29 May 2014

Tech and Me in Shanghai

Right from the start of our time in Shanghai in August, I was interested in helping more women join tech; I was in touch with Girl Develop It about starting a chapter, but after around December, I never heard back from them. By the time WomenWhoCode was in touch with me, I felt like it was too late and wished I had contacted them first.

Luckily, I still had several tech opportunities. First of all, as I had time, I worked on re-designing my blog (though that is a project that may never be finished because I want it to be just right).

Barcamp Shanghai Fall 2013 photo 2013-10-26172103_zps68544633.jpg
At Barcamp Shanghai in October (put on by Techyizu), I spoke about/held a discussion about women in tech and my story.

Michael filmed me:

(How do you like that guy going on and on about how too many women on a team make so nothing gets done? Uh, okay . . . my on-the-spot responses to him weren't great. I think really there just needs to be more understanding about how to work with both genders rather than just always working with the team we feel most comfortable getting stuff done with.)

I had planned on finding a full-time job in Shanghai, but I worried that working full-time would mean I wouldn't be working on learning Chinese, which was the real reason I wanted to live in China, and also, honestly, I worried that my still-very-junior dev skills weren't good enough (technical interviews can be freaking scary!).

One company I started to interview at seemed pretty awesome (I was excited about being able to learn and work with Angular.js), but the non-Chinese CEO sat me down after he heard my salary requirements and talked to me about how they were way too high for China. Together with another foreign tech employee, he explained that junior developers in Shanghai make about 3,000 kuai per month (about $500), foreign or local, and that if I could go with around that then we could continue the hiring process. I told him I'd think about it and the employee invited me to lunch where he assured me that those were normal amounts for Shanghai. I was nevertheless a bit doubtful, especially once I realized that the least-expensive studios we'd looked at cost more than 3,000 per month. Then I talked to Michael's cousin, who had been a developer in Shanghai for a while, and he said, "No, that's just a Chinese guy trying to pull one over on you. You could probably make 15,000 or more per month." Imagine his surprise when I told him that the guy wasn't Chinese . . . I didn't go back there.

In November, I introduced the Hult Women in Business Club to HTML, CSS, and JavaScript.

In December, I organized a RailsBridge HTML/CSS/JavaScript workshop for women.

Teaching Git to Jenny photo 2014-02-11163440_zps3c1872d3.jpg
I met many times from October to May with a woman named Jenny (who became a good friend) to teach her some tech skills, including HTML, CSS, JavaScript, git, and a tiny bit of python.

I planned on organizing another RailsBridge workshop and making a weekly JavaScript study group, but without being able to find a location and sponsors (asking for money and space is not my favorite thing to do), and with a lot of other things to do (always), those things didn't happen.

Michael's cousin introduced me to these really cool Taiwanese guys working on some intriguing projects. I showed them what I'd done before, and without a technical interview, they agreed to start me at nearly triple what the other company had offered and go up from there after a three-month review. Unfortunately, all of this solidified when we had only about four months left, and I felt bad jumping in to their company and getting a lot of training, only to leave, so I turned it down. Once again, though, two big factors were the fear of getting detracted from learning Chinese and my fear of not being good enough (impostor syndrome, grr). A third, more embarrassing factor was that I found out I'd have to get another, more complete physical for a work visa and that freaked the heck out of me.

Revive Website photo ScreenShot2014-02-18at82119AM_zpsd2fe89b2.png

Instead, for a couple of months at the start of the year, I worked on making a website for Michael's Hult Prize team's organization: Revive using some technologies I hadn't used before. This is what the main page ended up looking like.

In April, while I was recovering from my horrible sunburn, a friend from People Can Code Shanghai texted me, saying that he had some friends looking for some front-end skills and asking if I knew of anyone. I told him I may be able to give it a shot and I'd like to hear more details. It turns out that these two guys had an idea for a foodie app, and since they were accepted to Chinaccelerator (an intensive accelerator program for startups located at The Lighthouse in Shanghai), they were in need of someone in a hurry and were willing to pay wages closer to American wages. After we spent a lot of time comparing our favorite foods to bake and our favorite restaurants and bakeries in Shanghai, they said they'd like to have me work with them. Again, impostor syndrome had me scared even though I knew that this would be a good opportunity for me—to learn quickly, to earn some money, to get out of my misery about having failed at creating a positive Shanghai experience . . . and somehow I was able to talk myself into it.

And so I started working on ChiShen.Ma, which happily was flexible in many ways. Working with even-headed, hard-working, smart Rem was great. When it was clear that getting into the office was quite a long journey that was wasting the little time we had to get the app launched, he said I could just work from home, where I felt like I could focus and get more done anyway, and when I was needed in the office, he offered to pay for a taxi to speed things up a bit. He let me choose the tech stack, so I chose to build a Django back-end, and though ChiShen.Ma will eventually be a hybrid app, we started out with a mobile web app using jQuery Mobile, meaning the "app" is a website (accessed via a browser) that looks like a phone app.

First Payment for ChiShenMa photo 2014-04-18183213_zpsbaa4d503.jpg
The first paycheck ChiShen.Ma paid went to yours truly. Notice the mixed currency. Also, this was the first time I've seen the new, blu-ish dollar bills ("bluebacks?").

Chinaccelerator at The Lighthouse photo 2014-05-09183451_zps4b272f4a.jpg
This is The Lighthouse on Changping Lu, where Chinaccelerator's office is.

As with any project, I butted my head against unexpected barriers every single day and as the only engineer, there were times when my resilience wore out and I felt bashed into the ground discouraged, but the successes were great, and I was able to earn some moola for our rent in London.

The most unique part of the app is what Rem calls the "Decide-o-matic," where you can swipe pictures to sort them into piles of likes and not-likes. Getting the right library in place for this took waaaaaaay longer than any of us could have guessed.

ChiShen.Ma Swiper photo ScreenShot2014-05-26at62153PM_zpsc105df51.png
ChiShen.Ma Restaurant List photo ScreenShot2014-05-26at64102PM_zps0a1cbda0.png

Now that Rem and Ryan have demoed the ChiShen.Ma app, things are a bit up in the air as the search for funding takes off.

Writing this post makes me feel better about my time in Shanghai. We'll see what I get to work on next.

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