⚡️ Meet the Team: Ivan Zhao
“If this is what people believe the future is, I’m in the wrong company.”
Over the next few months, we’ll get to know Reboot’s core leadership team, covering what brought them to and continues to excite them about our work. Feel free to reach out to Ivan directly to learn more about Reboot or any of the topics mentioned.
Ivan Zhao (he/him) is a creative technologist, writer, and dog lover. He co-directs the Reboot Student Fellowship and contributed to many parts of Kernel Magazine. In his spare time, he enjoys falling asleep on a hammock on top of a mountain, climbing large rocks, and consuming many pastries. Check out his website, Goodreads, and Twitter.
What do you work on with Reboot?
My primary role is serving as one of the fellowship co-directors for 2022 and 2023. It’s been a blast (and terrifying) organizing and doubling the number of participants from our first year, but it’s been super worthwhile talking to students who genuinely care about the same problems that I do. I also helped out on Kernel in many small ways,have a piece in the newsletter, and am also working on our brand design and merch (!!) so be on the lookout for those.
How did you get involved in Reboot? Where was your life at?
I got involved with Reboot when Jess bullied me into coming to a book talk with Wendy Liu. It was the fall of my junior year, I was pretty disillusioned with school, the tech industry, and where I saw my career going, and thought a book called Abolish Silicon Valley would help (it did and did not). I was also heavily involved in a student-run venture group, was sick of seeing the same type of company being pitched, and thought to myself, “If this is what people believe the future is, I’m in the wrong company.” I then heard about the Reboot Student Fellowship through Twitter, applied, had a fantastic time, and wanted to keep the party going.
My life also was a mix of confused questions. Did I want to go into software engineering? What did it mean to work at a startup? Are startups even a viable solution to systemic problems? Being part of Reboot has helped me solidify a lot of my interests in things that felt meaningful to me (such as HCI, computational creativity, and being a wordcel and a shape rotator) even if my peers at college judged me for it.
What’s been your favorite thing about being part of this community?
My favorite thing is the openness and curiosity that everyone brings to learning. One of the things I was looking forward to in college was finding a community of like-minded peers, and while this happened to an extent, many of my friends felt extremely disillusioned or were doing computer science for the clout. I’ve now made so many online friends (shoutout to the 2021 fellows gang), and I’ve probably met someone I could hang out with in most cities.
One of my favorite moments was when I started the Design Justice book club and we just kept inviting people who we thought were great until we got an extremely cozy group of eight. We all met up that summer, and I don’t think I’ve had an experience of such talented people who are also so fun and chill.
What’s something you want to see Reboot do?
Merch. I’m working on it…
Share something you’ve made recently!
A classic Ivan answer, but I spent a good chunk of time getting really good at making focaccia and challah this summer:
On a more wrinkly brain note, I’m currently thinking how to represent the passage of time and the concept of memory and trauma in multimedia forms. Specifically, are there ways that medium such as comics, video game, and augmented reality provide interesting forays that more traditional mediums to do not? And also, why are these forms seen as less “high brow”? Not entirely an artifact but thinking deeply about this. Sort of related but a cool project on visualization and furniture.
What are you always recommending to people?
I absolutely love the game Celeste. It’s fantastic, it’s whimsical, it’s beautiful, and the team is so, so technically smart. It’s an indie game about a girl climbing a mountain who’s battling her depression in a dark version of herself. Great storytelling, lots of charm, and enough difficulty to make you throw your console at a wall. If you ever want to talk about indie game development, weaving epistolary into untraditional stories (Super Paper Mario anyone?), or making drinks based off of game titles, hit me up!
Okay, we’re in Hinge prompt territory now: Tell us about your perfect Sunday!
We wake up at 8:30am, pour some cold brew in a travel mug, and head to a farmer’s market near the water. There’s a salty breeze in the air and I’m dying to look at the produce. A fresh carton of eggs, strawberries, some kale. I complain that kale always tastes extremely bitter. You tell me that it’s because you don’t massage it enough. And with a playful slap on the shoulder, we head back to our one bedroom with a corgi, of course. He’s upset we’ve been out for so long. I prep brunch, an eggs benedict with spinach, to which you complain that Canadian bacon isn’t even bacon while I roll my eyes and continue cooking. When we’re done eating, I lie on the couch, head in your lap, as we both read for the rest of the day, the glowing sun lighting the room through the bay windows.
Give us some microdoses!
I recently read this piece called Lockhart’s Lament about the failing of mathematical education in K-12 education. I will not say I’m a fantastic math guy, but it touches a lot of beliefs that I think are wrong with current educational systems.
If you have a LOT of time and want to delve into game design, game maker’s toolkit did a fantastic series on the Legend of Zelda dungeon design where he rigorously classifies dungeon in a graph format to determine their linearity/interest. It’s super fascinating and makes me think about forms in a new way.
i need mcgriddle
To learn more about the student fellowship, game design, baking tips, or anything else in this Q&A, you can reach out to Ivan via email (ivanzhao8 at gmail dot com) or Twitter DM.
He says “small,” but means doing the whole print magazine layout, many of the illustrations/graphics, and contributing multiple original poems.