⚡️ Meet the Team: Matthew Sun
"This is like regaining self-efficacy through community, or an antidote to jadedness."
Over the next few months, we’ll get to know Reboot’s core leadership team, covering what brought them to and continues to excite them about our work. Feel free to reach out to Matthew directly to learn more about Reboot or any of the topics mentioned.
Matthew Sun (he/him) is a tech worker, writer, and member of the Reboot community based in northern Virginia. He has contributed pieces to the Reboot newsletter and Kernel Magazine, and he was the digital director of this year’s issue of Kernel. In his free time, Matthew enjoys reading, practicing Cantonese, and making new friends in the DC area. Check out his Goodreads, first essay for Reboot, and the Kernel website.
What do you work on with Reboot?
Currently, my primary role is the Digital Director of Kernel Magazine. I assembled and led a team of wonderful designers and developers (shoutout to Maggie, Ivan, and Deblina) who designed and built a gorgeous new online home for the magazine over a period of five-ish months. As a software engineer by day, I’ve never really managed a technical project like this from start to finish, and it was an extremely fun challenge to create a healthy team culture, provide honest feedback while trying to uplift the team, and adhere closely to deadlines while avoiding burnout.
I’ve also written for the newsletter, served as a mentor twice for the Reboot Student Fellowship, and contributed pieces to the first and second issues of Kernel Magazine. I love how Reboot is a supportive, value-aligned community that both encourages and challenges me to do my best work, whether creative, technical, or ops-related.
How did you get involved in Reboot? Where was your life at?
I found Reboot in late 2020, right after I graduated from Stanford and was starting a PhD program in computer science, where I was planning to do research on algorithmic fairness and the social ramifications of algorithmic decision-making systems. I had always excelled academically, but faced with the unprecedented freedom over my day-to-day and the individualistic structure of grad school, I felt confused, unanchored, and insecure about my intellectual abilities.
Where I found myself most motivated to learn and eager to contribute was in Reboot. It felt like a community of friends excited about learning and discussing theories of change — something that I didn’t even have during undergrad. Being in Reboot, a community separate from my workplace, provided a safe environment to think through different theories of change, discuss books I wouldn’t have read on my own, and think about my professional and personal identity.
What’s been your favorite thing about being part of this community?
The first Reboot Writer Studio1 in April 2021 will always have a special place in my heart. It was just after I had gotten my COVID vaccines, and after more than a year of quarantining, I was nervous to be spending a month with ten people (most of whom were complete strangers) in Asheville, North Carolina. In the end, it was a magical experience: I made new friends, cooked and ate many delicious meals, and engaged in eye-opening conversations almost every day. And after so many years of writing and reading having been relegated to instrumental status in my life (usually for graded assignments), I was finally able to re-engage with the part of me that used to spend hours reading and writing as a form of both escapism from and engagement with the world around me.
What’s something you want to see Reboot do?
Not get canceled. More seriously, though, I hope that Reboot becomes broadly seen as a place where any technologist who cares about the world but feels a little lost about their place in it can join to find people willing to learn alongside them. This feeling is a bit like regaining self-efficacy through community, or like the antidote to jadedness. I hope we can find a way to scale that aspect of our community without losing the things that make it feel special.
Share something you’ve written recently!
Is it legal to share a tweet thread about something I wrote and not the thing itself? I wrote this thread about my personal reflections on a conversation I had with Ifeoma Ozoma for Kernel Magazine; I feel like it captures a lot of how my thinking has evolved since my angsty days of undergrad.
Okay, we’re in Hinge prompt territory now: Tell us about your perfect Sunday.
Reading newsletters from my friends and having some kind of epiphany that prompts me to write one. Walking around in DC (or some other city) and having little serendipitous encounters (especially if I’m put in a situation that forces me to practice my Cantonese!). Having a long, meandering conversation with a friend about something they haven’t been able to figure out on their own.
What advice would you give to your 20-year-old self?
Do more things you are kind of bad at! Stop investing so much of your identity in the things you do well but put you in situations where you can’t really be your full self!
And finally, some microdoses:
I’m super excited about an upcoming book about AI snake oil by my former advisor Arvind Narayanan and my former colleague (current friend!) Sayash Kapoor, which they’re also pairing with a Substack that has several articles on the topic and a sneak peek into the book. Check it out (and definitely read the comment section for some great back-and-forth discussions)!
Recently an article in GQ about leg lengthening surgery has been making the rounds. It reminded me of this beautiful essay by Prachi Gupta about her deceased brother, who also happened to be a programmer and engineer.
Why you should have a duck Twitter: https://twitter.com/shouldhaveaduck
Diaspora Poetry satire account: https://twitter.com/DiasporaPoetry
To learn more about Kernel Magazine, AI accountability, communities of learning, or anything else in this Q&A, you can reach out to Matthew via Twitter DM.
Reboot Writer Studio was a month-long in-person retreat we ran in 2021 to live, write, and create the first issue of Kernel Magazine.