Originally Published 3 July 2020
I first encountered origami during my childhood. I have a distinct memory of a summer camp during my stay in the US – there was a session on origami and I was eager to fold more. When I went to the student fair at Oxford University (where all sorts of clubs introduce themselves to new students), I saw a stall for the Oxford Origami Society. Remembering my summer camp experience, I decided to join one of their meetings. The rest is history.
My name is Sara Adams, I’m a passionate software engineer who’s been working for Google since 2009, I’m origami enthusiast who’s been making YouTube tutorials since 2007, and I’m a loving wife and mother of three boys.
I started studying mathematics at university after finishing school (Abitur). My boyfriend back then (and husband now) was studying computer science. So I tried it out too. While I loved and still love pure mathematics, I really enjoyed that you could see very directly the result of coding a program. My husband was running a browser game at the time, and I joined the development team. This really helped improve my software development skills.
While working on my PhD, I decided to do an internship to test the waters of working in the industry. I was delighted to be accepted as an intern at Google Munich and loved the experience (I was happy to come back to the Munich area, as I’d spent my high school years there too). I was working together with intelligent and nice colleagues and, even as an intern, the stuff I did had an impact. I was thrilled to hear that after my internship, my contribution had made it to production, changing search results for people all over the world. One and a half years later, I joined Google full-time, working together with my internship host, Stephan Micklitz. While I have worked on many projects since, I am still part of Stephan’s team.
Outside of work, I love origami. There are a plethora of creators in origami, and many are super generous in sharing their work. So, it’s hard not to get inspired. The designs and the people behind those designs inspire me immensely. I like to give something back with my website and, in particular, my videos. Through this, I can promote the fantastic work others are doing and spread the joy of origami in general.
I appreciate many areas of origami, which probably also shows in the models I present in my videos. They range in complexity – from simple to quite advanced; and in topics, from animals, human shapes, and flowers to geometric shapes (both from single or multiple sheets) to abstract models such as tessellations and fractals. Having said that, I do have a preference for clean lines and models that capture the essence of a subject, rather than getting lost in details.
There are many aspects of origami I enjoy. The social aspect is a hugely important one. While origami can be a very solitary activity, I have always connected it with the people too. Even when I produce content for the internet, I feel connected, especially as various platforms allow wonderful interactions through commenting, sending pictures, etc. I also love going to conventions to sit together with people and chat and fold.
Another aspect of origami I enjoy is the process of creating. Taking a sheet of paper and focusing on making precise folds has something meditative to it. And in the end, just like with programming, you have a result you can see and appreciate. You may have learned something in the process; on the next fold, you can improve on it. Just like with software development – when you prototype, you may discover that you want to adjust how to execute the next version. (There is this concept of being “in flow” while working. Origami can bring me into that flow state too.)
I also produce origami tutorials and post them online through my website Happy Folding (https://www.happyfolding.com/) and my YouTube channel (happyfolding.com – enjoy origami online). As time went by, the website grew to include other content, such as downloadable diagrams, articles (e.g. a video creation guide and paper reviews), an origami dictionary, and links to online origami shops.
The website, of course, features my videos. I am able to provide a bit more value around the videos, such as allowing easier filtering by video type (e.g. specific designers, difficulties, types of models) and linking to related content (e.g. other videos, photos of models, diagrams, websites).
The website also has a gallery of models I folded and books I own. There are articles, such as my video creation guide (which many have found helpful) and a paper review series by Ilan Garibi and Gadi Vishne, who examined which paper types were most suitable for which kinds of models. Some years back, I also made the effort of creating an origami dictionary, which lists translations of common origami terms in over 10 languages. As I’ve often been asked where you could buy origami supplies online, I also put together a list of such shops, including where they are based and their delivery locations.
Through Happy Folding, I want people to enjoy origami by finding an activity that helps them feel good. I believe the process of creating can hugely help many to de-stress and find their centre. The magic of origami is that you don’t need many supplies to give it a go – just some paper. So, I hope to spread happiness with my work.
While there is a small origami community here in Munich, it proved difficult for me to attend those meetings with all the other stuff that’s keeping me busy in my day-to-day life. I am more connected to the online origami community and meeting with people at international origami conventions. Conventions are usually held annually per society and often span a weekend; I try to attend one convention a year.
In the future, I want to continue promoting the wonderful work that others are offering. I want to continue to introduce people to the world of origami in the hopes that they will find a hobby that gives them happiness. I want to continue to explore various topics in origami and expand my understanding of it too.
I do see similarities between origami and my current job. Both origami and software development have a social and a solitary aspect to them. I create my best folds when working alone in a state of intense focus. I also create my best software development in that state of flow without any outside interruptions. But both activities live from communication, exchanging ideas, and getting feedback. The best software designs are created in a discussion. The best ideas come from working together with others. In origami, I always come back with so many new ideas after conventions.
Both in origami and in software development, practice makes perfect. Attention to detail is important. You learn from one fold or one prototype, and you can then improve your second version or your second fold. Precision is key in origami. If you fold imprecisely in the beginning, those errors will add up more and more and it will show in the final model. Getting the right start in software development is also key.
I definitely think origami has been a benefit to my tech career. It has helped hugely with my presentation techniques. Executing great work is crucial, but you should not underestimate the importance of also being able to present it eloquently. This has been useful both in internal meetings and when giving external talks.
I’ve been producing videos for close to 13 years now, and I’ve learned a lot about video editing and voice acting. One recent project this helped me with was actually for my husband. He recently left Google to start his own software company (engflow.com) and I supported him with a pitch video. At Google, I also did extensive frontend work, and my web design experience from my origami website helped with that. I have found that the many skills I acquired from my origami project gave me the skills to execute other ideas. There will always be opportunities that arise: who will step up to them? If you have that hidden skill that you acquired in a hobby of yours, you may be the perfect match, or it will give you the confidence to step up to that new challenge. This is what pushes you further in your career.
My advice to anyone interested in starting origami is to just give it a go! If it’s not perfect right away, don’t worry. It’s just a piece of paper. Also, don’t try to fold that really cool-looking complex piece right away. Start simple and progress as you go along. You can challenge yourself, but if you find something is still too hard to fold, first hone your skills on other models, then revisit it later. I have done this many times in the past, especially in the first few years I started with origami. Fold slowly and precisely. Origami is not a race, enjoy the process. Happy folding – not happy fold.
There is always more than tech. I’ve worked together with many super-intelligent, inspiring people in tech. And they have so many diverse passions. I’ve found that if you are passionate about one thing – e.g. tech – you are probably passionate about other things too. For me, it’s origami. Or my husband loves improv theatre and he juggles (he has many other passions, many of them more related to tech. For example, he worked over 10 years on making float to string conversion considerably faster; he then published a paper on it, which was picked up by various software projects). So I strongly believe it’s important to follow your passions. You will grow with them, and even if it’s sometimes not clear what it will be useful for in your job, there may always arise an opportunity where it will prove useful. And if not, there is enough value in having enjoyed the process. Do not underestimate the importance of your personal well-being. If you are energised and feel balanced, you can execute so much better work. If I do something that makes me happy, I bring that excitement to work, I can focus more, and I can push my tech work further.
I believe it is important for everyone to understand: no matter which area you work in, we are all people. And people thrive when they do what they love. Sure, it may be hard work and sometimes you need to push through challenges that can be frustrating. But we grow with those challenges. And sometimes, we need to take a break from those challenges. For me, I like to do origami during those breaks. For you, it may be something different. But I believe most, if not all successful people, have their own side-passions they follow to take those breaks to re-energize and then come back as a force to be reckoned with.
Happy Folding website: https://www.happyfolding.com/
YouTube page: https://www.youtube.com/user/adamssara