Hacker News front page [48/100]

I remember the rage I felt as I read the WSJ article “Why Chinese mothers are superior.” Later, I learned that the author had not written that headline herself. But still, the content was infuriating.

Up to that point, my writing on my blog had been mostly random thoughts and some technical notes, but I felt obligated to respond more fully to the article. I wrote up a response titled “Why Chinese mothers are not superior” (previously was on jeanhsu.com, just republished here). My friend and coworker posted it to Hacker News with the parenthetical additional “(from a female Chinese engineer)”. Soon, she pinged me — “hey your post is #1 on Hacker News.” It stayed there for the rest of the day.

In the year that followed, I wrote a fair amount of posts about what it’s like to be a woman in the tech industry, why I left Google, and other topics. I have pretty mixed feelings about writing stuff that seemed to make it to #1 on Hacker News with great regularity. One of my posts made it to the front page of reddit (logged out) — my cousin excitedly sent me a screenshot. Apparently it was a big deal.

I struggled with writing enough “technical” content to balance out the gender-related topics. Not that it mattered — the “woman in tech” content went straight to the top of Hacker News with supportive and nasty comments, along with comments saying things like all I do is write about being a woman. Soon, I knew the Hacker News audience pretty well, and I knew when I published a piece if it would likely make it to the front page or the top 2–3 spots. Even though it’s been over 5 years, I was surprised to find that my site is still in the top 100 domains for HN.

I experienced a wide gamut of internet responses, as you can imagine. With that first piece on Chinese mothers, I had comments that said I was a disgrace to my heritage, and never to have kids for they would be of mixed blood. Others said I deserved to be raped. Some of my other pieces were translated to Chinese and reposted to the Chinese equivalent of digg, and I proudly shared them with my mom, thinking she would be happy to read a translated version of something I wrote. She responded, saying that she didn’t recognize some of the slang in the comments, so she looked it up, and it was the equivalent of “fapping.” I told her not to worry about it, that the internet was full of idiots, and I contacted the website to ask them to disable comments on the translation of my post. The person who responded was immensely apologetic, but I said no worries, I understand, it’s the internet. Looking back, I handled all that with a combination of thick skin and naïveté. I’m not sure I could handle those comments today.

After a year or so, I stopped writing. The novelty of startup life had faded a bit, and so a lot of topics didn’t seem that interesting to me anymore. I constantly struggled with wanting to write about being a woman in tech, but not wanting it to dominate my online identity. So I just stopped. But I’m grateful for that time, as it was really the beginning of my writing very publicly and developing an online presence. I had a lot of positive moments. Many of my good friends now are people I connected with during that writing phase. My cousin in high school all the way across the country told me that her friend said “your cousin is the jean hsu?!” I guess a lot of people read Reddit and Hacker News.

I used to publish a post and then ride the high of seeing the comments roll in, of watching my post ascend the HN front page. Now I try to write for myself and barely look at my stats at all. I’m pleased when a coworker mentions that they like my 100 days thing, or bring up something I wrote about. Or an interview candidate mentions that my writing about pregnancy and startups made them feel relieved that this whole thing could work.

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