Ling Lim: Singaporean Hustling in Silicon Valley

[UPDATED 310815: Changes made at request of Ling Lim]

I had the pleasure of talking to Ling about her experiences of moving from Singapore to San Francisco to chase what seems like every Generation Y’s dream: working in Tech. While Singapore has been slowly (but surely) cultivating its own start-up/technology hub through the likes of “Block 71”, Biopolis and Fusionopolis, Silicon Valley’s tech scene is a lot more mature and developed. I was able to glean more about how it is like over in the Valley, as well as Ling’s thoughts about how life is like up in the Bay.


S: So tell me about yourself – how did you end up in SF after working in Singapore?

L: I graduated from NUS (National University of Singapore) with a bachelors and masters of Architecture, and subsequently worked at an international architecture firm for 2 and a half years. Although I loved architecture, I didn’t really enjoy myself at the firm and started to question myself if staying in this field was the right choice. Plus, I felt that working in Singapore wasn’t as exciting as I thought it would be.

I wanted to explore the world, and see what I could do with my degree – I liked the design aspect of architecture, and I wanted to see if I could combine that with the next step in my career.

I knew some friends over in New York who helped me get an interview with Greatist (a health and fitness app). With the interview in hand, I quit my job and booked my ticket to New York; and used this as an excuse to travel to the U.S. while interviewing with the company as well as checking other companies out. It didn’t really work out between Greatist and I, as I did not have the necessary experience nor background in tech.

This just helped to firm up the path I needed to take: online courses to help shore up my inexperience in the industry, as well as working for tech companies through unpaid positions which helped build my resume.

I flew to San Francisco after two months of traveling and working out of New York, and ended up working at a firm through an unpaid position which eventually culminated in them hiring me. I was able to leverage the fact that I could provide them some value through my architectural skills.

S: How did you first get into the tech / start-up scene?

L: I’m really into health and fitness, and was considering taking the fitness trainer route after leaving my job. However, I decided to try and combine my two passions – design and fitness – into the search for my next step in life. It first started through promoting fitness through social media and social apps like Instagram, and from there I wanted to see if I could further this channel. It was also through my friends that I first started looking at tech firms in the fitness space to see if this was a valid area I could pursue my career in. All in all, I think that it was because I was not getting the right exposure to what I really wanted to do, and this pushed me to take things into my own hands.

My favorite part about architecture is storyboarding, and telling a story through that. However, I wasn’t given much chance to do this at my previous job. Right now I’m doing UX (user experience), which is built around a user’s experience of our company’s story.

S: Why the switch from Singapore to the U.S.?

L: It was never the intention to leave Singapore without going back someday – I merely wanted to travel and figure out what my next steps in life would be. I chose to go to the U.S. because I’ve been to Europe on exchange, and thus the U.S. offered the romance of pursuing the unknown. Right now, my career is really taking off and I have big plans for shaping the design industry in the Bay Area. I find myself having an influential voice here and love connecting with others who are equally passionate. Right now, I foresee myself staying in the U.S. till another opportunity comes up.

What’s the three things you miss most in Singapore in terms of food:

#1 – Yakun Kaya Toast (definite number one)

#2 – Nasi Lemak

#3 – Chili Crab with fried mantou

S: What would be your number 1 place to take a friend to in San Francisco

L: It’s really difficult to say because there are a ton of things to do in this amazing city. However, my favorite spot is somewhere up in Nob Hill where you can see a large part of the city, including the Bay Bridge. I don’t want to divulge too much because I enjoy the fact that this spot is still one of the more hidden places up in the Bay.

S: What would you like to say to people who aspire to take the same path you’ve taken?

L: If you’re still in school – choose something relevant to the industry as your major. If you start in a career that isn’t tech related – it’s not about the lack of skills that would pull you down, but the fear of making the wrong move if you decide to switch.

Don’t be afraid to give up on something that you’ve invested a couple of years into when you have so many more years of your life to live.

If you decide to come up to San Francisco, there are so many things to do, and so many meet-ups to go for. One thing that really helped me was to join all the meet-ups, which gave me opportunities to speak at different events and meet influential people. Don’t be afraid to reach out to people for advice, its the best way to help yourself.

About: Ling is now Head of Product and User Experience at myWebRoom. She is a respectable designer in the Bay Area. She contributes UX articles regularly to design blogs and actively mentors junior designers. When Ling is not solving design problems, she enjoys new experiences and powerlifting.

Contact her at her twitter handle: @uxlifter


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