In 2013, Meng To was enjoying the startup life in Silicon Valley while lending his web design talents to Heyzap, a mobile game developer.
Until his request for a new visa was denied.
The Cambodian-born web designer and developer from Montreal boasted 12 years of experience, but without a degree in higher education, he couldn’t obtain another visa to stay in the U.S. and work for startups sprouting in San Francisco and New York.
So he decided to take his skills on the road, traveling the world and working at a startup in Asia. He eventually compiled everything he learned here and abroad in a new book called design + code.
To, now 31, wrote his book about designing and coding websites and iPhone apps in Seoul. The book delves into how to design for iOS, use software like Sketch and Xcode for design purposes, and build an app from scratch to a sale in Apple’s App Store. The book, written in three parts, will be available at the end of April for $100.
“The purpose of this book is to definitely take the knowledge I gained and the feedback that I got and put that in a book,” To says. “The book is definitely born out of the feedback I got from people.”
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Building Experience and Reputation
By 2011, To says he felt confident creating simple and functional modern-day web design compared to design from 1998, the year he created a site to share drawings of people he admired, like actor Jet Li.
More than a decade earlier, in 2000, To passed on college for a job at a design agency, where he started his career. And 11 years later, Dribbble — a social media network for designers — magnified his skills and experience. Designers interested in his work connected with him.
By spring 2012, Dribbble opened the doors for To with a position at Heyzap, where he wrote in his blog about using Sketch for user-interface design as a replacement for Photoshop.
“I changed their complete design flow,” he says. “I made them switch to Sketch. Everybody’s talking about Sketch. Every designer knows about Sketch. That was like a big stepping stone for me, just writing about Sketch.”
He obtained a J-1 visa — which allowed him to work in the U.S. for 18 months — to work at Heyzap. But with his influence on the rise, To applied to stay in the U.S. longer with an H1B visa, which requires either a bachelor’s degree or 12 years of experience. To had the experience, but his visa application was still denied.
Time to Hit the Road
It was June 2013, and To didn’t want to return to Montreal, a city without an influential design community, so he decided to travel. He chose Asia to see the world he left at 8 years old, when his family immigrated to Canada from Cambodia.
His first stop was Singapore, a country with an English-speaking startup community. After Singapore, he traveled to Bali, then Jakarta. While in Indonesia, he received an email from Christopher Yeung of Carshare.hk, a Hong Kong service that allows people to rent out their personal vehicles to others nearby. Yeung paid for To’s airline ticket to Hong Kong last September, where To stayed for almost six months, helping Carshare launch its website and iPhone app as its sole designer.
“I was working with extremely hardworking people,” he says. “They were working on weekends. We were hustling from morning to 8, 9 p.m. They were extremely young as well. It’s pretty rare to see a startup with young people, especially outside San Francisco.”
The around-the-clock dedication rubbed off. He attended hackathons in his free time after meeting a back-end engineer and an iOS developer. His newfound knowledge on front-end, back-end and iOS design inspired him to write again. Instead of a blog, he believed a book describing how to create a website with an iPhone app from scratch would be more beneficial to those eager to learn.
“What I noticed from writing is that I was influencing these people’s lives with changing the way they worked and inspiring them to build their own iPhone applications and to make the switch from Photoshop to Sketch,” he says. “Instead of freelancing, I’m just going to write a book.”
After his Twitter followers voiced their support for the book, To received 600 pre-orders.
He’s now in the ninth month of his international adventure, busily finishing up the book he started a little more than a month ago.
Find information on To’s book at http://designcode.io.