Serena Ngai

Serena is a designer and front-end developer working at Shopify, where she helps entrepreneurs build their businesses.

When she’s not designing, she loves learning new things and seeking new experiences. Her love for the Internet will always stay strong, but she finds true inspiration by working with her hands. Her typical weekend may include: spoon whittling, playing the ukulele, experimenting in the kitchen, and managing her urban beehive and garden. She has a dream that one day all the plates, bowls, and cups she owns in her home will all be handmade. Her most recent adventures have lead her to travel to the south of Japan to meditate with monks, and learn the art of blacksmithing in the mountains of Kochi.

Serena resides in Ottawa, and you can find her online at @serenangai.

Published Thoughts

If you could dedicate yourself to mastering one thing for 13 years, what would it be?

The sun was shining hot that morning when we met Nobuya Hayashi at his workshop, a small shed nestled up in the hills of Kochi surrounded by Japanese cedars and rice fields. The hum of cicadas surrounded us as we walked along the Shimanto River.

Nobuya had the brightest smile on his face as he came to greet us and offered us tea. We had travelled 3 hours by train in Japan to this small village to meet him. He had offered to spend the day with us, and teach us to make our own knives. We were nervous, unsure of what to expect, but eager to soak in the experience.

I sipped my tea and asked him how long he’s been making knives. His eyes crinkled as he smiled, “Not long, about 13 years.” He went on to tell me that he spends each day in his workshop using the same techniques passed down to him years ago.

Nobuya stood up, put on his goggles and stepped forward near the fire pit, not bothered by the heat and smoke. Flames roaring red and blue, he mumbled a quick prayer to the fire gods and raked the burning coals. He picked up the heavy hammer and said, "Okay, we are ready to start."

He skillfully danced around the open fire, heating up the iron to the perfect temperature and delivered calculated strikes to hammer out the steel and harden the blade. When it was finally my turn to forge my own steel, I was struck by how challenging it was. The fire was hot, the flames were blinding, and my arms were growing weak.


Fast forward two weeks. I’m back at home from my trip. It’s raining outside and I’m preparing dinner in the kitchen.

“I’m falling so behind on my Twitter feed,” my boyfriend says as he frantically scrolls through his phone.

I glance down at the knife I had made in Japan with Nobuya. The cold metal resting in my palms reminded me of that afternoon in the dimly lit workshop. Nobuya had mastered his craft, and his passion for his life’s work was admirable. Could this be translated to this bubble of technology we live in? Technology is ever changing and it’s easy to get caught up in new trends and tools. But is it realistic for us to keep up with them?

Will a single tool ever be enough? Or are we doomed with a constant fear of becoming irrelevant? Are we able to focus on one technology for 13 years, or will we become dated in our own field?