Managing to Build Bridges - Part 7: You Just Need to Find a Good Husband

Nani has a gift for entering others’ cultures in a respectful and sensitive way. That gift, combined with her strong curiosity and sense of adventure, has led to a unique trajectory from her childhood in Indonesia to her current job as a project manager at LinkedIn. In Part 7 Nani describes her post-grad-school gigs, including a tutoring job that led her to a position at LinkedIn.

Sarah: What did you do after you received your master’s degree?

Nani: I felt a little lost. My family didn’t understand why I studied anthropology, so they didn’t have hope that I’d find a job that would pay well. During a visit to Indonesia, I got dengue fever, and when a well-meaning aunt visited me in the hospital, she said, “You don’t need a PhD—you just need to find a good husband.”

For a period after I graduated I was moving around constantly, mostly in the Mission and Chinatown in San Francisco. I house-sat and subletted rooms. While the uncertainty created by my lack of a job and my nomadic lifestyle was challenging, there were things I liked about that period. I got to explore San Francisco in ways I hadn’t done before. 

I also busied myself by volunteering at film festivals. I went from festival to festival—the Asian American International Film Festival in March; the International Film Festival in May; and then in June the Frameline LGBTQ Film Festival. I earned lots of free tickets. At one point I saw about ten films in one week and I remember  feeling so happy. I was really getting into that whole world—cinematography, directors, international and independent films.

I also reached out to someone I’d taken a writing class with at the American Language Institute; she was the director of a nonprofit called Refugee Transitions, where I ended up working part-time as an executive assistant. While working there I dabbled with teaching English to refugee children and with fundraising. Around the same time, I also got another part-time job through Craigslist as a financial researcher at an obscure hedge fund. I had zero experience in finance, but I was curious about the field. In the interview, the owner asked unusual questions like, What do you like to read? I said, Oh, I like to read the New Yorker. It turned out he loved the New Yorker! I ended up working with these guys in the home office of one of them. They spent all day looking at graphs, and I tried to learn from them about the patterns of international stock markets. I’m still a little bit confused about it. But I needed the money and they paid $17 an hour, which was more than I was making at my other job. The CEO was very patient with me, but I got bored there because ultimately, I wasn’t passionate about numbers and graphs. 

In addition to my jobs at Refugee Transitions and the hedge fund, I also tutored high school kids and professionals in Indonesian, and for a short while, I worked at a retail store in the Mission called Currents, selling soap and candles. Currents was a special place. I was making minimum wage and I didn’t feel confident about my retail skills, but the atmosphere was laid-back. Time was slow. They offered gift wrapping. You can go crazy with that stuff. I would silently judge my coworkers: “How could you do those color combinations? They don’t go together!” The owner was Japanese American. He was very moody but we shared some memorable moments. One evening as we were closing up the shop, he and his wife invited me to stay and served me unfiltered, smoky sake and a Japanese tofu dish they whipped up in the tiny kitchenette. It was one of those spontaneous moments of connection and beauty. 

But my main passion at that time was film. One day, while I was volunteering at the Asian American International Film Festival, I was in the bathroom of the Kabuki Theater in Japantown and I started talking with someone who worked at the Center for Asian American Media, the organization that presented the festival. She was Malaysian and we started chatting about our Southeast Asian cultures and similar, Malay-root language. One thing led to another and I ended up working at CAAM as their office manager, quitting all my other jobs, except tutoring Indonesian.

Hosting a high school friend.

Hosting a high school friend.

With friends in San Francisco.

With friends in San Francisco.

CAAM staff photo.

CAAM staff photo.

At CAAM Film Festival with another staffer and filmmaker  Leo Chiang .

At CAAM Film Festival with another staffer and filmmaker Leo Chiang.

The tutoring job is actually how I ended up at LinkedIn. After two years at CAAM, I didn’t feel I was being challenged enough, and I was getting frustrated by the slowness of the organization, just like I’d felt at the Learning Assistance Center and Refugee Transitions. I had idea for how to streamline operations and I sensed that there wasn't an interest or the resources to implement such changes.

I made a list of things I needed to do in order to get a new job, which included updating my LinkedIn profile. I went onto the site to fill in more information on my profile, and I listed all my current positions, including “Indonesian Tutor and Teacher.” The next day I received an email from LinkedIn, with a list of jobs I might be interested in, and a linguist position at LinkedIn was one of them. I realized later that the LinkedIn algorithm recognized that my newly updated profile partially matched the qualifications of one of their own open positions. I applied and got an interview.