Software Development

Why developer Cella Sum is such a badass

For our series exploring technologists' non-work life, we talked to Cella Sum about the zine she's working on, her punk band and the sloth she hung out with in Costa Rica.

Tiff Cheng (left) and Cella Sum of CHONDRIA.

(Photo via ROCKERS)

Product Hunt emailed us this 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 new series where we interview people in the tech scene but don’t ask any questions about work.


Cella Sum will be the first to admit that the punk scene has its problems, namely around its treatment of diversity, but it still feels like home to her.

That’s why, instead of abandoning it, she’s working on a zine that will speak to the experiences of Asian Americans in the punk scene.
We first met Cella at Girls Rock Philly’s Ladies Rock Camp, where women learn how to play instruments, write a song and perform in a band, all in one weekend. (Yes, we did this, alongside Girl Develop It Executive Director Corinne Warnshuis. Our band was called The Pits.) Cella was one of the volunteer instructors, and we met her in the zine-making workshop, where she made a zine about being a woman in tech and the stereotypes she’s faced.
Shortly after that, we saw her speak at Girl Develop It’s “Day in the Life of a Developer” event (which happened to feature developer LeeAnn Kinney, who played bass in another band at Ladies Rock Camp).
Cella, 30, is a remote developer for Big Cartel, an online marketplace whose headquarters is in Salt Lake City, Utah. (The company has another Philly dev, too: Anthony Colangelo.) Before that, she was leading front-end development for UrbanOutfitters.com.
We talked to her about her all-women punk band, how the punk scene is like the tech scene and about the sloth she met in Costa Rica.

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Where are you right now? Set the scene for us, describe your surroundings.
I’m currently at The Fire Works coworking space in beautiful West Philly, currently enjoying a muffin and iced tea with a few of my fellow coworkers.
Oh, I need to come work out of there one day, I still haven’t been and it’s so near my house.
It’s a great space and I like the diversity of the people that come here. I only have a 5-day membership, since I usually work from my home. I literally live right across the street though so it’s really convenient for when I really want a change of scenery.
I know we’re not supposed to be talking about work but just real quick, when you work at home, do you change out of your pajamas? Haha.
Haha, I don’t until noon. At least before my 2 p.m. [virtual] standup meeting. And usually then, I only have to worry about how my hair looks at that moment in time.
What’s your summer jam?
I’ve been constantly listening to Pure Disgust’s newest record all summer long. They’re a very good hardcore band from DC.

Nice, I’m gonna listen (my editor is playing Sufjan Stevens right now so I need to get the headphones on). Are you still playing in your band? Can you tell us about your last show?
Yeah you definitely will need headphones for it haha. Yes, I’m still in my band, CHONDRIA. The last show we played had a really great mix of international bands: Frau from the UK, Lupus from Colombia and Cadenaxo from Mexico. It’s really cool that punk is something that can bring people together from all over the world.
That’s awesome. Where was it?
It was at this DIY space called Second Empire in West Philly. A lot of great punk shows have been hosted there within the past year.

"Punk is supposed to be radical, but so much of it is complacent."
Cella Sum

Tell us a little more about CHONDRIA. How’d you guys meet? How often do you play shows? What’s the songwriting process like?
So I approached Tiff [Cheng] (the singer/guitarist) a little over a year ago when found out that she was interested in starting a punk band. It had been something I’ve wanted to do for a long time but didn’t have the guts to pursue for various reasons. I think it was super important for me to find people that I was comfortable being in a band with and who were also supportive of me as a woman of color. I gave her a mixtape of bands that were inspiring to me and we started jamming shortly after that.
We then added Krista [Ciminera] (drums) and Krystina [Krysiak] (guitar). We’ve been pretty fortunate to have a great group of supporters in Philly, so we’ve been able to play shows quite regularly. We also have an upcoming weekend tour next month up through New York, Boston, and Western Massachusetts.
cella sum

Cella Sum is working on a zine about the Asian-American experience in the punk scene. (Photo by Lynne Vu)


As far as songwriting goes, both me and Tiff are Asian-American and we both thought it was important to ingrain our own experiences as an Asian-American in punk within our music.
This is our Bandcamp by the way.
What bands were on that mixtape you gave Tiff?
I included bands like Exit Order, Anti-Zen, Leather Daddy, Hysterics, and Sorrows, all of which have rad women in them.
Can you talk a little more about your experience as an Asian American in punk? What’s that like?
Our lyrics often cover topics like fetishization and white privilege. In the song “Island Holiday,” we talk about how people from the West often take trips to “exotic” countries and exploit the people that live there for their own pleasure and enjoyment but then criticize their ways as being backwards.
"Organizations like Girls Rock Philly are just as important for music as Girl Develop It and Coded By Kids are for tech."
Cella Sum

My experience as an Asian American in punk is really complicated. The reason I got into punk in the first place was the desire to be different, but so much of the scene is homogenous, male, and white. Punk is supposed to be radical, but so much of it is complacent, especially with issues surrounding racism, sexism, and transphobia. I think this frustration is why I wanted to start a zine with other Asian-American folks to talk about our shared experiences within the scene.
Yeah, I remember you telling me about the zine, how is that going? I think last time we talked you were looking for submissions?
Yeah, it’s been a long process. I’m still waiting on a few people to submit their entries, but we’re hopefully going to be getting it together next month. I’m really excited about it, and reading through the existing submissions, it’s comforting to know that there are other people who are struggling with the same exact feelings I have.
I like what you said about getting into the scene because you wanted to be different but then realizing how homogenous it is. Did that make you wanna leave the scene at all? Like why stay in it?
I think even though punk definitely has its issues, it’s still the closest thing that feels at home for me. I couldn’t imagine not being part of it. I feel like I’m critical because I care so much about it and it is a huge part of my life. When you’re personally invested in something, you usually want to try and find ways to make it better.
I realize that punk needs to make room for people like us, instead of driving us away.
Do you feel similarities with the tech scene?
Yes, absolutely. I see a lot of similarities within the tech scene. These issues are deeply ingrained within our society and so pervasive even if the two worlds seem very different. That’s why I think that organizations like Girls Rock Philly are just as important for music as Girl Develop It and Coded By Kids are for tech. [Editor’s note: Sum volunteers with both tech orgs.]
Have you been going on summer trips?
Yes! I was in Costa Rica with my friend Ana a few weeks ago. We spent a week traveling in San Jose and Puerto Viejo. The highlight of the trip was definitely swimming up to a wild sloth hanging out in a tree right by the beach we were hanging out in. We also spent time at the Jaguar Rescue Center to hang out with animals that were going through the rehabilitation process to be released back into the wild. It was really great actually seeing the environmental work that the organization does.
Whaaaat the sloth story is awesome.
Yeah, it was WILD. The sloth actually held up its hand and my friend got to hold it’s hand for a bit. It was magical.
Hahaha omg, when you swam up to it (him? lol), was he not afraid of you guys?
Maybe it was scared, but it’s too slow to react to anything. It just stared at us haha. They are seriously so slowwwww.
What recommendations do you have for us? What should we pay attention to?

  • ROCKERS! is an diy eclectic live music event held monthly in Philadelphia, showcasing activists and artists that speak out against the system
  • Girls Rock Philly
  • Thang Long Noodle Restaurant (in Kensington) — Best vegan pho in the city!
  • Spirited Tattoo Coalition (in West Philly) — Spirited Tattooing is a creative and respectful space that practices making change in the industry and helps build a safe space for creative expressions.

How can we find your zine when it’s out? Does it have a name yet?
There is a private Facebook group for the zine but nothing public yet. They could email aawipzine@gmail to get updates. But it’s tentatively called “Asian Womxn, Trans, and Genderqueers in Punk.”

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