Jennifer Cao, Interaction Designer at Fjord
Tell us a bit about yourself and what you do?
My name is Jennifer Cao. I’m a Service and Interaction Designer at Fjord. We help clients create digital services and products. It’s a great intersection of design research, strategy, and product creation. Every project a different dynamic and ask, so there is always a lot to learn.
How and why did you get involved in tech?
I had an interest in the arts growing up, but my parents were refugees and encouraged me towards a pragmatic and stable career path. After studying Environmental Science in university and working in digital marketing, I knew it wasn’t for me. I decided to pursue a career in design. As a teenager, I was constantly creating layouts and coding on Geocities and LiveJournal. I wanted a job in which I could utilize problem-solving and analytical thinking while working in a creative field.
A friend referred me to a program called NPower Canada, a tech boot camp for low-income, marginalized and vulnerable communities. The consulting firm Accenture sponsored this program, and this is how I got connected to the design studio Fjord.
What is your experience being a POC in Tech?
There are moments where being the only person with a low-income, immigrant, POC perspective feels isolating. Even if you are prepared and passionate about the technical and creative aspects of your work, it’s difficult to connect on certain cultural and social topics. My lived experiences are vastly and distinctly different. It can be a challenge to find a mentor and to network in general.
I’m lucky that the leadership at Fjord took a chance on me, with full knowledge of my background and the program I had come from. This created a more inclusive and diverse company culture, where I didn’t feel the pressure to “code-switch” as much. As our team continues to grow, I’ve seen more and more women and people of color join, which is terrific.
Tech jobs in Toronto are booming and there have been a lot of thoughtful and driven IBPOC folks advocating for us to have a seat at the table. I’m grateful to have found intersectional, inspiring voices to help support IBPOC in tech. The industry is still is far from perfect, but I am motivated to help drive it the right direction.
What advice would you give to a young person who wanted to enter tech?
Let’s do away with this ‘exceptional minority’ narrative. IBPOC starting out in any industry often feel an immense pressure to never make mistakes or show any shortcomings. Always aiming for a flawless performance makes it scary to reach out, to start projects and to ask for feedback. It is a heavy strain on our mental health and prevents us from learning and moving forward. There is always going to be something complex and ambiguous at work where you’re required to take a chance and make the best judgment call with the resources that you have. Errors happen. “Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good.”
Find your community. Networking can be draining, but there are people out there who you can relate to and support you in navigating the tech industry. This is valuable for both career and personal growth. It can be a tiring search, but it’s worth it.
Your soft skills matter. I’ve talked to countless young IBPOC folks breaking into tech feeling insecure and like they don’t measure up. The reality is, when you’re low-income, taking care of your family, lacking economic means and social capital, it is far harder to overcome barriers and access expensive degrees, boot camps and free internships. A love of learning, proactive attitude, resourcefulness, integrity and resilience matters when building a career.
Where can we find you?