Hey Girlfriend!: Cat Chu
It’s my last Hey Girlfriend! interview of the year. I wanted to thank everyone who has been reading and I really hope you have felt inspired to kick-start your careers in tech, found some new idols to follow, or read some helpful advice. I also want to extend my thanks to the women who I have interviewed, for their time and for willing to share their experiences with the world. 😊
There was a bit of a hiccup in the middle of the year since I had other commitments but this interview series will continue next year. I will be trying harder to deliver a new interview every month! Interviews will be posted on the last Tuesday of every month (as opposed to the fourth Tuesday – still pretty similar though). With that, I’ll go straight into this interview!
Cat is a development manager based in Texas. She has always been interested and involved with technology, having made her first website in 1999, and also majored in computer science before making software development a full-time job. She has enjoyed almost everything about her journey, to this day.
In her spare time Cat also plays video games, which inspires a lot of the cakes that she bakes from scratch. She also dabbles in photography, and not only does she have a knack for cosplay photography but she participates in cosplay and creates her own costumes.
Hi Cat! Well let’s dive right in to your extensive experience working in the tech field. You studied computer science and have been working in tech for ten years, and you have loved and enjoyed every minute of it. In a world where technology changes a lot, do you feel that kind of pressure? How do you avoid the fear of not being able to keep up?
I feel that pressure all the time! Especially now that I’m a manager and code less, it’s even harder to keep up. I find that it helps to keep an open mind, learn whatever I can along the way, and remember that things really are changing all the time, instead of obsessing over one thing. For example, the standards for Ruby and Rails are much different now than when I started 10 years ago. I also learned Backbone JS for work a few years ago, but then we tossed it in favor of Ember, and now we’re looking at adding React. The more flexible and open you can be to change, the easier it will be to adapt as things go on.
During your experience in tech, you went from becoming a software developer to a development manager. At first you weren’t keen – what was it about a managerial role that you felt wasn’t for you?
There were two main things; the first was that I knew I wouldn’t be coding as much. All I wanted to do was code large features, and I wasn’t as interested in the people management part. I still miss having larger coding projects, but I’ve overcome most of this feeling by knowing that I have a chance to help developers in their career and that I have a voice in how things are being run in the department.
The second was dealing with salary. With the way society is, it’s an uncomfortable subject. I don’t even like talking about my own salary, and now I have to manage other people’s? It’s an uncomfortable pressure knowing that part of several people’s livelihoods is in my hands. Even having done multiple reviews and raises already, it’s still something I’m having a hard time getting used to.
You later discovered that you were doing really well as a development manager and didn’t mind the change! There’s commonly been a sacrifice where there is less developmental work and more managerial work when taking on a role like this – do you miss the coding side of things?
I do miss the coding side! I still do it whenever I can, like fixing bugs and code reviewing all of my developers’ code. I’ve led and managed many major projects, but it’s been awhile since I did the code for one. Fortunately, we are making some changes soon that will free up some of my time. I’m already in less meetings than usual and have been able to push out more code!
I know you have some thoughts on company culture and are well aware of the stories circulating the media about the mistreatment of women. You currently work for a company with a healthy culture and a fairly surprisingly high number of female leadership in the engineering department. With that said, what factors do you think contribute to healthy company culture?
It’s the people you work with, and I think part of it needs to come from the top-down. When I started at my company, it was a small start-up of about 20 people, and even then, there were already women in lead roles. All of the founders/VPs had no ego. They talked with us as if they were any other employee, and they continued to do that as the company grew. We all knew that they cared deeply about company culture, and they’ve let go of employees for repeated unacceptable behavior, even ones that were considered high performers. When you have leaders who have no tolerance for toxic and/or inappropriate behavior and actually act on it, it impacts how the employees view company culture as well.
This also shapes how we hire. The best way to avoid terrible people is to not have them in your company to begin with. I remember interviewing someone with two male coworkers, and the other two were going to give him a “yes”, but I had hesitations. I felt his technical knowledge was suitable for the job, but I was uncomfortable talking with him. Something about his tone felt demeaning. That was enough for my other coworkers to immediately change their answer to “no”. They valued my comfort level over his technical knowledge, and I feel like that says a lot about the type of people I work with.
Many people feel that larger, well-known companies will help them “get noticed” – perhaps even “fame” – but for you, you have been receiving the recognition you deserve at a company that’s not so well-known. What advice do you have for women who are aiming for the Googles, Amazons and Facebooks of the world?
I would be clear on what your goal really is. There’s nothing wrong with aiming for well-known companies, but if you’re blinded by the big name, you may miss out on the fact that you’re interviewing for a team that doesn’t fit what you’re actually looking for. Remember that you can still find the job you love at a company that isn’t widely recognized. Make sure that whichever company you are applying for really matches what you want. I would think about your career path, your team and company size preference, the technologies or products you want to work on, and even your work-life balance. I have many friends at the companies mentioned and without naming specifics, some are very happy, some are overworked, and some were so bored that they left. It’s just going to vary a lot person-by-person, so it’s best to figure out what you’re truly aiming for.
Similar to getting noticed is really just recognition for what we deserve. And that’s something women in tech have struggled with for years. How can companies reward women as fairly as they do men, and give them opportunities (pay rises, promotions, switching to another role) that are equal?
I know this is going to sound obvious, but treating people equally really means viewing them as equal. Companies should regularly review everyone’s salaries across the board. If a comparison shows that women are consistently earning less than men, then something is wrong. It’s highly unlikely that most of the women are performing lower than men at the same level. That just isn’t believable, and I think higher ups should intervene if something is amiss. I remember reading about a tech company that audited everyone’s salaries, and only then did they realize that there was a wage gap and worked to fix it.
At our company, we also ask that managers hold regular 1-on-1s with their direct reports. It’s hard for many people to start the conversation with their manager about job unhappiness, whether it’s the pay or their role. I’ve found that regular 1-on-1s to check up on morale and to work on career path has really helped because I’m specifically asking for their thoughts. They don’t have to go to me first. I am going to them, and we are working together to further their career. In an ideal world, the company would be proactive in making sure everything is equal but having a frequent conversation helps fill in those gaps.
In your spare time you are involved in the cosplay community. You’ve spent time making costumes that are perfect representations of a character’s costume in television and film. Just how much patience do you need and how does it feel when you’ve completed a costume?
It requires a lot of patience the more accurate you want something to be! I’ve dyed fabric multiple times to get that perfect color, and when making props, sometimes I spend days on applying primer alone before I can even paint. I have a couple costumes where I bought the pieces, but most of mine are made by me. There’s a definite sense of pride and accomplishment when wearing ones I made myself, especially when people compliment the cosplay. It’s an amazing feeling!
What got you started with cosplay photography?
I felt really awkward doing photoshoots at first, but I had a photographer friend really push me to try them. We did several “normal” photoshoots together before I got the hang of it and branched off to do cosplay photography on my own. I’ve always loved the creativity in cosplay photoshoots, and being a cosplayer myself, I was constantly in awe of how people bring these fictional characters to life through these shoots. Every shoot feels different, and I love that!
Photo editing: something that can be both fun and painful. Discuss!
It’s always exciting at first to import all of your photos… and then many, many hours later… you start wondering what you’re doing with your life. Just kidding ;) Of course, the end result is always worth it, but post processing gets monotonous pretty quickly!
You have a love for baking. Tell us more about your video-game inspired cakes and how popular they are.
It’s funny because it was actually done as a joke at first. The first two cakes I made were pink round characters (Jigglypuff and Kirby) to poke fun at my husband. Then I started picking things he actually liked, and as I got better, a few of my cakes became popularly shared around the internet. The three that seem to get the most attention are my Terran Bunker, Rush Jet, and Minecraft cakes, and my most recent one for Ultimate Chicken Horse was shared by the game’s developers. Sadly, some sites slap their own watermark over the photo, so people don’t realize I’m the creator. (Please please please always properly credit things you share!)
You met your husband over a decade ago through your love for gaming, and you’re both still very much into it. What are some of the pros and cons of you both being into gaming?
Hah, I actually wrote a blog entry about this already! The best pro is always having a gaming partner and being able to share a hobby between us. The worst con is accidentally seeing spoilers when we’re both playing the same game. Oh, and being too competitive in a game. Fights over a video game are not pretty.
What are five video games you cannot live without?
This is a toughie! I have many favorites, but I don’t know if I’d name any as a game I can’t live without. There are five genres that I definitely want in my life though: open world, online multiplayers, platformers, action-adventures, and indies.
You chose an unusual song at your wedding for your first dance. Can you tell us more about it?
Yes! We chose “Nothing Else Matters” by Metallica, though we used the Apocalyptica version with cellos, so it was all instrumental. Only one person at our wedding seemed to realize we used a metal song for our dance. When both you and your significant other really like rock and metal, it can be hard to choose a first dance song! We were so glad that Metallica songs have so many instrumental covers.
You’ve been to Japan several times and it’s one of your favourite places to visit. What are your favourite things about Japan, and what is your favourite city there?
Japan is a beautiful country, and I love Japanese culture. People are nice and polite, and the streets feel safe, even in major cities. Even if you don’t know the language, it feels like such a welcoming place to visit. There’s so many interesting sights to see, and of course, Japanese food is amazing as well. It’s hard to choose a favorite city though! I think I enjoyed the sights I saw in Kyoto the most, and Hakone is one of the most beautiful and peaceful places I’ve been to there.
Finally, if you could be an anime character, who would it be and why?
Hm… maybe a character in My Hero Academia? Having a super power would be neat!
See you next year! 👋