Sunday, November 20, 2016

Resume Advice: Whether to List Interests

Should you list non-work-related interests in your resume?  Does it add flavor and make you stand out, or is it a distraction?

My stance is that you should add it if one of the following is true:
  1. it conveys a positive work trait such as self-discipline, perseverance, teamwork ... OR ...
  2. a job related to this interest would be your dream job
I once interviewed a finance person who listed on his resume that he had won an Olympic medal in track and field.  This immediately made me think that he has patience, and the ability to withstand mental pressure.

When interviewing applicants for my company Evertoon, I'd love to find people who have a passion for moviemaking.  If a job related to moviemaking would be their dream job, that's a great match.  If they enjoy movies but only to the same extent that they enjoy 20 other things, then it doesn't need to be listed.

Sometimes people list interests that many others share, and are passive activites.  e.g. 

Interests: traveling, reading, eating amazing food

 This is not going to make you stand out.  Can you imagine this conversation:
Interviewer A: "What did you think of Elizabeth?"
B: "Which one is she again?"
A: "The one that likes eating amazing food."
B: "Oh, her!"

No, that is not going to happen.  So don't put those interests on your resume.

I also think there's a lower relevance bar for interests that you put on your LinkedIn.  It's fine to list these passive activities there.  Recruiters might be sourcing LinkedIn and use this information to strike up a conversation with you.

The resume demonstrates your ability to be concise.  Don't squander it by writing interests that are cliche.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Resume Advice: How to Handle a Gap in Work History

Yesterday I gave advice to a former classmate about his resume.  Specifically: how to deal with a 5-year gap in work history.

It made me think about two years ago, when I was advising a friend Sally about her resume.  She kept mentioning a 6-month gap that happened because she was waiting for a work visa.  Should she proactively address the gap and explain it?  Should she not mention it, and hope the interviewer doesn't spot it?

I've never heard the word "gap" said so many times in one conversation.  The only type of gap that causes more obsessive worry is the stupid thigh gap.

The only type of gap that causes more worrying than a resume work gap.

Here's my advice.  First, understand why a work history gap is problematic.  A work gap can make the interviewer worry that:

1. You're not serious about working.
2. You might be rusty at the skills needed for the job.

A number of people in this world are flaky when it comes to working!  They'll do things like suddenly not show up to work for a day, without letting anyone know, and without making plans to cover their tasks.  Or they abruptly quit halfway through a critical two-month project, leaving their teammates stranded.  Or they make it known that they think work sucks and anyone who enjoys work is a fool, gradually poisoning the team attitude.  When I interview people, I'd estimate 3% of applicant are like this.  Out of people with big gaps in their work history, maybe 15% are like this.

When reading the above paragraph, if you felt horrified and thought, "People actually do that?!", then the situation is easy peasy.  I'll show you below how to reassure the hiring manager.

If you read it thinking, "I feel so understood!  Of course anyone who enjoys work is a fool.  Can you teach me how to get away with suddenly not showing up to work?", then please close this browser tab, and never apply for a job at a company I'm affiliated with.

Now, onto solutions.  If your work gap was for less than six months, don't worry about it.  It's unlikely anyone will mind, or even notice.

If it was longer, the most optimal solution (which addresses both concerns of the hiring manager) is to list any work-related projects you did.  Do this even if the project was unpaid, or if it only covered a fraction of the time period.  e.g.

2012-2014 Wrote python for open-source coding projects RecipeSearcher and DogPhotoAnalyzer. 
2012-2014 Read 20 books about improving my sales skills.

The hiring manager will think:

1. This person is so serious about working that they did unpaid work!  They had enough self-discipline to make progress on their own.
2. They were using their skills during this period, so their abilities will still be current.

If you didn't work on any projects directly related to work, but you did things that required being organized or teamwork or self-sacrifice for the greater good, put those.

2012-2014 Volunteered for Habitat for Humanity and built 4 homes.
2012-2014 Took care of an ill family member.
2012-2014 Competed professionally in ultimate frisbee.

While this does not solve concern #2, at least it somewhat addresses concern #1 because it shows you care, and are responsible.

If all you did during the gap was to passively consume entertainment, or sit around feeling sad, then just don't mention the gap.  The worst is to specifically call attention to it, while saying something that exacerbates the worries.

2012-2014 Traveled the world, sampled amazing cuisines, hiked Machu Picchu.

The hiring manager will think: If this is so important to you that you're listing in your resume, how do I know you're not going to complain every day that you're at work instead of traveling?  How do I know you won't suddenly drop an important project to go sample amazing cuisines again?

Hiking Machu Picchu doesn't signify that you can commit or be dependable.  It only signifies you can commit for a 4-day hike.

Just leave that gap off your resume.  When it comes up in the interview, say something like, "I thoroughly enjoyed traveling, and now I'm really eager to find a company that I can commit to for the next X years."  (assuming this is true)

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Brain making poor analogies

This is the longest I have gone between blog posts in the past 12 years.  I still jot down thoughts, six to twelve times every day, but in private.

I realized recently that I pattern-match current situations to ones I have seen before, to predict how things might turn out. But the bad thing is that my brain will pattern match to situations that are very superficially similar, and also to fictional accounts like tv shows.

E.g. I will catch myself thinking things like "I have been working on this for 2 years. Last time I worked on a product for 2 years, the team faced challenge Y.  So I need to stay alert for Y."  But length of time is a meaningless signal!  There are much more direct signals like user feedback.

Or I will think "I am really happy with Aff.  On Sex and the City, how long was Samantha happy with Smith before problems arose?  If we've been happy for longer than that, I can feel reassured."  These are fictional characters!  

I welcome any tips for stopping these inaccurate comparisons.

Friday, June 10, 2016

the most alienating thing that ever happened to me, as a female engineer

Recently I had dinner with a colleague Raf from my old job on Microsoft Flight Simulator.  I told him how I felt that Microsoft had a less diverse culture than Google.  He asked why.  I told him one story in particular.

For two months before shipping Flight Simulator, we'd stay late every evening.  Management would bring in dinner, and the team would watch television while eating together.  My team always wanted to watch baseball.  Every evening, without fail, there would be baseball on the television.

Once, I asked if we could watch "Friends" instead.  This was met with incredulity and laughter.

A few weeks later, as a joke, my colleague Mike changed the television show to Friends, and then took out the batteries from the remote control.  He placed the empty remote on the conference room table near the door.

Our coworker Steve walked in, saw Friends on the television, and immediately grabbed the remote to change the channel.  He jabbed the remote with increasing fervor, walking up many steps until he was nearly touching the television.  He pointed the remote with outstretched arm, looking puzzled as the screen continued to show Friends.

As Steve was looking confused, Mike laughed so hard that he fell to his knees on the floor.

Steve finally turned over the remote, saw the missing batteries, chuckled, and put the remote back on the table.  Moments later, Todd walked in and immediately grabbed the remote to change the channel.

Now both Steve and Mike were laughing.

This repeated several times.  Mike laughed harder with every subsequent person that fell for the prank.  Eventually he was red in the face and could hardly straighten up from how hard he had laughed.

I think this may have been the most alienating event that occurred during my time at Microsoft.  If I had walked in, and baseball was showing on the television, it would be completely unthinkable for me to grab the remote and change it to Friends.  If I had done that, the outcry would've been thundering.  People would question my social skills.  They would tell me that I lack social etiquette.   And yet every person who walked in that night felt completely at ease to change the channel without clarifying.  They didn't bother to ask, "Oh, are we watching a different show tonight?"  They assumed that of course it's natural that they should change it to their show.

There were many other little things like this.  Morale events were always go-kart racing.  When we got new T-shirts, there were never women's sizes.  I remember being amazed and gratified my first week at Google in 2003, when they handed out T-shirts at TGIF and there were women's sizes.

When I was having dinner a couple days ago with Raf, he asked me, "When this happened and you felt out of place, did you ever question whether you really liked engineering?  Did you ever feel like 'Wow, maybe engineering isn't the right line of work for me'?"

Me: "No.  I had such a good time writing code at Caltech, and programming as a kid.  I knew I loved it.  That was never in doubt.  I just didn't know if I'd ever find a company where I felt at ease."

Raf: "Do you think that if it were a different woman who went through what you did, she might have concluded that she's not meant for engineering?"

Me: "..."


More overt things happened too.  My official work mentor offered me a ride in his fancy sports car, and then reached over and buckled my seat belt for me, touching me a lot in the process.  A manager told me I need to be more assertive, and then later when I was more assertive, that now I was too confrontational (issues that magically disappeared when I got a new manager).  In a way, the overt problems were easier for me to discount.  I could tell myself that one person was being an asshole, but most of the team were probably not assholes.  It was harder to tell myself that when the whole room was laughing at the ridiculous notion that maybe my preference could be given equal treatment to theirs for one day.

Saturday, June 04, 2016

grrr objective-C

me: do you know objective-C?
aff: no. when i need to make mac changes, i just add square brackets until that shit compiles


I find objective-C to be such a confusing language.  Sometimes the syntax is, and sometimes [foo bar], and yet other times it's [foo param:bar].

We use unity3D with C# at Evertoon, which spares us from having to touch objective-C most of the time.  I never thought one day C# would be the language I turn to thankfully.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Microsoft still being sexist

Wow, it's 2016 and Microsoft is still throwing sexist GDC parties.

I had this exact experience in 2006: here's my blog post.

At least this year, Microsoft was forced to apologize.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

A good week (we launched Evertoon!)

It's been a fun week!

We launched Evertoon.

We were written up in Forbes, TechCrunch, Fortune.

Users are making very creative videos!  They're adding their own music, audio clips, doing voice impersonations.  It's what I always wanted to happen!

We won an award at LAUNCH conference.

Chicken and waffles at the conference Winners Dinner.  Service was slow, but you could get unlimited portions.  Overeating occurred.

Me to our team: It's winner winner chicken dinner, literally.

Our advisor CP sent us cupcakes and cake pops, as a launch celebration.

We moved into a new office!  It's next door to our old office, which means everyone's commute stays the same.  But now we have windows looking onto a view of trees, and it's quiet.

Here we are goofing around with our cake pops.

Outside of work, Aff made me three batches of carrots and handmade guacamole (amongst other food).  That also made it a good week.

Now go download Evertoon from the App Store!


Tuesday, February 23, 2016


Aff showed me this comic:

We decided to have a contest to make up our own poems about our own lives.  His was based on the book Little Pookie, and mine was about CSS.

Aff's poem:
Roses are red,
Napa is hilly.
Did a goat eat your hat?
No, that's silly!

My poem:
Roses are red,
violet is a hue.
This poem sounds good,
but check on mobile too.

Friday, February 05, 2016

geek drama (very different from greek drama)

Recently I need to configure push notifications. I merrily fetched the encrypted certificate, to discover ... I don't have the private key in order to decrypt it.

I scoured my mind and laptop for this key. I searched deep within my soul for whether it's possible that I could've intentionally deleted a private key from my laptop. Could I have been so stupid? What does it say about me that I could've done something as stupid as deleting a private key?

If I looked back hard enough, I could vaguely semi-recall clicking on a line in Keychain Access and deleting it.

Tonight I figured out that because I'd used a service that "auto-configured" push notifications, they used their own private key, which they stored on their server. I had to upgrade my account and pay them $49.95 to download this private key. Wow.

“Without pain, how can we know joy?” —John Green

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

canceling the apocalypse

S: "In the midwest, we had basements in case of tornados."

Me: "Here we worry about earthquakes.  At least with a tornado, you get some warning."

S: "There's supposed to be a way to detect an earthquake.  There's a type of fish that will swim toward the shore, a few seconds before the earthquake."

C: "If you hold back the fish, does it prevent the earthquake?  [mimes holding down a fish with outstretched arm]  'Not today.' "

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Car #2!

I've only purchased one car in my life, 16 years ago.  I've been driving it ever since.  

Nowadays people like to make comments about it.  Last month:

J: "Niniane, I like that you drive this car.  What this car says is, I don't give a fuck what anyone thinks about me."

Me: "Wait, that's not true!  What are you implying that people are thinking about me?"


Yesterday I finally purchased a car!  

It's so foxy, with the headlight eyes, and the reflective exterior.  

This is the last time it'll look this clean, however.

Aff: "I pity the first person who puts a dent on it.  New car owners get so angry about that, like 'How could you be such a fool?'  Unless they did it themselves, in which case it's all 'It couldn't be helped.'"


Azer says he names his cars.  "I named my sports car after a French model.  It was a French version of 'Lisa'.  But then it developed a flat tire the next day after I bought it.  So I decided it needed a more high-maintenance name.  Now it's named Gisele."


It took me months to buy this, because the San Francisco Mazda dealership uses all the high-pressure tactics that are stereotyped for car salesmen.  The "wait here while I check with my manager" and "people generally pay MSRP for this car", etc.

But I discovered the Fremont Mazda dealership, who gave me a very good quote over email, and then honored it when I arrived, with no hassle!  They pointed at a printout on their wall, which listed in tiny font the sales volume of each dealership in California, and themselves in the top #1 position with a yellow highlight.  They were very proud of this.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

the pain of shopping

I hate shopping using my corporeal body.  I'm very happy to shop online, and get a little thrill of anticipation once I've placed the order.  But I really detest real-life shopping.

I realized today that this is because in real life, often your interests are misaligned with the salesperson.  They want to persuade you to make the purchase.  It is harder to stay impartial and make a rational decision, when they're using sales tactics to convince you.

This is the primary reason I've only bought one car in the past 16 years.  Car salespeople are the worst in this regard!

I dislike being in situations where I have to exert willpower to fight against the other person's goal of influencing me to purchase.  

I don't know how other people can tolerate shopping in-person.

Thursday, January 07, 2016


A few months ago, I went to eat at NOMA with a few friends / former-colleagues from Minted.  NOMA was previously ranked the #1 restaurant in the world.  Now it's ranked #3.

We all watched a television show about NOMA's innovative food, and how they forage in the forest for ingredients.

This was the best dish.  It was an onion.  I know it doesn't look that great.  But it WAS that great.  It was by far the best onion I've ever eaten, and will ever eat.  This was the onion to end all onions.

We toured the kitchen afterwards.  They were probably extra nice to us because we couldn't remember whether it's customary to tip in Copenhagen, and Eric insisted to be on the safe side, we must all tip 20%.

When we got back to our lodgings, we discovered you don't need to tip in Copenhagen.

Eric got a ton of compliments from the kitchen staff on his Metallica T-shirt.

Making chocolate moss!

Interns coring apples in the kitchen.

They were growing herbs in their own little greenroom.  They also had a pickling room.

We saw them plucking the ducks behind the restaurant, as we were walking in.  They'd just hunted the ducks that morning.  The ducks had a green head and brown chest.  It's what you'd expect if you googled for an image of a duck.  Anyway, the duck tasted like a standard smoked duck, but "more so".

This was some kind of egg drink.  It reminded me of Alice in Wonderland.

Leaves foraged by their interns that morning!

After I got back to the US:

Brother: "So how was NOMA?"

Me: "So great.  They deserve to be the top restaurant in the world."

Brother: "How would you compare it to French Laundry?  You've been there, right?"

Me: "Once, many years ago.  NOMA is more impressive because they made leaves and an onion taste incredible.  I mean, anyone can make foie gras taste good, but it takes true genius to make an onion taste good."

Brother: "Oh, so French Laundry is just anyone now?"

The big white chunks are salt.  The items in the middle are leaves.  We used the sharpened stick as an eating utensil.

Copenhagen!  We walked around and took boat rides.  We were there for four days.  I had a cold / flu the whole time.

It was lovely to go on an eating adventure with foodie friends.  I'd totally go to another city to eat at a restaurant!