Product Hunt emailed us last summer. Subject line: Automate your life. But honestly? We don’t want to. We just want to live our lives … like humans. Tech culture can be so focused on work and efficiencies that it makes us forget everything else. Off the Clock is a series where we interview people in the tech scene but don’t ask any questions about work.
Yash Prabhu was out of grad school and about two years into her job as an engineer at DramaFever when she realized it: she didn’t have any hobbies. She was pretty much working all the time.
It didn’t used to be like that. She used to sew and to read — all kinds of books, fiction and nonfiction alike. She spent much of her childhood singing Indian classical music.
So Prabhu, who went to Penn for her master’s and now lives in the Philly suburbs, vowed to get back into the hobby game. Since then, she’s picked up quilting, gardening, volleyball and most recently, public speaking. She calls herself a “serial hobbyist.”
We last saw Prabhu at ELA Conf, the women in tech leadership conference organized by women technologists along the East Coast. She was about to give what she called a “meta-talk,” one about preparing for your first talk. Prabhu gave her first talk at AnDevCon Boston this past summer and followed that up with a talk at DroidCon NYC, where she was part of an organized push to get more women speakers at the conference.
— Yash Prabhu (@yashvprabhu) November 21, 2015
We spoke to Prabhu last month in the lounge at DramaFever’s new-ish Center City engineering office about why she cares about public speaking, her hopes of getting more women interested in Android development and what she sings at karaoke.
Why did you start public speaking? Why is it important to you?
I got my first taste of public speaking last year at the lightning talks at [Girl Develop It’s Holiday Show and Tell] party. It was a five-minute lightning talk. I spoke about Android wearables — just about something I was building on the side for the Android Watch.
Most of these things happen through GDI. Someone mentioned WriteSpeakCode, a conference that teaches women to write better — articles, blog posts, abstracts — and it also teaches speaking in public and how to contribute more to open source.
In March, I went to that conference for three days and it was so much fun. I thought ‘I need to do public speaking.’ It’s not as hard as I thought it was. It’s just writing the abstract and submitting it to the conference. Then once you get accepted, it’s the whole process of preparing for the conference, like researching, coming up with the slides.
I like it, I’m a serial hobbyist, it’s a new hobby. That’s what I’ve been doing this year. So I put quilting aside and started doing this.
Did you teach yourself how to quilt?
I took a class. I used to sew a lot when I was a kid. I wanted to get into fashion designing at some point. For a long time, I didn’t have any hobbies. Two years ago, I used to work all the time. I needed to really go back to the things I used to do in my childhood, which was sewing and reading. So I went and joined a class and bought a sewing machine (a Brother XR 1300) and started sewing all sorts of things, bags, and skirts and whatnot.
One more thing was reading, so last year, I read about seven books, just keeping tracks of the books I read. This year, I read about eleven. But it should be more. It should be, like, 50 books a year. It’s hard, but it’s something I’m aiming to do because there’s so much to read.
I’m at the library all the time, looking through books. If anyone mentions a book on the PhillyDev Slack or the DramaFever Slack then I just get it from the library and start reading it. Or if they start making movies, like Gone Girl or Martian, just before the movies come out, I get the books and start reading them. That’s what I did with Game of Thrones. I didn’t have a social life for like four months because I read all the Game of Thrones books. [Laughs]
It was Girl Develop It that set off the series of events that lead to Yash Prabhu's public speaking career.
When was it that you started to feel like you should get some new hobbies?
I went to grad school and in grad school, you can’t really have hobbies. Then I joined work, and I was the only developer working on the Android platform so I used to work all the time. And that comes with working at a startup. Once we started getting more people on the team, probably a little before that, I rediscovered sewing and reading.
I guess I felt one day that I wasn’t doing anything other than working, so maybe I should do something else. I think it also ties in with when I started volunteering with GDI. That kind of opened my horizons. Two years ago, I didn’t think I’d be speaking at conferences. But joining GDI and going to meetups and doing a lot of this community outreach stuff got me into public speaking.
I really like the tech scene here because it’s a close-knit community and almost everyone knows everyone else, right?
How did you get started with GDI?
Remember that time we met at Girl Geek Dinners? That was the first thing I did. At that event, I met Sarah Gray who was my classmate at Penn while we were in grad school and she said, “Hey, I’m doing an Intro to GitHub course, do you wanna be a TA?” And that was in February of 2014 and after that, I started doing other things with GDI. Summer of Open Source last year and this year. Through that I found WriteSpeakCode. Through that I found public speaking. It’s kind of all connected back to GDI in some way. I accidentally found GDI. It was so random. [Laughs]
Have you taught any classes?
Earlier this year, I helped with an Intro to Java class, taught by one of my coworkers Travis [Himes]. It was a pre-req for Intro to Android. I wanted to teach more Java and Android at GDI because GDI focuses on frontend, like HTML and CSS. The Android community is very small in Philly so I thought maybe we should start teaching that, so women know that there is another field out there. There’s mobile development, which has absolutely no women in it. [Laughs]
Android development or mobile development in general?
Mobile development in general.
Oh, really, is it more male-dominated than other tech fields?
It feels like that. I don’t know if it’s true. But every time you go to the Android Alliance Meetup, there’s like three women and that’s it. When I went to Android Alliance, it was just Corey Latislaw, she’s one of the founders. And it would just be me and her, and occasionally two other women. It felt like we were sticking out like sore thumbs here because everyone else is male. Other meetups you would find a lot more women, like even the PhillyPUG meetup. So I’m just trying something here. People are interested in Java, but the next step is are they interested in Android?
You mentioned Bollywood music earlier, are you a Bollywood fan?
I like Bollywood because I grew up in India and it’s such a part of our culture. So there are days when I just feel like listening to it.
Because it reminds you of home?
Yeah. Sometimes I just listen to the songs that I used to grow up listening to. It’s funny, I’m not much of a music person but I was trained in Indian classical for 10 years — vocal training. [Laughs]
Oh, wow. Did you choose that or did your parents?
My parents chose it but I’m glad they chose it. It comes off as being a little bit ungrateful but I obviously didn’t like going to music class every Sunday. [Laughs]
Oh, same. Piano…
But I’m glad they did it because I got to have a great experience in my undergrad because I got to represent my school. And I guess it helped with this public speaking thing as well because I don’t have stage fright. I do feel the butterflies in my stomach before I go on stage, but once I’m up there, I feel kind of comfortable.
My mom’s a singer, everyone in my family either sings or dances, they do some sort of art. I’m glad my parents got me into it. More my mom, she also used to sing on the radio. I would perform alone or with my sister. I was part of the school choir. I used to represent my school in Eastern music, which was Bollywood and classical music (there was also Western music, which was rock and pop).
I also joined a volleyball league because I decided I needed to get some fitness in my life. I sucked at it the first couple months but I think I’m getting better. It’s at the Manayunk Sport and Social Club. I haven’t played volleyball since high school. I feel like team sports is a lot of fun, I can apply a lot of it to what I’m doing at work. I never thought I’d be part of a team sport.
I had a similar experience joining a soccer team. I was just really bad but it’s a good experience to be bad at something.
You can see, I’m trying various different things, arts and sports and public speaking. There’s so many different things I want to try out.
Any recommendations for us?
I eat out a lot. [Laughs] I was at Zahav [in Old City] last night, which was so good. They have this lamb kebab thing, it was so good, and they do this fried cauliflower appetizer, which was amazing. I think I go there twice a year.
Where else do you like to eat?
Amada. Tinto. Han Dynasty. That’s like, my favorite place. The one in University City, I really love that one. The fish in hot sauce is my favorite. I love spicy food. The spicier, the better. There’s so much good food here. There’s also Banana Leaf and Pho Cali in Chinatown. I get the roti canai at Banana Leaf. Oh, and Talula’s Garden [in Washington Square]. That’s amazing.
And Helm [in Kensington], and Marrakesh [on South Street] — but you have to starve the whole day if you go there because it’s like, five courses of Moroccan food. You should go with your family because you eat with your hands and off a common plate, so go with people that you’re comfortable sharing food with.
I love karaoke. Working at DramaFever, it’s such a thing to do. Not here as much but in New York, we usually go after every party. We go to K-Town in New York but in Philly, we go to Yakitori Boy [in Chinatown].
What do you sing?
I like Adele and Beyonce and Taylor Swift and classic rock, some Aerosmith and Guns N’ Roses, Abba. Sometimes, it’s Imagine Dragons.
Lady Gaga, obviously.