Category Archives: Ashley Qian

The Entrepreneurial Spirit, Part Two.

Marketing yourself plays a huge role in freelance design, that’s how you’re supposed to get clients, especially when you’re starting up. It’s interesting to see how the lessons and attitudes I’ve learned from DukeDEC can play into my design gig. Here are a few highlights:

1. If you can’t do it, learn how to.

I’ve always stuck by this rule. I love teaching myself how to learn new things, especially if I have a goal in mind. That was great for art and coding, there are plenty of tutorials online, but I didn’t have this mindset with business models nor with anything related to legal documents. I was handling my first client, it was a small financial advisory service called Davos Financial Group and they wanted brochures made for the real estate that they were trying to sell. This was a REAL client. Not that my other clients weren’t real, but they were clients in a university world where our design agency was the best option, and for a very good reason. Davos Financial Group was a client from the real world and I wanted to do things right. So what would a real graphic designer do?

They have invoices, proposals, terms of conditions…something like that. Okay. So I hired the best and cheapest lawyer I could find: myself. I created a proposal and drafted a terms of conditions sheet from as many samples I could find online and I adjusted them to match my own concerns: How was I going to get paid? What if they tell me to make something with an impossible deadline? What assures them that I won’t ditch the project in the middle of it? I decided to follow my intuition and figured out the most logical and reasonable set of working terms.

2. Take advantage of opportunities that appear out of nowhere. Anything can be an opportunity!

When I saw that one of my high school classmates was starting a facebook page and blog for fairy tales he was writing, I had an idea. It was perfect! I’ve always wanted to do illustrations! It’d be a great exercise for my digital painting skills and perfect marketing for the both of us. I quickly shot him a facebook message after I read his first chapter, feeling extremely inspired.

3. Use your time wisely!

Blogs blogs blogs! Read them all! Look at them all! Get inspired and create your own! There are way too many awesome articles, too many amazing webcomics, too many great artists, designers, storytellers to count. The major question is not where to find great content, but deciding what kind of content you need to tackle, read and learn from.



The Entrepreneurial Spirit, Part One.

They say that true courage is about facing your fears. People who are brave aren’t fearless, they’re scared, but they have the strength to fight against that. Entrepreneurship is quite similar. This entire internship, we’ve been talking about what makes an entrepreneur: the appropriate characteristics and the right mindset. Some might say that if you don’t have those certain traits, then maybe you weren’t cut out to be an entrepreneur.

Sometimes, I don’t feel like an entrepreneur. I’m not super charismatic, nor am I overtly aggressive. I don’t go out of my way to find questions to ask, I usually find myself sitting silently, soaking up information and dwelling upon what people have said. As the other interns can attest to, I’m not very vocal during speaker presentations, I don’t think I’ve ever asked a single question. Admittedly, it is quite disgruntling to see others fire off insightful questions while all I do is marinate in the plethora of conversation.

“Whether you’re working on your own startup, or making a big impact on the startup that you’re interning at…”

~One of the speakers

Uhm. Yikes. No pressure, right?

I’ve worked with two departments at Bizo so far and I’m making my way to the third. I spend two weeks with each and the most I can do is assist with small side projects. My time with engineering was quite an eye-opener. I learned that there were many sides to web applications: client-side and server-side and it made me all the more interested in exploring more of how each side functioned. By working on that web app, I was introduced to the all sorts of useful plugins and libraries that could come in handy. But, back to the question of how big of a footprint I left on the engineering department: I can proudly report that I had hardly left a dent. I was developing–no, in fact–just translating existing code in an attempt to make things run faster.

Though, efficiency is important isn’t it? If I managed to succeed in making things  faster with prettier code, would that be a great achievement?

It would, only if I succeeded. I didn’t. So much for impact, huh? So here I am. An ineffective entrepreneur. A real bummer, right?


I may not have all the characteristics of an entrepreneur. I don’t have all the superior programming skills of a technical founder nor the snazzy tongue of the business founder, but there’s one thing that I do have: the spirit of an entrepreneur.

I took the lessons I learned, the little skills I developed, and the advice I received from Bizo engineering and applied that to my own interests. As a designer and a developer, I refused to use a CMS (like WordPress or Behance) to display my content on the web. After all, I was interested in web design, and what better way to learn than to design my own website? I applied all the knowledge I gathered from web application development into making a web portfolio and throughout that journey, unlocked another skill that had always been far from my reach until now. I took advantage of that achievement and promoted on my Facebook page for freelance design, broadcasting my new website and reminding my followers that I offered web design services. Call it a stroke of luck, or whatever you may, but shortly after, I got an inquiry about my services from a business manager of a home health care service run by doctors who wanted a website designed and developed. Even though I wasn’t able to help the engineering team out with much, my experience with Bizo engineering opened so many doors for me and gave me that push to explore things that I hadn’t intended on learning or didn’t know existed.

And for that, I’m extremely grateful to have this opportunity to work with such a fantastic group of people.

The Kinds of People.

There are many types of people in the world. I had an encounter with two radically different ones in a short train ride from Bay Fair to Union City.

It all started with CSS. I was sitting on the Dublin/Pleasanton BART train fixing up my CSS code for my personal web portfolio. This usually never piques anyone’s interest back in New York or Durham, but in the Bay Area, a place where web developers, software engineers, hardware engineers and computer scientists flourish, more people can relate. I get off at Bay Fair stop to make the transfer, and the man who was sitting next to me gets off as well. He seemed to be in his 50’s and he was quite curious about what I was doing and struck up a conversation.

“So is that CSS you’re playing with? What are you writing it for? Work or school?

I replied that I was doing it for personal reasons, and told him that I was a freelance designer working on developing my programming skills and a website that displayed my work. He was shocked when I told him that I was a Duke student and even more surprised when I told him that I was majoring in both CS and Visual Arts.

“What the heck—excuse me for my language, but Duke?! What are you doing out here? Wow, you’re a rare kind, not many of the people I work with or have seen are hybrid designers and developers.”

As we got onto the Union City bound BART train, he revealed that he was a math major and a hardware developer. We engaged in an extremely mathematical and analytical conversation about computer science and it seemed to have sparked some sort of passion in the girl behind us, who was within earshot of everything we were saying.

“Yeah, and I have 5 iPods and iPads and computers and blah blah blah, whatever.” she said aloud, breaking our stream of thought. “I don’t mean to interrupt, but technology is ruining our lives.”

She looked us both in the eye.

 “You guys are talking about all your f—king computers. You know what? People who do all this techy stuff aren’t don’t sh-t, they’re sitting on their asses and they think they’re helping the world, but they aren’t. Go outside. Plant a f—king tree, for goodness sake.”

I was grinning, amused. The man appeared fairly flustered, appalled that there could be a young girl with such a radical opinion. She waved her hand at me,

“See what you were talking about, needing time for poetry and art and stuff, that’s beautiful. That’s what I want to hear.”

It seemed like she appreciated my explanation for switching out of the engineering curriculum and pursuing something that involved both the logical and creative world.

The man quickly realized that we couldn’t back out of the impending discussion of technology’s role in our lives and the ethical implications of certain technological advancements. He tried approaching it from the girl’s point of view.

“Yeah, with the genetic engineering of pigs and all that you can’t deny that some things aren’t doing this world any good.”

This grabbed the girl’s attention.

“Hold on, hold on. What’s happening? Genetic engineering? Genetic modifications? Guys, the best thing for this world is wilderness. We need diversity and the best way to do it is through nature. You can’t genetically create wilderness, you can’t genetically create anything, it’s not right, and it’s not pure. Think about that.”

Before I knew it, it was time to leave for my stop, and I was sad to leave such an intriguing mix of opinions and people. I bid them both a nice day proceeded to make my next transfer.

Ahh! Fire!

“I’m an ADULT!” (I’m not part of the system!)

-An angry young Bay Area man to a middle-aged woman managing the shuttle bus to San Francisco

For those who didn’t get that reference, the man’s frustration reminded me of The Lonely Island’s music video “Threw It On The Ground”. His quote was taken out of context, but was said in the exact same tone as one of the lyrics from the song.

So a little more context, today there was a fire on the tracks of the BART train tracks at West Oakland, rendering the major transit system incapable of bringing anyone from the East Bay to San Francisco. The BART did offer a shuttle bus, however, the line for the shuttle bus wrapped all the way around the block. This man was at the end of the line, definitely in a bad mood. I think he was trying to hop on cars who were offering rides to San Francisco for money, but was causing a ruckus.

For those who are curious, the woman replied with a:

“Sure, you’re an adult…wait till you get robbed and then we’ll see who’s an adult…”

This situation may have been an inconvenience to many everyone who was trying to get to work, but I was actually quite happy that it had happened. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t that I hated the Dev team and didn’t want come in to work, (I love you guys! Is that a code yellow?) I just found that it revealed more of the personalities of people in the Bay Area. Of course, I shouldn’t generalize. I know I was only seeing a small slice of the demographic of the Bay Area (these were people who lived in the Dublin/Pleasanton, Richmond, Freemont and the Pittsburgh/Bay Point areas who had jobs in San Francisco), but it was interesting interacting with people in times of inconvenience.

In the middle of the line, I found a talented artist who specialized in drawing profiles and portraits and black woman. He also turned out to be an exceptional rapper as I listened to him test out a few lines to entertain everyone on the line.

A little later, I decided to make the attempt to get to San Francisco while I tried to get wifi in order to let the Dev team know that I wasn’t going to get there on time. As I was searching, two other men joined me on the back of the line and we engaged in a friendly conversation. One of the men worked for a contractor and had to call his boss, but didn’t have a cell phone to do so. I lent him mine and later found out more about the extremity of what had happened on the tracks.

“So I heard it was so hot where the tracks caught fire that the power cords and nearby street lamps started to melt. Kinda like those Salvador Dali paintings, except for real this time!”

As the line moved along, an ACtransit worker who was also monitoring the line asked us how we were all doing. We responded with thumbs up, but wondered how long it would take the shuttle bus to get to the city. The woman had sense of humor.

“Eh, you’ll get there about 4:3o, sit there for half an hour, eat lunch and leave at 5. Sound good?”

We gaped at her.

“Guys. Relax. I’m kidding.”

We all heave a sigh of relief. Shortly afterwards, I finally got wifi and quickly e-mail Larry that I was going to be extremely late. He quickly replied that I could work from home today. I retrieved my cell phone from the man who had just managed to reach his boss and bid him good luck in getting to work.

“Enjoy your day off! Wish I could skip out, but I need the money!”

Slowly But Surely.

“Why are you so eager to work? You’ll be working for the rest of your life and you’ll see exactly how exhausting it really is.”

–  Mom

Well mom, it’s been a week at Bizo. It’s not half bad!

On Day 1, I woke up feeling like I downed 5 Red Bulls. It went a little like this…

After about 20 or so handshakes from the Bizonians, brief introductions and warm welcomes, I found my way to the Dev team in the back of the office. I’ll be with them for 2 weeks working with Larry, the Director of Technology. We spent about 20 minutes setting up accounts on a Macbook Air, so that I was able access to all the trade secrets of Bizo the projects the Dev team was working on. Once everything was set up, Larry thought it would be interesting for me to sit in on a product development meeting.  Seeing as how I didn’t understand a thing from what was discussed, I realized pretty quickly that there was a great chunk of Bizo and business marketing that I had yet to learn about.

Google search definitely became my closest friends. Since the only programming experience I had was with MatLab, I felt extremely unprepared for what I was working on. I was assigned with the task of improving a web app that the team had built to visualize server metrics. It sounded simple enough, but there was so much I didn’t know, and I felt like I had to understand the basic concepts behind how a server worked and how the data was stored in order to have a better grasp of the code I was working with. I spent the rest of day 1 playing around with a Javascript plugin called Cubism.js that drew realtime graphs from a data source. Trying to understand what each line of code was supposed to do was a struggle, and I was far from being able to synch the data from the Bizo servers to the graph emulator—I wouldn’t have known where to begin! As 5PM creeped about and the office started to empty out, I presented my un-glorious findings. I was able to increase and decrease the rendered graph length and the callback rate. I could alter the intervals of the graph. Annnddd…that was about it.

If I wanted to teach myself something new, I would always play around with and figure out how to get it to work. That was how I learned, and it was great when I saw results with the effort that I put in. One could imagine my disappointment when I spent an entire day programming to no avail. My task was to rewrite Larry’s JavaScript code for the server metrics visualizer web app using a Javascript library called Angular.js. I broke the task down into tiny steps in my head. The first step was implementation; I needed to import the scripts to the HTML and initialize the page so that it knows to use the library and all the commands that came with it. The Angular.js tutorial made it easy enough, except there was one problem. The entire app was written in Scala, and what was supposed to be the HTML files were actually Scaml files that Scala used to convert into HTML. After rummaging through the Scala reference site I managed to guess and check my way into getting the Scaml file to do what I wanted it to and day 2 ended at that.

As I progressed (or more like flailed in place) my frustration with my inability to get anything to work or find any help that was substantial on the API references caused instances of sheer despair. Usually, when facing tough situations, I would talk myself through it, making sound effects and exaggerations in my head whenever appropriate to lighten up my mood.

Despite my efforts to amuse myself, thoughts about whether I was cut out to be a programmer still bubbled up to my sub-consciousness. Normally, I would lose interest in what I was doing. Normally, I would start thinking about how to fudge the work for the rest of the week so that I could quickly move to something different, perhaps design, something I was more familiar and comfortable with. Things were different this time. Despair, frustration and impatience told me that if I were a computer science super genius, I would’ve figured out how to work this thing and much more. I wasn’t a genius, so I wasn’t able to do that. But I believed that I was clever, clever enough to get this darn thing to work, and so I carried on.

By the end of the week, I had a better idea of how to interact with jQuery and Angular and I also managed to retrieve information from the server and load it into the a drop down box. I was getting there. Slowly, but surely.