Divya Manian on solving problems

This article first appeared in issue 239 of .net magazine – the world's best-selling magazine for web designers and developers.

It’s far more profitable to interview somebody face-to-face. When you’re sat with them you can see the minute changes in facial expression, the flick of the eye or a shift in posture that suggest you’ve hit upon a question that might repay further exploration. Everybody, as the old poker-playing clich goes, has a tell.

Sadly, Skype can negate this journalist’s advantage. With this in mind I’m anxious about meeting Adobe’s Divya Manian via, what turned out to be, a rather cantankerous Skype. With video conferencing enabled she looks like a version of herself made from Lego: a low resolution and stuttering caricature. Beyond only the harshest of expressions, technology had rendered her face an unreadable collection of JPEG-like blocks.

But maybe there was something. As we talk it becomes apparent Skype is – ironically - very successful at capturing and conveying what could be her defining characteristic. I had never seen anybody shift and sway so much during a video conference. She is never still. It’s almost as if she is desperate to leave the constraints of Skype’s rectangle, to dart off and do something. It’s not a caffeinated, nervous energy, rather it’s a palpable and perfectly natural restlessness.

So, as she flits, we begin. What’s her day job? “I’m a product manager on the Adobe Web Engine team where we work on features that we – Adobe – think are important for the web and have the necessary skill set to contribute to […] [We implement them in WebKit] so they’re not just a good idea but are something practical and something that’s available in all browsers.”

After graduation Divya worked for Motorola as a device driver developer using embedded C++. “I couldn’t take it for very long,” she grins, full beam. “After five months I quit. I wasn’t much of a C++ programmer. I wanted to be a designer. I was very interested in that and not too interested in C++.” She pauses and, by way of a summary, says: “I wasn’t too interested in drivers …”

Still ducking and weaving, she continues her story: “I was studying computer engineering in Singapore at the time blogging was taking off, but I didn’t know what blogging was. I saw some very well designed blogs and I thought I wanted that kind of representation for my own site. At the time the only way you could blog was with LiveJournal or something ugly and I wanted something less ugly for myself. So I started going through CSS: The Definitive Guide and I read Jeffrey Zeldman’s Designing with Web Standards. I started reading up on all of that and creating my own page. Looking back, it was a very ugly design but at the time I thought it was very cool. And then I started getting interested in the design of blogs and started playing with Photoshop and Illustrator and so on.”

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