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Jerome Han

Working at Canva, I’ve met engineers from all kinds of backgrounds including linguistics, architecture and even medicine. As long as you’re passionate, kind and excited about our mission, you’ll fit right in!

What’s your job about?

Canva’s mission is to empower the world to design. We provide an easy-to-use platform that makes it super simple for anyone to design anything. One of the core features behind our platform is the vast media library with hundreds of millions of photos, graphics and videos that our community can select from to use in their designs.

As a part of the Search and Recommendations team, my job is to work on backend systems that enable us to surface and recommend relevant media content to our community when they want it — and sometimes, before they even know they want it. I work alongside data scientists and backend engineers to help design and implement these systems so that we can provide an optimal experience to both our 40 million users who access our media library as well as the photographers and designers who provide the great content. My specific project during my internship focuses on how we can leverage recent advances in deep learning to bring even more value to our users. A lot of my time is spent wrangling enormous quantities of data and designing effective models, but I also spend quite a bit of time thinking about the bigger picture behind this project and how we can deliver as much value in the product as possible.

What’s your background?

I was born in Singapore, but I spent most of my childhood growing up in the dry, leafy suburbs of Melbourne.

I don’t have much of a programming origin story. I had next to no exposure to programming as a child and teenager, and I wrote my first ‘hello world’ during the summer break after completing year 12. Through high school, my dream was actually to become an architect. I loved design and problem solving, and I was attracted to the idea of building things at scale that people could enjoy using. I spent a chunk of my childhood roaming around the architecture building at the university where my father worked, so I inevitably came to think of architecture as the natural manifestation of these interests.

In my final year of high school, Google DeepMind’s AlphaGo defeated Lee Sedol at Go — the first time in history that a computer beat the ranking human champion at the game. Though I had no interest in Go, the notion that artificial intelligence could and would come to drive massive change in our society piqued my interest. I realised that the people who were going to lead this change over the next hundred years - for better or for worse - were currently my age. Could I be one of them? I had no idea, but I figured that I was interested in maths and that the dream of building AI to help people was worth pursuing. I decided to take a leap of faith and study science instead of design at university.

At the University of Melbourne I majored in Psychology, but I also completed an equivalent major in Computing and Software Systems. I had no exposure to either of these fields prior to entering university, and so for quite a while I struggled and felt lost. There were certainly multiple occasions where I came close to switching back to design. But I persevered, dabbled in things that interested me, and gradually discovered work and people that were a good fit for my passions. I was delighted when I landed the Canva internship in my final year. Here, my interests in AI and design collide — a nice ending to the first chapter of my life, and an exciting start to the next.

Could someone with a different background do your job?

Absolutely. I think what Canva really looks for in interns and graduates beyond just solid programming fundamentals is initiative and genuine excitement about the mission we’re on to empower the world to design. You definitely don’t strictly need to have studied software engineering to be a software engineer at Canva, or data science to be a data scientist. Working at Canva, I’ve met engineers from all kinds of backgrounds including linguistics, architecture and even medicine. As long as you’re passionate, kind and excited about our mission, you’ll fit right in!

What’s the coolest thing about your job?

One of the most exciting aspects of working in a startup is the opportunity to have a real impact on the way we’re building both the product and the company. In Search and Recommendations, where I work, we come to work everyday with the unique opportunity of leveraging cutting-edge research in machine learning to help solve problems and empower the world to design. We’re often operating at the intersection of research and product design, and to me, there’s nothing more exciting than that!

Of course, there’s also the incredible daily breakfasts and lunches as well as the amazing celebrations and events too!

What are the limitations of your job?

We’re fortunate to be growing at an incredible rate across just about every facet of the company – from our headcount to our product growth, Canva is a one-of-a-kind rocket ship. We set crazy big goals and execute quickly which means we’re sometimes building the car while driving it. While it can seem daunting, it’s an incredibly exciting opportunity to have an enormous impact and undertake a variety of challenges so early on in your career. Working here definitely requires comfort in ambiguity, and it’s something you learn to continue developing and embracing. We’re lucky to have a super collaborative culture across the engineering function and Canva as a whole which means every challenge is always a collaborative team effort.

3 pieces of advice for yourself when you were a student…

  • Challenge yourself – step outside of your comfort zone. Say yes to the things that make you uncomfortable. Do things that scare you. University is a time to explore, experience and broaden your worldview.
  • Ignore social consequences. Don’t do or not do things because of perceived embarrassment or prestige; these are internal states that have no real bearing on your external reality. Think carefully about what matters to you most and pursue your goals with drive and focus.
  • Be kind to yourself. University can feel overwhelming and endless, so don’t forget to take care of yourself both physically and mentally. If you’re feeling overstretched, take time to talk to family and friends – it’s not a race and the rest of the world can wait.