A Year Ago Today
I Got a Rejection Letter from Medium
A year ago, I was looking to be a part of something big, so naturally I thought of Medium. Ev’s story and the values of Obvious Corp, resonated with me, so I applied. I really wanted it but I didn’t get it, so I did the next best thing and met Ev yesterday, a whole year later. I was never formally trained in design, never worked for a large company and my longest running job was working as a technology teacher at a democratic school. Truthfully, I never graduated college either. Though I completed all my coursework, the college failed my basic English proficiency exam, for reasons I’ll never know nor do I want to know now.
While all that is not the accepted criteria for a designer, it wasn’t until I met Mikko-Pekka Hanski — a former teacher and one of Finland’s most influential designers—that I realized the strengths of being an outsider, namely perspective. I was pretty determined to move my design career forward, so I did what any underemployed millenial would do.
I stopped waiting for doors to open, I hustled and made my own way.
I designed as many apps as I could, I learned more code and built throwaway projects like typelift, “a typographer’s sandbox.” I also worked for cheap, sometimes for free while applying to jobs. At the same time, I struggled to define myself as a creative — I’m a generalist, a tinkerer who’d been doing graphic design since high school yearbook. I think that summer is when I realized that hiring was broken in Silicon Valley, that it was as elitist as the old guard, where Facebook is the new IBM on your resume. Which is why I’m heartened when Jack Ma says;
“Don’t hire the most qualified, hire the craziest”
Fortunately Silicon Valley has plenty companies that hire for crazy, and soon after, I settled into a role as a product designer for Verdigris, working on machine learning & smart energy. It filled a lot of criteria that I was looking for — a world changing problem, staff diversity and an appreciation of design thinking. I’ve learned more working with this startup in 1 year then I have in the last 5 years of my career. I also got to execute on everything from branding to agile product management. If you want to move far in your career, work for a Seed or Series A stage company.
But funny thing, I couldn’t shake rejection. I was simply unwilling to accept that big companies like Medium, Twitter, VSCO, Nextdoor, Heroku…found my skills lacking for even an interview. I’m not saying that the candidates who were hired weren’t qualified … but I am saying that when I applied to jobs using my first name, Dominic, I got a lot more responses. So let me go on the record and say:
My name is Dominic Vikram Babu,
I’m not a vegetarian nor am I a developer.
I’m a beef eating, product designer, musician & publisher.
True story, most folks find it hard to believe that a South Asian can be anything other than a doctor, engineer or computer scientist, let alone a creative. But so jarring was this experience around Western perspectives of people of color with uncommon names, that I had to do something. Letter of rejection from Medium aside, the social reawakening in America around #BlackLivesMatter, along with a request from a friend to publish his writings, led me to turn a little tape blog into a radical publication.
I remember thinking that starting a publication around social justice, diversity of ideas and critical of technology in Silicon Valley, could be bad for business — but I didn’t really care and had little to lose. I still think the best thing I’ve written was “A Letter to Peter Thiel about Diversity,” where I pen a letter pretending to be a South Asian tech fanboy who is confused about Thiel’s views within “The Diversity Myth.” It played out my cognitive dissonance between my love for Thiel but my feelings of rejection as a person of color — so much so that I painted a watercolor portrait of my anti-idol.
I launched Absurdist sometime in January, with the support of a few trusted folks, Ethan Avey and George Babu, deciding that I would surface issues that needed representation — to Medium — in a clever way. I figure, if you’re going to fail, fail in a big way. But we didn’t fail. Quite the opposite, this is what the last 24 hours for Absurdist have looked like…
- I moved back to Oakland
- Hired Amol Ray as our new Editorial Director
- Have one of our pieces reach the most recommended on Medium
- Had David Pescovitz and others, tell me they were fans of Absurdist
- Got Saul Carlin stoked on the future of “on demand publishing”
- Met Ev William and talked briefly about our plans
- Got keys to Absurdist’s new HQ on 15th St, Oakland, CA
- Reached 5k followers on Medium and since grown to 12K
That’s not a bad run for an absurd idea borne out of pride, disempowerment and a vision quest. If you’re wondering what the secret to building a successful publication on Medium…it’s probably populism.
It’s not me but the writers we publish. It’s finding the voices that speak truth so clearly that it stands out from all the noise. It’s celebrating the diversity of thought that make our communities better. It’s being really honest about your story. Hope you’ll follow us as we build an even better Absurdist in the coming months, IRLs.
A year ago today, I got a rejection letter from Medium.
How about that?