Introducing Belsy — Inspiring Women In Tech
“I had a manager who was an Asian woman. When asked for advice on a pitch to get support for internally, she told me to set the right tone, she said:
‘What would a white male person do?’
It was just so mind-blowing!”
We celebrate international women’s day. 🥳 So I have invited Belsy, who is a blockchain developer, woman in tech, nomad, and identifies herself with LGBTQ+, to an interview. We sat down together and talked for an hour, I figured out very inspiring points about, why she chooses to be a nomad and how she became a developer.
Belsy, thank you for taking the time. We are excited to get to know you! Can you describe yourself? What do you do, currently?
Sure! Let me start a bit from the beginning. I’m from Hong Kong originally. I grew up in England, where I studied. I then went back to Hong Kong to do my Ph.D. in mechanical engineering. And then I started working for different big corporates.
I never thought of software or programming or anything like that. There are parts of it in mechanical engineering, but it wasn’t that interesting.
However, during my Ph.D. I talked to people from different disciplines, such as computer science, as well as people from the MBA school such as management consultants. It was a mix of everything. I realized that there was a part that I really enjoyed creating something relatively quickly, shipping it into the market, and also working with simply a laptop instead of going into an aircraft manufacturer.
After my Ph.D. I switched fields. This happened not immediately, it was more of a process of two years. I started learning things at the weekends, I did a three months course as a data scientist and I also started to go to hackathons where I met people. I got hired because of them.
A year and a half before the pandemic hit I worked at a small startup in Hong Kong and I realized very quickly: “Wait a second! Why do I have to be here?” I told my boss that I want to move to Thailand and he was very cool about that. A little bit as if I told him, that I got a cat. He kinda didn’t care. That is cool about the Web3 community.
Now I work for two different companies in the Web3 space, which are quite different and yet complementary to each other. I feel like I can bring value to both companies. I joined the first 18 months ago which is a Finnish company. It has grown very fast. Everyone is remote. We do infrastructure for blockchain foundations. It works a little bit like a consultancy but we usually embed our people into the foundation teams.
The second company is an Italian company using self-sovereign identity to push regulated Defi. That truly is interesting for me, because of the benefit Defi can bring to everyone if it is stable and inclusive. I feel like we are not doing that at the moment.
It is true. Plenty of companies are creating technologies around that. Which is cool! I also like that, as a woman, you are interested in this topic. How do you feel about “Finance”?
I guess that Hong Kong is very finance-heavy. I actually did level 1 in CFA. During my early years in corporations, I felt like I didn’t have the same understanding as people in Hong Kong. It is very useful to have the knowledge. People are using these tools, but it is all man-made.
But generally, it feels a little bit like programming. A lot of this is man-made and not having exposure to it means that someone else takes your share and knowing how to design these tools could help people. I wish that topics were more educated in the normal school curriculum.
Let me ask you about your nomad life. I feel like this is a super interesting topic.
And yet, it might be easier as a male to live as a nomad. There are certain places I would just not go on my own, and that is limiting. It is not because of the people but more just stories from other nomads. I just hesitate to go there and that is self-censoring. Which is definitely annoying.
I have been to Thailand, Vietnam, a little bit of Mexico, the US, and then Europe, now I am in North America. Most of the places I have been are not so easy. For example, there a certain places that look predominantly white males. It is easier for a woman to go to Asian countries, but then they are not as open with LGBTQ+.
I have been in North America for two months now and it is really nice and welcoming. And for someone who is not from here, it is just pretty interesting to go to.
Another interesting thing is to pack up your life. I have a suitcase and a backpack. That’s it! And I don’t think that a lot of people really have this opportunity because as a nomad, you can only have so many items in your bag. I know it is not for everyone. I just have to eliminate a lot of stuff, to be able to live that life.
It is probably not much of a gender thing. I think it is just less made for women to go around and travel. I haven’t found anyone. A lot of people are stationed in places as expats. Also, software engineering allows for this lifestyle a lot. If you have fewer female software engineers then you probably have fewer female engineer nomads.
You have mentioned that Hong Kong is finance-heavy. How do you find the financial independence of women, while traveling to different countries? Do you see some differences?
This is women in general. I have not been reading a lot on that topic, but I dabbled a little bit on this topic. My mother was always very successful, but it was always family first. Before she got divorced, when something would go bad on my father’s side of the business, she would pour everything in and this was not because she wanted to, but because it was expected. The expectation of a motherly figure. This also happens in companies, which is a little bit scary. Because people would be expected to do work for others for free and be helpful. There are not many outspoken books about this, that say “You should not work for free.”
When I was in that very corporate setting, I had a manager who was an Asian woman. When I asked for advice on a pitch to get support for internally, she told me to set the right tone, she said: “What would a white man do?” It was just so mind-blowing! At that moment, if I put any of my colleagues in that position, it wouldn’t be in that tone, it wouldn’t be like an apologetic ask for something I need to do my job. It will be “this is what is needed and therefore it must be provided”
General, it is across the board. Especially in Asian countries, a lot of women put in a lot of work, but the money doesn’t stay. Because they are giving it to the parents give it to their brothers.
Me not being straight puts me into a position that I can’t draw from my relationships and traditional family expectations. I have female relatives who don’t touch finance because they think it is not their role or have no say over it. But then I think: “But your husband is making really bad decisions.”
I really like the part, where it says: “What would a white male person do?”
Definitely! It really saved me. And I am using it now. I am asking for some recourses for something and there is no need to ask oneself: “Why am I apologizing for it? This is for the company!”
What is one thing you wish you had known before you began your career?
Work doesn’t have to work. If you find the right job and you find the sweet spot role. I do not consider myself working 7 days a week, I would travel and explore but there is not much else that interests me as much and so I do end up “working” many days and hours. If someone is bragging about how much they work that is not standard. If I find a place like this, I would not be at the place I want to be yet. And being unhappy at work, this is not me 8 hours a day, 5 days a week for 40 years.
Finding the right workplace is like a job itself. There are people getting trapped because they’re going into high-paying jobs. Then not being able to leave because they have a certain lifestyle. They compliment the fact they are spending so much to maintain that lifestyle because they hate their job, this is just really painful to see.
I wish someone would have told me earlier being in a job that I love is absolutely possible then my early years wouldn’t be that difficult.
What advice would you give someone trying to pursue a career similar to yours?
Just do it. Not in a way “I give up everything to be able to do it!” but I think in such an open community. It is unlike other industries, there is a lot out there and people are specifically hired to grow communities. If you want to build something and you require financial help, you could ask on Discord, apply for grants, and generally, people want to help. Do this! Do a hackathon. And this is basically how I meet people in the space. And it is going to be learning a lot over the weekends. If it is truly interesting. You won’t be able to stop doing it. If you are not interested in it, you naturally stop.
What are some great Recourses that have helped you along the way?
For computer science, I did a lot of the free MIT OpenCourseWare courses. For web3 / blockchain, I like listening to podcasts, ZeroKnowledge, Bankless, some of Tim Ferris. There is so much going on and it is hard to keep up.
Who are the three most influential people to you and why?
My mum. She values education and she is definitely the one who poured everything she could to ensure I have the education I wanted. But also just the fact, that helping others is a limitless capability, because of the ripple effect. Her philosophy is if you could help then those you helped will go on to help others.
The next is not a particular person. I am definitely looking up to people who have started foundations. Especially in education and women's health in less fortunate countries. People who have started on the ground projects who are helping people such as refugees, stopping human trafficking and child marriage, and things like that. So I am trying to connect to a bunch of people such as volunteers or lawyers who are working in that area and people who are extremely wealthy and dedicate time to do that. I think anyone who can dedicate time to do that is really admirable. It is cool to know these people. When I start my foundation I will have everyone there.
And the interesting thing is. I know people don’t ask for a lot. You don’t need that much to start a project. If I just do something on the side it wouldn’t be completely free, but it wouldn’t cost that much. You don’t have to be Bill Gates to setup up a foundation for you to make an impact.
And the final person: When I did my masters in Bristol I had a professor, who unfortunately passed away. He didn’t go to the university in the beginning. He worked at a ship dock and he got really interested in metals how they reacted. He then went into the university to do a Ph.D. and became a tenured professor at the Bristol of University. He was very respected. He told me that what got him out of bed every day is to go into the labs and have his research student tell him something he did not know. Having that sort of curiosity is admirable. That’s humbling and luxurious at the same time. This shaped how I approach problems. These are not really problems, but in the end, things that are really nice to know.
I have a joker question for you: If you were to interview yourself, what kind of question would you ask yourself?
I think the wellness topic is a pretty good one. It makes people more efficient.
People require research skills to stay up to date. Because there is so much going on, such as in sleep, meditation, fasting, or not. Also, the food, when to eat what. The question I’d ask myself: Where and what do I read to keep up with these things?
I again listen to podcasts such as Hubermanlab and dig from there.
Especially in exercise and balancing activities. It is very important for people who stand or sit in front of a computer 40 or 50 hours a week it is very hard. I know that now conferences have more emphasis on that. They have a wellness room, a yoga room, and similar things. If someone specifically enjoys it, it is not hard to go to the gym for an hour a day.
Another thing is, it really helps to not put any financial burden on other people, who look after you. I would rather pay a personal trainer than for painkillers.
Prevention over treating symptoms
Exactly! And look after yourself and meditate. Have a good vibe. That helps a lot of people.
How much do you exercise?
I do CrossFit every day. The courses are an hour long.
As a nomadic, it is very difficult to find new friends and therefore difficult to ground myself in a new place. Especially when you don’t speak the language. Your colleagues and friends are online. Having a hobby grounds you in new spaces very well.
I would always live within walking distance of a gym because firstly the exercises are the same globally. It would get me out of the house every day. And then from there, where I meet friends.
For example, if you play football, then make sure you meet people who also play football and meet local people.
Let me ask my last question: What would you suggest people, who want to improve diversity, do?
I wish I had thought about this before. Maybe read about for example what you have written. It is hard because I ask myself: Why do we have to justify a financial impact to the company in five years if we hire more diverse? People want you to make a business case, where I question whether they simply want to have cognitive diversity in their life.
Cognitive diversity also means a better way of communication. Don’t you think?
As a person who has a limited knowledge domain in that topic I probably would face the problem, where are only two or three options, where people oversee the fact, that there are further options. Having the cognitive diversity makes a shape that has more points where two lines meet. Such as a hexagon. All the points are further apart and that gives space. It would take more time to find a middle ground, but it would be a creative finding. When I come across a problem, I throw that into Slack and people would come up with all sorts of different answers. it is very interesting.
The people from the company, I started to work for, are from very different places across the globe. There is already diversity, but there is also a culture where people are able to express who they are — Even if they are diverse.
Culture is something a leader has to shape and then let go to let the team shape it. But if there is a cultural misfit, but the performance is good: In the short term it’s ok, but in the long run it is so expensive.
Culture is an interesting thing. You need to ask yourself: “Do you want everyone to do the same or feel the same?” Perhaps, you don’t want that. It is a layer of abstraction where people at least have to have an open mind in order to work for the company. When a company is growing and functioning and homogenous, there is probably not much of a need for diversity. It is rather seen as a luxury to have more diversity. But we should be able to have that.
Especially when you have products that are not only for men but also for everyone.
Thank you very much, Belsy! It was an exciting inside of a woman in tech. I’m pretty sure many more women will find this inspiring and hopefully think about going into tech, financial independence, traveling, and blockchain.
If you like to follow her on Twitter go to @whalelephantK and click on the follow button!