summer reading list for you

i’ve been following a goal of 1 book a month for the past several years, and it’s improved my life tremendously. here are some of my favorite reads.

  • Bob Martin – Clean Code – i was worried old wisdom wouldn’t apply to the speed of tech, but i was proven wrong – this book truly made me a better coder
  • Martin Kleppmann – designing data-intensive applications – everyone recommends it, and rightly (especially if you’re interviewing for an SDE role)
  • frederick brooks – the mythical man-month – amazing essays on software engineering
  • Cal Newport – so good they can’t ignore you – a good reminder of what it means to be ‘talent’ and deliver market value
  • Cal Newport – Deep Work – emphasis on reducing context switching, increasing focus/flow, a bit repetitive so free summary
  • tim snyder – on tyranny – super short read, always useful to know the danger signs to look out for
  • brene brown – dare to lead – how to show up in life and work more authentically
  • Antonio Garcia Martinez – Chaos Monkeys – an entertaining retelling of a portion of the guy’s life, sheds some light on tech startup and early Facebook
  • Chris Voss – never split the difference – excellent book on how to negotiate
  • Angela Duckworth – Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance – great message but book too long
  • kepner-tregoe – the rational manager – highly-effective theories and methods for decision-making
  • Ray Dalio – Principles – generally good life and business advice (e.g. radical transparency, idea meritocracy)
  • Michelle Alexander – the new Jim Crow – how and why America is racist
  • Kendi X. Ibram – How to be antiracist – build empathy for the black body and culture, and how to be an ally
  • Isabel Wilkerson – Caste – helps understand the roots behind caste/class/race systems

2020 – celebrating humanity

we should start by acknowledging this year was tougher than most due to the COVID-19 pandemic. at a macro level, millions died – unemployment spiked – many events were canceled – lockdowns rippled throughout the world. everyone was forced to react daily to an unwelcoming reality. we got new words like “doomscrolling” and “Zooming” and “TikTok dance.”

i feel very fortunate for…

  • my cushy job… big tech was an industry that boomed rather than suffered due to the virus.
  • access to health care… i managed to test multiple times this year which opened up opportunities for travel and socializing.
  • none of my family or close friends caught the virus… people listened to the science and honored our social contracts.

here’s my abbreviated timeline:

  • Jan – Throwback ultimate frisbee tournament with BU alumni
  • Feb – housewarming party
  • Mar – got 4 chickens; the always-on Zoom call begins
  • Apr – ??? (lol, lost month due to lockdowns)
  • May – Power Hour Zoom with BU; Simone’s going-away party; Shawn’s going-away party
  • Jun – sister and her boyfriend joins my house quaranteam; BLM protests; KartRider crew starts up
  • Jul – camping trip in Montana with Fan, Minaqa, Jarod
  • Aug – hiked the Enchantments; traded MINI Cooper for Tesla Model Y; Kartik & Grumbles visited; evicted this scammer/squatter from my Bellevue apt; formed an investment LLC with the siblings
  • Sep – lakehouse in Maine; got 4 parakeets
  • Oct – Jarod, Shawn, Kyle visited for Halloween
  • Nov – studied for and failed Google interview
  • Dec – Boston to visit friends and family; got an iPhone

Some reflections:

  • Being judgmental and inflexible will generate unhappiness in your life. I realized how much my non-acceptance of situations and people led me to spiral into bitterness. It starts in the trivial things – like being annoyed that Fan didn’t clean up the kitchen – to consequential things like my coworkers not supporting my ideas. I watched this video on Taoism which really resonated: the faster/harder you try to move in water, the more effort you must exert; if you move slowly, you will still make change but with less effort. If we think about the “river of life,” the obvious suggestion is that you should go with the flow as much as possible. To force myself to be more adaptive and expand my perspective, I switched from Android to iPhone (after like a decade of Android). I learned to appreciate both platforms and can switch between the 2 easily now.
  • You have so much more potential than you think. Even with my growth mindset, I had settled into my rhythm as a software engineer. I was reading books but I had stopped pushing my intellectual limits. When a Google recruiter came calling, my ambition received a shock and I started trying hard again. (For those not in the know, Google is more prestigious and pays more than Microsoft.) In prep for the interview, I studied computer science (data structures, algorithms, and system design) for a month. The dedication to a singular pursuit was both frustrating and refreshing. I didn’t get the job but I did better than I expected. The experience reminded me that many paths are open to us if we keep our eyes open and are willing to put in the work. Special thanks to Fan, Brendan, and Shuang who supported me during this attempt.
  • In difficult times, you know who your true friends are. The people that reach out without an agenda. The people you spend hours on Zoom with. The people who patiently listen to your rants and explain why you shouldn’t act on whatever whim is on your mind at the moment. The people that are willing to take risks with you.
  • Leadership is about who cares the most. The leader of a team or group doesn’t have to be the “strongest” or “smartest.” Usually, it’s the person who most wants the team to be successful. Creating the correct culture is paramount for team cohesion, which then fuels collaboration and innovation. A popular phrase is “servant leader” – and I believe in that ideal. It’s fairly obvious to spot shitty leadership but less so competent leadership. When a team is working well, look closer to find out why. Who’s putting forth the cultural ideals? Who is starting the tough conversations? Who is ensuring every team member feels respected, included, and valued?

finally, here are some books i really enjoyed this year:

  • Vicki Robin – Your Money or Your Life
  • Kendi X. Ibram – How to be antiracist
  • Isabel Wilkerson – Caste
  • Tim Snyder – On Tyranny
  • Cal Newport – So Good They Can’t Ignore You

2019 – a rollercoaster year

let’s start with the highlights chronologically, and then we’ll dive deeper into some topics.

  • Jan – Lei Out tournament with BU alumni; began strict exercise and diet plan in prep for EDC
  • Feb – assistant coach for UW Women’s B team; started couples therapy with Fan
  • Mar – visited Vikram in Austin, TX; visited Tracy in San Francisco, CA; started new hobby of climbing
  • Apr – visited my sister in New York City
  • May – attended EDC with a massive crew; failed tryouts for club ultimate
  • Jun – attended Laya & Saulo’s wedding in Charlotte; visited Boston; joined the “century club” of Harvard Stairs
  • Jul – KG visited; played in Sunbreak ultimate tourney; Boston friends visited
  • Aug – vacation in Vietnam & China; second wedding in Fan’s hometown of Guangzhuo
  • Sep – got a difficult promotion at work to Senior Engineer; attended EZoo; attended 4th ANAL Conference
  • Oct – Fan passed green card interview; Bon Iver concert in Boston
  • Nov – GAIA ultimate frisbee tournament in Japan w/ Jet Lag Squad; undefeated regular league season with Mystery Machine
  • Dec – started new role at Microsoft; purchased a house in Redmond

Every year, I make new year resolutions/goals like other people do. As a point of pride though, I manage to achieve most of my goals. Important goals for me were:

  • Max 401k, IRAs, and HSA. Being financially stable and safe is important. I am very fortunate to be able to live a very good life while still saving for retirement.
  • Read 1 book a month. With the help of Libby, I managed to listen to a bunch of audiobooks – 18 total for the year.
  • Get promotion at work. For those familiar with Microsoft compensation levels, I am doing well with a promo every 2 years. I started at L59 and am now at L63. It’s going to be much harder from here on out though.
  • Get ripped by EDC. I started the year at 170 pounds and managed to drop to 155 pounds for EDC. I learned a lot about exercise and diet, and developed more discipline.

Some reflections:

  • Don’t accept a shitty reality. When I was feeling fat, I did research – made a plan – and executed. When I no longer enjoyed my current job, I did research – made a plan – and executed. It is surprising to me when people complain about their situations and 6 months later, nothing has changed. You’re responsible for your own life and happiness.
  • Failures can be blessings in disguise. For most of my life, I avoided failure and rejection. Not making an ultimate club team in Seattle 2 summers in a row got me down, but then I came to realize the free time that was given back to me. I started a new hobby of climbing and felt healthier than ever (it’s less impact on my back). Whenever you look back at failures, you’ll see that usually they are inflection points in your life before good change happens.
  • Invest in emotional growth. Fan and I had a major fight early in the year – it was so bad that divorce was on the table. Luckily, I talked to the older colleagues at work and got a bunch of good advice. I found out that Microsoft offers free therapy sessions so we started couples therapy. We unraveled some of the deep fears and issues that manifested as bad behavior and habits. I am continuing therapy because the work is not done. I talk openly about therapy because I’d like to end the stigma. You go to a physical therapist when your body is injured. Why can’t you go to an emotional therapist when your mind is injured?
  • Recognize your role in society. As a member of society on the cusp of starting a family, I realized the opportunity that lays before me: I can stop centuries of bad culture and history from perpetuating. My upbringing by traditional parents who suffered through war and economic instability produced a boy with a lot of emotional baggage. Some concrete examples:
    • I don’t understand lightheartedness in a romantic context well. If a fight occurs, it is difficult for me to pause and inject some humor into a situation to defuse it. Learning to de-escalate is crucial in relationships.
    • I do not treat my wife as an equal. My parents are always telling me to basically “control my woman” and maintain the patriarchy. I did this underhandedly by controlling her via economic means (I make more money so she has to listen to me), via legal means (I am her bridge to permanent residency in America), and via emotional means (I pressure her to join my social networks instead of making efforts to connect with hers). The harsh truth I had to accept was that even as I championed for equality across all genders and races, I struggled to implement it at home. But now that acceptance has happened, I can move forward to a better future.
  • Enjoy the journey, not the destination. This is cliche as hell but it is so true. As a first-generation immigrant, you’re taught to grind nonstop until you reach the destination. Sure, it’s useful for achieving goals – but the only thing that awaits you at the end is more goals. When you achieve a goal, celebrate it! Bask in the glory for a second instead of immediately pondering what the next goal is. Think carefully when choosing between work and missing out on an event because work will always be there.

This post is getting long so I’ll stop here. Comment if you want me to elaborate on anything.

on having a strong locus of control

let me start by linking you to you’re welcome to peruse that before you read my reflections on it.

i was introduced to this concept during orientation of college. as you can imagine, it’s had quite an effect on me since then. whenever someone’s shit is going sideways, i annoyingly ask them if they feel like they could have avoided some situation or prevent future recurrences. do you have a strong locus of control? i realized that there’s another way to phrase my advice: don’t be a victim.

it seems that in recent years, my relationships with people are starting to strain because i cannot tolerate the victim mentality. i’m not saying it’s easy to pull yourself out of the fucking gutter. i’m literally still going to therapy to undo the childhood trauma imposed by my parents. somewhere along the way, i realized that i was painting this victim narrative where my parents oppressed me so much and now i’m so broken – woe is me – and so forth. that realization shattered my self-imposed emotional walls. i decided i am more than my pain and past. my parents were victims of the Vietnam War and their scars were about to be permanently impressed on me. i choose actively to stop the cycle. i will create a better environment around me for those i call my friends and family. i will fight for a bright future for my children, and create a safe and loving family culture.

back to my friends going through tough times. at the risk of this blog post turning into an advice column, allow me to use real life examples (names changed for privacy):

  • John got into an accident recently. Someone on the highway tried to change lanes and swiped his side. I empathized for a minute and then asked him: “do you think you could have avoided this situation? you’ve gotten into 5 accidents in the past 2 years. understandably, none of them were your fault – but your chance of accidents is higher than usual.” John got very upset at me and we got into an argument. He decided to start distancing himself from me – and we stopped speaking months ago. John, what is more likely: you are a sub-par driver that is susceptible to accidents or you are constantly getting terrorized by shitty drivers on the road?
  • Michael fell in love with a friend. When she rejected his romantic interest and started dating another friend in the group, Michael broke. He decided to never see or speak to these 2 good friends ever again because he felt betrayed. He created a wedge in the group because friends can’t simply hang out together in one big bunch. He created friction because you’re not allowed to speak to him about any events that involve the newly-formed couple. Michael, how long will you hold onto your hurt and victimhood? In the game of life – and especially the game of love, you will inevitably lose many rounds. Is the relationship actively ruining your life in some way? What is more likely: all these potential lovers don’t see how great you are, or you are simply not good enough?

to close out, i hope that you, my dear reader, embraces that you have free will – or the illusion of free will (if you want to get real philosophical) – and that is good enough. forge your path through life intentionally. your decisions and thinking should yield happiness and meaning for you. no one else will do it for you. if you choose passivity, do not complain when you are left behind.

on productivity in a society

when i was a bright-eyed snot-filled kid fresh out of college in my first real job at a support cubicle farm in Microsoft, one of my senior engineers complained to me about future generations not generating enough content but merely consuming it. his words stuck with me for the next 6 years and added to my ever-persistent anxiety. am i creating enough content? is my cohort worthy of inheriting the world?

i finally have the answer today: we are worthy. each and every one of us is worthy. people advance through life at their own pace and rhythm. don’t be quick to judge someone’s value or legacy before they are on their deathbed.

in my twenties, i did not create content. i didn’t read a lot. i didn’t write a lot. i didn’t play or make music. i didn’t take enough photos or videos – and that’s okay. i was a mere child and my social duty was to absorb knowledge and culture. i felt like i didn’t know enough so i simply didn’t output anything.

that last statement is not entirely true. my output was not null. i held a job and contributed to society by keeping email working. i maintained friendships. my relationships created a feedback loop wherein i became a better person under their guidance and vice versa. i would argue that a person that does not create content, specifically media to be consumed via one of the human senses, can still be a productive member of society.

for me, the shame and guilt has finally lifted. even if i never write a bestselling novel or take a picture that lasts through decades, i have contributed to society and will continue doing so in my own ways.

millennials, gen-x’ers, and whatever generations are to come: i’ve already given you the answer in bold font in the second paragraph so go re-read it. and then read it again.

existential terror

editor’s note: i wrote the below blog post mid-July and saved it as a draft until i stumbled upon it today. i decided i’d publish it anyways because i enjoy having little snippets of my life crystallized into a digital timeline for later review.

i have arguably one of the cushiest jobs in the world. i wake up sort of whenever i want. i get to work in whatever way i want – car, bike, electric longboard, rideshare. i can eat whatever i want. my work is challenging for the most part. i get rewarded handsomely by the market. but there’s a dullness to my life that i cannot escape.

in the past few weeks, i’ve attempted to grapple with this mysterious wave of existential terror. i did some light internet research and came across an interesting theory: what if life is simply too easy for you? you are just bored out of your goddamn mind.

recently, i’ve taken on rock climbing and hiking. i want to experience more difficulty so i am choosing harder and harder routes for both activities.

i have a lot of free time. there are nights where i blow hours surfing Reddit. did all that short-form media enhance my life in a meaningful way? does it matter if it did? i worry i am spending so much time trying to optimize my life that i end up not enjoying it. start a new hobby? better get good at it. trying to find a new role? better stress out during the studying and interviewing trying to accommodate a compressed schedule.

maybe the problem is that i can’t relax. there are times i am happy that i’m never satisfied with what i have. it’s that internal anxiety and drive that has allowed me to achieve so much in life. i’m very proud of what i’ve done as a first-generation immigrant. on the flip side, i’m never happy with where i am. logically, i know i should be. emotionally, i don’t feel content all the time.

this sounds like the whining of a spoiled millennial. i suppose it is. i’ll eat some avocado toast tomorrow morning while looking at my stock portfolio.

2018 – an accomplished year

I’m a task-oriented person. I need to set goals so I always know what I’m working towards. I accomplished a lot of my resolutions for 2018. Here are some that I knocked out:

  • Get coding-oriented job in Seattle.
  • Wedding in Boston.
  • Read a book a month.
  • Max out 401k and ESPP.
  • Switch to a credit union.

I will admit I did some extra work in the last month of December to achieve some of these but man, does it feel good to hit your goals. I’ll share some of my goals for 2019:

  • Get hella fit before EDC Las Vegas in May. Current weight 168 pounds, target 155.
  • Read a book a month.
  • Bike or board to work everyday.
  • Do the Princeton Algorithms II online course.
  • Achieve Divine rating in DOTA 2.

Let’s reflect on lessons I’ve learned from books, people, and life in the past year:

  • When purchasing a home that has a homeowners’ association (HOA), be sure to read their bylaws as it may include a “rental cap” provision which limits the max percentage of renting homes. My townhome was renting out just fine, generating passive income for me – and then my HOA says I need to stop otherwise they’ll fine me $25/day because I didn’t have their blessing. I emailed them back saying I’d be selling my property and leaving their neighborhood.
  • When planning a wedding, don’t invite your ex’s. It’s just easier for everyone involved.
  • If you’re going to make any big purchases like a car or a house or life insurance, do your research. Getting into the nitty gritty and reading fine print and whatnot can be boring – but think about it like this: you are potentially saving thousands over the years which is the same as you getting paid hundreds of dollars per hour of research.
  • Don’t be afraid of change as it is the only constant in life. This adage applies to my emotional self. I was fearful of changing emotionally because I thought it may compromise my authenticity or my true personality. There’s a fine line to walk there but if you believe a change will make you a better person, you should probably fight through the discomfort and evolve. Living with my wife Fan has taught me so much in terms of being a respectful and caring person. There are so many bad habits I have to actively work out of my system, and instill new ones. For example, I am always starting my sentences with “you need to …” which conveys immediate judgment and requests compliance. Most people don’t like obeying orders nor will it help grow a non-professional relationship.
  • Partying does get old. I knew this to be true but it’s surprising when it hits nonetheless. You turn 30 and your body is like, “fuck you and your goddamn binge drinking.” Combine an aging body with a stable marriage and quiet weekends seem like a great option. I’m not saying I don’t enjoy partying – but my frequency has gone down for sure.
  • Taking in new information in long-form prose is essential. The world moves so fast. Memes are born and die every day on the internet. Groundbreaking science is published every week. Given such a deluge of data, it’s so important to your continued sanity and mental growth to be able to filter out the noise and spring for the proper nourishment. I’ve heard many describe it as watching what you consume media-wise like you watch your physical diet. That’s why I chose to do a book a month. The immediate benefit is honing your ability to focus. Then the other benefits like changing your viewpoints and habits, understanding how to argue a stance or ideology, expanding your vocabulary, etc will follow.
  • Support your life partner by splitting work equally. This wisdom comes from Sheryl Sandberg; I highly recommend her “Lean In” book. Growing up in a “traditional” household, my mother did a lot of the housework. My dad was no slouch but my mom was on the hook for maintaining the house in addition to her full-time job. In retrospect, this is an unfair split. In recent years, my dad has taken up some work; he’ll clean up after my mom cooks. When parents split the housework and child care equally, there are numerous benefits such as increased marital satisfaction.
  • It is okay to ask for advice when making big decisions. In general, it’s tough for me personally to ask for advice because you’re showing vulnerability. Contrary to popular belief, this act doesn’t make you seem weak. People will come to your aid when you request it. The most recent example is whether I sell my townhome using seller/owner financing or not. I was ready to sign the contract with a buyer when my parents advised me against it, and that I should consult with my siblings. I begrudgingly obliged, and that saved me so much headache because I didn’t realize what a big risk I would be undertaking. I ended up backing out of the contract. The short summary is that I don’t have enough equity in the townhouse so if my mortgage company exercised their due-on-sale clause, I would be financially destroyed.

That’s all the stuff I got today. There’s some more stuff I could talk about such as existential dread, impostor syndrome, financial anxiety, money chasing, and marital frustrations but we’ll save those topics for their own posts. Maybe leave a comment on what you want to hear about?

Switching roles at Microsoft

As promised, I am writing a blog post about switching jobs. I am actually changing roles  and cities: from a (support) escalation engineer in Charlotte to a software development engineer in Redmond.

Let’s start with the why. The decision to move to Seattle has always been in my plans. Somewhere between fear of the intellectual challenge and the hesitation to leave a comfortable position, I stayed in Charlotte for twice as long as I intended to. The city of Charlotte is a great place with its space, cleanliness, and low cost of living. I love my friends and the ultimate community. I was in a good job with great compensation. These factors combined made it hard to leave. A few months ago, I married my wife Fan and the support org started restructuring so I felt it was the perfect time to move. I committed heavily towards switching roles.

How did I go about the switch? I had actually looked internally and externally for the past year – applying to jobs here and there – but my intent wasn’t fully serious. A few months ago, I actually set a goal: I would change to a Seattle-based Microsoft role by summertime. I came to this goal after some introspection that I enjoyed working for Microsoft and I believed in the company. I started telling people my goal so that they could help me by referring me to job openings and professional resources, and by shaming me into taking my goal seriously (I’m big on people keeping their word).

The plan to switch was formulated after I did some research on the internet. Blind, the anonymous forum app, was especially useful. How did others study for and pass a coding interview? What engineering roles was I interested in? What does the compensation look like? The general answers are: study data structures and algorithms for 3-6 months, do mock interviews, and expect $110-140k base depending on your (Microsoft) level.

I then applied to something like 80 internal Redmond-based roles. I targeted software engineering, program management, and service engineering. From those 80, I got ~10 informationals and phone/technical screens. From those 10, I got ~4 official interview loops. When I got an offer from the team I liked, I accepted.

Here’s what I learned during this whole journey:

  • Study not just hard, but efficiently. Each time you interview, you understand your strengths and weaknesses so you can calibrate your studying plan. I failed my first SDE interview because I did not study enough data structures & algorithms; I bought a copy of Cracking the Coding Interview (great book, by the way). During a second interview, I learned that I can talk easily through behavioral questions; I doubled down on studying compsci as that is clearly my weakness.
  • Be honest in everything you do or say. Let’s flip it the other way around: would you want a company to lie to you about what you will be doing? Why would you lie to the company about what you want to do or what you’re capable of doing? Being honest in your interactions will lead to less stress, increased interviewing performance, and better fit with a team.
  • Rejection is a part of the interviewing process. Don’t let the rejections determine your value as an individual. You simply did not fit with the team, or you were not ready for that role. Don’t stress out. Grit your teeth and grind forward.
  • Patience is a virtue. When you’re applying for roles, the task becomes not just your job but almost your existence. You want the company to run on your clock and get you an answer ASAP – so you check your email hourly – but they are continuing on their rhythm of business. Try to relax and keep yourself busy while you wait for interview results.
  • Stay relevant in today’s global workforce. I realized a lot of my coding skills had atrophied even though I looked at code on a daily basis. It’s because my work consisted mostly of troubleshooting and debugging code rather than writing code and designing software systems. An analogy might be that my biceps were really strong but my triceps were not. From now on, I’m going to stay constantly enrolled in at least one educational course (probably online) so that my marketable skills do not fade with the passing seasons.

I hope this post sheds on light on the interview process, and how to approach switching roles. If you’re on the same journey, good luck!

2017 – holy shit, I’m married

This year has been long. I mean, a lot of stuff happened. I traveled a bunch. I got married – more on that later. I’m going to use Wikipedia’s 2017 article and my personal calendar to piece together a timeline.

  • January – We, the American people, inaugurated Donald Trump in as President. I could write essays about why I think this election was a great mistake but I will spare you the politics for now.
  • February – There were a bunch of work conferences. I learned a lot, made good professional connections, and got a chatbot idea for work that yielded good coding practice and executive visibility.
  • March – Fan, my then-girlfriend, moved into my townhome with me. As a overly-logical human being, I view relationships with a fairly skeptical eye. I would suggest that moving in with your significant other is a great step before you get married. Try before you buy, if you will.
  • April – Visited my friends in Michigan. I feel so fortunate that I have enough money to jetset around the world. I may have said this before, but traveling can be a pain in the ass – but it’s so necessary. Revel in that anxiety and discomfort because it means you’re growing.
  • May – Ultimate frisbee season started. It wasn’t the best season in terms of results or improvement for me. I still absolutely love the sport and will continue it for a while but I will admit some of its charm has faded due to my chronic lower back injury. I’ve met so many great people and made lifelong friends that there is never a hint of regret in my time spent towards ultimate. In world news, the WannaCry ransomware attack created chaos across many countries and inconvenienced my work.
  • June – Coached youth ultimate frisbee league. It is amazing to see the athletic talent and potential in children. It is refreshing to witness their pure enjoyment of play time and be immersed in the moment. It reminds me of why a father said that his children inspired him to enjoy life more fully. America withdraws from the Paris Climate Agreement because global warming does not exist; hooray for science deniers /s.
  • July – Wildwood ultimate frisbee tournament in New Jersey! Great memories although the weather was not the best.
  • August – Traveled with my good friend Austin to see the total solar eclipse. Hurricane Harvey smashes Houston, TX. It is humbling to remember how small we are in the vast universe. My friend Winnie gets married with a lovely wedding celebration :)
  • September – Hurricane Irma makes a mess in the Caribbean. Hurricane Maria crushes Dominica and Puerto Rico. We bear witness to government failure in terms of disaster organization and response. My family goes on a trip to Hong Kong, Vietnam, and Taipei (I skipped this last segment). HK is too crowded – I’m pretty done visiting the place. It had been about a decade since I’ve last been in Vietnam. It’s great to see your extended family and your ethnic brethren. Walking around a developing country, I am again reminded of how fortunate I am to live the life I do.
  • October – There’s a mass shooting in Las Vegas. It is mind-boggling that this is becoming so normalized. As a gun owner, I’ve thought many times about whether I should give up my guns to demonstrate my ideals or keep them to protect my home and family. Right now, I lean towards keeping my guns because they provide both protection and a hobby for me. If the government were to outlaw civilian gun ownership, I wouldn’t hesitate to give up my guns because I simply don’t think civilians need guns. There are plenty of other countries making this philosophy work. Gun ownership laws in the US are simply too lax.
  • November – I propose to my girlfriend Fan and we get married. I will be frank here and state that the decision was hastened a bit because we needed to decide before her work visa expiry. However, life isn’t always fair or linear and I have no regrets. I’ll write a blog post after I move to Seattle reflecting on marriage and long-distance relationships. Yes, I also made up my mind that I want to move out to Seattle to join Microsoft headquarters and do software engineering. I think 6.5 years in Exchange support is enough :) Seattle doesn’t have the best weather, but you know – they have great coffee and legal weed to make up for it. Fan and I visit family & friends for Thanksgiving.
  • December – At this point, I’ve failed 2 SDE (software development engineer) interviews. There is something to be said about grit here. Had I grown up with an easy life, I would not develop the toughness that helps me daily. Had I not absorbed all the philosophical teachings via Microsoft’s company culture, my mentors, internet articles and videos – these failures may have crushed me. Instead, I used them to readjust my studying and reinforce my desire. Growth mindset is big at Microsoft. It is this belief that will provide you strength to overcome obstacles and achieve success in the long run. Struggle through, my friends. You can do it. I have an interview lined up in January for another SDE position. Fan and I visit family & friends for Christmas. While I am not religious, I still ride the holiday cheer and practice traditions like gift-giving. Gift-giving is a new activity for me. Being very utilitarian and minimalist in my views, I have to acknowledge that gift-giving is not the best thing economically but it is a great challenge to find what your loved ones need – maybe even if they didn’t realize it.

This blog post is long enough so I’ll end here. I expect 2 more posts in the coming months: one to reflect on marriage, one to reflect on switching roles.

P.S. This 2017 year, I will have taken 30 flight segments.

Advice for the modern millennial

I’ve been watching Terrace House on Netflix (both the original set in Japan and its Hawaiian counterpart Aloha State) and it made some realize something: I mostly have my shit together. For those not in the know, Terrace House is a show where they throw 3 girls and 3 guys into a furnished house without a script, i.e. reality television. Witnessing a bunch of 18-30yo millennials bumbling their way through life and romance is fun. I think reality TV is so addictive because humans are naturally social and voyeuristic. My excuse for watching reality TV is that I am learning social skills. Disclaimer: reality TV is something that should be consumed in small amounts (as it probably has the ability to make you dumber and/or more prone to seeking drama in your life).

Reflecting back on my youth and studying some of my peers, I realized that some people could probably use some nudges to optimize themselves. I write this blog post to convey all the advice I’ve collated in the past several years of being a working professional in the tech industry. My sources range from personal experience, feedback from mentors, books I’ve read, and random internet articles. I hope you enjoy.

  1. Be organized. If you have never heard of GTD, today is your lucky day. I am an atheist, but if I had to subscribe to a religion, GTD would be it. I never read the book by David Allen, but rather I stumbled upon a related and possibly subset philosophy called Inbox Zero one day, which led me down the rabbit hole. To achieve this task-based lifestyle, I personally use Google Inbox and Google Calendar. Doctor appointments, chilling with friends, weekend trips – everything gets logged. I hold myself to a stringent standard of never missing a deadline or meeting. I mean, who should if you’re organized?
  2. Be responsive. Eric Schmidt of Google talked about some rules for emailing but this one stood out for me. How many emails have you sent that went into the abyss? How did that make you feel? Perhaps you were wondering if your email was eaten by a spam filter, if your target recipient is way too busy, or if they simply did not care enough to reply. Side note: if it’s the last reason, it’s still unprofessional not to respond. Please take the minute to give the recipient an answer if some action was requested. Psychologists have proven that uncertainty causes more pain than the known bad. When you get that email and you’re too busy, just let them know it might be a while before you get back to them because of X. If you don’t know the answer to a question, don’t ignore it; just reply saying you don’t know. If an email needs to be processed after the weekend, schedule it to reappear then. You’ll be surprised as more people come to you seeking collaboration simply because you’re more responsive and thus reliable. The best part of this responsive style? It meshes perfectly with Inbox Zero.
  3. Make S.M.A.R.T. goals. Make realistic goals with a deadline so you are held accountable. Easy example: instead of saying you’re going to lose weight by summertime, aim to lose 10 pounds by June 1st. From that measurable goal, you can break your goal into sub-goals. If it’s January 1st, that means you need to lose 2 pounds per month. That means 0.5 pounds per week. 1 pound is roughly equivalent to 3500 calories so that means reducing your caloric intake by 1750 calories per week – basically, a bacon cheeseburger, side of fries, and some beers.
  4. Use empathy. This is a big one for me. I studied psychology 101 in college where we learned about mirror neurons but I feel like perhaps mine don’t fire all the time, haha. I highly recommend reading some of Dr. Travis Bradberry‘s writing. As I’ve improved my capacity for empathy, so has my life improved. Being able to understand your fellow humans is important in seeking resolution to conflicts in any scenario. While some of my success in life has been due to hard work, my success would not have been enabled if not for those emotional connections with people. A promotion? Good relationship with my manager. Happy girlfriend? Able to validate her feelings rather than winning the argument. Getting propped up by coworkers? Caring about their work AND LIFE struggles.
  5. Keep your work-life balance. I forget where I read this, but it was a humorous quip that gets to the point: nobody ever says on their deathbed that they wished they had worked more. I live by the credo that we should work to live, not live to work. Your job will always be there demanding more, especially in corporate America where they will take as much as you give. A good work-life balance not only allows you to perform at your best at work, but in all aspects of life – and to do so in a sustainable fashion. A side note: if your job sucks, find a new one because it’s never worth it to stay unhappy.
  6. Your health is top priority. When I injured my lower back, I came to realize how much I took my health for granted. Youth fades, beauty fades, and health fades as well. Be extremely cautious whenever you trade health for something else. Sure, you could pull off that all-nighter to “finish” studying or get some more work done on your project. At what cost though? Perhaps you just took off an hour off your life. Not that significant, right? Think long term. Those lost hours will stack up. Let’s throw money into the equation: would you trade your health for additional financial compensation? Let’s say you can double your salary tomorrow, but you’ll be overweight and riddled with self-inflicted diseases like hypertension and high cholesterol? While no one sees the extreme form of this question, they are faced with it every single working day. Don’t trade your health away.
  7. Keep your finances in check. The average American is in a boatload of debt. Don’t be one of them. I understand that modern society is a giant clusterfuck because the gap between the wealthy and the impoverished is still growing. Socioeconomics aside, make smart decisions regarding your money. The world population is only going to increase meaning the world’s resources are only going to become scarcer. If you are not using a money management tool like Mint, you should start right now. I personally use Pocketsmith.
  8. Always be learning. The common advice is to keep reading books. As I am a tech dude, I understand if you think reading text off thin pieces of wood is antiquated so I am okay if you get your information from electronic devices as long as some of it is in long form. That means for every 9 memes, you best be reading an article of substance. Think of the content you consume as junk food versus veggies. Your brain will not thrive (or perhaps even survive) if you keep feeding it junk food.
  9. Buy less stuff. Aside from the fact that consuming less will save the environment, it will yield you more happiness. By having less stuff, you will appreciate what you have more. It is definitely cliche but financial success and materialism won’t give you that life you’ve always dreamed about. Look on Quora for answers from wealthy people on what life is like; life is not greener on the other side, it’s just different. Humans are ridiculously adaptable creatures, and you will adapt to your new wealth and your happiness will plateau. The 2 biggest sources for this nugget of wisdom is Marie Kondo’s book about tidying up and a documentary on Minimalism. If you want to buy something, buy memories by going on vacations and taking pictures and videos.
  10. Remember that we’re all humans. This seems like a ridiculous piece of advice, right? I am telling you it is not. I’ve spent years studying and troubleshooting computer systems. Obviously that has suggested me to think about each human as one giant complex system that runs on a multitude of algorithms. While it’s useful to break people down into components for the purposes of troubleshooting, most of us aren’t doctors and we should be viewing our friends, family, colleagues, and neighbors as whole living entities – each with moods, emotions, stories, dreams, and social connections. Once you’re able to recognize this fact and embrace it, you’ll start to connect with others and that’s when magic happens. You start unlocking happiness (hello primate brain wired for social interaction!) and other rewards, such as increased compensation at work. We’re raised from childhood saying we need to hit all these milestones in order to achieve success: graduate from high school, college, earn top grades, etc. Try as hard as you want to be the best in the world technically. Be that genius asshole. Be that shining star in whatever department you’re in. The truth is: no one cares. If you go back to kindergarten, you’ll find all you need to do well in the world, and that’s to play nice with others. I’ve wrestled with this paradox for many years: why isn’t the merit-based system the ideal one? Why is it not working? Well, it all comes down to the fact that the weak link in the chain is us humans, subject to unconscious biases. You will view people you like in a better light, and thus reward them more with whatever resources you have. I’m not saying to go out there and be a ruthless manipulator (see point #4) but play the politics game a bit; hell, you may even have fun along the way.