Hey Girlfriend!: Amy Wibowo
Amy Wibowo, better known as “sailorhg” on the internet, is more than just the Sailor Mercury image she embodies. Currently working on Bubblesort Zines, an ongoing series of hand-illustrated zines aimed at teaching young students (girls in particular) about computer science, Amy has also worked at Honda and Airbnb as a software engineer.
Amy loves travelling, cats, good food and art. You will definitely find her in an art gallery, dressed in an bright and unique outfit that only Amy would wear – and probably with her super cute cat flats!
It was honestly such a huge honour to interview Amy; I was so excited to post this interview, I was basically fangirling. 😂 Amy is widely recognised in the community and a wonderful role model for young girls and women, not just those looking to work in tech or who already work in tech – but even to just show young girls that they can achieve what they want.
Hello Amy! How has your day been? You recently “rediscovered” Indo Mie – or I guess, commonly known as mie goreng, but there’s a plethora of other flavours that most people don’t know about. What brought the rediscovery on?
Hi Georgie!! I grew up eating Indo Mie as the food my family would make if my parents were too tired to cook an elaborate dinner at night—maybe the way some other families make instant mac and cheese on busy nights. Then we moved to other places in the US that had no Southeast Asian grocery stores, and we couldn’t eat it any more. I was devastated! As soon as I started working in California as an adult I searched for it in a grocery store, and bought like 30 packs, hahaha! The most recent revival in my interest in Indo Mie was from listening to an audio book of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s “We Should All Be Feminists”, in which she name drops Indo Mie. I stopped the recording and re-listened to sentence like 5 times to double check she really said Indo Mie. I had no idea that Indo Mie was popular in Nigerian culture and other cultures besides Indonesian culture. Hearing about that, I became really proud & re-vigorated in my interest in Indo Mie!
I was really happy to hear that you have Indonesian background because it’s yet another thing we have in common, obviously besides being knowledgeable women in information technology. 😊 You’ve also written about your affinity for Indonesian food. What makes you proud of your background, and have you always been proud of it or was it something you gravitated towards as an adult?
I’m also so excited to find another Indonesian woman in tech! Being Indonesian American was kind of a lonely identity growing up. I knew so few other Asian American kids, let alone Southeast Asian, let alone Indonesian. When I traveled to Indonesia for the first time to meet my extended family at 16, I wasn’t convinced that I fit in there, either. I was awkward at speaking the language and felt really out of place. But the warmth of my aunts and uncles and cousins and the deliciousness of the food they made for me won me over. I might not understand everything about the culture, growing up so far away from them, but I can definitely understand the food.
As an adult, I’ve tried to make a bigger effort to get better at the language. I’ve been listening to podcasts, and corresponded with all the vendors for my recent Jakarta wedding celebration in Bahasa. My grandmother told me for the first time ever that she was impressed by my Bahasa, and it meant so much to hear that—being able to converse more with her is the reason I’ve been trying to get better at it.
Can you share more about how you got into programming? Like myself, I noticed that many other women learned coding from Neopets or from playing games in the 90s/early 2000s. I’m guessing you learned in a similar way!
My parents both worked full time, and one summer I begged them to let me stay home instead of sending me to summer camp. I promised I’d learn how to type and program, and I did! I learned how to program little games in Visual Basic (tic tac toe, and eventually some simple adventure games). And once I discovered the web and geocities, I found it a perfect way to combine my love of programming, art, and Sailor Moon so I could build Sailor Moon fansites!
Would you please share how you decided to go by “sailorhg” online?
I identified with Sailor Mercury as soon as I discovered Sailor Moon. She was the shy, nerdy, computery, mathy one, plus her name was Amy and she had short hair like my hair at the time! I always used variations of Sailor Mercury as my online handles since that point. When I went to college, I was told my user name had to be less than 8 letters long—how could I fit Sailor Mercury into 8 letters? Using the chemical symbol for mercury seemed like the best solution—and seemed like a thing that she would have done, too.
It’s well known in the tech industry (yet still not so known!) that you don’t need a college or university degree to be a developer. What are your thoughts on this?
I think whatever decision people make re: a university degree that best fits their needs and means is totally fine! I’ve worked with great people who had or didn’t have degrees, or had degrees but not in computer science. I loved school and am fortunate to enjoy traditional means of learning, in classes and with textbooks, but I know it’s not for everyone. As a woman of color, I feel like sometimes I might not have been taken as seriously (in job interviews, work conversations, etc.) if I wasn’t able to point to MIT bachelor’s and masters degree. It’s really unfortunate and shouldn’t matter, but it’s also sometimes been the reality.
You tweet regularly, sharing your unfortunate encounters of misogyny and your thoughts on diversity and inclusivity, notably on how women working in the tech industry need to be treated better. Do you find that you still get undesired responses or do you feel that you’re educating more people about what’s OK and what’s not?
I still get some terrible responses when I bring up my experience of misogyny in tech. But I hope that at least it helps other women know that they’re not alone in experiencing it. And I hope that if enough marginalized people tell their stories it’ll be harder and harder for us to be ignored.
You recently wrote about your experiences of harassment and being disrespected in a working environment. You summoned up the courage to share your experiences and received a lot of support from the wider community. What can you share with other people who might be in a similar situation?
For other people experiencing a similar thing—know that it’s systemic and it’s not just you. And that you deserve to advance, be taken seriously, and have your technical opnions respected. I hope you can find a support group within other marginalized people at your company.
You love a good outfit and I’ve seen some photos of your amazing outfits. Being into style myself, I also like dressing up but frequently get told that I “don’t look like a developer”, and I am sure you must receive similar comments too. I usually politely point out to the person who made the comment that they are stereotyping, but what do you do to make people more aware that women should be able to wear whatever they want?
Aww, thanks so much! I love your outfits too! It’s so upsetting to be told that you don’t look like what you are. Because profession and appearance have nothing to do with each other! And there’s no reason why someone can’t be feminine and a programmer! I’m trying to cultivate an environment where women can be comfortable to wear whatever they want to wear by wearing whatever I want unapologetically, especially in situations where I’m visible, like interviews, talks and presentations. I understand that being able to do that without worry of reprecussions is a privlege though!
On a lighter note, can you describe some of your favourite outfits? 😀
Half of my wardrobe involves cats in some way haha. One of my favorite outfits is a matching top and skirt set with gingham cats from Lazy Oaf, and I top it off with my navy Charlotte Olympia cat flats!
You decided to start Bubblesort Zines a few years ago. Did you expect it to be as popular and well received as it now is? It must be really heartwarming to have the support of so many people.
Aw thank you! I mostly made Bubblesort Zines with teenage me in mind—writing the kinds of things I had wished for when I was in high school. So it means so much to me that other people find it helpful as well!
Have you received any feedback directly from young girls who are learning from your zines?
I have! Some have told me that it’s encouraged them to stay in their computer classes, or to take them, even though they were previously too intimidated to take them. Literally nothing could make me happier.
You’ve given a few talks at conferences and events. Can you tell us more about one of your favourites?
I love RubyConf Australia, and try to go every year! The talks are a good mix of practical and fun, and there are lots of nice community events as well, like bike rides, hikes, and picnics.
Magmaconf in Manzanillo, Mexico is one of the most hospitable, friendly, and welcoming conferences I’ve ever been to. I love how they also incorporate local cultural events, like traditional dancing, into the conference.
Strangeloop in St Louis always has so many fun and interesting talks. Some past standouts are a talk about a programming language for designing knitting patterns and talks on machine learning for composing music.
And I can’t leave out AlterConf—Ashe Dryden does such a good job of running inclusive events that center marginalized people in tech.
I’d love to know more about how much you love your bicycle. How long have you had her for, and the story of how you lost and found her again.
I only learned to ride a bike recently as an adult—I had a lot of trouble learning as a kid. Funnily enough, I was so scared as a kid because I was so sure I’d fall, and being hesitant while bike riding makes you more likely to fall. As an adult I finally understood the physics behind it so I was confident that physics would keep me up 😂. I learned to ride as an adult because I saw the mint green bike that I would eventually name Peppermint Patty and then remembered that I couldn’t ride. I loved bike riding immediately, and then it felt like I had to catch up for 20 years of lost time. I’d ride my bike every day to work, on the weekends, doing longer and longer weekend trips until I was going on multi-day biking trips and camping between days.
She was like a dear friend, having gone on so many trips with me, some international, so naturally I was devastated when she as stolen. I lost her the day after Trump was elected, just when I felt like my world couldn’t be more bleak. She was stolen from inside my apartment building, even. I read that if you lose your bike, the best strategy nowadays is to post about it everywhere—Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, forums—in the hopes that if enough people see that it’s stolen, one of them might have information about it. And it helped! A friend told me that their friend had posted about seeing a stolen bike at an intersection, and I went to investigate, and sure enough it was Peppermint Patty!
I’ve found another little thing we have in common! Your partner also has a tech background – what’s it like having your best friend understand a lot of what projects you might be working on, or even you’ve got to go through as a woman in a male-dominated industry?
My partner is so supportive. I find him to be a great feminist ally, who’s always on my side, and is willing to listen and apologize in the cases where he slips up and says something sexist. It’s nice that he can understand my work, and also that we can collaborate on projects together!
You cut your hair recently after years and years of having it long. What was the change like? (See, I am hoping to also cut mine short in the next year, and I’ve never had short hair…)
It feels like returning to my Sailor Mercury roots, haha! It feels nice and breezy to have it short for the summer! I find it fun to change up my appearance and hair is nice to change up with cut or color because it just grows back. Logistics wise, I thought it would be easier but it turns out to be as much effort as long hair. Washing it and drying it take much less time than before, but it also takes much more effort and to style. Long hair just does what it’s supposed to and doesn’t have a mind of its own!
As an introvert, what are some things you enjoy doing in your downtime?
I love playing 3DS games (Animal Crossing and Happy Home Designer are my favs) in my down time, cooking and baking, and even just brewing in a cup of tea and listening to Ella Fitzgerald on my record player!
What is by far the most amazing place you have travelled to and would visit again in a heartbeat?
Omg you had to save the hardest question for last didn’t you, haha! I love traveling and it’s SO hard to pick a favorite place! Last year, my partner and I stayed on a farm in Chiang Mai, cooked with farm vegetables every day, and had really nice Thai massages. I wouldn’t say no to doing that again.
Be sure to subscribe to Bubblesort Zines – there is both a physical version and a digital version! You can find Amy on Twitter at @sailorhg or on Instagram. Or, if you’re ever around San Francisco, you’ll more than likely spot her and Peppermint Patty. 🚲
To find out about more women in tech from around the world with different backgrounds and experiences, check out other Hey Girlfriend! interviews. A new interview is posted on the fourth Tuesday of every month.