It's invigorating to hear someone's journey, what brought them to this moment. Seattle, an ever changing and diversifying city, has fueled my passion for exploration for nearly 16 years. I was just 20 years old when I arrived and had no idea what discoveries were in store. My first friend in Seattle was born and raised here, rare, she knew the "old Seattle". With her I discovered the dive bars only the locals knew. We worked at a hotel on Lake Union meeting people from all over the world who had traveled to Seattle for the Space Needle, Pike Place Market, or Sonics games at the Key. Like those tourists, my early days in Seattle were just scratching the surface of this city.
At the University of Washington I found a new layer to the city – a generation of tech workers who had left school during the .com boom now back post bust and high school grads dreaming of lucrative Microsoft gigs. We drank pots of old coffee until 4 a.m. at Shari's while coding away. My main study buddy was an ex-Army Ranger who'd survived being shot multiple times while raiding a building in Panama. Now here beside me, learning Dijkstra's algorithm and laughing about our eccentric professor. And the professor - she taught me that feminism wasn't a derogatory word. It was also at UW where I would befriend another Seattle local, who in 9 years I would marry.
After college I went to work at a small legal e-discovery software shop where I met an engineer from a dry county in Texas who'd earned a full ride scholarship to Princeton. The first time we hung out we attended an event for the Human Rights Campaign at a Seattle Storm game. I'd never seen women play professional sports before. We ended the night at a karaoke style drag show and while he shared his journey with me, I learned that not everyone had the right to marry. That evening widened my view of the world. Neither of us knew that night, that 13 years later he'd finally be able to marry the man of his dreams in Seattle.
Expedia was next on my journey through Seattle's tech scene - it would be the people not the travel company who taught me about faraway places. An engineer from Palestine whose afternoon prayer I was careful to schedule meetings around, a yoga enthusiast from Bombay who I'd later visit the Taj Mahal with, and a musician turned engineer from Long Island who taught me about Judaism and Hey, Marseilles! When I left Expedia, I traveled internationally for the first time. In a deli in the small village of Vernazza I found a post card from the owners of an Italian restaurant in Seattle who'd also recently visited this same shop. Small world indeed.
Fresh from the nostalgia of traveling Italy, I went to work for Microsoft where I would spend the next 7 years meeting people from places I'd never heard of and trying foods from every corner of the planet. While working on a hackathon project I met an engineer with profound hearing loss who inspired me to learn American Sign Language. As I studied the language, I discovered right here in Seattle a culture rich in visual storytelling, a close-knit Deaf community of activists, artists, and entrepreneurs. I also met a young man who'd lost his vision, and during the process he found his sense of smell grew so strong that he could tell when food wasn't fresh. Philanthropy ran deep in the company built by Bill and Melinda Gates which introduced me to amazing causes ranging from global health initiatives to teaching girls to code. It was also at Microsoft where I was working alongside a designer from Iran the day the Muslim ban was announced. The pain of exclusion in all forms came sharply into focus in these 7 years - ability, gender, race, religion, and culture. Seattle, the place that brought all of these people together at this one company, instilled in me a lasting appreciation for accessibility and a passion to make the world more inclusive.
My explorations have taken me full circle, working now for Facebook just one block from that hotel where I started my Seattle journey 16 years ago. And while I'm still exploring - meeting new people and learning about their journeys – I'm also trying to put back in a fraction of what I've gained. I'm looking for opportunities nurture those places that make Seattle safe and inclusive. My love for this place runs deep - we put 4 women on the ballot for mayor (FOUR!), legalized marriage for all, raised the minimum wage to 2x the national average, marched for black lives, women's equality, and the environment. I'm eager for the discoveries that are still to come and who I'll meet next – maybe it's you?