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PlanetScale Team Profile: Adrianna

September 26, 2018
Abhi Vaidyanatha

Interviewer: Abhi Vaidyanatha, PlanetScale Software Engineer

Interviewee: Adrianna Tan, PlanetScale Senior Product Manager

Here at PlanetScale, we have an extremely diverse group of individuals that make up our team. Considering how different our backgrounds are, I thought it would be worthwile to give everyone a peek into the awesome things we've done in the past. During this interview, I was able to learn a lot about her wild travel experiences, cool projects outside of work, and unique facts about her life.

Abhi: Hi Adrianna, thanks for the time! We're gonna tell the Internet some cool things about you!

Adrianna: Sounds good!

Abhi: So starting off easy... what drew you to PlanetScale?

Adrianna: After having spent a lot of my career with customer-facing technology, I was very curious about being on the other side. I wanted to be in a position where I could learn a lot about backend infrastructure first-hand. I've known Jiten (PlanetScale CEO) for a couple of years through a bunch of mutual friends across the world. Hearing him talk about PlanetScale made me want to work there!

Abhi: Yeah that makes sense - I feel like Jiten knows everyone one way or another! So why don't you tell us a little about what you do here?

Adrianna: I am the senior product manager here at PlanetScale. Like any other early stage startup, I pitch in on pretty much anything that needs to be done! I'm mainly also helping out with sales, legal processes, marketing, and channeling my background as a company founder to make sure that all our bases as a new company are covered.

Abhi: I'm interested in the organization you founded, tell me more about that!

Adrianna: In 2013 I started a crowdfunding campaign with some friends of mine from India. We wanted to do more in the education space in India. There are a lot of NGOs that do good work in this field, but we wanted to specifically target 10-11 year old girls in cities we lived in or were from, to tackle many issues such as girls' disproportionate dropout rates from school. We’ve worked with more than 150 girls through our partner organizations at the grassroots levels in several cities, paying for their education and ensuring their academic success. Now we’re moving on to pilot programs that teach them more technical skills. Not just so they become engineers, but so that we can start teaching real world problem-solving skills and tools from a young age. To test this, we started Gyanada Labs, an innovative age-specific programming curriculum for girls in Mumbai.

Abhi: That's an amazing cause - why are girls of that specific age group dropping out so often?

Adrianna: There are a lot of issues, most of them being too complex to make generalizations on. Far more girls than boys mention family reluctance to let them continue their schooling due to fears of distance and personal safety (ASER Report 2017). A lack of girls' toilets in schools, can also be one such issue. Many of these issues seem 'small' compared to the perspective on education many of us have in different societies, but that's just one viewpoint. Similarly, there are many more complex cultural nuances to be aware of even in a single village. I think our mission enables us to provide very directed assistance, but there are many different ways to approach the same issue.

Abhi: Understandable - perspective does not often come packaged with privilege. So if you had to teach a class to a bunch of entitled Silicon Valley people, what would it be about?

Adrianna: Cartography. I would show them a world map to explain that there's a world outside of Silicon Valley, even in the same country, and that the world is bigger than the world we live in. Additionally, I would be interested in sharing some of my past experiences working in technology in places like Myanmar, which had just opened up access to mobile phones post-2011. It would be valuable to show how even though many things, like infrastructure, are different, many ideas, like how people want to have technology that improve their lives and their families' lives, remain the same.

Abhi (laughing): Yes, I do feel that the general culture here is extremely insular. So what other startups have you been a part of?

Adrianna: I worked at companies like Uber, Yelp and Pozible when they were starting up in Singapore. I've also worked at other startups in various parts of the world. I'm undecided on how good / bad this insularity is, because it's also a collection of great thinkers and doers, but coming from the outside-in it's been difficult to just stay within these comfort zones.

Abhi: Interesting, so have you always traveled this much? Where did your love for travel come from?

Adrianna: I left my home country, Singapore, for the first time when I was 7... for a family vacation. We went to different parts of Borneo and I mostly remember being in public transit a lot. Bus after bus, through jungles. My mom taught me how to be street smart; she's so street smart that it's like she has a GPS for the world installed in her brain so she can get anywhere by public transit. Being exposed to a lot of the world in sometimes rough environments with few resources really helped shape me into who I am today. I've visited and have done work in Yemen, Syria, Lebanon, India, Turkey, Myanmar, and many other places. They haven't always been the easiest environments for a solo female traveler, but they were all wonderful.

Abhi: That's beyond cool.

Adrianna: My parents didn't always think so. I've given them a lot of heart attacks.

Abhi: I can imagine... but it seems like they are pretty supportive though!

Adrianna: Definitely. One time I called home to let them know I had just narrowly missed a suicide bomb in Yemen. They just responded with, "Well you're alive. Good." Another time I followed a random person I met in a bar to a tribal city in Northeast India. We ended up collaborating on an article that became the cover story of Geographical, sort of the UK counterpart to the National Geographic.

Abhi: Seems like it was worth it for sure. Have you been published a lot?

Adrianna: I was featured in Wired magazine's Cult of Mac once for my blog talking about my time selling Macs and iPods. I was called "Apple's Next Great Evangelist". Lol. That blog was fairly well-read at the time, which was cool because I started it at 15 to learn more about making websites.

Abhi: So what brought people to your blog?

Adrianna: It was the combination of a few factors. First off, there were very few bloggers from my part of the world at the time, so the novelty definitely got me a few views. Additionally, I had an interesting perspective about technology, being queer in Singapore, and traveling all over the world. I was maybe the first queer woman to talk about being queer in Singapore, at... 17? Circa 2002, So that likely stood out. Back then, a lot of people knew me by my online persona... which was kinda weird.

Abhi: When you put it that way, it makes a lot of sense. Wasn't it scary to out yourself on the internet, let alone being the first one to do it?

Adrianna: It's interesting really. I'm just physically not wired to be afraid of some things that a lot of people care about. Like what people think about you. My brain just doesn't process these emotions! Later in my life I learned that you are supposed to care about these things... but it never hit me that I was supposed to. I hope it never does.

Abhi: That's awesome. I'm sure you've inspired a lot of people in similar situations.

Adrianna: A few women actually emailed me and said that my blog inspired them to travel on their own. They said, when they're freaked out they think about the weird shit I do and then they do what's freaking them out. I love that. My video on my trip to Yemen is a good example of that, even if that sounds intense!

Abhi: Must have been a crazy experience, I'm not surprised that you had a ton of followers! Ok last question - what are you currently doing outside of work?

Adrianna: I like building things with my hands, so right now I really want to learn how to be a carpenter! I've always loved cycling and one day recently I wasn't happy with not knowing how to build a bike from scratch so I did that for fun. When I have time, I love video games. Recently, I've played Overcooked, XCOM 2, and the latest Wolfenstein game, among others. Other than that, food is a huge part of my life so I love to cook big, elaborate meals. Like marinate something for days, double boil Chinese soup for 20 hours. Make Béchamel sauce from scratch. My wife, who was brought up in France, thinks her friends will gawk at any person below age 70 making Béchamel sauce from scratch. But I enjoy that. I love it when great things come together. And when they don't, it's a fabulous experience.

Abhi: I've definitely wanted to try out Overcooked, so I'll pick that up when I get home! In any case, thanks for the chat Adrianna - it was fun talking to you.

Adrianna: Yeah, of course!

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