#14: Chia Lin – Michelin Star Pastry Chef turned Product Designer

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Born and raised in Taiwan, Chia Lin has traveled far and wide. She came to Tennessee when she was 11, moved to California in high school and college, and lived in Tokyo for a year. Her love of food and travel has landed her a job as a flight attendant and a chef at a Michelin star kitchen, until she finally discovered her true passion for design.

She believes that knowing who you are and being able to tell your story well will get you places. In fact, Chia wrote a blog post called 5 Things I Learned About Design in a Michelin Star Kitchen that got people coming to her and opened new doors for her.


Years in Tech 1
Grew Up Taiwan
Current Job Product Designer
Date Recorded 8/3/2016

Key Points:

  • Don’t be afraid to try things out just because you’re afraid that you’re going to suck at it. You’ve got to suck the first hundred or thousand times before you actually get really good at something.
  • Whatever your background is, leverage it to your own advantage. Know yourself and be able to tell your story. If you know your story well and tell it well, people will come to you.
  • The job search experience is a daunting process so don’t spend all your time on the job search itself. Make sure you spend time doing the things you love so you stay motivated and you’re reminded of why you’re doing the job search in the first place.
  • When applying for a job, think about the company, why they’re hiring and who they’re hiring. Understand the problem they’re trying to solve and figure out how you can frame your story to fit that.

Show Notes (focus on the Stepping Stones):

[01:35] Chia’s background: Born and raised in Taiwan, moved to Tennessee at 11 and then to California in high school and college and discovering she loved cooking. She studied bio since her parents wanted her to be a pediatrician while picking up graphic design and doing design stuff on the side. Out of rebellion, she moved to Tokyo and lived there for 6 months and worked as a flight attendant for 2 years.

[03:51] Lessons she learned from traveling: Never make assumptions about people.

[05:06] What got her into the food obsession: Whenever Chia travels, she immerses herself in the culture and the fastest way to do that is through food .Chia attended culinary school in San Francisco for 4 months (which she considers as the best 4 months of her life) and soon landed a job at Mourad

[06:56] The rhythm of the kitchen at culinary school: Structured like an actual kitchen, 10x faster, more on routine, people yelling, time pressure, mental pressure, and physical pressure

[08:35] The actual kitchen experience: She describes her first 2 weeks as a very daunting experience in an intimidating and very intense environment where she was getting tough love.

[10:01] Her biggest lessons working at Mourad: Understanding what it’s like to be on the other side working 12-14 hours a day and making minimum wage, putting all your time into a job and not having enough money to pay rent, etc.

[11:27] What drew her to the kitchen: Dealing with mental, physical, and creative challenges that kept her motivated to work and learn. After a year, Chia left the culinary world seeing it wasn’t a sustainable lifestyle and it wasn’t something always had a passion for.

[12:18] It’s all about designing the experiences. Design as the middle ground between psychology, art, and problem-solving.

[14:02] Discovering her passion for design: Pouring a lot of time and energy in food and feeling like it added up to nothing, Chia realized it really wasn’t time wasted because it actually got her into so many doors as a topic for conversation or how she approached the problems she faced

[15:14] How frustrations prepared her for the next step: People are afraid of trying things because they’re afraid of sucking but you’ve got to suck the first hundred or thousand times before you actually get really good at something.

[16:25] Her transition into tech: She asked her friend (who had gone through General Assembly) to introduce her to designers she knew. She eventually learned about Tradecraft and contacted past students to ask about their experience.

[17:18] The application process at Tradecraft: Chia spoke with the program director, Nick as well as the track leads for product design and set up a time to talk over the design challenges sent to her. Her challenge was to design a food delivery app (they weren’t necessarily looking for the final product, but her thought process).

[18:08] Being self-conscious about her background, Tradecraft pounds into students that your background is your advantage so you have to leverage it. Regardless of your background, figure out what your advantage is.

[19:32]  Whiteboard challenges at Tradecraft: Done every Wednesday during the first week, lasting from 15 to 30 minutes

  • Walk the founders through the entire process of creating a particular app
  • Define your motivation for creating it, the problem you’re trying to solve, road map, envisioning
  • Figuring who the users are, their motivations for using it, problems they’re trying to solve, timing, setting, task flows, user interface

[21:41] Ways to practice whiteboarding at home:

  • Practice with a friend. Search for problems online or get your friend to think of a problem.
  • Time it for 15-20 minutes and allot 10 minutes for feedback.
  • Ask a lot of questions and try to understand before jumping to conclusions.
[22:55] The program structure of Tradecraft:

  • A career accelerator
  • A consultancy that startups can come to
  • You get to work with actual companies who need help on actual problems and actual products
  • Not so much focus on curriculum, but just you working on projects with companies
  • You learn through research and resources companies give you

[23:53] The job search experience: Tradecraft prepares their students for the jobs search but you’re going to run into tons of rejection. Chia recommends scheduling your day out with a Google calendar for example. Schedule your days out hour by hour and follow it. Don’t spend all your time on job search but also spend time doing things you really like to stay motivated and get reminded of why you’re doing the job search in the first place.

[25:02] The parallels of kitchen and design: Good design is invisible. When something goes right, people don’t notice you. Designers only get noticed when things are not going well.

[25:58] Chia thinks of her job search as a reverse funnel where she sent out over 100 applications and got a few interviews (5 onsites and 2 offers in the end). She also sent out cold emails. She created a spreadsheet of jobs based on where she wanted to work for, had job listings, and what she had in common with people who worked there or had 2nd or 3rd degree connections

[26:59] Recruiters versus hiring managers:

  • Avoid recruiting managers, aim for the hiring managers.
  • Recruiters act as facilitators while hiring managers are your potential champions.

[29:33] Strategies for job search:

  • Think about the company, why they’re hiring and who they’re hiring.
  • Think about the problems they’re trying to solve.
  • Treat job search like a UX/design problem and see how you can frame yourself to fit that.
  • Think about your red flags and what are the ways you can put the fire out
[30:35] Typical interview process: 2 phone interviews + design challenge + onsite to go over the design challenge with the team you’re working with

[31:06] What the design challenge looks like: Redesigning current landing page, designing marketing collateral, analytics dashboard, etc.

[31:41] Tips to ace your design challenge:

  • Depending on what you’re interviewing for:
    • For a UI role: Pay attention to the UI best practices
    • For a Product Design/UX: Focus on your thought process
  • Spend more time talking about how you came to your design decisions, who the users are, what the problems are, testing process, how you went through the pain points and decided what was most important
  • Think about things from the business perspective

[32:53] Strategies for branding yourself:

Go through your entire history and understand who you are and what your story is and be able to tell your motivations for doing certain things in your life. Know your story. Know yourself well and be able to tell it. After Chia’s blog post got published on Medium, several companies reach out to her (getting 3 interviews out of that post)

[34:27] What’s next for Chia: Getting really good at design since there isn’t any shortage of problems out there

[35:00] The Lightning Round

Imagine you’re dropped in a brand new city, don’t know anyone, and starting from scratch again., and you only have a $100. What would you do to start and get back on your feet and kill it?

  • Being a waitress or bartender for a month or so to save up money and make friends. Got to events and meetups. Crash some tech events or happy hours.Sign up for those events, make connections, and people could get you in places.

Was there any piece of music, movie, or something that helped you get through those frustrating situations?

  • Get over the first hurdle of shying away from talking to family or friends because they’re not going to judge you. Take a day or week off. Let everything go and just relax.

Having been in this journey, what is the one piece of advice that you have for listeners who are thinking about getting on this journey?

  • Have faith in your abilities and be nice to people. Eventually, good karma will come back to you.

What is something that you fundamentally believed in before that you have changed your mind on after going through the process?

  • People think going through bootcamps will make the process of breaking into tech easier once you come out of it because reality is, you have to work twice as hard to get a job.

Articles Mentioned & Resources:

General Assembly
LukeW Ideation + Design

Personal Blog Posts:

5 Things I Learned About Design in a Michelin Star Kitchen

Contact Information:

Chia Lin
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/linchia

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