Una Kravets on calligraphy, public speaking & new life in New York

"I’m the first one of my family that can be a President." - Una Kravets

Hey Una, I’m looking at your checklist of NY coffeeshops that you have on Github, and can tell you right away that Cafe Grumpy is to die for...

New York is really, really cool. I just moved here 3 weeks ago so I’m brand new to the city, but I’m slowly discovering these new parts of town, I keep meeting new people, it’s really great.

Think Credit: Una Kravets, Instagram: unadoestype

How’s apartment hunting going?

Funny that you ask. I’ve been looking really intently for the past two weeks and I finally found a place in Brooklyn. I’ll be moving towards the end of January. I’m excited. This place is a 5-minute walk away from where Brooklyn JS is held.

The cool thing is that DigitalOcean has corporate housing for up to 2 months, so they put you up in an apartment in Manhattan, which is where I’m living now, so you can look for a place. That’s been a huge help.

I moved here voluntarily, because I wanted to be around my coworkers and that says a lot considering I came from a state with no income tax where it was warm and sunny all the time (Austin, Texas) to move to New York to be around people that I work with and like.

New York City Credit: New York City, United States, Wojtek Witkowski

Where are you from?

I grew up as first-generation Ukrainian-American in Baltimore. I knew Russian before I knew English and learnt English when I went to school. My parents moved here a year before I was born, so I’m the first one of my family that can be a President.

Wow. Well, I hope you’re going to run for the office as soon as possible…

Yeah, it’s a rough time in the US right now, rough time.

How did you start in front-end?

Yes, I went to university to study graphic design, but my minor was in computer science. So I did end up taking a lot of CS courses, but I really wanted was to spend more time interning. Front-end development is not something you can teach in school, so I spent a lot of time doing internships instead of finishing a second major in computer science, and that’s how I ended up where I am now.

Where did you intern?

Oh, God, everywhere! I started at a small agency called MOS Creative, I think I was 19 then. I also interned at an agency called nclud and then at a startup nvite and then another agency Viget, so a lot of places in Washington DC.

That’s a lot of interning! And afterwards you joined IBM?

So after graduation I joined IBM Design and moved to Austin, which was a really big change, because I didn’t know anybody and I just kind of picked up my things and left with nothing. I took a car, Toyota Corolla, filled it with my clothes and just moved there. And when I got to Austin, I made a life there. I loved it there.

At some point I started to get really involved with IBM’s front-end education initiative. I missed my community from DC, so I started a few local events like the Austin Sass meetup and build up a community in Austin.

I was there for about 2,5 years working in the headquarters of the IBM’s Design Studio, but because I was doing this educational initiative and got into speaking, I started to move around a lot and tried to bolster front-end as a skillset within IBM Design.

Think Credit: Una Kravets, Instagram: unakravets

How did you get into speaking?

Oh, to be honest, I was kind of bored at work and felt I could be doing more (haha). I had never worked at a place that was so 9 to 5. It was October 2014 and I made a promise to myself: “Una, you’re going to get involved and you’re going to start now.” So I just send a ton of calls for proposals (CFPs) and I didn’t think I would get into any of the places… I thought, well, maybe if I’m lucky, one or two would be interested. But I got into... a high percentage of them and then I was like “Shit, I can’t say no now. How do you say no to such great opportunities?!” I was blogging, doing meetup talks at local events, so it was a huge opportunity for me. I decided to do it and that year kind of rollercoastered and turned into this year, 2016, where I said: “Ok, Una, you’re going to slow down, you’re not going to apply to speak everywhere!” and I think I got more invitations this year than ever, so it kind of just takes off by itself.

Speaking Credit: Karolina Szczur

Speaking Credit: Cam Campbell

Do you have any dream conferences you’d love to speak at?

This thing happened to me this year, it was really cool! I had a bucket list of “maybe one day in the future I get to speak at An Event Apart”. And then Eric Meyer asked me to speak, so I will be giving a talk starting in April and I might be doing a couple more talks for them later during the year. I’m excited!

Also, I really wanna speak at CSS Conf EU again. I love that conference so much. The people that go there are just incredibly passionate, they are the ones I want to be around, and they are also a lot of fun.

I’m going to be speaking at Front Trends in 2017, May 24th… and it’s going to be a great conference but I’m going to be a hot mess afterward! I said yes a long time ago, because I heard such good things about the conference, but my best friend is getting married close to that date and her bachelorette party is that weekend right after the conference, so I need to fly from Warsaw, Poland to Miami, Florida and be awake for a very long time.. ;)

Do you know what you’re going to talk about?

I like to write new talks. It’s in the spring, so let’s see what I will be experimenting with by that time.

Speaking Credit: Marc Thiele

Do you ever work and travel at the same time?

A big part of why I was looking into exploring other job options last year was because I wanted a company where I could work remotely. DigitalOcean has a really great remote work culture. I think more than half of the company is remote now.

I travelled around for the past 3 months before moving to NYC. I went to Portugal and stayed there after the conference for 2 and a half weeks and absolutely loved it. Porto, Portugal is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been to in my life. We were there during the festival called São João, which is Saint John’s day. It’s incredible. It takes place on June 23th. Everyone is carrying super light plastic hammers and people hit each other on the head, so all you hear is this squeaking noise all over the town. People are drinking on the streets, eating grilled sardines and caldo verde, the green soup made of kale and potatoes. Music is playing everywhere and there’s fireworks at midnight, which is a halfway point of the festival. For the rest of the night everyone stays up until 5-6 in the morning just dancing and singing in the streets. I went to bed at 5:30 that night and the street was still loud and full of people.

MuseuArteNova Credit: Una Kravets, Instagram: unakravets

Tiles Credit: Una Kravets, Instagram: unakravets

Porto Credit: Una Kravets, Instagram: unakravets

YellowDress Credit: Una Kravets, Instagram: unakravets

LittleYellowHouse Credit: Una Kravets, Instagram: unakravets

So how do you work when you’re travelling?

I’ve done a variety of things. I’m working East coast hours, because I like to be available for my coworkers, so when I’m in Europe I work late at night. Porto was a perfect example, because I could explore in the morning and then around 2 or 3 o’clock start working, which is around 9-10 east coast time and then finish working on 10 pm, and then go to dinner, because everyone in Portugal and Spain eats dinner late so it worked out pretty well. And when I was in Berlin or in Switzerland I just worked in the evenings and had daytime to explore the city.


It’s nice… It’s a really good life!

For a person who speaks at conferences, has her own podcast, is a university graduate and works full-time.. you are so young!

I feel like age is just a number, I had this whole thing when I started speaking I had a lot of impostor syndrome “oh, who am I to go up here and teach these people about css patterns..” I began talking about Sass a lot, because it was still new. But then I thought to myself, you can learn from anyone. If you feel that someone who’s younger than you has nothing to teach you, then you’re an idiot. From that moment I just thought, all right, I’m going to go for it.

I haven’t made this many things in the past month, because I have been moving and I’ve had a lot going on and I look at people who are just churning out content and I’m super impressed, but you have to remember that what you’re comparing is your work in progress to their final product. People show off their finished work and you just see yourself and your struggles while you’re trying to get there.

I’m very impressed with your hand lettering skills. What made you start?

I just doodle a lot. I have always liked drawing and I took a calligraphy class at a local art museum. It was just a little roman calligraphy class, which is not what I thought it would be. It’s not the modern script calligraphy that I do now. Then I started watching youtube videos, got a great book that taught me everything I needed to know called Modern Calligraphy by Molly Suber Thorpe.

Lifeissweet Credit: Una Kravets, Instagram: unadoestype

I know you’re working on a few projects right now. Can you tell us what you’re exploring at the moment?

Yes. I’ve been going over a few iterations of a typeface. First I thought I’d do a handwriting typeface, but now I’m thinking it would be more unique to do a handwritten monospace one. It will be a bit grungy and mechanical. I will finish that towards the beginning of next year.

The process starts by looking for inspiration, researching, then tracing existing monospace typefaces and making alterations to them, then scanning them through a glyph editing software. From there you can create a typeface.

Something that I started taking up very recently is WebVR. I think it’s really cool and it’s a great medium to start exploring for web development. So I just started playing with A-frame, I started this series VR Pong with my friend Mike, who’s in Australia, where we do a week one person creates something and the next week somebody needs to build something off of it and we’re just kind of working on this empty canvas. That’s been fun.

Don’t judge me, because I haven’t made an entry in a while, since I was busy moving, but I do think that the project is really cool. It might freeze your computer, definitely make your fans spin, so just be quick!

I do holiday cards every year. It takes a little bit of time, because I design them and write them, do the lettering on the envelopes, find out the addresses, make sure the international postage is correct. I usually do 30 to 40 cards every year.

Last year I live-streamed in Twitch when I made my cards because they were complicated. I handmade this paper with blue gouache and gold watercolor so it was just a marble paper I hand made and then I cut them into globes, glued them onto the card, drew the actual globe around it and then on the circle part of the globe I wrote wishing you a wonderful new year in calligraphy.

Globe Credit: Una Kravets, Instagram: unadoestype
Whatayear Credit: Una Kravets, Instagram: unadoestype

Have you ever thought of becoming a full time artist?

I love the logic that comes with programming. I used to do a lot more design, but when I discovered this world of front-end I just fell in love with it. I like doing manual things, like crafting and hand lettering on the side, but there’s just so many challenges that are being possible through computer science and programming. I’ll stick with it.

There’s such abundance of dev tools… How do you keep track of new things?

I read a lot. I get blog posts from Twitter, cause people I follow share a lot of valuable content and I listen to podcasts all the time. I try to keep up with everything the best I can.

Any podcasts you’d like to recommend to us?

I really enjoy the ShopTalk Show. Rebecca Murphey doesn’t record new episodes anymore, but the TTL Podcast was really good. There’s Path to Perf, there’s JavaScript Jabber, Developer Tea is interesting. The Start is one of my favourite podcasts. I also listen to non-tech podcasts, like Planet Money, it’s about economics.

Do you have any favourite tools?

I could talk about it for days. I host a podcast, literally called ToolsDay, haha. I have just recently been experimenting with a lot of text editors. Sublime text has become super slow for me, so I started using Visual Studio Code, which I really liked. I also really like using Atom. As a tool, they have these great plug-ins that make developing really nice, especially with the css plug-in, it allows for class-name autocompletion, which is really cool when you’re working on pattern libraries.

I saw you have your Personal Goals and Happy Moments neatly listed on Github.

I build this system on Github that I use to keep track of my goals, accomplishments and tasks. It really helps me focus and sort of reassess what I’m building and working on. The Happy Moments portion of it allows me to write down one happy moment every single day, no matter how small it is. I’m doing it to be able to simply look back on the day and smile a bit.

Last year I made a Node application where every time I refreshed the page or hit the space button it would give me the new random moment from the year 2015. You could use arrow keys to go back and forth and the urls would change, so if I saw a moment with a friend that made me smile, I could send them the link to it.

This year I’m probably going to use it somewhere, but I also feel like there’s a lot of other things I could experiment with. Recently someone made me an amazon button that when you click the button I get a text using a Twilio API of one of my random happy moments, it parses through (it’s a json object), so I can click this button and it sends a moment to look back on and smile.

I was thinking of making a new app myself for happy moments. But again, so many ideas, so little time…

Unicorn Credit: Una Kravets, Instagram: unakravets

Any big ideas for the next year?

I’ve been working on something for a while that I cannot talk about yet, but it will come out next year and then you’ll all see why I had been so quiet.

Una Kravets is a UI Engineer at DigitalOcean. She has spoken around the world about advanced/experimental CSS, image optimization, and the intersection of design and development. She's also written for various online publications such as A List Apart, Smashing Magazine, and Sitepoint, as well as her own blog, http://una.im. She co-hosts the Toolsday podcast (toolsday.io) and started both the DC and Austin Sass Meetup groups. You can reach her on Twitter and follow her travels on Instagram.

Your company is not here? Synchronize your jobs with us for FREE


Looking for a job in tech? We have them all in one place