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.

2016 – a year of firsts

I thought I escaped not writing my yearly blog post, but alas, Jengo strikes again. Work is slow today as it’s the first business day after the holidays so that leaves me plenty of time to do attend to personal tasks such as this. Without further ado…

I changed my blog theme and layout to be more modern and simple. It should read very nicely on mobile devices, which is becoming a very popular if not the most popular device for consumption of the web.

What has happened in 2016? Using the tried-and-true method of outline and then flesh out, here’s what is on my mind:

  • The election: Trump vs Hillary
  • New girlfriend: Fan
  • Got promoted at work
  • Started a new hobby: guns
  • Acquired 2 new motorcycles
  • Survived the dangerous age of 27
  • Gave my first Christmas gifts
  • New year’s resolutions

After I wrote that list, I quickly realized this post’s title. There were so many first-occurrence events that happened this past year.

Let’s actually go out of order and talk about Christmas gifts. I’ve recounted this story many times but it’s still humorous to me: last year, my family decided to do Christmas gifts but did not tell me about it – maybe because I’m out of town. Yes, for 27 years of my life,  my family never did a gift exchange at Christmas yet Christmas 2015 was when we decided to start this tradition. To make up, I went big at Christmas 2016 and got good gifts for all my family and close friends. Gift giving is already a tough act, but especially so for me considering two factors: 1) I’ve never done it before, and 2) I subscribe to minimalism. I hate getting gifts or giving gifts that the other person will not utilize as the root cause of waste can then be pointed at me. I sometimes think I’d rather be viewed as an asshole and not give a gift on an occasion rather than to give a gift that the recipient won’t fully enjoy because inefficiency drives me mad.

Early in 2016, I was feeling homesick and looked for jobs back in Boston. I would have moved back if not for meeting my current girlfriend Fan. If I was a man of faith, I would have said she was a gift from God as she possesses the rare blend of qualities to soothe my soul sent at the perfect timing when I was feeling angry and lost. I could write a lot of things about this beautiful woman, but I’ll summarize it by saying she could be my wife in the very near future.

Speaking of which, my Facebook feed recounted like 5 engagements and marriages during the holidays. That’s a record number, for sure. It’s getting to be that age, I suppose. Actually, I have proof to prove that in this Wikipedia article: the average age of first marriage in the US is 28 years old.

Moving on, I was promoted at work. I am now an “escalation engineer” in Exchange support. To explain the confusing acronyms and levels in Microsoft is not worth it, but let’s just say I am “tier 4 support.” That is to say: I solve the cases the lower levels of support could not and I handle hot potatoes such as long-running and/or political cases. I have achieved the target role that I set for myself 5 years ago when I started at Microsoft. Looking forward, I am aiming to get more involved in software development or at least on the engineering side of the house. I am unsure where that will place me but likely one of these 3 cities: Charlotte, Seattle, Boston.

Let’s talk about why I got into guns. My reasoning is simple: I’d rather do the shooting than be shot. Fan (the current girlfriend) was involved in an armed robbery gone bad and her friend was shot in the head. Even being one step removed from the incident, I felt enough anger and fear that I moved away from my anti-gun stance and purchased a Glock pistol. I train regularly with it so robbers, beware!

I sold my Yamaha R6 and purchased a 2015 Honda Grom (125cc).

It was supposed to be for Fan but she hasn’t gotten licensed so I use it to commute to work when the weather complies.

I also purchased a 2016 Yamaha FZ-07 (689cc).

They are both fantastic motorcycles. I had fun with them over the summer and fall.

I know I should be playing with these toys now when I’m young because I won’t get to later on in life as I can’t place such risks on my future family. In our modern society, 27 seems to be a dangerous age and I can see why: you usually have so much freedom both financially and responsibility-wise. I am glad I survived :)

Let’s talk about the election. I voted for Hillary because I had no choice. I used to say I was a Democrat but I am now really unsure whether I should affiliate myself with one of two political parties. I am a liberal – there is no doubt about that. Trevor Noah (someone who I’ve started following philosophically recently) pointed out this absurdity: why must 2 candidates be presented rather than multiple candidates? If it was Bernie vs Hillary vs Trump, there’s a very good chance Bernie or at least Hillary would have won. It’s maddening to anyone with a decent education and access to unbiased new sources to come to the conclusion that Donald Trump is a terrible person and not worthy in any aspect of being a President, let alone the POTUS. If you are going to claim to be a progressive and educated individual [but especially if you are a Republican and/or a conservative], take a hard look at your news sources and whether they are bringing you value. If the news constantly brings you happiness or simply “facts” to uphold your worldview, that’s an indicator that they may be too biased.

Continuing on with this idea of continuous self-inspection and self-improvement, I committed to reading 1 book a month. The more “long form” writing I intake, the more expansive my worldview becomes. I should note that the media you intake should be curated carefully. How I have started is simply by picking up books recommended by people who I deem to possess superior amounts of the values I appreciate such as intellect, integrity, empathy, etc. You can view this as a practice of minimalism in a way. Whenever you’re doing an action, ask yourself: is this bringing me value? You’re exchanging time and effort to receive something. Perhaps it’s better to watch a highly rated movie than to sink an additional 2 hours into that videogame you always play as it will give you insight into another aspect of life that you likely never will experience.

That’s another surprising consequence of getting older, by the way: you don’t enjoy videogames as much as you used to. The key is to first stop your addiction. Yes, I will freely admit I was addicted to DOTA 2. Then, when you come back, check if you truly enjoy the game as much as you used to. Likely not. I’m not saying I don’t enjoy the challenge of videogames from time to time, but it’s not in the same unhealthy amounts of hours at a time anymore. When I was addicted, I could not fathom how my brother did not play videogames anymore but now that I’m on the other side, I cannot fathom how I sunk 30-40 hours every week into a single game. A coworker told me an interesting way to view your investment into various aspects of your life. For example: I have a Master’s degree in DOTA and a Master’s in Microsoft Exchange. We usually talk about years of experience, but we rarely measure them in academic terms.

The last topic I’ll speak about is New Year’s resolutions. In 2016, I wrote down 10 resolutions or so and managed to achieve most of them. I’m rather proud of this achievement because usually I think about some vague resolutions and forget about them. The key is to have your resolutions be posted in a conspicuous place so you’ll re-read them often and so are reminded to fulfill these goals. Mine are written in a Google Keep list. There are many articles out there on how to set goals properly, but my quick tip is to make your goals measurable. For example, rather than have my resolution be “compliment people,” I’ll set it as “compliment at least 1 person every day.”

With that, my word count is over 1400. Congratulations on reading what I believe to be my longest post yet. Have a splendid 2017!

Windows Phone 8.1 vs Android Marshmallow

i recently got a OnePlus 3 and it broke not even a week into its use. the phone is amazing: lightweight and blazing fast. the screen (color and resolution) and the speakers could be better but it’s a flagship-level phone for $400 so i can’t complain too much. plus, the alert slider is wicked awesome.

OnePlus 3 front and back

the screen started artifacting and flickering and devolved into a reboot loop, and finally failure to boot. i sent the phone in for a repair and switched to my backup phone: a Lumia 635 that has Windows Phone 8.1 (it won’t run WP10).Lumia 635

as i got back into WP (i’ve been on it before), i realized how elegant of a mobile OS it is. there are many positives – and of course, negatives – to Windows Phone. i love bullet points so here are my personal pros and cons.

the good:

  • amazing contacts app that merges all data streams together
  • per-app notification settings [e.g. different sound] out-of-the-box
  • beautiful and smooth UI, especially live tiles
  • great battery life
  • daily Bing wallpaper out-of-the-box
  • excellent email experience
  • excellent calendar and tasks experience

the bad sorted from most painful to least [along with potential resolution]:

  • no Snapchat app [quit Snapchat?]
  • Messenger chatheads [no replacement]
  • Netflix app does not support Chromecast [use a computer that does]
  • HBO GO [no replacement]
  • no native Gmail app [would need to switch to outlook.com for best experience with the native mail app]
  • no Amazon Shopping app [use the mobile site]
  • no Amazon Video [no replacement]
  • no Youtube app [buy tubecast pro for $3]
  • no Google Keep [switch to Wunderlist or Evernote]
  • no Google Music [switch to Spotify]
  • no Google Maps [switch to Waze]
  • no Venmo [use pay.mo]
  • notifications in the action center do not disappear even after you’ve launched the app and handled them

the list of bad is doable but aggravating nonetheless. i am getting an Amazon Fire tablet which would in theory allow me to handle the missing app and functionality were i to have a Windows Phone. that said, i really wish these apps were just on Windows Phone. i’d actually switch away from Android back to Windows Phone.

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.

2014 – a year of change and growth

let’s start with my goals from last year and see where i stand:

  • i did buy a townhome and i’m loving it
  • Kathy did move in with me and we have a dog named Remy
  • Queen City Thunder did not make it to regionals but we made a good attempt considering our region was the most competitive it’s ever been
  • i don’t have a six pack. in fact, my annual Microsoft health screening says i’ve gotten a bit less healthy ;(
  • avoided getting a blister this past summer
  • i did get promoted at work. i had my best review since starting at Microsoft and i’m really enjoying my work. i’m working hard in hopes of getting 2 more promotions before the end of the fiscal year.

i started working on my first real coding project. you can find all the details at https://github.com/maxxwizard/inhouseBot. i’ve never felt the desire or motivation to code for fun or have a hobby project until recently. your brain changes immensely over the years so for all those who feel like they haven’t hit their stride or found their calling (e.g. me in college), stay positive and don’t be an asshole – your time to shine will come if you stay grateful, humble, and somewhat hungry (for life/success).

life is really stable nowadays so i do get antsy. it’s good that i live with a bunch of roommates and a girlfriend because there’s always something to do and people to hang out with. also, charting out future goals gives me something to strive for:

  • finish this inhouseBot by Thanksgiving 2014
  • escalation engineer [debugging code] by end of FY15
  • principal engineer or executive by the time i’m 30 years old
  • at least $3M when i retire at 65

2013 – My Yearly Blog Post

i realized it’s been over a year since i’ve written a blog post so i thought i’d put out an update on my life. it’s interesting going back and reading some of your old written works because it’s always like: “did i write this?”

so where am i in life right now? i’m working at Microsoft as a support engineer for Exchange. it’s a great opportunity and job. there is so much luck behind how i ended up here that the story seems a bit far fetched in retrospect. it was really tough at first – having to move away from a girlfriend and family – but i’ve put down some roots in Charlotte and it’s been great.

there’s one more year of waiting for Kathy, my girlfriend of over 2 years, because she’s about to be a senior in college. we’ve been through quite a lot and while perhaps i don’t enjoy admitting it (due to some “flaw” in my personality where displaying PDA makes you seem weak), i love her dearly for all that she’s done for me and continues to do.

at work, they’ve recently switched my specialization. for the techies out there, i used to support on-premises Exchange installations but now i support cloud Exchange (aka Exchange Online aka Office 365). there was the usual month of discomfort at having to try really hard to catch up to where the other support engineers were at. it’s especially difficult when you consider that you didn’t start out as an industry hire yet you’re supposed to match them. as the proverb goes though: “no pain, no gain.” i feel confident that in the next year, i’m going to have a lot of opportunities open up for me simply due to the amount of work experience and Exchange knowledge i’ve gained. it’s going to be an exciting time…

which is not to say that every day isn’t exciting. they say that one of the best ways to become happy is to be appreciative. waking up everyday with a job, family, and health is more than enough for me. i know people who aspire to get on the covers of magazines or change the world, and sometimes i feel selfish that my aspirations aren’t as high – that i should be contributing to society more. i want to say that as long as i’m not being a detriment to society, then that’s good enough? :)

so back to the topic at hand… a snapshot of my current life. i guess we can talk about Charlotte a little bit. i’ve grown to love this city. i’m really glad my friend Amy gave me that final persuasive nudge and told me to accept the job offer from Microsoft. changing cities really gives you perspective. others find it when they study abroad or work abroad. it’s amazing that just moving within a country will be enough. as cliche as it sounds, there’s so many new people to meet, places to see, things to do. but most of all, the people. if i had to compare Boston to Charlotte, the most prominent difference is that there’s a community down here. maybe it’s because there’s less people and you feel more responsible to them and the land we live on. maybe it’s because everyone seems genuinely more hospitable and friendly. right now, i’m lucky to be able to afford monthly trips to Boston to visit my girlfriend, friends, and family back in Boston. constantly seeing those 2 worlds and how they sometimes interact is great… most of the time.

what’s the future hold? well, i guess i could list out some of my goals and see if i end up hitting them.

  • i buy a house since the market is allegedly real cheap
  • Kathy moves in with me
  • my club ultimate team, Queen City Thunder, makes top 8 at regionals
  • i get a six-pack
  • i don’t get a blister ever again from the scorching weather of the South
  • i get promoted at work
  • i stumble upon a fortune and buy a Hello Kitty lambo before Zhen can gift me one
  • i continue to keep my health and happiness

see you next year.

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 ===="

North Carolina Driver’s License Cheat Sheet

i gathered all this information from a bunch of sources. hope this question dump helps potential test takers on the ridiculously stupid and irrelevant exam that is the NC driver’s license exam.

  • In densely packed snow you should use chains or snow tires.
  • If you must drive during heavy snow / fog / snowstorm, use your low-beam headlights (NOT high-beam or parking lights).
  • Alcohol-related highway deaths account for 38% of all traffic fatalities.
  • If you accumulate 7 or more points on your traffic record you may attend a Driver Improvement Clinic to deduct three points from your driving record.
  • The traffic conviction that adds the highest number of points (5) to your driving record is passing a stopped school bus that is loading or unloading children.
  • “Secondary roads” are roads where hills are more likley to be more steep and curves are likely to be more sharp than on primary roads.
  • Unless otherwise posted, the speed limit in cities and towns is 35 miles per hour.
  • To have a revoked driver license restored, you must visit a driver license office, pay a restoration fee, and reapply for a license.
  • When three vehicles reach a 4-way stop at the same, the right of way belongs to the car on the right.
  • If you have a leaky exhaust pipe, it can cause harmful fumes to enter the vehicle.
  • If a vehicle sways freely, leans heavily to one side during a turn or seems to bounce continuously, there may be a problem with the suspension system.
  • If you experience a breakdown, you should call a law enforcement officer (NOT pull to the side of the road).
  • To maintain a safe driving distance between your car and the car in front of you, you should use the two-second rule.
  • If you take any medication before you drive, you should find out what effect the medicine has.
  • If you are planning a long road trip, you should stop and rest every 100 miles.
  • Before passing another vehicle, you should look ahead to ensure that there is enough room for you to pass.
  • When driving down a very steep hill, you should shift into a lower gear to control your speed.
  • If you run off the side of the road, you should gradually take your foot off the gas pedal.
  • When travelling on rural highways, farm equipment usually travels at its maximum speed of 15-20 mph.
  • If you are driving into a circle you should yield to cars already in the circle.
  • If you are in a crash, you should move your car off of the road.
  • School buses are required to stop at all railroad crossings.
  • In city traffic, you should be alert for drivers who make quick stops.
  • Truckers have serious blind spots into which cars can disappear from view.
  • Unless there is a sign indicating no turn on red, you can turn right on red after stopping and making sure that the turn can be made safely.
  • For any underage person who aids or abets another attempting to purchase any alcoholic beverage, the law requires a one-year driver license revocation.
  • Your license will be revoked immediately for 1 year if your blood alcohol concentration is at least 0.08 percent.
  • When aproaching a road that is blocked from view you should stop and proceed with caution.
  • Defensive drivers check their rear view mirror and side mirrors roughly every 10 seconds.
  • Bikers sustain more injuries in a collision with a car (forgot the rest of the question).
  • If going 45 miles per hour, how far ahead should you signal before turning? 200 ft.
  • If you plan to turn and are not in the proper lane to do so, you should continue to the next intersection, then turn.
  • The most common type of accident on a highway is a rear-end collision
  • When driving behind someone you should not use your high beams
  • To dry wet brakes, gently apply the brakes
  • “Don’t hang out in the No zone” refers to not be in truckers’ blind spots
  • When approaching a railroad crossing slow down and prepare to stop
  • If you pull up to a red arrow, the turning lane is the only lane that should stop
  • if you are a pedestrian walking along side the road at night, you should carry or wear something white
  • Use high beams when driving on a highway and no car is approaching
  • Slippery roads are most likely to occur when it has just begun to drizzle or rain
  • When traveling behind a farm vehicle on a two-lane road wait until the farm vehicle has the chance to pull over to the side, then pass with caution
  • Large trucks (tractor trailers) have large blind spots to the side and rear
  • When preparing to make a right-hand turn turn on your turn signal and approach the right-hand side of the road
  • A “shoulder check” is a quick glance over your shoulder on the side in which you intend to turn or change lanes
  • When you get tired on a long trip, you should stop and rest
  • When taking a long trip, you should plan to stop and rest every 100 miles
  • If you are following a car at night, how do you know if the road is bumpy? You watch the tail-lights.
  • It is dangerous to drive slowly after the crest of a hill.
  • What causes the biggest hazard on the road… Women drivers, slow drivers, elderly drivers?
  • Littering is … punishable by a fine not less than $250 and not more than $1000.
  • All registered motor vehicles in NC must be inspected every 12 months.
  • Most accidents occur at… intersections.
  • Why should you pay close attention on country roads?
    • Scenery can be beautiful
    • Cows have the right of way
    • Slow moving farm machinery may use the roads
  • If your car broke down on the highway, you should…
      • lift up your hood
    • stay in front of your vehicle
    • stay behind your vehicle
  • When a school bus stops for passengers, all traffic from both directions must stop at:
    • Two-lane road with center turning lane
    • Divided highway of four lanes or more with a median separation
    • Road of four lanes or more with a center turning lane
  • When do you adjust your rear and side view mirrors? Every time you’re about to drive somewhere.

After reading this list, I highly recommend taking this practice exam. You can hit your browser’s back button and redo each question until you get it right.

source: http://stevefrey.com/2010/07/30/north-carolina-dmv-drivers-license-test-study-guide/