Hey Girlfriend!: Fiona Chan

Fiona is a fun size Technical Recruiter at Lookahead Search and former front-end developer. Her love for CSS and the web community has led her to co-found SydCSS. She was also one of the organisers for the first CSSConf Australia.

Fiona is so friendly, encouraging and continually gives back to the community in the form of advice and directly being involved in technology meetups. I first met at her at my first meetup – which was her SydCSS meetup, and it happened to be their annual first-time speaker event, too. I was very inspired and approached her really nervously, and ended up giving one of my first talks just half a year later! 😱

Fiona has always been a joy to talk to and is an incredibly helpful person who has time for everyone. Let’s find out more about Fiona. 👏

A woman with glasses, smiling and patting a deer
Fiona patting a deer! 🦌

Hi Fiona! Thank you for doing this interview! Let’s get in the right mood with a really important question: what was the most delicious, scrumptious, to-die-for meal you had so far this year?

Hello! Thanks for asking me :) I’m glad we’re starting off with my favourite topic, which is food! Hmm I’ve had lots of delicious meals this year but not one that’s at the to-die-for level yet. I’ve been spoiled with some amazing meals I’ve had in the past. The most delicious and memorable dish I’ve had though was the Baby Cos Lettuce with Anchovy & Pickled Garlic at Movida in Melbourne. I know, who knew lettuce could taste so good! It was super crunchy and had this lovely salty flavour. Best lettuce I’ve ever had in my life.

Before you became a technical recruiter, you were a front-end developer. Was this something you always wanted to do?

I’ve always enjoyed being creative on the computer and that was what I knew I wanted to do – something with computers. I didn’t really consider web development until after uni. In my first job, I was working in a print advertising agency. I didn’t really enjoy it and got bored really quickly, so I started thinking about what else I wanted to do. I decided to leave my job and enrolled in a TAFE course to learn web development properly. I fell in love with it, especially CSS. It was really satisfying being able to turn designs into functional and accessible websites, and coming up with all kinds of creative solutions using CSS. I don’t really code these days, but I still have a lot of love for CSS.

You work as a technical recruiter at Lookahead Search. You’ve no doubt had to explain this before – but what makes a technical recruiter different from a regular recruiter?

Technical recruiter generally means they are people who recruit specifically in the I.T. industry. However at Lookahead Search, we are technical recruiters who are actually technical, as we all have experience working in software teams before. Having worked as a front end developer for over 8 years, the experience I got definitely helps when talking to developers and understanding the technical aspect of their work.

Photo of me and my team:


Can you share one of your success/feel good stories at Lookahead in helping someone find the right role for them?

Ah lots to choose from but there’s definitely one that stood out. There was a developer who lost his job and his visa was expiring in a couple of weeks. He had to quickly find another job that can sponsor him, otherwise he’d have to leave the country which could have a huge impact on him and his family financially. He got in touch with us and we quickly helped him arrange interviews with companies who were able to do sponsorship visa. Long story short, he got hired by a company who is now sponsoring him. He sent us a lovely email to say a huge thank you for “saving his ass” (actual quote :P) and for helping him during one of the most stressful times of his life. It’s really nice to know that I’ve been able to make a difference to someone’s life.

You have extensive experience in HTML, CSS and JavaScript – basically front-end technologies, but what other programming languages interest you, or have interested you in the past?

Hmm I did a bit of PHP back in the day but never really got into it. Backend was never really my thing. I pretty much just focused on front end and there were more than enough things for me to learn there!

Do you have any notable coding horror stories that you’ve learned from, like a badly named CSS class, extremely deep nesting in a preprocessor, discovering code you wrote that you can’t read…?

Haha all of the above :P One of the worst was probably when I had to pile on the good ol’ !important to make the styling work. The CSS was just so tangled up that it was impossible to refactor it to try to avoid using !important.

You have been running the SydCSS meetup for almost five years. When you first started it, what was going through your mind? Were you familiar with meetups at the time?

Gosh, how time flies! Can’t believe it’ll be SydCSS’ 5th birthday! (FYI it’ll be held on 4th Oct. Details will be announced soon.) There weren’t many meetups 5 years ago. I had attended a few Girl Geeks ones, but didn’t know much more about meetups beyond that. I saw there was SydJS but there weren’t any meetups about CSS. I kept seeing people in US and Europe tweeting about all these different meetups they got, and that got me wanting to start one that I want to attend and to talk about topics that I want to hear about.

I mentioned the idea of starting a CSS one to my friend David Lewis who was keen to help. We then went on meetup.com, registered a name and started spreading the word about this meetup on Twitter and within our network. We didn’t have any sponsors (other than venue sponsor) so had to put in our own money for everything: we bought our own projector, speaker system, drinks etc. We wanted to stay away from the typical meetup pizza, so we opted to have snacks at our event. For the first one, I made 3 big pots of popcorn to cater for about 40 people. It turned out really well and people loved it! Popcorn became a bit of a signature for us. I blogged about our first meetup here.

SydCSS has been very successful and you’ve built an amazing community around it. What do you think are the things that have contributed greatly to its success?

Ah thank you! I’m super proud of the community we’ve built. I think what made it so successful is that we put a lot of focus on making sure the vibe of every event is fun, friendly, relaxed and inclusive. David and I have a lot of fun MC’ing together, and we make sure the audience has fun with us as well. We also try to get new speakers all the time. No one wants to always hear from the same people, no matter how good they are. We help people who are new to public speaking figure out a topic, do rehearsals with them and give them feedback. We find that rehearsals make their presentations on the night much stronger, which ultimately makes the event better.

SydCSS has many long-time members, but it seems that at every event you hold, the majority of attendees are attending SydCSS for the first time, and tickets always sell out. Why do you think this is the case?

Yeah, I love that we always have new faces in the audience. I guess part of the reasons why the tickets go out so quickly is because we only host our event once every two months, rather than every month like most meetups. I think the other reason is because people find our events friendly and inclusive, so they enjoy coming to them. That’s the feedback we consistently get from old and new attendees, and I still get the warm and fuzzies every time mention that to me.

Looking back on your career, is there anything you would do differently or something you think you could have done better to get to where you are now?

I wish I gave team leading a go when I was still a developer. I didn’t have the confidence back then nor a strong desire for it (partly because I didn’t think I’d be good at it). I think the experience of team leading would have really challenged me and helped me grow my leadership skills.

What advice would you give to someone who is just starting to learn code/programming languages but feeling extremely overwhelmed as to how many possible directions they can take their career?

I would say focus on learning the fundamentals and the areas that interest you. You don’t have to learn both front end and back end. Obviously having knowledge of both is always helpful, but it’s ok to focus on learning just one area, especially when you’re starting out. Web development is a lot more complicated these days and there’s just so much you can learn. It’s part of the excitement but it is also very overwhelming. So pick something you enjoy and learn that, otherwise you can get burnt out easily.

What is one technology that you think is so hot right now and worth exploring more?

CSS Grid is definitely something that everyone should be exploring right now. The sort of designs and layouts it can achieve is pretty amazing!

You’ve been collecting fun socks. I need to ask you all the things about socks. 😄 My current favourites are my Totoro socks. Do you have a favourite? Do you have Totoro socks too?!

I used to have Totoro socks but they got holes in them so I had to throw them away :(


And here’s a photo of some of my fun socks in the current collection:

Ten pairs of colourful, patterned socks laid out on carpet
Fiona’s collection of socks

My favourite socks at the moment are definitely the sloth ones:

A pair of socks made to look like sleeping sloths
Georgie: Aren’t these so cute?! I wish there was a sloth emoji…
The bottom of two brown socks. One reads “NAP” and the other reads “TIME”

Where do you like to purchase your socks? Are there certain patterns or styles you prefer over others?

Most of socks I’ve got were presents from friends and family for my birthdays, so I hardly have to buy my own fun socks these days! Though when I’m in Melbourne, I’d like to visit Hill & Dale in Royal Arcade. That’s where I got these piggy ones:


I tend to like animal ones, though I have a few pairs that are just simple patterns, like stripey ones.

Thank you Fiona for doing this interview! Looks like I’ll have to get my sock game on… and pay a visit to Movida next time I go to Melbourne. Can’t say no to super tasty lettuce! 🥗

You can follow Fiona @mobywhale on Twitter and Instagram.

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 every month.

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