Wednesday, October 06, 2021

Reflections on my friend

Today I thought, "Who from my college do I wish I could talk to?" I thought of my friend "Aria". 

Aria was a computer science major at Caltech. She had short hair and an eyebrow piercing. She said that her parents were against spending so much tuition on a girl, and she had to work her way through much of college. 

She worked as a sysadmin at Caltech. She was also co-head TA of the intro programming class. A student lodged a complaint against her because he didn't like the way she served as TA. She commented to me how the male TAs were doing similar things but weren't getting complaints.

After college, I was Aria's coworker at Microsoft. We were on the same 40-person team for a few months. She welcomed me by making me a music CD and leaving it along with a handwritten note on my keyboard. 

She became determined to get into great shape. We both were new to gym-going, and we went together a few times. She quickly outpaced me with her zeal. Over the course of 1.5 years, she got herself from 30% body fat to 13% body fat. I was impressed at her persistence and how she embraced going out of her comfort zone. 

At work, Aria was widely acknowledged as a great manager. She combined EQ with technical skills. She was told she could either manage a large team of QA or be an individual contributor engineer. She chose to be an IC engineer. Then the criticisms of her code started and never seemed to stop. The negative feedback went on for years.

In today's tech industry, with her excellent management skills, she might make a great VP Engineering. But emotional labor wasn't valued back in the late 90s in tech. Brusque mansplaining was the way to ascend the geek hierarchy.

A few years after college, Aria took her own life. People say environment can't be blamed for someone deciding to commit suicide. She certainly struggled with her mental health for years. But sometimes I think about how Aria was under-appreciated and it makes me sad. She had the highest EQ of my circle of classmates. I wish she had been properly honored for her talent. 

Even though Aria was stronger than others at interpersonal skills (an ability that many programmers felt insecure about), she went out of her way to make them feel encouraged in that area. They sure didn't return the favor whenever any of their technical skills were stronger than hers. Especially considering they usually didn't have to work their way through college like she did and thus were able to focus on coding. And since their parents supported their engineering dreams from a young age, unlike hers.

It took me many years to even realize my grief over Aria. For several years, I was surprised that I didn't feel sadness when I thought about it. The grief took a long time to surface.

I wish Aria were a VP Eng somewhere right now and we could chat every now and then to compare learnings. 

Sunday, October 03, 2021


Recently a friend introduced me to a YouTube star "Max". 

I have some trepidation about YouTube stars after reading about the callousness of Logan Paul and PewDiePie. But Max was down-to-earth, feminist, and kind. 

Max: "I live in a city above layers of Roman ruins. The Romans were very good at making roads that would line up. They always built things with the same widths and units."

Me: "Sounds like the Romans were good engineers. Engineers love creating standards."

Max: "The Romans created some architecture that future generations didn't know how to reproduce. Even now, people don't know how the Romans did it."

Me: "They didn't pass down the instructions? I thought you said they like creating one repeatable way to build things."

Max: "They didn't like to write that down."

Me: "True, engineers also hate writing documentation."