#002 - Sameera Kapila

With Ink and Leela

Profile image of Sameera Kapila

Sameera is a designer at thoughtbot, a respected educator and an organiser of the fantastic Tech Ladies community. She's based in Austin, Texas.

Andy: Let’s do the important intro first. What pets have you brought along with you today?

Sameera: Hiiiiiiii Andy! Thanks for including me in this project.

  • Ink (full name: Ink Jet Printer Kapila) is an 11 year old Maine Coon I got in South Florida. I visited the same petsmart for three weekends to play with him and finally got him on the third trip. His petsmart name was Ted E. Bear. He's a total snuggle bear and always wants to be hugged, pet, or fed.
  • Leela is an 8ish year old, one-eyed Siamese that my brother in law's coworker found abandoned in a drain. She was rejected by her litter that was found nearby and lost her eye in the process. She has Ink and I wrapped around her finger, She's a bully and does only what she wants, which includes singing at the top of her lungs and treating doorframes as scratching posts just because she can.

A grey Maine Coon cat looks down at a Siamese cat
Ink Jet Printer looking down at Leela disapprovingly

Andy: Oh my, I think I’m in love with Leela. I’ve got a real soft-spot for cats that have had a rough start in life. Ink Jet Printer is probably my favourite name for a cat so far, even though my brother has a cat with the most human name possible, “Carol”.

Maine Coon cat’s are huge, so does Ink cause a lot of trouble around the house with his immense size?

Sameera: Their names are a bit of a funny story. When I got Ink Jet, he was a battered little dude with no whiskers. He was an alley cat that was bullied a lot before they rescued him. He was really curious when I brought him back to my apartment in Miami. My boyfriend and I typed out name ideas and started to print them out. The little scrawny dude was so curious about the printer that he stuck his head in the paper tray and just waited until the paper inched closer, until it started to fold over his nose. We never looked at the piece of paper, it was settled then and there.

Leela was named by my sister, who demanded she got to name her, and she's good with names and landed on Leela because of Leela from Futurama who also has one eye.

Ink is the most delicate and dainty Maine Coon. Never knocks over anything. The closest he's ever gotten to getting into trouble is almost burning his (at this point regrown) whiskers on a tea light candle. Oh, and that time he was on my third-floor balcony, and thought he could fly after a bird, and instead managed to land on my second-floor neighbor's balcony, and having to spend a few hours there because she was at the library studying for finals. She ended up coming home a few hours earlier than planned and I gifted her a bottle of wine for her troubles. He had left a present on her balcony, as well.

A Maine Coon cat sits on a couch
I think this might be the most regal cat I’ve ever seen

Andy: I love hearing about how pets get their names. I was going to suggest that Leela’s resembled her Futurama namesake, but glad you beat me to it!

Today is the first time I’ve heard of a dainty Maine Coon too, so I’m learning a lot.

Are you a devoted cat “owner”* like me then, or have you had other types of pets?

*I put “owner” in quotes because they very much own me.

Sameera: He's so dainty and regal that my sister has nicknamed him the Distinguished Kittleman.

So the funny thing about my cats is, that I like them and my sister and her husband's cats—and maybe one or two friends' cats, but I'm also a huge fan of dogs. It's not fair that we as a society are made to chose one or the other as I think you can be both. I started as a dog person, grew to like my cats, and then a few others, but the intensity with which I love dogs is well...intense.

I became friends with a couple because I met them after petting their dog outside a coffee shop. I've now dog-sat this dog a few times, and while they've moved to another state, I still get occasional texts or direct instagram photos of this dog I love. I'm currently on the hunt for a rescue dog like this one. It's a personal goal my boss even asks about on a weekly basis. If my cats' personalities were combined, they'd make one great dog.

A one-eyed Siamese cat sits on a couch
Leela is such a lovely looking cat

Andy: Distinguished Kittleman is an outright adorable nickname!

Although cats are my preference, I’m a big fan of dogs and I also like to pet them outside shops. I should warn folks to be careful though, because some dogs don’t dig it (they are in a state of not knowing where their parents are to be fair), so you gotta learn to read the situation. Regardless, it’s a sure-fire way to get a bit of joy in your day too.

I’m going to create myself a little opportunity here to ask you about what you do on the web these days, since you mentioned your boss. You’ve got a lot of success in this industry, so it’ll be great to know not just what you’re doing now, but some of the stuff you’ve done leading up to now.

Sameera: Yes, I hear you on how some dogs don't dig it. It was very clear over a few days of seeing this same dog that he wanted us to be friends, Haha. The first day I didn't pet him. A few days later I saw him again and he was smiling and wagging his tail, so I scooted closer, and then we became v good friends. It's one of my favorite stories of friendship. When I used to dogsit him, the cats oscillated between not loving how he would steal their spot in my bed to being offended that he paid them no attention at all.

In terms of what I do on the web currently, I'm a designer at thoughtbot. I like the way the designers and developers work on code here. There isn't this imaginary wall where things go from design to dev and whenever see it again. All the designers are in GitHub and Rails, Elixir, React, React Native, etc. projects all day, so we pair a lot more than I had ever experienced in the past, and that makes for so much smoother of a workflow and interpersonal communication.

Before that, I used to help run the instructor team at The Iron Yard, a code and design school with 12-week programs that closed down last year. I went from co-writing the design course and teaching it (and interestingly enough, taught students how to use so many of thoughtbot's design tools like Bourbon and Neat), to managing instructors and being on the executive team over the three years as a Director of Academic Operations and Diversity. I also ran all of our diversity and inclusion initiatives for staff, students, scholarships, and the community.

I went into this role with a design-driven approach. I learned about managing others, managing expectations, and how there's a lot of talk about diversity in our industry, but many aren't willing to do the work or think it was too hard. I've spent a fair amount of time speaking about trying to work through those barriers. I wanted to take a designer's approach to problem-solving and seeing if that could help move the needle on some of this. I spoke a lot at conferences, events, and internal presentations for companies about that.

One of my friends, Gene, who runs a lot of conferences got me into conference speaking in the first place, immediately after I left teaching design at a university for 6 years. I spoke quite a bit about problems I saw with web-related education, specifically in CS and design programs, and the difficulties of moving towards current technologies and processes when the curriculum review process is such a long process involving departments, schools, deans, boards, and state-level approval. I spoke a lot about how code schools give you more hands-on and more work-place related skills because of their format. A coworker and I had found some ways to work around that and build out mobile UI courses and the first university-level course devoted to responsive web design. That led to a lot of podcasting, both as an interviewer and an interviewee, which I miss. I guess you could say, much like my cat, I talk a lot and have a lot to say :)

Andy: You talk about really important stuff and I know I’m not alone in saying you’re a truly good asset to our little community.

I like what I see about thoughtbot too. You folks seem to be doing real good stuff and you’ve got some really talented folks working there!

A point on the University setup is that it’s very much the same here in the U.K. I actually got very close to becoming a lecturer myself, but three main things stood in my way:

  1. The syllabus approval process moved waaaay to slow

  2. The links with companies such as Adobe were too tight and often influenced learning material

  3. I didn’t have a degree, so I’d have to get one just to teach…

But hey, this isn’t about my failures in education! Sameera, let’s wrap this one up. Thank you so much for letting me interview you. I’ve long been inspired by what you do, so this has been a real pleasure on my part.

One last question. Can you tell the readers how they can support what you do and how they can find you on the web?

Sameera: I'm taking a bit off a break from some social media, so readers can find me on my site, samkapila.com, these days. And, I post food to @the_tableaux on instagram.