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The Unbreakable

Grace Ling on Switching Career Paths, Getting Zoom Bombed, and Leading the Design Community

Grace Ling is a force to be reckoned with.

She is an engineer, UX designer, artist, writer, entrepreneur, and founder of an online design community. Grace is currently a master’s student studying Computer Science and Engineering at Santa Clara University.

I sat down with Grace to talk to her about her experiences.

What shaped your interests in design, game development, and user experience?

Growing up, I enjoyed drawing manga, storytelling, and playing games. I saw myself working in entertainment, social media, or games.

I was also a competitive runner in high school that earned national titles that inspired my interest in medicine combined with societal pressures growing up in Silicon Valley. I majored in Bioengineering/Pre-Med in undergrad as an aspiring Neurosurgeon with an MD-PhD. I was unhappy and missed doing art.

Virtual Reality Thylakoid Islands in Cell-fie by Grace Ling

Halfway through my undergrad in 2018, a virtual reality lab opened up at my university. I taught myself how to design and develop VR games through online tutorials. This resulted in Cell-fie, a biology-inspired VR game to gamify learning. I decided to switch career paths to VR and games. I interned at Intuitive Surgical last summer as a Virtual Reality Robotic Surgery Game Developer and created games to train surgeons. My experience in VR and engineering motivated me to pursue my master’s degree in Computer Science and Engineering.

Boba Bunny UI Challenge by Grace Ling

A few weeks into my masters in fall 2019, I started to explore UX and product design by taking an online digital product design class. In 2020, I’ve done projects with teams in 6 hackathons/design challenges and created products. I realize that design instead of engineering is the career path I want to take.

What are some projects you are proud to be part of?

iRunGracePace

I was bullied in middle school to the point where I received messages to “kill myself” online daily. I discovered running in 8th grade and would go to the gym with my mom. I went from the slowest to fastest runner in my middle school, motivated by surpassing people who bullied me. I came into my high school as the fastest runner. The juniors and seniors did not like that and left me out.

iRunGracePace is a running and lifestyle blog to talk about the struggles and lessons learned in life.

I turned to the internet for running friends and started a blog called iRunGracePace. I talked about the struggles I faced at school and the lessons I’ve learned. My experiences of being bullied and left out also took me to take on multiple 50+ year old school records and national titles in cross country and track as I blogged about it. I’ve had iRunGracePace since 2014 and have accumulated over 35,000 followers on social media.

Design Buddies

Design Buddies Logo by Joey Pescatore

I have been interested in design, but felt intimidated to start because of some of the things I saw people say in other design communities — about how designers who didn’t go to a traditional 4 year design school “aren’t real designers.” I created Design Buddies as an inclusive and beginner friendly community because it was what I needed while starting design.

Design Buddies is an inclusive community for designers from all backgrounds to connect, share resources, and participate in virtual events.

Design Buddies was created 6 weeks ago and since then, over 1,600 people have joined. I have a friendly team of admins that help out, and we have been hosting weekly events and partnerships with other communities and companies. People have also been reaching out wanting to mentor and speak about design. I’m excited to see the community grow and collaborate in Design Buddies!

Candyleaf Designs

Grace Ling at SHM Con 2020

I’ve always dreamed of tabling at anime conventions and decided to start doing so in August 2019 after I graduated from undergrad. A few months later, I decided to start my online Etsy store.

Running an art business has improved my customer service and communication skills. I also work with manufacturers in different time zones. I was hesitant to start at first, but my friend signed me up to table at an anime convention, and I enjoyed it so much that I kept going.

Walk us through the day you were Zoom bombed.

What was the online event you were organizing?

I was organizing the first meet up for Design Buddies and I was the lead. We had a Zoom call and collaborative icebreaker activity on Figma running at the same time.

What happened during the event?

3–5 people came in during the first 5 minutes of the conference. 1–2 people started yelling racial slurs against Asians, 1 person overtook the screen with pornographic animated characters and drawing, and multiple people filled the chat with offensive content against Asians and more racial slurs.

I did not see who the people were since all the boxes of people were moving very quickly and my computer was lagging a lot. I tried to remove those people in the call, but could not figure out who they were. I was not able to regain control, so I ended the meeting and created another one with a password to only share in closed chats and direct messages. Most of the people who were in the original conference room came to the new conference room.

What happened in the aftermath of the conference?

After the conference, I told everyone in the community what had happened and my new security plans. The admin team of Design Buddies and I decided on having a verification step to access any meeting room (via Discord roles system) which involves filling out a short form with name and social media information. This is to prevent anyone with bad intentions to enter a meetup.

Discord iteration process by Grace Ling

How were you feeling throughout the entirety of this experience?

I felt out of control and uneasy — I was worried about the effects of the Zoom-bomb on the others in the call. It motivated me to create more security features for meetups and share them.

I also wanted to let others know about it by sharing on LinkedIn and Facebook because I see a lot of people still share open Zoom links for conferences publicly. I want to raise awareness on what could happen and share online conferencing safety tips.

To help prevent Zoom bombs, what are your suggestions for enhancing security measures on Zoom?

Zoom could enable mandatory 2 factor authentication to make meetings more secure. This way, people would also be able to report any member of the Zoom meeting if they are there for the wrong reasons.

For young Asian girls who are growing up during this time, what is your life advice to them on how to get through these uncertain, tense times?

Hema Hemocyte riding down a capillary with a Hemoglo-bunny by Grace Ling

From my experience growing up with people harassing me, the most effective way for them to stop is to ignore them. The harassers look for a response out of people and if they don’t get a response, they will get bored and stop.

Ignoring it also doesn’t mean it’s okay. If possible, record those experiences and report them. Let yourself vent, process it, and take breaks. Also, seek out support from family and friends.

Follow Grace on Instagram at @candyleaf_ and check out her website.

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