Tikva Morowati: San Francisco

Tikva is a UX Designer, Product Strategist, and User Researcher with a focus on designing social systems/products (mostly recently, she worked at Facebook). She is also Curator and Director emeritus of Ignite NYC.

What’s your historical San Francisco and New York connection?
San Francisco is the first city I ever visited as a 13 year old, and it had me forever captivated with the color, life, diversity and labyrinths of cities. Coming from Tampa, I knew I wanted to live in a big city as soon as I could. New York got me first, but 15 years later– here I am 🙂

Though I just moved here last year, I’ve met many people who live in the Bay Area over the years through attending SXSW Interactive and in speaking at tech conferences like O’Reilly’s now-defunct Emerging Technology Conference.  I’m excited to get the chance to develop friendships with people who live here, even more so now that I’m not traveling to the South Bay every day or flying away on business trips!

Describe your experiences in SF and NYC.
Where do I begin! I lived in NYC for 15 years and nearly half of my life. I “escaped Tampa” as my mother likes to say, to move to the biggest and baddest city I could think of. From the moment I stepped foot in the city on my college tour in high school, I knew I wanted to be there. I remember looking up, swallowed in all those buildings on 8th Street, just North of Washington Square Park and thinking to myself, “This feels like home,” for the first time in my life.

I landed in NYC as a freshman at NYU. I was a shy, culturally suppressed, very curious 17-year old who hadn’t even been to a concert. There weren’t enough classes, clubs, jobs and internships for me to experience, or people who I could meet to satiate me. I was in film school studying cinematography and sound engineering and directing with some of the world’s finest filmmakers, interning throughout the music industry for labels like Astralwerks and Warp, babysitting for one of the writers of Rent, and assistant editing documentaries all in one semester alone! It was bananas. After a few years, I realized I needed to mellow out and focus a bit more, though in 15 years in NYC, I never had just one job or project at a time. I like the creative variety and exercise that comes from working on a couple of projects at once.

NYC was very, very good to me. After college, I started my own business as a concert curator. I went from not ever having seen a show when I was a kid, to booking shows for my favorite indie and experimental acts at places like the Knitting Factory. I did this while editing documentaries or doing research for places like CBS news or being a sound engineer for video games and museum installation pieces or going on tour with the Yeah Yeah Yeahs.

When I was ready to move on from the film, TV and music industries, I decided to go to graduate school at NYU’s Interactive Telecommunications Program (ITP) where I got to prototype interactive hardware and mobile products back in 2005- 2007. One of my favorite projects from this time is Sonic Body Pong, which lets people play Pong in physical space using just their sense of hearing. When I was in school, I had a desire to know everyone (who they were, what they cared about, what made them tick), which meant that I was nominated to be our ‘social chair’ and make sure parties were hosted by my classmates once a week that brought us together.

When I left my grad school hub, I missed being around my techie and artistic friends who were out to change the world in their inventive and captivating ways. I missed having a space for people to come together to share what they were creating, inspiring and impacting one another and me. So I started working on Ignite NYC five years ago as a side project, to enable people to share their passions, joys, and amazing minds through stories that lasted 5 minutes each. As a volunteer, I directed a team and curated the events, showcasing a diversity of people and stories from the known to the obscure. Perry Chentalked about crowdsourcing art projects just five weeks after Kickstarter launched; Esther Dyson shared about what she learned from her DNA through participating in the Human Genome Project; Hilary Mason shared how she beat email by turning herself into a small shell script. It’s a side project I’m so very proud of – many thousands of people came out of over the years and members of TED and Poptech’s curatorial staff came out every Ignite NYC to pull speakers for their events.

As “NY moments” go, here’s one for the books: I met Charlie Rose in LaGuardia Airport many years ago. (If you have time for a drink, I can tell you the whole story. It was awesome.) I was very young, and I shared with him, “I want to be my own version of you when I grow up.” I curated Ignite NYC to embody that spirit of putting a diverse cast of characters and leaders across industries and the world on stage together. I wanted to get people out of their echochambers and leave them thinking about the world and themselves in a new way. And just earlier this week, for the first time ever, Charlie Rose had an Ignite NYC speaker on his show: Alexis Ohanian, the co-founder of Reddit, Hipmunk and Breadpig. #goosebumps and YAY!

I have a lot less to say about my experiences in San Francisco since I’m so new, and I am still finding my way around. I’m happy to not be commuting to the South Bay every day so I can get to know the city and people much better here. I’m still learning where neighborhoods are and the best way for me to get around, etc. I am happy that it’s so easy to bump into people I’ve met at some point or another over the past few years and am excited to go on adventures of all kinds with you all.

What was the biggest challenge of moving to SF?
There’s lots I miss about NYC, but I’ll say the biggest challenge I had was leaving an amazing life for something unknown. I was invited to work at Facebook by a man whose research I had used in my product design work for years, and just like that, took a leap of faith to check it out.

I pulled “a Seinfield” in that I left when everything was kinda perfect in NYC 🙂 — I have amazing friends and a support network there; the best job I’d ever had doing some of the best work I’d ever done, executing UX design, user research and product strategy for various startups through Charming Robot (an incredible product design shop); and Ignite NYC had just had it’s biggest event in 4.5 years. This made it the hardest challenge, but also the easiest to leave behind in the sense that I wasn’t running away from anything and rather excited for New Life Adventures.

I was singularly-focused last year, trying to get my bearings in a new town and in a job that had me traveling out of town a lot. I’m looking forward to discovering/creating my new life here. As I mentioned earlier, I have a tendency to have a couple of projects happening at once so as soon as I gain my bearings, that is sure to happen here!

How can NYC and SF best engage with each other?
Hmm. This is a great question. I don’t know if I know the best answer yet as I’m still getting to know SF’s charms, magic, and stumbling blocks, and it’s not entirely fair for me to wish that SF had NYC’s museums, 24 hour public transportation system, a diverse creative/art technology scene, or easily-purchasable bleach products… ahem, they are actually hard to find here! 😉

Still, here are some initial ideas:
• Both cities have such incredible tech and design talent. I’d like to see us collaborating on solving needs and opportunities that existed outside of our usual tech bubbles.
• NYC to SF: I’d like to see more events like Nerd Night and Commonwealth Club talks where the talks are less about pitching one’s self or one’s business and more about sharing to inspire and educate.
• Also, I wished people outside of NYC were as direct as New Yorkers. I find people don’t speak their minds here and get offended when you do, so I’m still learning how to communicate well here.

Favorite SF secret spot
My favorite secret spot in SF is just outside the city, in Tomales Bay. The bioluminescent kayaking tours are so incredibly gorgeous and amazing for the neon-colored and twinkling bioluminescent water.

When it’s warm enough, I also find myself biking to the Aquatic Park to sit out on the ocean to gaze and think.

Favorite NYC secret spot.
I have so many secret spots! Here are a few:

  • The MET on Friday nights: No one is there and it’s ultra quiet and romantical (if even for a date with yourself)! Best is to go into the Temple of Dendur room. It’s a great, open room to hang and to think,which I find important in a city that’s so densely packed!
  • Industry City Distillery in Sunset Park, Brooklyn: This distillery is one of my favorite spots on earth. Artists and scientists accidentally invented a new way to make vodka and they are creating everything in house– they have a glass blowing area, metal working machine area, and a letter press. Go check it out and tell them I sent you!
  • Pier 40 on overcast days: Walk into the ground-floor soccer field and look up. It’s like being swallowed by an Andreas Gursky photograph.

If you were not at Facebook, what would you be doing?
Accctuallllly, I just left Facebook so I can do what I want to do again, which is to design products for startups using my Swiss Army knife full of skills: UX Design, Social Systems Design, Research and Product Strategy.

Right now I’m taking a break and doing coffees with people to discover teams and products I want to work with and on. I’m also looking forward to chilling out for a couple of weeks and to explore SF some more.

Please feel free to get in touch if you want to say, “hi.” 🙂

Roadtrip Entertainment: tell us what song/album, TV show, podcast, or web videos you’ve been watching lately.

I’m listening to a bunch lately: Electrelane, Lorde, Lightning Dust, and The Big Sleep to name a few… and watching 99% Invisible.

From the 2905 Miles newsletter: connecting NEW YORK CITY + SAN FRANCISCO

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