Uses This

Interview

What do people use to get stuff done?

Sha Hwang

Sha Hwang

Designer, technologist (Gifpop, Meshu, Healthcare.gov)

Who are you, and what do you do?

I'm Sha Hwang, a designer and technologist based out of Brooklyn. For the several years I was working in tech, but over the last couple years I've been working independently on various projects. I've also been working on two small product companies, Gifpop and Meshu, with my friend and business partner Rachel Binx. I've loved having a light setup, being able to work from anywhere with just a laptop and wifi. In the winter of 2013, though, I was asked to join a team of engineers to help redesign Healthcare.gov. Working on that project was one of the most impossibly rewarding experiences of my life — the people gathered together and the impact we were able to have were both absolutely astounding. I'm very humbled to have been a part of it at all.

We worked pretty hard, mainly in hotels, on trains, in cafes, and huddled up in conference rooms. I was lucky to be living nearby, unlike most of the engineers who were from the Bay Area, so I regularly went back and forth between Maryland and home in Brooklyn, but working without a setup nevertheless took its toll on my body. I developed severe tendonitis in my wrists and have spent much of the last half of this year finding ways to care for my own personal health.

What hardware do you use?

Much of how I have helped my body this year is visible through my setup. I still work off of my 13" MacBook Air, but I've offset that with a variety of kit that I rotate through. When I'm working I now wear two wrist straps — a Futuro Wrist Support and a softer IMAK SmartGlove. I've stopped mousing with my right hand entirely and alternate between a vertical 3M optical mouse and a Apple Magic Trackpad with my left hand. I type on a Microsoft Ergonomic keyboard that many engineers I work with also use now. In New York I work out of Gary Chou's amazing Orbital NYC space, and take advantage of the standing desks he has there. They're equipped with standing mats that are incredible. In Maryland now the team has dedicated workspace with standing desks as well (with these mats).

And what software?

As far as software, that hasn't changed much. I still code with Sublime Text 2, and run most of my development through Chrome. When pressed, I use the fish shell and vim. We often use BrowserStack for cross platform testing, and Vagrant for our development environments. I create rough mockups and wireframes in Illustrator but I prefer to refine prototypes in code. For talks and workshops, I prepare with notes in plain text, links in Pinboard, and images in Pinterest and GifMe. What I have introduced is DwellClick, which has reduced my finger strain.

The biggest changes for me, though, are behavior. At the most basic level, I've stopped working so much while in transit. I used to love working on planes and trains, but now it's rare that I do. I spend a lot more time preparing talks and designing by sketching, spending as much time as possible on paper before moving onto the computer. I find sketching alone at bars immediately relaxing and productive (okay, I've done that for years now). I sleep now with my wrist straps on, but otherwise work and life are sharply divided. I have been doing physical therapy as well as exercising with rock climbing and yoga, and have just started acupuncture, which has cleared up a lot of built up issues in my shoulders.

What would be your dream setup?

Of course, my dream setup would be for all of this equipment to vanish. I miss the flexibility I used to have, but I don't miss the amount I used to work. Setting up boundaries around work has been both a survival strategy and a huge benefit to my life, both personally and for the time I spend with friends and family. Hundred hour work weeks didn't used to scare me but now they feel laughable — that it would ever be worth it again to damage my body in such deep and lasting ways just to squeeze out a few more hours of typing.

My work over the last year hasn't been healthy by any means, but it has allowed me to take a step back from everything and approach work with a lot more patience and care.

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