Software Engineer in the East Coast

Anja Do, Contributor

Randy Li (RC Partner) shares his personal story with Anja Do (RC Partner).

I first met Randy and Joy at a dinner gathering at the home of my husband’s sectionmate Emil Veltchev (Section B) and his wife Hannah. Joy, truly living up to her name, is a petite lady with enormous energy and enthusiasm, and her laughter is utterly contagious. Her partner, Randy, on the other hand, was reserved and looked very content for the entire evening just listening to everyone else. You could not find a couple of greater contrast, and that piqued my interest!

Randy was born and raised in Michigan until the age of 14, after which he moved out to a boarding school in Massachusetts. When asked about how it was like growing up in suburban Michigan, Randy complimented it for being only a great place to grow up but not the most fun place to visit. “There is nothing going on there!” he proclaimed with a smile.

After coming up to visit the schools in New England, Phillips Academy in Andover, MA, is where he ended up going. For college, he moved to Dartmouth in New Hampshire, and that is where he met Joy, his partner, who is now at Harvard Business School (HBS) in Section A.
It was winter 2014 when Joy and Randy first met. They both were taking a class together in Korean Culture through Film. At first I was rather puzzled about why would they want to take this class as neither of them is ethnically Korean. Basically, Joy was taking the class for fun because she had no more credit requirements while Randy was looking for a class to fulfill his arts requirements. He admits to me with confidence that “I am really bad at arts.”
Fortunately, thanks to this class, they took a field trip together to New York to see the Metropolitan Museum of Art (the Met). As I was listening to Randy, I was anticipating a romantic scene to unfold in the halls of the Met where they would be discussing the ancient Korean arts. Instead, their encounter did not take place anywhere near the art pieces but over an unwanted cookie. While the class was having lunch outside the Met, Gina (their mutual friend) and Joy were discussing what to do with a cookie which neither of them wanted. So they approached Randy to offer him this delicious cookie! To their disappointment, Randy did not want to have the cookie either but he sat down with them and started talking to Joy. That is how they hit it off! So, never underestimate the power of cookies!
After graduating from college, Randy and Joy stayed in the Boston area at first but soon relocated to San Francisco. As a very committed boyfriend with a background in software engineering, Randy was completely on board with the move. In his own words, “San Francisco is the best place in the world to be a software engineer!” and so I could tell that the transition was not a difficult one for him.
He then began working at Scoop, a car-pooling company, in July 2016, and he has stayed with them ever since. In fact, the company has agreed to let him work remotely in Boston on West Coast hours. His direct manager was keen to keep him on the team, and subsequently the CTO and Co-Founder confirmed they’d be happy to have him work remotely. Though Randy is rather humble about it, I believe his hard work and commitment to the company for the last three years perhaps earned him the right to make such a request. He admits that he decided to stay with Scoop precisely because they allowed him to do this. It is actually quite challenging for companies to maintain so many remote workers for logistical reasons—so overall, he’s very happy to be able to continue working at Scoop because he truly enjoys working with the team.
As much as he enjoys the flexibility of the remote arrangement, Randy misses being in the office environment. He definitely craves the opportunity to talk to his co-workers and have those spontaneous conversations that strike up when you’re going up to get a coffee or tea. What he misses the most about the office, though, is having people working around him all the time. For him personally, it is very motivating to see there is a person who is depending on you to finish the one piece of work. To simulate a similar experience, he decided to join a co-working space here in Cambridge, and that helped him get into the working mindset and be more productive.
Having lived in Boston before, Randy did not have to adjust too much to the change in weather. What he certainly misses about San Francisco, though, is having access to more natural beauty. The neighborhood in which he lived, the Marina District, was only two miles away from the Golden Gate Bridge, and it was located right at the waterfront. “I could just walk five blocks down to Marina Boulevard and see the Golden Gate Bridge and the Bay area. It is just a great place to enjoy the outdoors and take in the views. You don’t get much of that in Boston, maybe with the exception of the Charles River.” Though we have both seen many people on campus taking pictures of the Charles River, I must agree with Randy that the two sights are not completely comparable!

Trying to give Boston a bit more credit, Randy points out the ease and accessibility of public transportation. The other day he had to head to downtown Boston and all he had to do was walk up to Harvard Square and take the train down. “It was so cheap and convenient!” he proclaimed.
Given how much he enjoyed his time in San Francisco, I was curious about the conversation he had with Joy about her decision to apply for an MBA. “When she was applying,” Randy shared with honesty, “I had a lot of skepticism about the whole thing. Business school is extremely expensive, so I was always asking whether she is sure she wants to do this.”

At first, he tried to understand her ambition to evaluate whether going to business school is the right next step. He also never felt that business school is a requirement for her to be successful, and that is why he was not completely on board. However, at the end of the day, he realized that it is not just about her ambition but also about the experience she would gain from it. One such experience would be meeting a diverse group of inspiring people, and Randy knew his girlfriend really wanted to build those friendships.

What made the continuing conversation even harder was the moment when she received offers from both Harvard and Stanford. As a software engineer in the Bay Area, Randy felt it would have been ideal for her to be in Stanford while he continued working for Scoop in their San Francisco office. Joy, on the other hand, considered HBS as her top choice.

With this massive elephant in the room, they began exploring the option of a long-distance relationship. Joy was open to the option, but Randy was not. It was both romantic and heroic to hear Randy confess his life priorities: “When it came down to it, it would be less fun for me, so I would rather find a new job in Boston than do long-distance with Joy.” And with that decision behind them, they headed back to the East Coast.
At first, Randy had expected that he would frequently attend HBS events and that his social life would be intertwined with Joy’s. But that has not been the case; in fact, their schedules now do not overlap much. First of all, most of Randy’s time is still spent working for Scoop; second, he came to the realization that it is very exhausting to go out every day for events. So he scaled back, and now he attends social events only once or twice a week.
What I found very amusing is how I have seen Randy and Joy at the same events but not together. At the Asian American Business Association retreat, for example, they were not even living in the same house and took different cars to get there. Randy and Joy actually seem to be having a perfectly great time in the same social setting, without seeking each other out. It shows the strength of their relationship when Randy casually explains to me, “We don’t need to be with each other when we are having fun with other people. After all, we are together when we are at home.”
That being said, Randy still acknowledges that Joy did a great job of setting the right expectations. She informed him in advance about how busy it gets in the first semester and so he knew he would need to figure out what to do in his spare time. Therefore, Randy’s main takeaway for MBA students and their partners is “Don’t be afraid to talk about your life together prior to MBA application! It is really important to align on what your life is going to be like once the offers arrive and after you arrive at the school.”

Anja Do is an RC Partner at HBS who recently moved to Cambridge, MA, with her husband from Singapore. She identifies herself as a global citizen and loves meeting people from diverse cultures, backgrounds, and religions and learning about their personal stories.