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Featured on Jul 18, 2011

Shoshi Roberts

"Challenging the impossible makes it possible."


Shoshi is best known as the geeky girl with pink hair. She made her first website in 5th grade for her elementary school. It has since been rebuilt, but it’s still using marquee text, so it’s not all that different. Now, she writes code, makes pixels pretty, and adores her job as a developer at Mint Digital. Prior to building websites with the delightful team at Mint, she ran her own consulting company, Zeta Labs.

How to use technology to make people’s lives easier – and hopefully happier – keeps her brain percolating non-stop. Shoshi has set out on a mission to make the Internet a friendlier place to be. The collection of vinyl toys on her desk cheers her on daily.

She guest taught high school classes on website design and development, and aims to leave everyone she meets at least a little more tech savvy.

Most of her work is done somewhere in the big playground of NYC, clattering away on the keys of a MacBook Pro, usually no more than 750 billion nanometers away from a cupcake shop.

Your presence on the web is very distinct, featuring personalized illustrations and design elements, and not to mention bursting with bright pink. Additionally, in your welcome post on Mint Digital blog, there is mention of “little personal flourishes” included in your application which went “the extra mile to grab [their] attention”. What suggestions do you have for designers and developers who are trying to create a memorable style?

Finding your own style is a funny thing, because you already have it. You just have to do the work to learn good design practices, and then let your style emerge naturally. It’s helpful to study the work of designers and artists that have come before to get a sense of what a well composed piece is and what inspires you. For that one piece that you can’t stop thinking about, dissect it and see if you can figure out what they did to make it stick so well in your brain.

The first step is to be able to recreate an existing style well. Once you can do that, you get to spend time throwing things out the window until you get to the core of your own expression. Just keep asking yourself what works for you and what doesn’t. At this point you realize, everything is a source of inspiration. I’d been working for months on the logo for Zeta Labs, and nothing felt quite right. On a trip to checkout the new samurai exhibit at the Met, I ran down to the benches outside the armory to sit and sketch. 30 minutes later, there it was on the paper. Breaking your normal patterns is a great way to jolt your creative mind into action.

Most importantly, be patient with yourself. This is a lifelong process. My own style changes frequently, and continues to evolve based on my current interests and environment. When you continue to create something that inspires you, it will be memorable to the people you want to reach. Also, your process may be totally different from mine, so if anything I’ve said doesn’t fit for you, you should throw that out the window, too. Follow your gut on this one.

Based on your blog post, “How to Teach ‘Geeky Things’ to ‘Normal People’” and your experiences working with high school students, you seem to have a knack for teaching technology to others. Who have your greatest teachers been? How did you get into building websites at such an early age?

When I was growing up, we had an Apple computer in the house, which was rare in the late 80’s. I’m grateful that my father works for NASA, so he knows the benefits of having the latest technology around. I spent so much time playing around with the computer, that learning to program was just another form of play. I think that everybody should be encouraged to find a line of work that feels like playing to them. That way you’re always fulfilled and your curiosity continuously propels you.

Knowing that anybody can use a computer if they want to learn helps facilitate the process of teaching, and also gives me patience. A lack of desire to learn and the idea that you can’t do it are the only barriers to learning. Thus, level of skill is not an issue, only mindset. My greatest teachers where those who encouraged me to think analytically, and turn inward before pointing fingers at the rest of the world. Though not everything happens internally, I know that I can change my perception much more easily that I can make someone else change theirs. This has allowed me not only to be compassionate when teaching, but also to confront challenges and issues that conventional wisdom says are impossible to change.

My greatest role models are those who share their gifts with others and tackle the “big problems” of our world. Whenever I hear too much news about all the awful things happening on the planet, my favorite thing to do is go on Kickstarter and look at the magnificent projects that people are creating. I believe technology provides us with incredible tools for solving world hunger, poverty, and ending violence. The ability for one person to make a massive amount of difference has never been greater.

Out of your toy collection, which is your favorite and why? Where are your favorite toy stops in NYC?

Currently, my Companion Cube takes the cake. Portal is my favorite video game of all time, and even though my cube cannot deflect bullets, it is squishy and possesses the powers of science. Raffy and Doppelgänger are the newest, adorable members of the family.  Really, the more the merrier. I like a good sized heap of toys on my desk to remind me that everything is a game, and not to get too serious about things. I find more problems are solved through playing with them rather than bashing your head against them. Though, the head bashing part often does have to happen first.

I love My Plastic Heart on 210 Forsyth St, and of course Kid Robot on 118 Prince Street.

Web Designer, Developer