Hi, I am Yenny Cheung, and I am a Software Engineer. I am originally from Hong Kong, but I went to the US for university. After graduating from Swarthmore College, I became a full-stack software engineer at Yelp in Hamburg, Germany. I am on the Biz National team, where we work on scaling advertising tools and reporting for Yelp’s national businesses.
I have always liked technology as far as I can remember. When I was a little girl, my dad taught me how to operate a computer, how to connect to the Internet via phone cable, and, most importantly how to play games on them. When I was in secondary school, I did not have the time to play games anymore. I was focusing more on school, especially problem-solving classes like physics, ultimately leading me to my decision to take engineering in university. There, I got the opportunity to attend the Grace Hopper Conference. From this experience, I learned about what software engineering could do, and the impact it can bring. Having quite a bit of luck, I was referred to Yelp by one of the accomplished women I met at Grace Hopper. At that time, I already knew that having an inclusive workplace environment was one of the top priorities when picking my first job. Hence, Yelp quickly became one of my top choices. After knowing that Yelp has an office in Hamburg, I was set, as I really want to live in Europe.
My passion away from software engineering is doing all types of art and design. I am particularly interested in Chinese painting. I try to paint once or twice a month, time permitting. Along with technology, I was also interested in art and design for as long as I can remember. I have had classes on charcoal, sketching, watercolour, and acrylic art. I also dabbled in digital art and illustration towards the end of secondary school and in university. But ever since I picked up Chinese painting when I was 13, it has always been closest to my heart and stayed my favourite.
When I was a kid, art was really just about expressing the crazy ideas in my head. As I grew older, this hobby also grew in importance. I enjoy the feeling of satisfaction over creating a piece of art that I like, but I enjoy the process even more. When I start a Chinese painting, I first begin with only an idea of the composition. As I draw the strokes and progress through the painting, I improvise based on what I see and feel. It is an exploration every time. Unlike other mediums such as oil or watercolour, you cannot cover up the mistakes as easily. Getting things right takes a lot of practice, but it also adds to the excitement! Making art is also one of the few things that can keep my attention span for hours. I am completely in the zone when painting. It is one of my best ways to de-stress.
Art and design has played such a major role in my life that it is hard for me to imagine how things would be like without it. The hobby also helps bring people together. At the last Yelp hackathon, I hosted a Chinese painting workshop, and I was surprised by the great turn out. People whom I would never expect to be interested in art showed up, and we had a great time bonding over the experience. It was a new experience for them trying out Chinese painting, but it was also a new experience for me to share a piece of what I love with my friends and co-workers. Also, paintings make such great gifts! Depending on who it is for, I can tailor make the art to be relevant to our relationship. For example, for my grandparents’ birthdays, I gave them a set of two Chinese paintings on peaches and cranes, which symbolize long life in Chinese culture.
I tend to approach my art and coding projects in a similar way. I enjoy the process of coming up with ideas and driving them all the way to the finish line. I like the journey along the way, as I always discover new methods or techniques while moving forward with the projects. It takes several iterations to get things right. For art, after a layer is applied, I wait for the ink to dry before applying another layer or enhancing the colours. Same for coding – after writing some code, I often come back to refactor it for a couple times to perfect it. Both art and coding requires a good understanding of abstractions.
My culture has been a tremendous influence on my art. In Chinese culture, a lot of plants and animals are symbols for certain values. Hence these tend to be popular subjects in Chinese painting. As I mentioned, peaches and cranes symbolize long life. Peony represents prosperity and wealth. Bamboo is a sign for virtue. Picking the right subject for the occasion is important.
Growing up in Hong Kong, I had to do Chinese calligraphy drills with ink and brushes starting from primary school. I did not appreciate it at the time, but good calligraphy makes a huge difference in Chinese painting, as it is a common practice to write a poem that suits the theme, or at least sign your name nicely on the painting with a brush.
Chinese paintings are not as widely recognized outside of Asia. It is hard to gather the resources to learn it as well, as most learning materials are in Chinese! I hope that by sharing my work and hosting workshops, people will have easier access to this type of art. From there, we can learn to better appreciate and enjoy Chinese art together.
See more of Yenny’s art on her website here!