Caroline Liu is a true role model for women in software engineering, a profession that continues to have an imbalance male:female gender ratio, but is slowly paving its way to include more women in tech. She shares her story about how she became enamored by the world of computers, her struggles being legally blind and her awesome and admiring tricks to combat her limited eye sight, and her favorite clothing items, shoes, and accessories during the winter time.
1. What inspired you to be a software engineer?
“I have so many inspirations! My childhood dream was to be a veterinarian. When I was volunteering at the vet clinic during high-school, I fainted multiple times while I was observing operations, so that was sort of a deal breaker. Then I was very interested in art, and took a computer graphics class where I learned basic programming skills. I ended up mixing all my interests into a Cognitive Science degree where I studied linguistics, psychology and computing. Software is a part of everything and is made up of so many disciplines, so it’s the best place to be if you have many interests.”
Software is a part of everything and is made up of so many disciplines, so it’s the best place to be if you have many interests.
2. What are your must have outfits during winter time in Vancouver?
“I have an amazing collection of scarves and toques that keep me warm and happy. Winter is mostly mild here in Vancouver and I really love my Miz Mooz boots and carry a tiny Umbrella Shop umbrella in my purse for the misty rain. It can get pretty wet and grey for half of the year, so rain boots are a must have too. I like wearing my rain boots with my Arc’teryx Gore-Tex jacket for extra waterproofing.
This year was a special year for me because I got the opportunity to check off a childhood dream of going dog sledding!!! I spent a few weeks up north in the Yukon and needed some serious warm clothes and boots. I have a collection of super light and warm under-layers from Ice Breaker for playing in the local mountains that were perfect for layering. I had been eyeing a pair of Sorel’s Joan of the Arctic boots for a few years now, but didn’t think I would need such a warm boot in Vancouver. I found a pair in my size on Craigslist and thought I would only wear them while I was up north. Then Vancouver was hit with Snowmageddon 2016 and then Snowpocolypse 2017. They have been so warm, dry and also stylish during our record snowfall!”
3. What is the biggest obstacle you’ve dealt with and how did you overcome it?
“I’m legally blind. Because of this, there are a bunch of things that are different in my daily life. I can’t drive a car or read a menu. I have to be uncomfortably close to see your eye colour, read your name tag, or read the slides in your presentations. I also can’t read your email or texts over your shoulder, so you’re safe to write secrets without my spying eyes seeing what you’re doing.
I have developed a lot of life hacks to make up for some of the things I miss out on. Technology has been my savior. I love my iPhone 7 Plus. It has tons of screen real estate and great support for jumbo font sizes. My preference is to have font size at least 150% (18pt, 24px, 1.5em or x-large). The built-in Apple apps like Notes and Calendar use the Dynamic Type fonts based on the user’s settings (if you’re an app developer, you should do this too). Safari has a Reader mode where it removes styling and wraps text at super jumbo sizes. I also use my iPhone camera to take pictures of things I can’t see and zoom in on them. I have a great collection of restaurant menus and board games on my phone. A fun hack I’ve done to make finding apps in my phone easier was to sort them by colour: Facebook and Twitter are blue, Pinterest and YouTube are red, Instagram and Slack are rainbow. This also makes my phone delightful to look at.
Because I’m a software developer, I spend a lot of time at my desk computer. I pick software that has easy to configure font. I love IntelliJ and other JetBrains IDEs for programming. You can set it to dark mode and have font infinitely large, my friends call this crayon mode. I’ll end off with one of my favorite life hacks. I need to be super close to my monitors, but the monitor arms I have aren’t quite long enough to reach from the back of my desk. I took inspiration from brutalist architecture and picked up a cinderblock from Home Depot to use as a monitor stand. I love my desk setup and it makes me happy to come to work everyday.”
I have developed a lot of life hacks to make up for some of the things I miss out on…A fun hack I’ve done to make finding apps in my phone easier was to sort them by colour: Facebook and Twitter are blue, Pinterest and YouTube are red, Instagram and Slack are rainbow. This also makes my phone delightful to look at.
4. What is your spirit animal?
“I took a quiz and it says I’m a butterfly.”
5. What is your best advice for women who want to pursue a career in software engineering?
“Don’t be afraid to get a little dirty. Start by finding some recipes for things you find interesting, like building a web page or a browser extension. Don’t be afraid that you aren’t doing it the right way, because this field is so new, there is no right way of doing things, only opinions about best practices at the moment. Those will change tomorrow. Don’t be afraid of setup issues and think you’re doing something wrong… ugh, those bite us all. Just try, try, try again to get passed those installation issues and you’ll be programming in no time. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Google knows a lot of answers, but people are there to help you and show you how to implement them. Don’t be afraid of people yelling at you. Those people don’t have social skills. Get the most out of them and keep asking questions. Find the nice people who will answer them until you fully understand. Don’t be afraid to dig into how something works. It’s super important to know why something works the way it does, so keep asking those questions until you get answers. Share what you learn with other people and take the time to answer their questions too. Don’t be afraid to take on problems you don’t know how to solve. Don’t be fooled by other people’s dismissive hand-wavy over-confidence, they don’t know how to solve it either. You are the best person to solve the problem and figure it out. Don’t be afraid!”
Don’t be afraid of people yelling at you. Those people don’t have social skills. Get the most out of them and keep asking questions. Find the nice people who will answer them until you fully understand.
6. What are you currently reading?
“I just finished reading Sapiens: A Brief History of Human Kind on my Kobo (another great Canadian invention). It covered the evolution of language, science, technology, politics and art while examining the major revolutions of history. It was such a great read that I will pick up his next book, Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow.”