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Julie Zhuo

Product Design Director

Palo Alto, CA

I have worked on platforms and profiles, photos and feeds, across desktop and mobile. Many people know me and trust me, so why should I hide what I want to say?

It has been three months since I started my blog, which features a collection of personal lessons from working in the tech industry directed at other designers, managers and builders. I have always loved to write, and the process is for me as much about developing and organizing my thinking as it is about recording thoughts onto metaphorical paper. I've kept a personal journal since the third grade, but up until recently, I hadn't taken the plunge into writing publicly.

And yet, I was intrigued by the idea of blogging. I had learned a lot since graduating from college. I was a woman with a CS degree who joined a red-hot startup, where I became a designer and later a design manager and director. I wanted to write about the things I knew: designing and building, and running a team. I wanted to share what it was like to be thrown in the deep end at a high-growth company, where nothing was the same week over week, and uncertainty was a way of life. I wanted to speak to being one of the few women in an aggressive, male-dominated culture. Last year, as a New Year's resolution, I decided to try. I wrote it down on a sticky and pasted it to my monitor: Write a blog.

In January of 2012, I created a simple site and sat down to write my first post. But confronted with that blank, white page, I found myself paralyzed. What should my voice be? Should I try and make myself sound like an expert? Should I be self-deprecating? Should my tone be funny? Witty? Erudite?

And then there were the other fears. If I wrote candidly about my insecurities—how I had no idea what the hell I was doing when I first started interviewing engineers, how I was afraid I wasn't speaking up enough in meetings because I couldn't figure out how to interrupt people—what would my coworkers think? I'm a manager, a leader. Would my team think of me as less competent if they knew the truth?

I started and scrapped dozens of entries. Something about my voice sounded inauthentic and hollow. Maybe I was trying too hard. Or maybe I was uncomfortable with the word "I". Something about it felt so raw and so personal. I couldn't decide how to portray myself, so eventually, I settled on making the blog anonymous. It was the only way I could get the words to flow. I wrote and published twice a week. The anonymity helped me share stories like what I learned from negotiating my first salary, and how most days I felt a Jekyll-Hyde complex—half of me cocky and confident, sure-footed to the point of arrogance; the other half of me a con-woman and a fraud, barely scraping by to fit in.

I kept up the blog for over four months by writing a few dozen articles. All in all, less than a hundred people ever found the site. Guess what? You don't really have a platform if you're writing anonymously. Why should anyone trust you? Moreover, how are you going to tell people about your blog if you don't reveal who you are? I wanted to share my experiences and help others, but by remaining anonymous, I struggled to find an audience. I tried various things: posting to forums, sending out emails from a separate account and so forth. My husband, watching me do these things, said in exasperation, "You know, if you want people to read what you write, you should just write as yourself."

He was right. I needed to lean in. I was part of the building blocks of a company that grew from eight million users to over one billion in less than seven years. I crossed the chasm of scaling a design team from a handful to over 50 and lived to tell the tale. I have worked on platforms and profiles, photos and feeds, across desktop and mobile. Many people know me and trust me, so why should I hide what I want to say?

When 2013 came around, I tried once more. My New Year's resolution remained scrawled on that same sticky: write a Blog. I started "The Year of The Looking Glass" in January, and wrote one or two new posts a week, under my real name this time. My friends, coworkers and others in the industry began reading. Many gave me warm compliments and encouraging words. My articles were linked to and passed around. People gave me feedback, which inspired conversations that changed my thinking, which uncovered new topics for me to write about. Through my decision to lean in, I am forging new connections and learning how to be a better designer and product leader.