Building your remote presence

I was unemployed when the pandemic first started: my social-life really came down to the connections I already had, and even that was switched to playing video games online instead of exploring a new local bar. When I was hired at as the sole User Experience Designer and Researcher, I realized right away how different it was. Casual conversations were limited by my tile on the screen and there was a lot more eye strain as I stared at the screen for hours navigating remote-onboarding. In short, I felt like I lost all my social skills when I had to rely on remote means to build work connections.

I started having anxiety about socializing online. I wanted to reach out to coworkers, but never wanted to bug them, because even Slack seemed like too much if I just wanted to say hi and have watercooler talk and I wouldn’t have dared set-up a meeting just to socialize since there’s a sense of formality in that where, perhaps, I’m interviewing their own social situation navigating the workplace. Mind you, I’m an extrovert: a Campaigner–if you will–if you’re familiar with the Myers-Briggs personality types. My social style is person-to-person and I like creating a natural engagement based on the mood, context, and other implications based on the environment we’re in.

I eventually assimilated to being one of the many tiles on a screen; joined remote Happy Hours where everyone already seems off in their own worlds; and adapted the etiquette of muting myself when I’m not actively talking.

This reinforces certain norms, expectations: whoever talks first, and talks to the loudest, has the floor, like that Product Manager you’re often politely disagreeing with. Video Conferencing makes it harder to interject, and it’s easier for the PM to continue on his tangent since he probably can’t hear you speaking over his own voice. More importantly, if it’s a group call and they can’t see or hear you, then it makes it damn near impossible for them to call out. It really goes back to who talks the loudest and the VC algorithms managing different audio inputs from different sources at once.

You fall into formal etiquette, almost obsolete in modern times. You hope people get the hint you’re about to say something if you lean forward and start speaking. Yet, you’re simply a tile on the screen. Your personality and your presence is lost in translation, which is bad for you.. And also your organization. If you feel like you’re unable to bring your best self to work, this can affect their values and desired employee behaviors: many of these were established when we were able to meet in person, but mechanisms aren’t yet in place to accommodate for how dynamics shift when working virtually.

Companies must encourage techniques to ensure everybody in the room is being heard. What else did they hire you for?

Own your space, and make it known. There’s joy in setting up your background to show off snippets of your identity. I’ve succumbed to plant parenthood during the pandemic and I let it be known with the sprawl across my backdrop, plus a hint of a Herman Miller chair my fiancée gifted me to celebrate our successes in life. A Design Manager at my current company has huge wall bookshelves, and a lot of natural lighting, which makes it hard for me not to question how much money he makes a year to own a place like that in the Bay Area. Presenting parts of your personality via appearance does make a difference: my coworkers recognize me as the person with strong plant game.

If you see other’s trying to jump into a conversation, call it out. This is no different than meetings in-person, and no less important. Going back to the scenario earlier with the PM: a fellow Designer notices you’re trying to jump in and they can interject in the conversation. This happens at my workplace fairly often when we have an open brainstorming discussion and everyone has ideas. Some people jump in, while others use the “Raise Hand” tool. Predictably, the ones properly using the queue are overshadowed by the speakers, and once others engage on that tangent, the queue becomes irrelevant.

Find your community: it may be your immediate team or it might be an ERG. Even though it takes more work to build community and trust is harder to gain when we’re Slacking or emailing, it’s important to feel like you belong. Expectations that warm welcomes are had when a tenth person joins a Slack community are unreasonable: speak up! Share your knowledge and your story with others: it may resonate with just one or two people. It doesn’t matter in the moment because you’ve just made a connection.

Show off your leadership chops in ways besides verbally speaking up about it. It’s hard in remote meetings, I know it from personal experience sitting in rooms with eighteen other people trying to be acknowledged by a VP. Documentation speaks volumes: the more engaging, the more likely you’ll get the recognition you’re looking for. Designs, of course, must be introduced with context: either in a meeting where you have the spotlight or have a text write-up explaining what you want people to focus on.

This may be taken with a grain of salt because with the trajectory of our online identities, we as a society may prefer our digital representations more than our physical beings. In the meantime, while we still enjoy hiking outdoors and hanging out with people in-person, please, be your true, authentic selves.

Culture Assessment and Recommendations

Join me as I take a deep dive of one aspect of a company's culture, and my recommendations on how to evolve the culture using cues.

This slide deck is only for Josh Levine. Please visit this link.

Where are the queer POC women tech leaders?

I'm a third generation Asian American to liberal-enough parents that at least accepted my sexuality when I came out and let me enjoy the arts to some extent. However, most of the people I was surrounded by were conservative and, for a long time, were in disbelief that I was *gasp* a lesbian. It was tough being my true self: I sometimes felt outcasted from groups I used to be part of since I no longer fit the norm.

As I started my career after during undergrad, I felt like I had to hide this essential part of my identity. Everyone else talked about their heteronormative relationship woes, but couldn't I talk about my very queer relationships? Perhaps it's my own worries that limited me from being my true, authentic self, and not toxic cultures that only truly accepted a certain type of person to thrive at work.

I'm sure my story resonates with others who are, or have previously, went through similar experiences through adulthood. And hopefully prove that not all people in tech are bros.

In 2020, FastCo introduced Queer 50: a list of LGBTQ women and nonbinary innovators in business and tech. Very exciting to see, and I applaud FastCo for providing more visibility and awareness to the general tech public about the queer folks running the show.

My question for queer POC women tech leaders: Do you believe your identity at a disadvantage in your career? How did you get past all that and find people who helped lift you up?

Topic exploration

The idea of “being your authentic self” in tech companies only apply if you’re a white cis-male. I loved the idea of joining a team that had “authenticity” as one of their core values on posters all over the walls at the typical tech office. However, when I entered the meeting room being the only female (and queer) Asian, I had a familiar unsettling feeling as I sat in the chair. Why do I have to conform to hyper masculinity and the idea of whoever speaks the most wins the discussion? Why is there no inclusion and embracing of different perspectives in these conversations? Of course, I have to interject and speak up: if I don’t, then I’d never be heard. This does backfire, though, as having a strong voice conflicting with others has led to me being pulled to the side saying I shouldn’t speak to them like that. Would they have had that exact same conversation with a guy? Companies should re-evaluate what authenticity means and why women speaking up just as boldly as men should be treated equally, not with bias or expectations of how a woman should be.

Where are the LGBTQ+ leaders in tech? Where are the LGBTQ+ leaders in tech? Representation matters. Nearly 25% of LGBTQ+ workers hide their identity at work and worry that they’d be treated differently if they came out. The worry alone can cause more health issues and work-related complaints due to increased levels of stress and anxiety. Remember the first topic about being your authentic self? Having diversity allows for different perspectives and embracing these differences. For consumers, there are plenty of insights we’ve yet to examine at how tech is integrated into these communities, compared to the heteronormative landscape. As for employees—you know, the ones who help make a business successful—they can feel like they belong and feel comfortable being who they are. LGBTQ+ leaders should be our advocates, our networks, our way to be out and proud.

Culture Lens

I’ll be writing about culture through the lens of an individual contributor looking for an inclusive tech company culture because and I’m an Asian-American gender nonconfirming lesbian--in other words, I’m marginalized. More representation of people like myself in leadership roles are needed, especially in tech. These leaders should be authentic, motivational, and inspirational to make positive changes to the organization they represent, the communities they represent, and inspire other organizations for change, too.

Values: Culture All-stars


Headline Description Subject
If you see an opportunity, take it You have the power to impact not only products, but the company Empowerment
Always collaborate Listening and evolving together, helping and supporting each other for the sake of a collective goal; reciprocity Collaboration
Don’t be afraid of failure Embrace your curiosity and take risks early on in your design process Discovery
Gain other perspectives Seek opinions different than your own to gain insight on how others may perceive what you’re designing Inclusivity
Dive deep Become well-versed in what you’re investigating Expertise
Be an advocate Stand up for others Advocacy
Embrace change Change happens; adapt to these changes while maintaining your truths Adapt


Culture All-Stars

Leanne Pittsford

Leanne is the CEO and Founder of Lesbians Who Tech, the largest LGBTQ community of technologists in the world — committed to visibility, intersectionality, and changing the face of technology, with 40,000 non-binary, LGBTQ women, queer women of color (and our allies) in tech and more than 40+ city chapters worldwide.

Behavior Values theme
Advocate for LGBTQ+ in tech. Advocacy and empowerment.
Entrepreneur; finding opportunities to increase visibility/awareness to underrepresented groups Opportunity
Created a diverse, inclusive community  Inclusivity

Jared Spool

Jared Spool is an American writer, researcher, speaker, educator, and an expert on the subjects of usability, software, design, and research. He is the founding principal of User Interface Engineering, a research, training, and consulting firm that specializes in website and product usability. 

Behavior Values theme
Usability expert Expertise
Evangelist for innovative methodologies Advocate
Evolves with the trends Adaptive


Purpose statement

*Note I have intentionally swapped out company names & individuals’ names* will be missed by billions.

Founded in 1995,, Inc. revolutionized the way people shopped. Once known as an e-commerce company delivering your textbooks to your door in two weeks, they have mastered the logistics of getting almost anything delivered into your home in the matter of hours.

Zonama had learned your shopping habits and provided you everyday essentials without you realizing it. When you moved into your new home, it already knew your favorite brands and what you’d need to start your new chapter in life. These essentials were delivered to you so that you can focus on the important things in your life, like driving across the country, making that home cooked meal for your loved ones, and enjoying the beautiful sunset.

Heff Pezos is forever grateful for everyone’s support that sent him to Mars, along with Melon Musk to live out the rest of their years.

Purpose statement

To quickly and efficiently provide people with the essentials in their daily lives, so they can focus their time and effort on what matters most to them.


  1. Have future employers view me as a well-balanced UX leader who has a strong voice in design strategy
    • Add 2 strong student projects to my portfolio that show design strategy thinking that complements my UX knowledge
    • Update my personal brand as UX leader by incorporating learnings about organizational culture, values & mission.
  2. Build professional network with cohort to help each other grow and succeed in their careers
    • Spend 5 hours a month connecting with classmates outside the classroom/group projects
    • Learn 2 new skills from classmates outside my profession/expertise
  3. Balance work-school-life to maintain my own wellbeing
    • Manage time better by writing out my schedule each week and planning ahead
    • Set expectations with manager and classmates about workload to manage priorities
    • Spend at least 6 hours each week to exercise/fitness