Photo of Serena Chen
Serena Chen

builds design frameworks at BNZ Digital. She is an ex-physicist, hacker at heart, and hosts a feminist podcast.

A moment with Serena Chen

[Q] Tell us a bit about yourself and what you do.?

Hello! I’m a designer at BNZ Digital. In my spare time I run a podcast, dabble in open source projects, and nerd out about maths, security, feminism, and politics.

I’m currently mainlining Star Trek: Voyager, and loving every minute of it.

[Q] Tell us about the journey that led you to what you’re doing.

It wasn’t planned, that’s for sure!

My formal training is nowhere near design or programming, but in physics and math. I was considering which project to take up for a Masters/PhD when I went through a bit of a Tough Time™. Even though I graduated with First Class Honours, I was convinced that I was an imposter, faking my way through. Embarrassing myself by being around Real Scientists.

Almost as a distraction from my science identity crisis, I had begun to work on an idea with a couple of friends. It’d be an online magazine for teen girls — one that respected their intelligence and welcomed intersectionality. I then designed and built the website that, essentially, launched my career.

But it’s not like I was suddenly good at websites. That story starts a litter earlier.

When I was 6, our family immigrated from China to New Zealand. My dad used to go to the local dump to buy old computers; he’d bring them back, fix them, refurbish them, and sell them from our garage. This meant that our household was surprisingly hi-tech. We had an internet connection, and I was exposed to the early Internet (spelt with a capital ‘I’ back then). By the time I was 10, I was building websites for fun. Making livejournal themes, building fansites and uploading them to places like angelfire and tripod. And don’t get me wrong – I wasn’t some kind of internet kid genius. These sites that I built were terribad. So, so ugly. But I loved it. And I kept it as a hobby throughout my teen years.

This is something I like to tell budding web designers and developers: don’t get caught up in the formalities of learning. Take an evening, or a weekend, and just make something. Have fun with it. Sometimes the best motivator is good ol’ fashioned boredom.

[Q] What is a hidden talent you have?

I’m reasonably good at foosball. Abysmal at any actual sport, but okay at foosball! Let’s have a game sometime.

[Q] Who in the industry consistently blows you away with incredible work?

I am a fan of so many people and their work I’m not sure where to start. Just in the web community I have to give shoutouts to Nicole Sullivan, Jen Simmons, Alisha Ramos, Diana Mounter, Lea Verou, Adam Morse, Adrienne Porter Felt, and others. Their work has not only been influential, but have often challenged my ingrained ways of thinking.

[Q] Tabs or Spaces?

Either as long as it’s consistent?

(But spaces, right. Spaces.)


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