Being A Junior

first-bufferoo-meetup

About 3 months ago, I joined the Marketing team at Buffer. I started working on more (traditional) marketing projects — traditional as the lines between Community and Marketing are quite blurry at Buffer. I have been managing our Medium publication, experimenting with a guest posting strategy and helping out with content distribution.

Despite being at Buffer for slightly more than a year, I recognise I’m very junior in this new role! In fact, I’m simply very junior! This is my first job out of university and my first proper job in my life.

Beginner’s mind

Being a junior can be quite advantageous. It helps me look at things with a beginner’s mind — because I am a beginner!

As I’m not very knowledgeable about marketing, almost everything that I come across in my work is new to me. Each time, I’m presented with a great learning opportunity. Having a desire to learn new things and understand them better, I have been asking quite a bit of questions regularly. (I’m so thankful that the team is so helpful!)

Asking good questions to the right people helps me learn faster. However, as helpful as my teammates are, their time is valuable and limited. So I tend to ask my best friend, Google, first, if possible. Thanks to the great internet and amazing people, there are many helpful resources and articles online. When I still don’t understand the topic after reading up on it, I’ll ask for help.

Apart from asking questions, it’s also important to store and act on the new knowledge. I know I’m quite forgetful so I usually write notes in my Evernote. I have a notebook called “Marketing” for marketing related notes and another called “Development” for more general knowledge such as feedback from my team lead and good phrases to use when communicating. Also, I found that if I could act on the new knowledge as soon as possible, I tend remember it better.

Looking through the beginner’s lens keeps me in the learning state. It is a way of thinking, which I feel shouldn’t change even when I become more experienced.

Asking for advice

Apart from asking questions, I often reach out to more experienced teammates for their advice on the things I’m working on. For example, when I first started working with our guest bloggers, I wasn’t sure what to look out for and I wasn’t confident about my judgements. So whenever I receive an outline or draft, I’d ask Kevan or Ash for their advice and thoughts.

Things become much easier with their help. However, it’s almost like they did the work (and thinking) for me. I don’t think I’d learn as much as if I attempted to assess the outline or draft myself first. When I reached out to them, I made it a practice to say something along the lines of “Here are my thoughts on this: … I’d love to hear what you think about this too!”. I don’t get it right all the time and neither am I a pro yet. But through the practices, I gained a better idea of the things to look out for and I feel (slightly) more confident about my judgements now.

In my recent 1-on-1, Kevan shared a 30-90 principle with me — asking for advice when the work is 30% done and again at 90%. At the 30% checkpoint, I should have done my research and written down my rough thoughts or plans. The check-in is for making sure I’m heading towards the right direction. If all feels good, I’ll continue working on it with the advice given. The second check-in is for refining the details and bringing it from 90% to 100%. That’s the ideal situation and there could be more check-ins in between. We have taken this approach with things such as my blog posts and my Quarter 4 Objectives and Key Results (OKRs).

Bringing a different perspective

As a junior, it is easier to think that my opinions or suggestions are not that valuable. I think that might not be a great mentality to have. I like to think that every team member brings a different perspective to things since we all have rather different background and experiences from one another — a great benefit of diversity! So I might think of something others have not.

There might also be a chance that I have come across something the rest of the team has not — though, the reverse might be more likely. I recently started a practice to help me build up a handy repository of ideas and examples. I have been storing good articles, marketing examples and inspirations in an Evernote notebook called “Marketing Inspirations” and giving them an appropriate tag so I can easily find them in the future. The idea is that whenever we are discussing new projects, I’d be able to pull out a few relevant ideas or examples to share.

Having said that, I think it’s important to recognise that I do not have as much experience and context as them. They might have tried some things before and found that those didn’t quite work for us. A practice we have at Buffer is to be suggestive rather than instructive, which I found is a great way to share my thoughts. So I tend to say things like “I wonder if (suggestion) might work” or “Perhaps we could try (suggestion)?”. Sometimes, I’d add “You might have thoughts of this already!”.

Keep practising my craft

This probably doesn’t apply to juniors only but I think it is especially important for juniors. Practising is a great — or maybe only — way to improve our skills.

The frequency and consistency are crucial. I have been learning to code since about 4 years ago. I would usually code for only a few weeks, lose the habit and forget quite a lot of things by the time I want to code again. That’s why after 4 years, my coding knowledge is still rather basic. I wasn’t coding often or long enough.

On the other hand, my sister has been practicing her craft very regularly over the last 6 years. When she started, she was baking simple cupcakes. Now… well, I’ll let photos do the talking:

winifred-kriste-cake

(The flowers on the cakes are all edible!)

Right now, writing feels like the best way to improve my marketing skills. I’m not very confident about my writing but I know writing more is the only way to get better and writing frequently will help me improve faster. (Fun fact: My team lead, Kevan Lee, used to write 2000 words minimum every day! I think few would dispute he is a great writer and marketer.)

Being a junior is a very rewarding experience and I’d love to hear your experiences as a junior! If you are a senior in your company/team, do you have any advice for me?

Photo credit: Jip van Kujik

I Write to Remember

Write to remember

Earlier this year, I set myself a goal to write weekly. Embarrassingly, after 38 weeks, I have written 7 posts.

When I was writing this post, I read some of my previous posts. It was a nice walk down memory lane. I was reminded of my 30-in30 day writing challenge, my first week in London for my internship with Kayako and the internship itself. I wrote about my experiences and the lessons I’ve learnt. I could feel I’ve grown quite a bit since then. Reading all those posts made me wish I had written more since then. But, any reasons I come up with about why I didn’t would likely be an excuse so I’ll skip that. For now, I’m just excited to write again.

I want to write to become better at writing and expressing myself, to document what I have learnt and to share the lessons with others. I want to write because the act of writing makes me sit down and think, because it helps me reflect and think better and because it helps me grow. I want to write so I can look back next time and see how much I’ve grown. Above all, I want to write so I can remember how I was thinking about things at various points in my life and career. I want to write so I won’t forget.

(And I wrote this to remind myself why I want to pick up writing again.)

Taking a break and catching up with friends

This weekend, some of my close friends came over to my place for a Chinese New Year gathering. Apart from the dinner on Friday night, they had also planned a day trip to Stratford-upon-Avon on Saturday. Being quite a workaholic, I told them that I had to catch up with my studies and work so I wouldn’t join them.

Thankfully, I eventually decided to join them and had an amazing time exploring Shakespeare’s birth town with them.

I was reminded of a post by Jason Zimdars of Basecamp and especially this sentence:

You won’t remember working a little later or catching up on Saturday because the people you love interrupted you but you’re certain to remember those little interactions.

I didn’t manage to catch up on the things I planned and I’ll have to work harder some other time to do so. However, I did catch up with friends whom I have known for 11 years (I’m only 23!) but not met for a while because we are all busy with our own lives.

As the quote suggests, I won’t remember having to work a little more because my friends “interrupted” me, but I’ll certainly remember this weekend I spent with them – talking till 5 in the morning, sleeping for a few hours and heading out for a day trip.

Thanks, guys!

My 7 brothers and I

Good Side To Things

my desk

Last Wednesday, I was working at my desk by the window when a group of teenage boys walked by and saw me by the window.

“Do you know how to fix the iPhone?”, one shouted at me.

Hearing that remark, I assumed that he was taunting me for being an Asian. (I might be wrong!) While I was a little annoyed, I decided to pretend that I couldn’t hear him through my headphones and continued working on my laptop.

Then, they became rowdier – knocking on my window, shouting at me and banging on my door. I continued to ignore them despite them being right in front of me. Eventually, they gave up, toppled my wheelie bin and walked away.

Was I irritated? You bet! Was it all that bad? Not quite!

Coincidentally, I had an assignment for one of my modules – Strategic Games due the following day and I turned this incident into the content of the essay!

I had to write about an interactive situation in the media or my everyday life which resembles a strategic game. I was struggling to think of one until this incident and it felt like a great example of brinksmanship!

I think I have to thank the boys now! 😉

Everything happens for a reason

I wanted to write this post because I feel that when something seemingly bad happens, it is seldom as bad as it seems and if we look hard enough, there’s likely a good side to it. Everything happens for a reason.

Also, I wanted to share that it doesn’t feel good to be on the receiving end of discrimination. I don’t fault the boys entirely because I believe I’m not perfect in this way generally too.

While I do not intentionally discriminate others, I believe I make unintentional (and possibly not so nice) associations of people due to my unconscious bias (Thanks, Natalie and Courtney, for the unconscious bias training!). And this incident and reflection are a great reminder for myself to tackle my unconscious bias. Again, another good outcome 😊

Good side to things

Personal Growth

I have been thinking about personal growth recently and I came to a conclusion that personal growth is about being able to make bigger decisions better. Bigger in the sense that these decisions have greater consequences or will affect more people.

For example, one of such decisions I have made is going to the UK to study. (“going” as I’m in Hawaii now ;)) It was a decision which had greater consequences for my life than, I believe, all the decisions I’ve made before. Furthermore, the decision wasn’t only about me, but also my family and my girlfriend.

Making that decision, experiencing the outcomes and learning from it helped me grow. I feel that if I were to make similar decisions now, I’ll be better at analysing the situation and deciding what to do than before.

So I believe that making bigger decisions and learning from them is a great way to grow as an individual.

personal growth

Live Smarter, Not Harder

“… We rush around in the daily grind of life and at the end of the day, falling in bed exhausted, waiting for weekends to come around. When they do, we spend our time racing the clock stressed about what we didn’t achieve or what’s next on our plate …”

I love this quote from Day 1 of the 7 Days of Calm of the meditation app, Calm. It resonates with me a lot.

Yesterday, I was chatting with a friend about productivity and I mentioned that my mood and energy level are factors affecting my productivity. I was reminded of this quote from the mindfulness program.

At Buffer, we aim to “Live smarter, not harder“.

You value waking up fresh over working that extra hour.

An extra hour of output might be great, but not if that extra hour reduces my productivity by more than an hour of output the next day (assuming it isn’t something that must be done then).

It feels like I have been trying to squeeze in that extra hour recently and it might not be a wise thing to do.

You always aim to be fully engaged in an activity, or resting.

I feel that being fully engaged in resting is as important as being fully engaged in an activity. It allows my mind to take a break and recover so that I can work as well as before or even better.

I schedule breaks into my day (lunch, dinner, calling my girlfriend, etc.), but I’m not sure if I have been fully engaged in resting during those times. I find myself trying to work while I have my dinner on most evenings or thinking about work over lunch. It doesn’t feel very healthy or great for my productivity.

You are at the top of your game, as you focus on expanding the capacity of your mental, physical, emotional and spiritual energy.

My gut feeling is that with the nature of my work being more creative and less straightforward, my output is not largely dependent on the number of hours I work (though, it is still a factor), but also dependent on my mood and energy level too. (How to manage our mood and energy level and whether we should let them affect our productivity could be a discussion for another time.)

I have been missing my meditation quite a bit recently and I just picked it up again, striving to become more mindful about how I spend my time. Instead of trying to work more hours, it might be better to focus on working more productive hours.

live-smarter-not-harder

 

Good Things Take Time

good things take time

Today, I spent about 4 to 5 hours editing this photo.

club photo

It is not perfect but I’d say that it is not bad either 🙂

This “exercise” served as a gentle reminder to me that to produce quality work, I need to put in the time. Some things can be done in an hour or two, but some require much more time – days, months, and even years.

I just re-read Elon Musk’s biography and was reminded of how it took Elon Musk and his team 6 years to put a rocket into Earth orbit.

Good things take time.

Ironically, not a lot of time was taken to write this post. I would not consider this to be a good piece but that is not the point. The point was simply for me to write 🙂

Welcome 2016

welcome-2016

2015

In 2015, I set myself a goal to blog weekly.

I wrote 35 posts – 30 from my 30-in-30 writing challenge in March-April period. Since then, I have barely written on my blog.

Many people whom I follow write amazing blog posts and I have always strived to do the same. However, the thought of writing a big piece scares me so much that I often put it off.

2016

For 2016, I set the same goal – to write weekly.

However, I’m taking a different strategy. Inspired by Colin’s 2015 strategy, I’m going for small posts rather than big posts. And to make it even easier, I told myself that I need not publish every piece that I write.

This post is for the first week of 2016. 51 more weeks to go. Let’s see how I fare.

My Kayako Internship

kayako-london-team

This summer, I was fortunate to be offered an internship with the Growth team at Kayako, a customer service platform. I was really lucky because I could only work for about a month and they still accepted me (Thanks, Kumy and Jamie!).

Despite the short internship, I have learnt many valuable lessons and I would like to share some of them in this blog post. These lessons are mainly for my personal development and do not include more technical stuff such as things I’ve learnt about writing and community building.

Personal Development Lessons

1. Have side projects

Kumy, Growth Lead at Kayako, and I knew each other from Leancamp London 2014 and we have been following each other on Twitter. He knows that I’m interested in marketing. Upon discovering my side project, Be Nice, a weekly newsletter of customer support and experience articles, he realised that I’m interested in the field of customer service and support too.

At that time, his team was not even actively looking for interns as they just started the Growth team and they were unsure if interns could contribute to the team.

However, seeing that I might be a great fit for his team as I am interested in both marketing and customer service, he decided to give it a go and offered me an internship with his team.

I would probably not have gotten the internship without my side project. I realised that having a side project would really benefit me in finding an internship or job as the other party can learn more about me through my project.

2. Onboarding beforehand

As my internship was pretty short, neither the team nor I have much time to spare to onboard me to their working processes.

Fortunately, I had kind of onboarded myself to a large extent before the internship. I’ve read most of the books on their required reading list. I was already involved in Support Driven Chat, a Slack community for customer support pros. I’m familiar with most of the technological tools the team uses such as Slack, Trello, Google Docs and Google Hangouts.

When I joined the team, there was less onboarding required – left mainly their current projects and enterprise software such as HubSpot and Wiki. This allowed me to add value to the team almost immediately.

Several companies write about what they are doing on their blogs. That is a good avenue to gain insights about what the company is doing and how their internal processes are like. An example would be Buffer. They share very transparently about their company on their Open blog and list required readings on their job application pages.

3. Autonomy

Kayako gave me a huge degree of autonomy, despite me being only an intern. In fact, I didn’t feel like an intern at all because they treat me like a fellow full-time colleague. Working hours are quite flexible. Some people prefer to go to the office earlier and leave earlier while others do the opposite. The team is also flexible with people working from home or remotely once in a while.

I learnt that I am more driven when I have the freedom to decide what to do and how to do them. It’s hard to quantify how much more driven or productive I was during the internship. However, the team did mention that they are happy to have me again when I have the time. I will take that as a sign that I’ve added much value to the team 🙂

4. My working style

When I want to focus on a task, such as writing, I prefer to have a certain amount of undisturbed time (2 to 3 hours) by myself. I find that tiny distractions can easily break my train of thought.

This internship has reinforced the fact that I like to work this way. It is nice to be working in an office with the team than to be working alone remotely. However, that also means a higher chance of distraction or interruption from fellow teammates.

Hence, when I was writing, I would usually go to a quiet corner of the office, sit on a beanbag and plug in my ear piece for a few hours. Also, thanks to Slack, communications became slightly less disruptive. Instead of speaking to me directly and interrupting my flow, my teammates would leave me a message on Slack and I would check it when I take my breaks.

5. Give others time to work on my requests

I made this mistake several times during the internship. I asked my teammate about my request a few times within a short period of time, which made her pretty annoyed.

I failed to consider that my teammate might be working on something else at the moment and would work on my request afterwards. By bugging her, I could be interrupting her flow.

I think a better way of communicating a request would be to specify a timeframe so that the teammate knows when he/she has to get back to me and to get an acknowledgement from him/her that she received your request. Also, it would be nice to give it some time (depending on the urgency of the situation) before approaching the teammate again.

6. Communicate transparently with my team lead

In my last post, I mentioned the mismatch between how I thought I should behave as an intern and what my team expected of me.

In the end, this issue was resolved by having a one-on-one chat with my team lead (Kumy). My team lead checked in with me almost every week to ask if I’m learning enough and if there are more things I would like to try.

If I’m not wrong, he brought up the topic and told me not to worry that I should behave in a certain way because I’m an intern and that the team does not have any expectations of me to behave like an intern.

It seems better to clarify any doubts or issues I have with my team lead and teammates than to assume things in my mind, which could be wrong.

All in all, I’m really glad that I was given this opportunity as it has been very enriching experience. If you wish to go through a similar experience, then you are in luck! Kayako is looking for an Inbound Marketing Intern! (This is NOT a sponsored post haha.)

First Week In London

First Week in London

I arrived in London last Sunday and started my internship at Kayako on Monday. Since then, in just a short 7-day period, many things happened and I learnt quite a bit. Hence, I decided to write a blog post to reflect on what happened and so that I could read it in the future.

I’ll keep it concise!

1. Staying calm and the Good Samaritan

When I arrived in London on Sunday, I lost my wallet in the tube while I was on my way to meet some friends. It was not the best way to start the stay here. Thankfully, I was with a friend who is always very calm (he didn’t even panic when his bus was late, causing him to be late for his exam). He told me to list out the things in my wallet and he recorded them on his phone. While I called the banks to cancel my cards, he helped me submit a lost property report with the Transport for London. Thanks, buddy!

Lesson: Shit happens. When things don’t turn out well, stay calm and think of what to do. Panicking doesn’t help much.

On Monday evening, I received an email from a stranger who said that he picked up a belonging of mine and if I could identify it, he would return it to me. I was over the moon. What’s incredible about this was the amount of effort he put in to contact me.

He could have simply given it to the police or the tube station staff and let them take care of it (which would have taken at least a week to reach me). However, he didn’t. He messaged me on Facebook, but I didn’t see it as we were not friends on Facebook and the message was hidden. So he searched for my email address online and emailed me. I got back my wallet by Tuesday evening.

When I thanked him for his effort to contact me, he simply said, “I believe you would have done the same”. Wow.

Faith in humanity restored

Lesson: When I’m in a position to help, help. A simple action can mean a lot to the receiving party.

2. Kinterning at Kayako

This is my first internship at a startup and it has been quite an eye-opener! Previously, I worked in the armed forces (RSAF) and a large corporation (SGX) so it was refreshing to see how the team at Kayako work.

One major difference was the level of autonomy given to me, even as an intern. I didn’t feel like an intern; I feel that I am treated like a full-time staff. The team isn’t very strict with working hours and I could choose to work from a cafe or home too. I believe it’s because they value output more than the flawed measure of the number of hours in the office.

All that is brilliant and I believe that that’s how teams should work. However, because of my background in the armed forces and a large corporation, I couldn’t get rid of the old mentality. I feel that I shouldn’t be the first to leave the office even when I complete what I’ve planned for the day and should continue working, especially since I’m an intern. I feel that that’s expected of me.

The team probably looks at my output rather than the number of hours I clocked. However, I’m not sure how to change the likely incorrect expectations I put on myself. This is something I’m still trying to figure out.

3. Planning

I like to be super productive so I would usually plan out my week on Sunday and each day the day before. However, over the exams period, I stopped the practice as all I did every day was only to study, eat and sleep. Slowly, I lost the habit of planning my schedule. And it was disastrous.

I thought that I could wing it, but I was wrong. Last week has been a mad rush. I rushed from place to place and even went to the wrong swimming pool. Also, I didn’t manage to do as many things as I thought I could.

On top of my internship, I tried to keep up with my usual triathlon training (7-10 times a week), wanted to work on my side projects and met friends for dinner. Without proper planning, fatigue quickly set in. By Wednesday, I was too tired to go for any training after work.

Lesson: If I want to be productive, I need to plan my time (/energy) properly.

Hence, I reviewed the past week and planned for the week ahead. I roughly planned out the activities for each day.

Week 26 Schedule

I found that this exercise helps me understand how much time I have and what I can and cannot achieve each day, so that I do not overwork myself. My planning is definitely not perfect, but it gives me a good gauge of the activities for the upcoming week.

4. Commitments

Apart from the lack of planning, I’m wondering if I’m taking on too many commitments too. On top of my internship, I want to keep up with my triathlon training, work on my side projects (Be Nice and another project), contribute to the few online communities I’m in (Remotive and Support Drive), and also catch up with friends. A friend is also asking me to join him for his project.

It seems that even with perfect planning, it would be hard to give my best effort for all of them. So for now, I’ve planned to reduce my triathlon training and social life and politely say “No” to my friend.

Lesson: Assess my priorities and commitments before taking on more projects. Once in a while, check if I’m having too much on my plate and learn to say “No”.

5. Commuting

I’ve read about how unproductive commuting is, but I didn’t really understand it until now. It takes me about 45 minutes to an hour to get to the office, so that’s about 2 hours of commuting each day.

For now, I either read my book or listen to a podcast. However, as I’ve to change train once on my way to work, a big part of my commute is walking. This makes it a little difficult for reading. Also, I find it a little tough to concentrate on the podcast when I’m walking to and from the station and in between platforms.

Lesson: Commuting can be a major productivity killer!

I’m trying out different things while commuting. Do you have any suggestions?

So that was my first week in London! Now, bring on week 2! 🙂