2017 HEX participant, Sarah Tan, is a Bachelor of Communication Design student in her final year, and the Founder of Happy Ever Alter. This busy lady is also a zine-creator, illustrator, henna artist, winner of design competitions for Adobe Creative Cloud, Queen Victoria Market, Melbourne University and RMIT University, and exhibitor at White Night Melbourne, National Gallery of Victoria and more…


HEX: Hi Sarah! So you went on exchange in Silicon Valley this year?

Sarah: Yeah, I just came back a few weeks ago. It was an eye-opening experience.

HEX: What was your favourite memory from Silicon Valley?

Sarah:  I’d say my favourite part was getting to know my cohort and developing friendships with peers and mentors – learning how they got to where they are and just learning from them. Also – travelling around San Francisco!

HEX: So what was the biggest insight you gained from The Hacker Exchange program?

Sarah: I think the most important insight was seeing how Silicon Valley works, I found it very special – it’s not like anywhere else in the world, They have a different work ethic, different ways they talk to people. So it was really interesting to see that other part of the world.

HEX: Do you think this trip changed something about you personally?

Sarah: Oh yeah! It definitely changed my mindset, because I learned a lot more about the western culture and how people live in America. So the culture there, for example, is more open and they share more with each other. It’s very collaborative so I feel like how I changed is that I tend to be more open and sharing with others.

HEX: How is this different to what you experience back home?

Sarah: It’s very different! I come from Malaysia, it’s very conservative and it’s just a very typical Asian culture where everyone sees everyone as a competitor. I got really shocked when I went to Silicon Valley when I saw how everyone was just so open and how everyone was so willing to share. It’s very different to Australian culture as well, I feel like Australian culture isn’t quite as open as American culture yet either. 

HEX: How have people responded when you tell them about your experience at Silicon Valley?

Sarah: I told my peers about my experience at Silicon Valley and a lot of them are really amazed by it, most didn’t know they could do something like that.

HEX: They didn’t know it was an option for them?

Sarah: They know that programs like this exist, but they never expected anyone they knew would have this opportunity. In terms of employers, it’s very valuable to most employers because you have international business experience where you aren’t just visiting the place, you are really immersing yourself into it. So I have found that to be very valuable in speaking to potential employers.

HEX: What were your goals before you went on the trip? Did they evolve?

Sarah: I would say that my goals didn’t change because I wanted to find out more about actual start-up culture. Since I’m studying graphic design I don’t have a proper education in business and I rely on competitions to build my business knowledge.  But I’m interested in start-ups and I am currently working on my own design start-up as well. So it’s been a trial and error all along. I would say that it’s good to properly know what you’re getting into – and I’m still learning.

HEX: Tell me about your business, what are you trying to build?

Sarah: I’ve been developing this design business where I design products and I sell them at markets around Melbourne. I’m doing this because I want to share positivity through my design, because I believe that design can influence people’s emotions. I’ve been doing that for around five years now.

HEX: That’s awesome! So are you seeing a lot of success?

Sarah: Yeah! I get a lot of sales and I’d say that it opened up opportunities for me, I just got into the NGV (National Gallery of Victoria) store and next week I’m going to have a store in the State Library of Victoria. So it’s definitely helped me meet a lot of interesting people and other entrepreneurs like me.

HEX: So after going on this trip, will it change the way you do things in business?

Sarah: Yes, it has helped me understands things better. I kinda realised that what I’m doing is more of a business startup as well, so it’s good to categorise it, and also to understand new revenue models and different ways I can go about achieving those.

HEX: Would you recommend this trip to students who want a business of their own?

Sarah: Yeah definitely! I would recommend it because I feel like the program is just very structured. So you start off with your initial idea and you slowly build it up and what to expect and what to do if your idea doesn’t work. It’s a really good, systematic and organised way to learn about start-ups and to start a business.

HEX: Would you say you see yourself as a high achiever?

Sarah:Yes I would consider myself to be a high achiever, because I can’t really sit still – like I have to always look for more opportunities! I feel like I can always challenge myself to do better from where I am.

HEX: So you’re a real hustler then?

Sarah: (laughs) Yeah I would say so.

HEX: What are your future aspirations?

Sarah: My future aspirations are to develop my creative career in Melbourne, and parts of Australia. I feel like going to Silicon Valley opened my mind up to the proper workforce and how it functions, and it has changed my future career plans in a way. It helped me figure out exactly what I want to do, and gave me a lot of insight into leading companies, so that I now know what I can get into.

HEX: On a scale of 1 to 10 how would you rate your experience at Silicon Valley and why?

Sarah: I would rate my experience a 10 out of 10 because I feel that it is a very invaluable experience and it is just something that you wouldn’t learn in the classroom – it’s first-hand, practical experience.

Applications for San Francisco in December 2017 or February 2018; and Tel Aviv in January 2018 are open now.

Interview conducted by Aleena Dimopoulos, RMIT Bachelor of Communications (Advertising and PR).

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