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.

2015 – getting old but staying young

I almost forgot to write my yearly update until one of my friends reminded me so here we are. Let’s start with the big events followed by reflections:

  • I was promoted at work. I’m close to another promotion (hopefully becoming a debug engineer which would mean my goal is achieved a year late).
  • I got a new car – just upgraded my red 2011 GTI to a white 2015 GTI, haha.
  • I separated from my long-term girlfriend Kathy.
  • I went on a 2 week trip through Europe with friends.
  • I got a motorcycle: 2005 Yamaha R6, Raven Edition.
  • I realized the importance of friends and family.

My career at Microsoft is going swimmingly. I’ve become a senior engineer and a technical resource for others to rely on. I’ve started thinking in a one-to-many fashion – what training can I create, what tools would make people’s lives easier, what processes can I help optimize to further the business. There’s not much else to say except there’s a great deal between me and the company: they compensate me well for what I do and I am challenged at a sustainable rate. Seriously, under the leadership of Satya Nadella, the ship is rolling forward with a lot of great changes and it’s exciting to work here even though I’ve been in the same “department” for years.

I got a new car initially because Kathy only wanted to learn automatic. It was also a good excuse to upgrade. Here’s a picture:

I love the GTI series – the performance, the class, the handling, and the styling. The square LED headlights are unique and it drives like a refined brawler (in sports mode). The tech is nice but the system is underpowered (slow bootup). Definitely makes sense that it won 2015 Motor Trend Car of the Year.

I separated from Kathy because our compatibility level simply was not high enough. I did not see marriage in our future so it was best to not waste each other’s time any further. I might have talked about this concept of compatibility levels before but I truly believe in it. You set your compatibility threshold (settling level, basically) and if you stumble upon someone who meets it, you might pair up for life. Love is complicated and whatnot, but it comes down to: if you’re willing to work for it, the classic life partner model is a very stable and successful one. Everyone’s threshold is different but just remember that you may not find a suitable partner if you set it too high. I mean, there could be one out there but unless you travel often and meet a lot of people, you might not find it. I really dislike the notion that you are waiting for love. You have to go out there and find it.

The two-week trip through Europe was a whirlwind. We hit Paris, Amsterdam, Cologne, Munich, Berlin, and Reykjavik. Great memories were made, our view of different cultures and people was expanded, and bonds of friendship tightened. My friend A-hing has hours of GoPro footage that he needs to compile into a scrapbook video / highlight reel… it’s been months A-hing!! :)

I got a motorcycle because it was on my bucket list and I needed a new hobby with some risk as I had turned newly single. It also satisfied my need for manual gear shifting. Here’s a picture:

2005 Yamaha R6

I’ve only dropped the bike once so far – I think it was the second day I had it or something. It’s been fairly smooth sailing since then. I ride with all the gear, all the time (ATGATT) because it’s stupid not to. You’re putting yourself at a lot of risk because you’re so exposed without a safety cage so you might as well take the protection that could save your life. My parents had no say in the matter but they were surprisingly quick to accept it.

Now for the last bullet point: friends and family. There are 2 ideas anchoring this latest revelation – not really even a revelation but a reinforcement of what is supposed to be common wisdom – that friends and family are really important. First, we have Dunbar’s number which basically states we can only maintain 100-200 stable relationships. Second is a recent blog post The Tail End by writer Tim Urban.

I’m not saying I’m going to die soon. In fact, I’d love to live to 100 so I can declare, “I’m a centenarian, bitches!” followed promptly by an overdose of heroin because I’m sure I would have lived enough life by then. I’m 27 years old. I spent 4.5 years in Charlotte away from some of my closest friends and family. I made great new friends and learned a lot along the way. I have no regrets about my life path. But I do get homesick. I still call Boston my true home because I’ve spent most of my life there and it’s where all my immediate family live. In fact, I’m typing this blog post at my friends’ apartment while on a workcation for the holidays in Boston. I don’t have any awesome quotes to close out with but just the idea that you should really enjoy your time with people on this earth because you don’t know when you’ll lose access to them.

Useful DOTA 2 Commands and Key Bindings

You want to create this file if it doesn’t already exist: %programfiles(x86)%\Steam\steamapps\common\dota 2 beta\dota\cfg\autoexec.cfg

Inside it, put this:

// Enables console (without it popping up on game start).
con_enable 1

// Disable camera zoom.
dota_camera_disable_zoom 1

// Display and position net_graph
net_graph 1
net_graphproportionalfont 0
net_graphinsetbottom 437
net_graphinsetleft 80

// Force right click deny.
dota_force_right_click_attack 1

dota_disable_range_finder 0

// You'll have to hit this key to re-exec this script to override the GUI bindings after connecting to a game.
bind "F8" "exec autoexec.cfg"

// Set max fps for 144hz monitor.
fps_max 144

// Notify user of this script's execution.
echo "==== AutoExec.cfg Executed ===="

More Life Reflection on my 21st Birthday

so i’m sitting here watching my suitemates play Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare 2. this game is great. it’s changed my life quite a bit. ever since it came out, i … i’m just kidding. but this game is serious fun.

i’m 21 years old now. everyone thinks of it as joining the drinking club, but i think it’s more than that. at the risk of sounding pretentious, i think of turning 21 as joining society for real. in all aspects of my life, i’m picking up responsibility and i’m okay with that. i’m growing more confident in my abilities and realizing where i fit into the big jigsaw puzzle of life. in my last post, i talked about goals, ones which i still aim for. however, in this post, i’ll elaborate on the one about not failing college.

i always say things like “i’m a bad student” or “i just don’t like studying.” to an extent, it is true – i’m more of a learn by action rather than reading. recently, i just find myself turned off from computer science more and more. it’s getting harder and i know i’m not putting forth the effort to learn it. i took a silly online myers-briggs personality indicator test and it told me i’m a very organized semi-leader. i thought about this result and realized it’s pretty accurate. i thought about how i chose to stick to majoring in computer science rather than switch into Management of Information Systems (MIS). my brother essentially said “MIS is pussyshit” so i decided to tough it out. i followed my brother into computer science because we both grew up playing with computers, but now i’m starting to see the difference between us. he’s just better at math than i am and compsci fits him more. i can do a good amount of programming, but it’s just not my true strength. i’m not meant to be a straight-up engineer. i should choose something more suitable to my personality so i should switch into MIS. i’m okay with being the compsci dropout. the problem of actually switching is that i only have 3 semesters at BU left. i’d be willing to stay an extra semester if required though. i’m sure i’m not the only one that has had a late revelation like this. this situation will work itself out – my mom says i’m lucky, haha.