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Serena Chen nerdybio: The Nerd Community

Serena Chen

Interviewed on
July 18, 2022 in Designer Mac

Who are you, and what do you do?

Kia ora! I'm Serena. For my day job I work as an interaction designer on [Google Chrome][chrome]'s security and permissions teams. By night I dabble in writing, photography, podcasting, making websites, and, if I'm honest, way too much doomscrolling than is healthy (I'm trying to be better about this).

What hardware and software do you use?

For work I'm on a [15-inch Macbook Pro][macbook-pro], though sometimes I will bust out a [Pixelbook][] or a [Surface Book][surface-book] to test things cross-platform. When I want to do personal projects, I switch to my beloved [12-inch MacBook][macbook] (they don't make them this small anymore 🥲) via a single USB-C cable, connected to a big ole Dell monitor.

The monitor basically acts as a USB hub, off of which I plug in all my peripherals. (You could get a dedicated KVM switch for this but frankly I'm too lazy to bother. And plugging in one cable isn't so bad.)

For my mouse-ing needs I use a large [Wacom Intuos Pro][intuos-pro] tablet. It takes some getting used to, but the pen form factor and the ability to jump immediately to where you need to be (tablet means absolute positioning, not relative) increases the speed at which I do things significantly.

My keyboard is a custom mechanical one that I built myself. Yes, I'm one of those people, sorry. But I love it - I'm thinking of designing my own custom 40% PCB and everything. For those of you who care, my current keyboard is a DZ60RGB-V2, with Gazzew boba U4T switches on everything except numbers and modifiers, which are U4T silents. Keycaps are MT3 profile: a combination of white-on-black (it makes me feel like I'm typing on an old-school typewriter) and /dev/tty. Plate is polycarb with silencing foam glued between the plate and the PCB. Case is a piece of cardboard glued onto a piece of craft corkboard. I've tried a few keyboard cases now - for the best sound, nothing beats cardboard and cork.

A photo of Serena's black and white mechanical keyboard.

For reading and sketching I really like my [reMarkable][] tablet. It's on the spendy side, but if you're someone who can't process anything without scribbling notes, I can highly recommend an e-ink tablet of some kind. I also use it for sheet music, textbooks, journaling, and an infinite supply of sketch paper. But also, you could just have a favoured pencil/pen and budget notebook, and that does the trick.

Maybe an unusual thing I have on my desk is a 15-minute hourglass. It's basically a more aesthetically pleasing Pomodoro timer.

Oh, podcasting. Just because people ask me about my equipment for podcasting all the time, I'll tell you what I tell everyone: the equipment is really not that important. It's your surroundings that will give you the cleanest sound. So, if you can, record in your softest room. Back at my old flat, I used to record literally in my wardrobe. A bit of a squeeze but it gave, as far as I'm concerned, near studio-level quality. I used to record straight off my phone voice memo app and people would ask about my mic, haha. These days I have a [Røde lapel mic][lavalier], which is a little cleaner, but honestly, not that much. You really don't have to break the bank for equipment - and it is especially easy to break the bank for audio gear. So yeah, find a room with lux curtains, carpets, lots of soft, plush couches and cushions. Or just jump in your wardrobe, like I did.

For headphones I have [Status Audio CB-1s][cb-1]: they're high quality cans that are also super affordable. I've had mine for years. For Bluetooth audio I have some [Pixel Buds][pixel-buds], and they look cute and work great, but I'm of the opinion that you can't beat wired.

[Figma][], Figma, Figma. Sorry to be a fangirl but it is just that great. I mean, yeah, it does pretty much everything I need for my day-to-day design, but the real kicker is the fact that it's built on web tech, which means it's automatically cross-platform. The other day my MacBook threw a tantrum for no reason and I needed to access my files. In any other situation I'd be screwed, but then I realised it runs perfectly in a browser, so I opened up another machine, signed in, and just continued working. No missing features, no speed bumps. So good.

Because I work at Google, I'm basically in [Docs][google-docs], [Slides][google-slides], [Sheets][google-sheets] and [Calendar][google-calendar] all day. It's good! I'm a fan of Calendar, especially. It truly runs my entire life.

For personal projects, I use [Trello][] for everything. I have a pretty wild setup, but the key really is just to make it work for your specific needs, and knowing when more processes make things easier and when they make things harder.

For general writing I use [Typora][] (I even made a theme for it!), and lately I've been trying out [Obsidian][]. Although note taking applications are one of those things that's so personal, it's very tempting to just make my own from scratch. Which is a trap, and I shouldn't, but that doesn't stop me from daydreaming about it.

For web development I have a pretty lightweight setup: [kitty][] as my terminal, [Sublime Text][sublime-text] for text editing, and I bounce between [Firefox][] and [Chrome][] for testing.

Oh, one more honourable mention: [A Soft Murmur][a-soft-murmur]. It's basically a white noise machine, and you can mix your own out of sounds of rain, wind, thunder, etc. I like to pair it with the Pomodoro technique when I really need to focus on getting something done.

What would be your dream setup?

I'd really like a lighter work computer. The 15-inch is great for screen real estate, but quite tiring to drag around when travelling. Sometimes I take my Pixelbook when I go into the office (which is very rare these days), and that works for 95% of my needs (the other 5% being the keyboard shortcuts that I have ruthlessly customised).

A sit/stand desk would be nice, but I can't justify the cost for how little I would be using it. It's probably better that I just leave my desk entirely and step outside more often.

Frankly, my dream setup would include a twin clone so we can do all the things that we want to do in the time we want to do it. But alas, medical science has not gone that far yet, and it's a narrative trope that's ripe for disaster, so. I am left with doing a human amount of things in a tragically human amount of time, but at least I won't go all The Prestige on my own ass, so there's that at least.

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