Hey Girlfriend!: Mandy Michael

After spending a few weeks in Perth, it seems fitting that I’m interviewing someone from there, right? 😄 I’m thrilled to introduce you to the skilled, Batman-loving, emoji-creating Mandy!

Mandy Michael is a lead front-end developer at Seven West Media in Perth, Australia. She loves the web community and co-organises Mixin Conference and Fenders, a meetup group for Front End Developers. Mandy has has years of experience working in the industry in a number of roles from Project Manager to Developer. She is also a huge fan of Batman.

You might have stumbled across her split emoji creations on Codepen. You might have seen her speak at Respond. You might know about her geek fashion blog. And even if you don’t, Mandy is one (Bat)woman you will want to know more about.

A photo of Mandy

Hi, Mandy! You co-organised Mixin Conference in 2016 in Perth. Not many people across the world and in the tech industry know much about Australia, much less Perth. What were the reasons behind starting Mixin and how did its success feel?

Mixin came about when some of us were in Melbourne for CSSConf Australia. We had such a great time there in 2015 that we wondered to ourselves “why couldn’t we do this in Perth?”. We don’t really get much opportunity for that level of conference over here and we wanted the community in Perth to feel the excitement and inspiration we felt without the price tag that comes along with travelling to the east coast.

Even though we set ourselves a high bar I don’t think any of us knew how fantastic it was going to be. We had such wonderful speakers who did an astounding job it really exceeded my expectations. It all felt pretty amazing at the time, we were really grateful to the speakers and the attendees for being so open and making it such a great event. We are pretty lucky in Perth to have such a supportive community, I really don’t think it would have been as good without that support.

The Mixin team at the end of Mixin 2016 with the crowd in the background
The Mixin team post-conference 2016 – Mandy has the coloured wig!

It was a lot of hard work though, that’s why there is no Mixin in 2017, we were all so knackered after last year we needed a break. It’s tough organising an event like that when you have full time jobs. I do think back sometimes and I still can’t believe we pulled it off, it really is one of the best things I have ever done. I can’t believe we actually did it and it turned out so well! None of us had ever done anything like that before so for it to be so successful was really wonderful.

You were featured in the Codepen newsletter for some of your amazing work with split emoji and text effects – congratulations! What did it feel like getting all that attention, and having founder of Codepen, Chris Coyier, even build upon your work?

Oh my gosh, thanks! It was pretty crazy, I was really surprised that something so simple got so much attention. It’s always the things you least expect that people love. I was really stoked when Chris Coyier wrote the article I am a HUGE Codepen & Chris Coyier fan so that was a highlight for me. I feel like I can check “acknowledgement from your hero” off my imaginary bucket list!

Though I will admit when I made the split emojis I did think to myself, “Mandy, this is genius, why did you take so long to make this.” Ha ha ha! Everyone loves emojis, you really can’t go wrong, in the end though I got some laughs out of it and I’m glad people got some laughs out of it as well. Not everything we do on the web has to be serious and important, Tim Holman taught me that!

What are some of the HTML and CSS techniques you used for your Codepen creations? What tips can you give to other creative developers to inspire them to get just as creative?

For the ones I’ve done recently they are all really basic and simple which is what I love about them. I used pseudo-elements in the CSS to create the layers, and data-attributes in the HTML to pass the content to the pseudo-elements. After that it’s all just fonts, colours, text-shadows and maybe some transforms. The text effects are so simple, there really is no good reason not to have fun text on the web!

Honestly the best thing you can do to be creative is just have a play, I didn’t specifically set out to make text effects, I was just trying to reconnect with what I loved about CSS and thought I’d try and remake some Photoshop tutorials in code. Just explore, play, have fun. Not everything you do has to be for a purpose and often those are the times you discover something wonderful.

Now that you’ve done a lot of experimentation with HTML and CSS, what is one thing that you can’t do with HTML and CSS that you wish was possible?

You know there are loads of things that I think would be awesome, but now I’m on the spot I can’t think of a thing…let me get back to you.

One of Mandy’s Codepen creations
One of Mandy’s Codepen creations

So I’ve been trying to think about this, and it’s so hard to be put on the spot, I mean there is a bunch of stuff I would have liked, CSS Variables is one, and that is pretty much done now which is awesome, clip-path you can use but it’s not fully supported yet so I’m still waiting on that! I’m really keen on variable fonts as well looking forward to that coming to fruition.

I’d really love to be able to use more than two pseudo-elements, that would be super handy for my text effects, I had to add in extra spans when I needed more layers which annoyed me a little, it made my HTML less clean.

I’d like CSS transforms to be split out, it’s frustrating when you are doing a lot of transforms, animations and stuff and you have to keep resetting everything. I’d also love for CSS columns to work better, it’s still crazy buggy and doesn’t really work as expected.

There are a lot of features in Scss that would be great in CSS as well, I’d like to see some of that kind of thing brought across.

You’ve had experience working for agencies and working for larger companies. You’ve worked on different kinds of products. What are some new and valuable skills you have picked up along the way, be it technical skills like learning a new programming language, or people/communication skills?

For me I have found working on the product side of things has allowed me to use some more of the latest technologies in my work (which was very unexpected). At agencies I did a lot of the same kinds of things and there weren’t a lot of opportunities to do something new, with incredibly short deadlines you tend to stick with what you know. On the product side of we use a lot of the latest stuff and that has been really exciting for me, I’ve learnt React, Typescript, and now I’m using Glamorous as a CSS solution using Javascript. There is always something new and that is awesome. I think if you find yourself doing the same old thing all the time it might be worth trying to find somewhere new so you can spread your wings and have more experiences.

However, agency life taught me how to manage multiple things at once and meet crazy short deadlines, that is a useful skill and has made me more efficient. That life also taught me how to say no to people, as developers we are not magic, there are only so many hours in the day and some of those I’d like to spend with my family. Learning to say no and that I don’t always have to please everyone was one of the best things I ever learnt.

It’s important to talk about mental health. You wrote a blog post that explained how you felt burned out and uninspired after having a lot on your plate. People sympathised with you, and it’s become all too common in our industry that people take on too many commitments and lose interest as a result of being too exhausted. How do you think companies can foster an environment that ensures their employees are in a good state of mental health? And how can people avoid getting stuck in a rut like this?

I’m so glad you asked this question because it’s so important to talk about. On a personal level I think we need to be aware of how we are feeling and acknowledge to ourselves when we need a break. So many of us are really passionate about what we do that it’s easy to get caught up in everything. I recently spoke at Code Like a Girl in Melbourne about cracking the tech career and I realised as I was writing it that I didn’t do any of the things that I suggested in the lead up to my burnout. I didn’t really have a plan for myself or an idea of the direction I was heading in, I never asked why I was doing all the things I had committed. I also didn’t ask for help when I needed it, I tried to do too much myself and that was a massive mistake. In hindsight I see where I went wrong now, and the new challenge I’m facing is making sure I don’t make the same mistake again.

I think in general we just need to keep ourselves in check, know what it is we want and what we are aiming for and re-assess that regularly. Don’t say yes to everything and always ask for help when you are struggling. I would also suggest finding a good support network, in Fenders we have a great community and I’ve made some great friends I can go to for help through that. Having people you can talk to who understand our industry I find really helpful.

I think from a business perspective making sure that you aren’t encouraging the mentality that you are a more valuable employee if you are working crazy hours. Working long hours is a quick way to burn people out. Businesses really need to learn that rewarding that behaviour, while understandable, is not a good long term strategy for success.

Mandy’s Batman & Catwoman dress
Mandy’s Batman & Catwoman dress

Your love for Batman knows no bounds. How do you incorporate this superhero into your everyday life? Tell us about your costumes, your designs, your selfies, your home, everything!

Ha! It’s funny how well known my love of Batman is. I have so much Batman stuff now that it just appears everywhere that it has just become part of my day.

One of my favourite Batman memories was at my old work, I thought it would be funny if I came into the office with a cape and a mask, so I went upstairs to see some friends and they just looked at me and say “Hey Batmandy” like it was the most normal thing, ha ha! Good times. Since then the nickname Batmandy has kinda stuck, I really like it, obviously, I mean it’s such a cool nickname! I also own the domain name!! Ha ha ha!

I was trying to think what my favourite Batman thing is and I’m going to be super boring and not mention any of my lego, bookshelf, art jewelry or clothes, because it has to be my first ever comic book – Hush. I already loved Batman by this point, but I was more into the cartoons, I was avoiding comics because of my fear of spending all my money. But Hush is just wonderful, the illustrations are amazing, it’s a fantastic story, oh my gosh it’s so good!! I even have one of the pages from it on a dress, it’s of Batman and Catwoman kissing on a rooftop in Gotham, so great, you can find on my blog Bows and Bats.

The blog started because of my love of Batman, that’s why it’s called Bows and Bats. I would often get people asking me where I got my outfits so I thought it would be easier just to say, hey it’s on my blog go check it out, rather than listing all the places. I have to add my latest costumes up too, it’s been a little while since I posted.

Speaking of costumes, how did you become involved with geek fashion and cosplaying?

I’ve always loved costumes but never really had a reason to wear them. Then a couple of years ago I went to Supanova as Cinderella (I had a Disney party and I thought it would be a good place to re-use it) while I was there I met the most amazing group of cosplayers called Perth Allied Costumers. They invited me to join their group and here we are. It’s just something I find enjoyable, it’s such a fun environment to be in, everyone’s so welcoming, and people just get so excited to see their favourite characters come to life. It’s funny because people always assume it’s the kids that love it (and they do which is great), but I think I’ve had more adults come up to me as Cinderella and get excited saying “THIS IS MY CHILDHOOD” and asking for photos. Everyone just wants to have a little fun now and then, life doesn’t always have to be so serious.

PAC does a lot of charity events, hospital visits, Telethon, christmas pageants as well as the normal comic conventions so there are lots of opportunities to make people happy.

But I think what I love most about it, especially at comic conventions, is you are surrounded by people who are unashamedly passionate about something. No one judges you, makes fun of you, or questions it, they just love it and they love that you love something. I like that. Plus, I really like making things, so when I can, and I’m not too busy with web stuff I try and make some of my costumes.

Mandy’s amazing Maleficent costume
Mandy’s amazing Maleficent costume

As a woman in tech, I’m sure you have faced discrimination and had people make judgments about you and your appearance, perhaps even questioning your skills. Based on your experience, what advice can you offer other women who are always finding themselves stereotyped in the industry or who are even afraid to show who they really are?

It’s hard because everyone’s experiences are different, but I would say, don’t be afraid to be yourself. Don’t waste time trying to be someone you are not, don’t do yourself the injustice of trying to pretend you are someone different. You are valuable as you are, and your experiences are important. The more time you spend trying to be someone else the less time you will spend being awesome and solving problems!

I would also suggest finding a support network of other wonderful women. In an industry dominated by men sometimes it can be nice to have some women to share your experiences with. I know it certainly helps me, that is one of the reasons I love Fenders, we have a great group of women in the community and we are pretty supportive of each other. That is really valuable to me and I think it’s helped me be more comfortable with who I am especially when I’m surrounded by mostly men on a day to day basis.

You’ve spoken at a few conferences and meetups. How have you grown from your early presentations to your more recent ones at Respond Conference (which, let’s admit, is kind of a big deal)?

Oh gosh, Respond was my first conference, I felt really lucky to get to speak there! Prior to that I’d only really spoken at Meetups, and most of the time it was at Fenders when I couldn’t find a speaker, so Respond was very new and exciting.

I remember the first time I spoke at Fenders, not even as a presenter but as an MC I was so nervous, looking back I think my ability to speak in public has improved significantly but I definitely have a long way to go. The key with respond was a lot of practice! Really that is all it comes down to. I’m not one of those people that can wing it.

It is Fenders’ third birthday next month. What is Fenders, how did it come about, and how has it been beneficial to the community?

Fenders is a meetup group I started 3 years ago for Front End Developers in Perth. If you had told me 3 years ago what it would be like now I would not have believed you. It started because I wanted to talk to people about CSS, I figured I’d start a meetup and maybe 5 people would come and we’d chat about CSS and it would be a bit of fun. I laugh about that now because I really never imagined it would be as big and amazing as it has become. I’ve made so many great friends from the group it’s been wonderful, I feel quite lucky.

Fenders came about at a time when the web community in Perth was struggling a little bit (at least in the circles I was in). I think they really needed Fenders and as a result they made it into this fantastic community where people shared their knowledge and experiences and made real connections with each other. It’s such a supportive wonderful group I’m really proud to be a part of it. Plus of course, out of Fenders came Mixin and we started helping out with Perth{Web}Girls for mentoring, so in general I like to think it’s done a lot for the Perth web community.

I’m going to ask this question like we’re having a retrospective, ha! In general, not specific to tech, what do you feel that women need to start doing, need to stop doing, and need to continue doing in order to be the best that they can be?

I think women put too much pressure on themselves to be perfect. This is a generalisation but I think we believe that we have to be all the things all the time, good, kind and thoughtful, great at our careers, strong, gentle, funny, smart, beautiful (but always the different kind of beautiful that we are). We set this impossible standard for ourselves.
I think we just need to be ourselves more, and learn to accept that we are not perfect and that is ok. I mentioned this before but the less time we spend on trying to be something we are not the more time we have for learning, and experiences and life in general.

What is one of your biggest pet peeves on the internet?

Oh this is easy, it’s public shaming. I think a lot of people jump on the hate bandwagon too quickly with very little knowledge behind it. This kind of thing is so easy to get involved in and with the power of the internet you can do some real and terrible damage to people’s lives. It’s easy to make assumptions off a 140 character tweet, you know?

I read a great book called So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed by Jon Ronson about this topic. It’s really enlightening and I feel like it should be required reading for anyone using the internet these days. (There is also an awesome audio book version!) I think people just need to stop and think a little before they start slamming someone and remember there are real people at the other end of your comments. You aren’t just throwing words into the ether, you are saying them at a person.

After a long day at work, what are your plans usually? How do you wind down?

I just love going home sitting on my couch and watching TV, I know that isn’t very exciting but I love Sci-Fi and fantasy so I watch a lot of Netflix. Typically I’ll be doing things at the same time, lately I’ve been making costume props which has been crazy fun, I made a sweet Maleficent staff for Supanova on the weekend, it’s bluetooth controlled with my mobile, ha ha ha.
I do like to make sure I’m doing something else while watching TV though otherwise I feel like I’d never get anything done. I also just set up this neat new area in my house next to my bookshelves with an Ikea chair, a lamp, cushion, rug etc it feels so cozy I like sitting there and playing around on Codepen or reading my comic books!

To get in touch with Mandy you can find her on Twitter, read some of her blog posts, or check out her glorious creations on Codepen. If you also love cosplaying, visit Mandy’s geek fashion blog Bows and Bats or like the Facebook page. 🎀🦇

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.

Comments on this post

I like her advice of being yourself regardless. Nice interview! And those ears are so cute on her and I may be biased because I love Disney mostly anything. Though I do like your interviews with various people in the field. It’s pretty cool to see from their eyes and understand their experiences.

What a great interview with one of Perth’s champions :) I hope we’ll see a post on Bows and Bats about the Maleficent staff!

Amazing interview.

I loved reading this interview. Mandy sounds like an amazing women and it’s so fantastic to see someone doing what they want regardless of what other’s think.

Coding sounds like such an interesting job to have. Hearing (reading) so many people talking about it really makes me want to develop my skills. I stopped bothering at a really basic level and wish I’d kept it up now. It definitely sounds like a challenging career though!

Omg I love Hush! It’s one of my favourite graphic novels. I love how dark the Batman comics are, and the stories are brilliant. And that dress is amazing. I definitely need a Batman dress in my life.

That Maleficent cosplay is so cool. I really want to get into making more interesting cosplays as I’ve only ever made really basic ones. That must have taken hours.

Loved this post, Georgie!

Another great interview! I loved getting to know Mandy a bit more – she sounds like such an awesome bad-ass, I really admire her work. That split emoji thing is SO FREAKING COOL, it definitley shows how developers can be creative too!

Practice is definitley key! I started doing talks during my placement and when I compare to my first ever talk where I was SUPPPPERRR nervous to one I just did recently – GROWTH!!! 💪🏼

That’s awesome how Mandy co-organized a conference and started a meetup group! I’m glad both were a success!

I feel like I’ve heard similar things about agency vs a product company. I can see how at an agency, you may not have the time to try new technologies, and it could be the same things over and over. I feel like tech companies have to keep trying new things to keep up-to-date with what is the current best practice or solution.

I definitely agree that companies should not encourage crazy hours! That leads to burnout and unhappiness. I never ask my devs to work overtime unless there’s an emergency, and I try to change their projects so it’s not repetitive. Taking care of our mental health is important and leads to more productivity.

Aahh, I loved looking at Mandy’s geek fashion outfits, and so cool that she also cosplays!

I liked her messages on being yourself and accepting that we’re not perfect. I feel like places that can’t accept us as who we are don’t deserve our talent. Great interview as always!