Hey Girlfriend!: Monica Ella Regalado

I received some great feedback on my last interview and so naturally I was excited to post this month’s!

Monica is a design computing student in Sydney, Australia. She is one of my closest friends and long time followers of my blog may remember the time I met her coincidentally at the train station. I’ve known Monica for about eight years, with a good period of that time being online friends. As two strangers who met on the internet, I think Monica being a bridesmaid at my wedding in October is evidence that friendship goes well beyond the confines of the internet.

Monica enjoys going to music concerts and in general just having a good time. She has worked part-time retail jobs but recently landed a role as a web accessibility analyst for Media Access Australia, thanks to her empathy for users and her passion for improving the web where possible. We’ve had many a chat about issues regarding women’s rights and people of colour, as well as what gives a woman confidence. Monica’s maturity spans well beyond her years, and although her satirical Twitter account is set to private, her infectious personality will really shine through in this interview.

A photo of Monica

Hey Monica! You’re still juggling a couple of jobs that are miles and miles away from each other, so no doubt you’ve been really busy especially this early into the year. I’ve once juggled three jobs, in pretty different industries, so… what would you say is the best thing about having multiple jobs?

Hey Georgie! Everyone always tells me to quit my retail job but I like the diversity I get from my different work pursuits. The best thing about having two jobs is that I don’t get bored and it’s easy to stay occupied. I’ve also learned that it’s important to look after yourself, and that working 60 hour weeks back to back is not sustainable when you need to juggle your mental and physical health. It’s good to know your limits and to practice balancing different parts of life out.

Before you started studying at university, I think you went through a bit of a panicked time wondering what to study. Was there anything in particular that helped you to eventually make the decision, or did you just choose something and go with it?

It was a mix of both.

Firstly, I think it’s absolutely horrible that I had to choose a course that would orchestrate my future at the tender age of 17. I don’t think many people know themselves straight after high school. While no one is forced to go to university after graduating, I felt pressure from my Filipino family full of successful uni graduates. I have friends who have fell into courses they don’t like because they didn’t know what they want, and it’s just such an expensive and tedious process of transferring courses or deferring.

Thankfully, I fell into what I call… the best course ever. At the time, they had this page with a cool JavaScript widget of like expandable sections showing the different things you could learn: interaction design, physical computing, creative programming, and stuff like that. I chose it because not only was it flexible, with all of the different streams of electives you could do, but because it encompasses a lot of my hobbies. I emailed some of the students featured on the course page for more information and did research about all the stuff I could do with that kind of degree. I basically stalked the course page for 3 months before making a final decision.

What’s your biggest aspiration now as you finish up your bachelors degree? What sort of role are you looking into – design, development, or something that combines the two?

I really love user experience design and everywhere it’s headed, so I’m really working towards getting a role in that sphere. I love the whole process from gaining insights about users to prototyping. I love the idea of taking a current experience that humans have and improving it, or experimenting with new and emerging technologies to create new experiences that benefit the lives of people. I haven’t had much practice with development but I hope I get to toy around with it and practice it in future. I think it’d be cool to build stuff for VR or make cool physical prototypes too.

We’ve had thousands of discussions about the behaviour of men towards women, and you’ve had a lot of uncomfortable experiences being eyeballed in the street and having unwanted attention. What is your advice to women who experience this sort of behaviour?

First of all, safety. Trust your gut instincts; move carriages on the train, report anti-social behaviour to any authorities near you, call a friend if you’re feeling particularly isolated or unsafe. Unfortunately, the reality of retaliating to shitty people making you feel uncomfortable is dangerous as they could potentially harm you. I’ve stood up to people but only in really public places where I knew I would be okay.

My advice to people in general is that if you witness this kind of behaviour, help the poor victim. So many times I’ve been made uncomfortable (not just as a woman but as an Asian Australian) and people have just stood by watching. If it is safe to do so, offer a helping hand. You might not have to stand up for the person but at least let them know you’re on their side.

Does that really translate to the same behaviour occurring in the workplace? What would be your way of dealing with it if it occurred in the workplace?

In my retail job, I feel unsafe maybe once every month or two. The experience usually involves people invading my personal space or talking to me really creepily or asking me inappropriate questions. Unfortunately, it’s hard to deal with in a customer service job. I can’t really yell or react angrily, but I can handle the situation in other professional ways, such as calling security or simply walking away. If I was in an office environment, I would definitely stand up for myself and talk to HR about it. If this behaviour is not reported, it won’t stop.

A while ago you had a photo of you circulated around the internet, causing more inappropriate and unwanted attention, which caused you to hide under pseudonyms on social media. Can you share a little bit about that and how it’s affected the way you approach your online identity?

Oh boy this story! Essentially, someone shared a photo of me on a forum resulting in some really inappropriate (and scary) sexual comments (should note I was a minor at the time), making me feel frightened for my whole existence. After the whole thing had died down, I had made an effort to make my previously public and harmless social media accounts private which is annoying because I meet so many music friends from Sydney over Twitter and Instagram and now we can’t find each other. Some friends might remember that I had even considered legally changing my name that I would use in the professional world and on my portfolio, which is drastic but at the time, I felt like that was the most appropriate option.

My train of thought has changed since the whole ordeal in January 2015. I’ve spent a long time recovering and going through the stages of grieving and I think I’ve finally reached a stage of apathy about my whole online identity. I think I learned that no matter how you are online, someone out there can still be really mean or creepy about it.

What do you believe is the most incorrect stereotype about women as a whole?

I think the one that stands out is one that affects me the most as an Asian woman. There’s this whole trope of the submissive, pushover Asian woman and it’s alarming to see how many people look surprised when I’m loud and assertive.

You’ve had some problems with your skin in the past, as no doubt all young girls do. What advice do you have for girls who are self-conscious about their skin to get them to feel more at ease with their appearance?

  1. Don’t beat yourself up about it. At the end of the day, not a whole lot of people are aware to care enough. I remember wishing I hadn’t been born here because apparently first generation Australian Filipinos always have eczema so that they can adjust to the climate here (haha not sure if there’s any truth to that), but I have learned to accept my genetics.
  2. Have fun with it. Lather yourself up in coconut oil or Elocon steroid cream and then wear some pretty clothes or something and dance around the house.
  3. See a doctor. There are professionals trained to help you. If you are experiencing physical pain or you’re really just over it, even normal GPs are able to give you different options to try.

You have a younger brother, whom you have a good relationship with. You really set a good example and try to be the best role model for him – can you share how you educate him to respectful to all people, regardless of their gender or sexual orientation?

I’m no parent or anything but my approach is to encourage critical thinking as opposed to saying “Hey this is what you should believe in and this is how you should treat people”. I think some people think it’s weird that I care so much about this but it’s a highly undervalued and under-taught skill. I usually try to get him to empathise, “how would you feel if xyz”, which I think will also help him with his social skills too.

You’ve had experience with user testing at work. Have there been any users who have really changed the way you think about something or really opened your eyes in some way?

I’ve had a long think about this, and I wouldn’t say a particular user has really changed the way I think. However, working with people with disabilities really opens your eyes to the ignorance of society that they have to face. For example, I did usability testing for a form that homeless people fill out to apply for housing and my user was blind. She could not have filled out the form without me, and it was so interesting to hear the different things she said during the process. Imagine already being marginalised socially and physically, then not even being able to take the steps to improve your life because a designer or developer forgot to add a label somewhere or used visual cues that you couldn’t see.

When I see weird things on an interface during usability testing, I am also reminded that it might not be the designer or developer’s fault that they designed something so inaccessible. The reality is that not many courses have a big focus on accessibility. In my 2 years of studying almost a whole Design Computing course, I’ve maybe only seen one slide on accessibility. My experience doing testing has really made me hope that one day, education and awareness about accessibility in design will become more prominent and important.

What is one thing about the internet that is currently underdeveloped but that you wish got more attention and was better?

This is really random but I think solid review systems for e-commerce platforms and restaurants or whatever. Think of iHerb for example, there are so many reviews but they’re all positive so it makes you doubtful because a product can’t be that good (I don’t think so anyway). It’s a people thing as well, because we will only really post a review about something if it’s really good or really bad. I think that review systems can be developed so that 1) we are sent prompts to write reviews about things we purchase or services we use even if we are pretty neutral about it, and 2) a mixture of reviews are shown, so we can see a good range of opinions.

Having recently attended some meetups and taken part in several hackathons, what is the most rewarding thing about them?

It’s such a lovely feeling to be in a room full of people who are different to you but are on a similar page. I think meetups are amazing because you get to learn about the weird shit people go through to get to places that they like. It’s really comforting as an uncertain, young girl still doing her degree. Hackathons are so much fun because you get to meet cool people and it’s super thrilling to be working on multiple aspects of a product or service or design within a short span of time.

You recently got some recognition around a pitch that you shared at an Adobe event, for an app named “Buddy”. Your words to me after the event were, “I just went there for the free food, I didn’t know I had to make a pitch!” Can you share more about the event and what the response from the judges and audience was?

Hah! The tacos were pretty awesome that night, we didn’t expect for anything to happen at all. Essentially, an event organiser at Adobe contacted my friend Rehab about participating. Upon arriving on the night, we noticed that the “event” was also a really big meetup for designers, and not just a hackathon-like event. While we spent a couple of hours building a solution relating to the theme of “Inventing Sydney’s Nightlife”, designers from different agencies and companies were sharing their stories of their design processes. It was really inspiring and interesting to listen to while Rehab and I were rushing to finish the app prototype.

After our pitches, five judges who were speakers that night got up and gave their votes. I think our winning point was definitely our pitch. The other team had designed a really amazing UI and you could tell that they knew what they were doing (they were professional UXers!), however we had won on our storytelling. We were approached by different audience members at the end of the event about “Buddy”, with one software developer even offering to get their team to develop it for us if we ever wanted to take it further! If anyone is curious about the app, you can find out more here.

Describe your go-to party outfit.

When I don’t have time to think or iterate, I usually chuck on black culottes or a black skirt with a fitted crop top. I think about practicality mostly, and look out for comfortable shoes and lots of pockets to hold my stuff.

Would you rather have an 8am lecture or class at 7pm?

7pm class so I can work 9-5.

If you weren’t working in tech, what do you think you would be doing?

Maybe another somewhat creative job like marketing. If not that, I’d probably be doing social work or some other people-oriented job.

You love yourself some good music. What is your favourite stuff to listen to right now?

I’ve been listening to a lot of hip-hop like Quasimodo and The Pharcyde. My other go to at the moment is my favourite album from last year, A Seat At The Table by Solange.

Monica has a website at monicar.me and is on VSCO. Good luck if you plan to search for her elsewhere! ;)

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That is so cool that you randomly met her at the train station. I would freak if I met one of you guys, haha. Freak in a good way! That’s great that she’s going to be your bridesmaid, too :)

She seems amazing! I love how she is a go-getter and is juggling jobs but still seems to have it all in check. I resonate with the pressure my own Filipino family of going to university as well, as a lot of cousins on my mother’s side are a lot older, with first class degrees and great jobs and there’s me… who didn’t know what to do. Haha. I think 17 is way too young to really know what you want to do!

Thank you for this interview; it was great leaning more about Monica!

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The interviews are really neat because you get a really in-depth look at the interviewee. Great questions! I took a look at the post you linked and that is so cool that you randomly met her at the train and that she’s now one of your bridesmaids!

I think the stereotype about submissive, pushover Asian woman is really interesting because where on earth did that come from?

I also enjoy the insights about accessibility, which I noticed in the last interview too. I think it’s really eye-opening to realize that certain technology only caters to certain users and also equally cool that Monica is thinking about how users access different interfaces (and if it is accessible or inaccessible in the first place).

Also – my sister loves that album by Solange (particularly the song Don’t Touch My Hair)!

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This is such a brilliant post and addition to the series. It’s fabulous that you are both great friends and work in tech. :D

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I love this series! The work you’re doing to champion women in “traditionally male” jobs is amazing, and I love finding out more about the world of tech. Monica is so inspirational, I wish I could have been so successful while studying!

It’s disgusting to read about the sexism that women still have to face today. We might have come a long way since the 70s, but there are still so many things that are unjust. Even supposedly little things like men not telling a rude joke in front of you “because you’re a woman”. I make more disgusting jokes than the majority of males I know!

It’s great that you met Monica by chance! That’s so cool!

Really enjoyed this post, Georgie! Keep up the amazing work!

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So cool how one of your online friends is now one of your bridesmaids! I love stories like that! One of my closest friends is someone I originally met online. He traveled with me on both of my Japan trips :D

I totally agree with Monica about choosing your career field so early in life. High school doesn’t really prepare us for all the choices, and it’s no wonder so many people change majors part-way through. I’m glad she ended up liking the one she chose! I think it’s great that she loves UX design. It’s so important in product design, yet many people don’t think about it. Nice job to her, too, on winning in the Adobe event!

Oh wow, that’s terrible about what happened with her photo and super creepy how people were making comments like that about a minor. That’s a scary experience :( That’s always a fear I have when sharing things online. There’s so little control you have on where it might go from there, and there are so many terrible people out there.

Great interview again, Georgie! I enjoyed reading it!

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I’ve said it before but I will say it again: I love this series, I love the interviewees you’ve had on so far and I am inspired! I might share this series to my CF: G class, we’ve been working towards understanding women in the industry of tech instead of just learning code. It’s worked really well so far and you are a perfect example of someone killfiling it in the industry 💪🏼 Let me know if this is okay!

I really enjoyed reading this post about Monica. She seems really interesting and I have a lot in common with her. In my first and second year at University, I juggled multiple jobs. I didn’t need to and it did cause a lot of stress (I did have to let go of some later down the line but I held on for as long as I could. I really enjoyed the breadth of perspectives and experiences I got from each, though.

I totally understand what Monica went through with Filipino pressures. I felt exactly the same at multiple points in my life, I think it’s a cultural thing just to be the best that you can be! At 17, being forced to chose what to do for University is such a hard thing. At the time I went for Biomed because my parents wanted me to, and although I love my degree, I sometimes wish I went for something else and my talents have proven to be in other areas not in biology or medicine. As Chynna said, 17 is too young to have your heart set on what you want to do!

I particularly enjoyed reading about Monica’s experience with Hackathons. I’m attending my first one in April and I’m super excited! I got a feel of the like-mindness of the community from the Women in Tech event I went to – most of them were regular hackathon attendees!

SO HYPED for the next Hey Girlfriend! post! :D Thanks Georgie!

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Go ahead and share it, Pauline! Definitely want to be sharing this series to other women looking to get their feet wet in tech, or who need to be inspired. 😁

Juggling several jobs can indeed be hard! Not something I would recommend either, but you’re right, you do get quite a bit of experience from it.

Although you wish you went for something else, it’s lucky you love your degree. You are also pursuing a lot of other hobbies and interests, so at least you are exploring the things you enjoy to their full potential.

Good luck at the hackathon! I am sure I will see a blog post all about your experience!

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It’s pretty cool that you met Monica at a train station and became close friends since then :). Major congrats to Monica for scoring a job as a web accessibility analyst. It’s important to take accessibility into account when it comes to presenting material.

I do agree that having multiple jobs give off diversity. You interact with the different set of people and work. (Extra $$$ doesn’t hurt either). I don’t think it is fair that the higher education system pressures everyone to choose a field they want to study and potentially devote their life on. It’s good that Monica found what she wanted to study at the end :).

Being eyeballed or even catcalled is pretty disgusting. It is good to help others who are victims of these disgusting people. Invasion of personal space is not cool at all. People need to learn a thing or two about professionalism!

I’m sorry to hear about Monica having to go through that unwanted attention. That sort of behavior is creepy and uncalled for. I am sure there will be a chance for her to shine with her portfolio :). Interacting with different types of people give you a new perspective on how to look at things or even design it for easy usability. I feel like I need to do more of that to gain some insight.

Thanks for introducing Monica!

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