Hannah Stewart took this great photo!

A Detox of Places and Data

Part III on what this “non-techie” is going to do next

Hitting ‘Publish’ is always nerve wracking.

This past year has been a trip. Professionally I have felt like I’ve been hitting dead ends. As a non-technical person, I felt that I had so many barriers to overcome in order to be given a chance to work in a tech company. The barriers weren’t just in how I was presenting myself on a job application, but also what I was talking about online and what kinds of projects I was choosing to work on.

I started off writing about the challenges of trying to get into the tech industry — I felt ready, inspired and unstoppable. Then a couple months of unemployment hit, and I felt like my feet were dragging behind me. Now I have some detoxing to do — some things to get off my chest.

Just so you know, I always go a little further back in my story than need to because I like to remind myself of which direction is up.


Ooty — where we went to boarding school.

I have traveled a decent amount. Not so much because of family vacations, but because of necessity. All my siblings and I went to boarding school in the rolling Nilgiris of Tamil Nadu, but I exchanged that for half-built skyscrapers and moved back in with my parents for highschool in Dubai.

By 15, I had moved between three different countries and the closest thing to home was a place that was gutted by a massive flood.

Photos of our house and the area around it

I remember seeing the bare stone floor where faded pink carpetting used to unremarkably lay — a gutted walk-through with bits of debris left behind. I didn’t want to cry in front of people and so as we canvassed the house for the last remaining items, I just kept my eyes on that stripped stone floor. We always used to make fun of my Dad for taking pictures of places and things that you would never think to look up in a photo album, but here I was desperately hoping that he’d taken those photos anyways and that we could preserve the house as it was.

I see this as the first real detox that I experienced — it resulted in a whole new phase of life for us. We moved to the U.A.E, to Sharjah which was Dubai-adjacent, but compared to where I was going to highschool in Dubai — it couldn’t have been further away. My family was used to being a group of ‘inbetweener’s — constantly between frugality and excessiveness and of course, between being South Asian and Western. Being in the U.A.E. opened up a whole new part of my personality and ways of interacting with people. By the end of 2008, I hardly thought about our home in Muscat.

Us expats often talk about being pushed outside of a bubble — for me, it was from the small things. When I moved to Montreal I couldn’t justify the cost of taking a taxi wherever I needed, I couldn’t find a good shawarma to save my life, groceries were expensive, two men were making out on the street, most people I met had divorced parents — things like that. None of these things were bad or shocking, in fact, I took to Montreal as if I had been living there my whole life. Sure, the kinds of groceries and brands I was used to seeing in the pantry weren’t the same, there were visible seasons and I could show P.D.A. in public — but it was like a breath of fresh air to be living in a place without so many implicit rules. It was a D.I.Y. way of life that I embraced head-on.

This was the second detox.

Fast forward 4 years — I’m in New York, at the end of a two month stint in the city. The pace of life, the hustle, the struggle, the stress — these aren’t just lamentations of New Yorkers, it is their fuel! Time really is money.

I haven’t seen this anywhere else other than here. People always talk about what New York is like but to actually breathe it in is something else. It’s a beautiful, intense place — from Brooklyn to the Bronx. With how valuable time is here, it certainly does take a long time to get anywhere. You travel deliberately and with purpose. It’s afforded me a lot of time to observe and think.

Instead of people-watching I find myself looking up into the creases of the car. Also shoes. I look at people’s shoes. I’m so impressed by New York’s shoe game. Lots of people looking down at phones and with vacant eyes, swipe, tap, click the space in front of their face. Their posture is always that of interlocked finger cupping a precious thing.

I’m glad to know other people watchers are also looking good around downtown trying to avoid the phone screens and dirty niches of the car. But we don’t seem to lock looks because we’re just afraid of making them uncomfortable.

When the election results were announced — there was too much space all of a sudden. Like the first few milliseconds of the descent on a rollercoaster, the momentum I was building up had reached the roof of my mouth and there was no where for it to expand to. The feelings of being in Manhattan in that week were ones similar to asphyxiation. However in The Bronx, where I’ve been living, it was a different thing. Away from the noise and bustle of the city, the stories exchanged at the kitchen table at the end of the day were the same stories of gratefulness, teasing and commiseration.

I came here to do a Product Management course and had goals of networking and meeting people and expanding my mental horizons. I actually did do all the above, just not in the way I expected to. I went to a couple of networking events and I realized just how unprepared I was. I had to come up with my whowhatwhy in 10 seconds and I fumbled almost every time. Suffice to say, I’m not coming back to Montreal with potential clients lining up outside my door and pockets of contacts but I am….wait for it….coming back with some perspective.

Ugh. Again.

Before I left, I sought the advice of a wise owl who told me that I would go pouring myself into finding a job, get the job, and then want to quit in 3 days because that’s not the kind of person I am. She was trying to tell me that getting a job or enrolling in a Masters program, isn’t what I was lacking.

I groaned internally and felt like saying, “Tell that to my bank account…”. She was making the point that I was never going to be happy with someone else prescribing where my energies should be focused. That made me sad because she was telling me that I had to figure it out alone. And alone, is the last thing I wanted to be because I never really had to make those decisions solo.

When it comes to being focused, I’ve been plagued with a question this year. I’m embarrassed to share it:

If I’m not the best at something, should I even carry through?

I’m embarrassed, mostly because my mother has chided me for this in the past and I don’t want to give her the satisfaction of I-told-you-so and also because I used to get so irritated at her. I’m embarrassed that it might be true. I’m embarrassed by how bratty I sound.

There are so many things that I work on where I stumble at the 80% mark or the 75% mark — too far in to go back but also not enough to snowball you to success. I overcompensate, I over-explain and crucify myself and fall short of converting my effort into something that feels complete. I put out the first version, the second version but not the third. Is it just me?

At the end of this year, I am closer to understanding what types of projects I should work on — they have to be socially meaningful. Why put my energy into a company or product and then complain about how things don’t change? I can’t bring myself to hacktivism without having skin in the game. I want to work with people that promote equality and justice. Idealistic, yes, but after a year like 2016 — which other way is there to go?

I recently went to The Glass Room which is a pop up exhibition in which you can really see your data and understand it’s magnitude through daily objects like filing cabinets and hardcover books filled with passwords.

As we walked away from the storefront, Mike Bass who took some of us to the exhibition, asked me, “How do you feel after seeing all these things?”

I replied, whilst looking down at my hands, that I felt, “ nervous and cynical”.

The point of the pop-up was to help people understand that data is a commodity that is supplied by us. The Instagram photos, the Snapchats, the Tweets — all of it is so well curated and edited….and necessary.

Crafting your narrative and brand online is not limited to people trying to earn their digital bread and butter — we know this really well by now. Sitting here as a twenty-something, that’s the only way I can be heard. We go to all sorts of lengths to be heard as a professional and to demonstrate what I can bring to the table. I feel overwhelmed by all the digital drama and by how, our digital footprint can be bought and sold.

When 1000 people are trying to get into the same industry, with the same profile as you, what hope do you have of standing out? Being in New York has helped me understand the scale at which we’re attempting to compete when we start building a personal brand. We love talking about uniqueness — but it’s such a journey to be able to lock in on what’s unique about yourself. And when you do find out what it is, showcasing it front and center might not be in line with your path as a professional.

In other words, there’s what I need to do and what I want to do. The two might not meet.

I am going to continue writing and taking photos but I am going to try and not be be beholden to likes and comments and have it affect what I want to discuss. The purpose of even writing something like this, is not just to be heard for the sake of it. A ‘Like’ never saved anyone, the last time I checked. It’s still hard to not want that because I’m Pavlov trained by hours and hours of being online.

A good friend asked me, “In what way have you changed since highschool?” I said, my goals are now to be authentic, not to be a chameleon. I meant it but I haven’t been working on it this year. Not wholeheartedly. I take this challenge on myself to hone and sharpen my voice and ideas so that when I am asked the question, “So what are you bringing to the table?”, I will not stumble and I will make it to the 100% mark.

Where this detox of 2016 ends is with a “coming of age”. The only direction isn’t just forward. I asked some friends how they would sum up 2016 — and the verdict is that they aren’t where they started at the beginning of this year. And when I think back to when I was most worried or fearful for my sanity, it was when I thought to myself, “I’m exactly where I was last year.”

To be moving at all, should be enough. A lot of people have helped me in just making peace with that.

I dedicate this to you.


Bonus!

In my time here, I’ve been staying with some distant relatives. They graciously put me up so I didn’t mind the “friendly teasing”. I did learn something incredibly interesting about being a dark-skinned South Asian…

According to ‘Aunty’, there is a direct correlation between having dark skin and being super blessed. Let me break down the math for you, the more melanin you’re packing, the more the good Lord was like pāvam and gave extra benefits to make up for such a misfortune — I’ve included some examples below 😂 Tell a friend!!!

Behold! My super melanin (blessed) siblings!

Selfies packed with blessings