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series: Inspiring Stories: Zoey Zou

As a society we tend to focus on titles and roles, we tend to forget that behind each title there is a person, a person who has a story to tell and every person’s story is unique.
In honor of International Women's day, we are interviewing inspiring women from our community who are going to share the story of how they got into Tech and how they got to where they are today.

In this post, I am interviewing Zoey Zou, who's based in Denmark.

Meet Zoey Zou

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I’m Zoey, a Chinese girl in Denmark or any possible location. I’m currently a front-end engineer in a Fintech scale-up called Pleo, I code in Typescript with React-Redux plus any new and shiny tools available. I’m a community enthusiast: I co-organize the local JavaScript meetup CopenhagenJS, as well as volunteer in an NGO coding school, called HackYourFuture. I like MCing events, hosting workshops, passing on knowledge about any topic that could help people pursue their dreams. I love inspiring people by sharing my own journey especially my struggles. I like public speaking, although I have a bizarre and even mildly awkward but refreshing style.

Twitter: @zoeyzou0117
LinkedIn: Zoey Zou

When did you first become interested in technology and what sparked this interest?
I’ve been a gamer (a terrible but passionate one) since I was a teen. At that time, it was mainly because I like new things and using my brain for something other than school work. I’ve never had a chance to get too deep into tech, but I’ve always been a quick learner when it comes to this exotic field. I attended Rails Girls 2-day coding workshop, and at that time it didn’t make me push all the way till the end; however, it did plant a seed. That’s why later on, when I needed to make decisions about my career change, I chose coding in the end.

What education do you have?
This is actually a very good question because I do have an unconventional educational background. At the age of 15, I made the bold decision to leave high school because I was a "genius" and "cool kid". Back in China, it is a dead-end to not to finish your higher education because there’s no way back. At some point, I decided to join the continuing education for adults — it’s better than nothing. So with studying and working side by side for 6 years, I first got an associate degree in Business English and then my B.A.

Describe your way towards your first job in tech; how did you land this job?
As a high school dropout, I’ve worked many unskilled jobs until I targeted myself on being in international sales. After that, I was lucky enough to work in the sourcing field for a Venezuelan company for some years. In 2014, the political issues in Venezuela broke out and took away my job. Then I started thinking about what I needed to do to have a better future.
I learned English and it made my first jump in life, and I believe technology is gonna make the second. I just didn’t know how. I found a job opportunity from a startup which aims to provide a full set of VR business solutions. I saw my opportunity, so I did everything I could to get it: writing them my whole life story, asking if I can just buy my tickets and go visit them, showing how much I wanted it. I got the job, and I started my almost three years of being a tech startup octopus. 

Do you have any role models that influenced you?
I came across many successful women, which also includes you. I think by watching their success, I just told myself that I could do the same. In the beginning, as I was extremely active in different communities, I was constantly surprised that so many people made it so far. In a way, I took everyone I knew as a role model and I tried to understand how they made it.

Who were/are the biggest supporters in your career?
At the moment I’d say, people I helped, especially those who also made it. I feel very proud to see the kindness being passed forward. Being able to help people also proves my worth to myself, and this is a very effective drug for an incurable disease called imposter syndrome. People that come from the same community, especially HackYourFuture, also appear to be part of my mental support, as I know they would help me no matter what.

Tell us more about your current job – e.g. what do you like most about your role? 
I currently work as a frontend engineer in a Fintech scale-up called Pleo. Our target clients are businesses and we solve their spending problems with technology. My team builds the most user-facing part of the product — we build both the web and mobile experiences for company employees. In my eyes, my job is a combination of a service provider as well as a sustainable creator. When building the customer interface, we need to balance both "the most intuitive experience for the user" and "the most scalable architecture". I think it is very challenging and it requires a lot of experience.
As a front-end developer in a JavaScript world, the most challenging and rewarding part is that you get to work within a fast-moving industry so you always have new things to learn. The limit is your imagination.

What does your typical day look like?
My team is running a bi-week sprint, and because many engineers are remote, our stand-up time is in the middle of the afternoon. Usually, after a  sprint planning, everyone has tasks at hand and they create their own tickets to track. I start my day with a cup of coffee, reading about new stuff that’s going on in the community, new tools, new hypes, etc. It is very important to work in an office that provides good coffee, or at least it has to be close to a good cafe — a genuine tip.
If there’s PR (pull request) that has been reviewed, I’ll solve the comments first. If there's PR assigned to me, I’ll also review it before I start working on it. During the day of feature development, one can encounter different issues. I get people to do pair programming with me when that happens. I always keep my tickets updated so my team knows where I am at — this is especially important when at some point you are trying to build an asynchronous work style.
After lunch, I will still have some time for PR reviewing, and some short focus time for building features. Then here comes the standup, where we talk about blocking issues or the progress we are at. After standup, again some focus time.
I don’t really have a fixed ritual to finish my day. Then I’ll have some leisure time afterward. It is tempting to code or do related stuff all the time, but a healthy balance can allow us to travel further on this path. So I tend to watch some movies or read some unrelated books in the evenings. 

What do you do in your free time?
I am a community freak. I try to join different communities and be a part of them. I mentor at an NGO coding school called HackYourFuture, of which I was also a student. I like to inspire people with my stories, I also like to see people pursue things they thought were impossible. On the side, I help co-host a local JavaScript meetup CopenhagenJS. I contribute my ideas and effort to make it an awesome meetup alongside with other awesome people.
Other than that, I've been playing board games since I was a kid — never was a great one though.
I also experiment with the different concepts I learned from different people and sources. For example, I tried to be a minimalist, vegetarian, pseudo-Buddhist, handicrafter for a while.

What advice will you give to women and girls who dream about a career in tech?  
The first thing is to know is that it's normal to feel vulnerable and frustrated at times when we are pursuing something that’s outside of our comfort zone. When you start out, try to find people of your kind — they don’t necessarily help you achieve your goal in a direct way, but more in an indirect way. They share your emotional up-and-downs, so you know that you are not alone. You could show each other every little piece of achievements so you encourage each other to go on. I believe we, especially women are hordes of lionesses, when we hunt alone, we fail quite often. But when we work together, we have great power.
In addition, find a mentor who can help direct you in the right direction, or even help you within the industry. Be grateful to people around you, they can feel it and they will support you even further.
In the end, don’t give up. Take a break, breathe fresh air, eat some ice creams, watch some funny movies, but don’t give up. Always come back to where you were, as not giving up is a sort of success.

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