute to open source are able to do so because they already have a high paying full-time job and don’t have a lot of other commitments to family or medical problems or whatever else, so you wind up with a very small subgroup of people who are highly over-represented in the open source world. It occurs to me that if we were able to pay more people for their contributions, we could probably solve open source’s severe diversity problem pretty quickly and that then makes me think that’s part of what Ruby Together among other organizations are doing.
JENNY: I think there’s a really good point. From what I hear, I do know that employers value open source contribution but just like what you said, if today one does not have the time because maybe they are overworked in a 12 hours a day kind of job and then they don’t have time to contribute to open source, why should they be a less capable candidates? I think you have a really good point there.
SAM: Oh, and then that makes me think of GitHub as résumé, which I’ve seen a lot of pushback on for these very reasons that only the people who have the time and privilege to be able to contribute to their GitHub page can take advantage of that. Is there an equivalent in the design world?
JENNY: Actually, I think in the design world, it’s more about side projects. It’s more about what the person does on the side, even though there’s not really one thing the person can contribute to as far as I know. Most designers who have time on their side, they end up creating their own thing. It would be a podcast or it would be like art store or it would be just building the Dribbble page and whatnot. I actually —
JESSICA: You mentioned portfolio earlier.
JENNY: Yeah, the portfolio.
JESSICA: Is it the designer’s portfolio kind of the equivalent of my GitHub account, like this is some stuff I’ve done?
JENNY: Yeah, it is.
JESSICA: Okay, except that my GitHub account also contains a lot of crap but if I curated it.
JENNY: Yeah. I was answering from the angle of [inaudible] like open sourcing for designers so my answer was like as far as I know but definitely, we are judged and criticized for our portfolio and how good it appears.
SAM: And if you have the time for side projects, then your portfolio looks better, so yeah that actually does seem directly equivalent.
JESSICA: Yeah, it sounds like it’s even more so for designers that it really is standard to have things that you did on your own time on the side.
JESSICA: Jenny, while we have you on the podcast and since you charge for this kind of advice, can you give our listeners some free pointers on what steps would you take to move toward say, freelancing and location flexibility?
JENNY: That’s great. That’s great.
SAM: Step 1, don’t give a fuck.
JENNY: Don’t give a fuck about what podcast host say and never be invited back. Towards freelancing, my first piece of advice is try to think from the perspective of a client. Most designers, they structure their portfolio and write the copy for the portfolio in order to impress other designers. However, if they are looking to attract freelance work, their portfolio should actually be more about end results because most businesses that are looking for freelancers actually don’t know all the design jargon. When I work with mentees who want to jump into freelancing, first of course is have a solid portfolio where clients can easily see that this is a capable, skilled, reliable designer. Then they want to see how can a designer help me with my product or service. The first advice is learn to even talk with potential clients and as other businesses — not designers — what they think of their portfolio.
The second advice is just to put themselves out there. Many designers want their portfolio to be perfect and flawless and showing just only the best thing and they keep on procrastinating having a Dribbble account or setting up a Twitter account setting up media and a blog and whatnot but be invisible in the online world is able to bring so many benefits, like client is able to search it online, stumbled upon freelancers portfolio and send an email to hire them.
My advice is don’t be afraid to put themselves out there and don’t procrastinate to put their work out there and towards location independence, I think it comes maybe nationally with experienced clients who are hiring remote workers are looking for just a really solid experience and a person who wants to be location independent will also look more remote work instead of being in their physical community.
One thing that I do that actually help me get a lot of remote work is that I am involved in a lot of online communities where people online know me and they can recommend me. On the contrary, if today a person is networking all the time in person, although most of the jobs are going to come through are more likely to be in person, on site jobs, so the more a person can be involved the online communities put in their work out there and having a proven track record of doing good work then it helps to bring a person closer to location independence or they can just go the easy way. They can find a remote company and work for them.
SAM: I have a friend who is a very well-known Agile consultant and he was kind enough to give me some career advice quite some time ago and in that conversation, he said something really interesting about how and why he travels. He said that he finds that he has more credibility as a consultant when he has to travel further away because when you are introduced as, “Here’s this guy I met at the gym and he happened to be an Agile consultant and he might help us out,” that has a different cachet than, “Here’s this internationally-known person that we flew across the country to come in and help us out.” Maybe that’s something that people looking to get into location independent work can exploit.
JENNY: Yeah, I think that’s fair. At least it will impress me if the person I’m meeting is being flown by a client from far away.
JESSICA: So, you value what you pay for and you value what you’ve flown in from far away.
SAM: Because you paid for it.
JESSICA: Flown in, fly in? So, if you want prestige, travel farther and charge more.
SAM: Charging more is probably always a good idea.
JENNY: That’s right.
JESSICA: But I guess also, practicing price discrimination helps by which I mean, charge more and then give scholarships.
JAMEY: This has been a really awesome conversation but unfortunately, it’s right about the time of the show when we wrap up and everyone gives their reflection on something that stood out to them, in their mind that they want to think about a little more, maybe a call to action and I can definitely start because I’m thinking about something that we said when we are talking about valuing what you pay for.
I think it was Sam that mentioned the sunk cost fallacy and I think it was kind of a joke that we didn’t go into but I really actually want to think a little bit more about that because it’s hard for me sometimes to commit to the things I’m doing and I find myself do a lot of things which is something I like but it means that sometimes it’s hard to follow through on all of these kinds of things I’m doing so this idea of weaponizing the sunk cost fallacy for myself is something that I’m definitely going to continue thinking about because if I can trick myself into finishing things that I know I want to finish and I know it’ll be rewarding for me if I finish, I think that would bring a really positive change in my life, so I’m going to chew on that a little bit more, I think.
SAM: I actually feel like I threw away my reflection earlier in the show when I was talking about the importance of bringing humans into everything that you do, especially we were talking about translation and going across cultures. Really for me, that comes down to the entire point of this podcast, which is emphasizing how important humans are and we really like to emphasize that because it’s something that’s often overlooked or minimized in tech culture especially. I’m just going to go with that as my reflection.
JESSICA: Today I learned some really interesting stuff about how culture and language is different in Asia compared to the US and I also found it interesting, the distinction between internationalization and designing so that everyone can use it versus localization, designing so that each person can really use it and those are very different things. It’s not just about everybody. It’s about each person and you can choose which markets are most important and really personalize for them and even hire people to do research about how to personalize to them. That’s really cool.
JENNY: In the conversation, I realize that the scholarships is a way for me to kind of signal and inform other people what I value and what I want to promote. I actually never thought about it that way aside from that. It might be a kind thing to do and some folks might appreciate it. It also reminds me that I probably should put the scholarship information on my website because right now, it’s just in email replies but I don’t make it sort of officially on my web page.
Another thing I was thinking about is Sam’s comments about the open source for designers or in tech or in general. I’m thinking about like what can we do to even out the advantage of folks who are paid well in their day job so that they contribute to open source and how that can lead them to be perceived as a better candidate, like what can we do about that when there are actually some privilege for some people in that area. It’s something to think about but I know it’s probably not going to be an easy thing to solve.
SAM: Actually, it seems that that might be one of the few problems you could, at least partially solve, by throwing more money at it.
JESSICA: Yeah, your limitation is time and money and the world will never be fair but we can do our little bit to make it more fair as Jenny is for her scholarships.
JESSICA: Sweet. Jenny, thank you for joining us today.
JENNY: You are so lovely. Thank you so much for having me on the show.
SAM: We’re really glad you could join us. This is great.
JAMEY: Yes. Thank you so much.
SAM: Thanks listeners. You’ve made it all the way through another episode and we’ll be back at you next week.
JESSICA: If you haven’t had enough of us yet, then you can find us on our Slack channel which you’ll get an invitation to if you give us money on our Patreon, so you too can demonstrate what you care about and if you care about things that are greater than code, then you can help that with money because this is a listener supported podcast. Go to Patreon.com/GreaterThanCode.