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! 🙂

 

What I’ve Learnt From My 30-in-30 Writing Challenge

What I’ve Learnt From My 30-in-30 Writing Challenge

This is my 30th and last post for my 30-in-30 writing challenge!

The main aim of the challenge was to allow me to feel more confident and comfortable with writing and to become better at writing by writing every day for 30 days.

Even though I took a 3-day break in the middle of the challenge, the objective of the challenge has been met (and made some unexpected gains). Hence, I’m announcing that this challenge is a success! ☺

Since this is the last post of the challenge, I thought it would be apt that I end the challenge by sharing the lessons I’ve learnt throughout the challenge.

Here are the 8 valuable lessons I took away from the challenge:

1. I can write well

I think this is the most important thing I learnt. Before I started this challenge, I was not confident with my writing skills. Also, I was not comfortable with sharing what I wrote because I felt that my posts were not good enough.

Through this challenge, I have proven to myself that I can write well. I’ve also become very comfortable with sharing my blog posts. Definitely, I have a lot more to improve in terms of my writing and I’m excited to do it!

2. Writing is hard

The truth is writing is hard. Writing a good quality post requires a lot of time and effort.

I’ve spent on average 5–6 hours each day to write the posts. The post, Happiness In Being Yourself, took me more than 8 hours to write. By midday, I deleted my first draft, which I took the whole morning to write because I was not satisfied with it. I then wrote the post from scratch.

Another important thing I learnt about writing is this: There will be bad days, but it’s better to write poorly than to not write at all. Like Alexis Landau said in her post, 7 Habits of Highly Effective Writers, it’s about showing up and not waiting for the writing mindset.

Think of your post as a product. You can always go back and improve on it. You do not need to publish the post until you are satisfied with it.

3. Writing is fun and rewarding

While writing is tough, it is also fun and rewarding!

A highlight of this challenge was when I wrote the post, My Sister, The Self-Taught Cake Artist, for my sister. She had her mini studio warming back in Singapore and I couldn’t attend it as I’m in the United Kingdom. So I wrote the post as my gift for her important milestone. She teared upon reading it :’)

Another highlight was when my Air Force story was picked up by one of the administrators of The Republic of Singapore Air Force Facebook page. She featured me on their Facebook page, along with my thank you message to my mom, aunt and girlfriend. It made my mom and relatives really proud and I’m really glad and grateful about it!

With Medium, readers can recommend your post if they like it. My post, 9 Things That I Do To Be More Productive, seemed to resonate well with Medium readers and it has received 19 recommendations so far (66% of all the recommendations I received for 29 posts). It is nice to know that there are people who like what I write and they have benefited from my posts.

Medium Recommendations

4. Writing helps me think and remember better

I think Jeff Bezos, Founder and CEO of Amazon, puts it really well:

Jeff Bezos Quote

(Image taken from iDoneThis blog post, Bad Managers Talk, Good Managers Write)

During this challenge, I realised that putting down my thoughts into full sentences helps me think a lot better. I learnt that writing incomplete bullet-point type sentences does not have the same effect. Writing full sentences forces me to think through a point thoroughly, while writing bullet points allows me to be lazy about thinking.

Expressing a thought fully allows me to remember it more clearly. Furthermore, by writing my thoughts down, I can refer to them in the future.

5. Enjoy the process

I wrote a blog post about this. I used to be too focused on the end result of writing and had forgotten to enjoy the process of writing.

After writing the blog post, Enjoy The Process, I tried to be self-conscious about enjoying the process of writing. I’m surprised that just by remembering to do it, I enjoyed the writing process of several blog posts despite it being really hard on some days. I enjoyed writing about my Air Force story so much so that I almost forgot to have my dinner that night.

Like I said in the post, this attitude could be applied to other aspects of our lives too. I have not been remembering this for everything that I have been doing. However, when I do, I enjoyed the process of doing the activity and not just the end result.

When focusing on the outcome, don’t forget to enjoy the process too!

6. It’s important to understand the constraints and work with them, not against them.

The main constraint I had during this challenge was having limited time. As I wanted to publish a post every day for 30 days, I had a day to complete each post. It is alright when I stayed home for the entire day. However, when I’m travelling, I only had 2 to 3 hours to write.

I learnt that I am unable to write a long and in-depth post within 3 hours. I tried and failed terribly.

Hence, I decided to write shorter posts on days when I have little time. For example, 2 days ago when I was travelling to London and back, I decided to write a short post, titled Wise Words of Confucius on Self-Improvement.

I think that another way of working with constraints is to use it to challenge ourselves and in the process, develop and grow. For instance, for this challenge, I forced myself to write a post a day. I have never written so much within such a time frame before and I have benefited tremendously from it. Perhaps time constraint might eventually train me to write faster.

Just like the previous point, I think that this applies to other aspects of our lives too. When we faced with constraints, we should work with them and not against them.

7. Referring to research and statistics is not a must

Previously, I read that referring to research and statistics in a blog post would improve the quality of the blog post. Hence, I had been constantly trying to include them in all my blog posts.

However, I realised that while referring to research and statistics can make a post better, it is not a necessary condition for a post to be good. It is a way to make the post better but not the only way. There are many great posts without research and statistics.

I think this is because well-expressed personal experiences and thoughts can be as compelling as or even more compelling than science-backed contents.

8. Write it and they will come… NAH

This is the writer’s version of “Build it and they will come”.

Like Derek Halpern said in his post, The 80/20 Rule for Building a Blog Audience,

Here’s the truth:

It’s smarter to find another 10,000 people to consume what you’ve already created as opposed to creating more.

Or, in other words, create content 20% of the time. Spend the other 80% of the time promoting what you created.

While writing good content is important, it is also crucial to promote the content too. Many people would not know about my blog posts if I do not promote them.

So far, I’ve only shared my articles on Twitter and Facebook. Hence, with the exception of a few posts, most of the posts rarely received more than 50 views.

This area is something I’m really interested in learning more about. Hope to share more on this with you in the future!

In summary, these are the 8 lessons I’ve learnt from this writing challenge:

  1. I can write well
  2. Writing is hard
  3. Writing is fun and rewarding
  4. Writing helps me think and remember better
  5. Enjoy the process
  6. It’s important to understand the constraints and work with them, not against them
  7. Referring to research and statistics is not a must
  8. Write it and they will come… NAH

Should You Try This?

If you are interested in writing more, I would recommend you to try this challenge! It makes writing a lot less scary than it seems. Also, I enjoyed the challenge and learnt a lot about myself in the process.

I was quite tough on myself in terms of the type and length of posts I wrote so I took a lot of time each day to write. I am fortunate to be having my school vacation when I did this challenge so I had plenty of time every day to write.

I understand that not everyone can commit so much time every day to writing. You can change the rules of the challenge according to your preference and constraints (see point 6 above). For example, Hiten Shah, an entrepreneur and investor, did this challenge and wrote in a style that is different from mine.

What’s Next?

Writing will be taking a backseat for a while now as I need to focus on my school assignments and exams.

I would still like to continue writing. An area I’m looking at is guest blogging. My plan is to write a post a week and submit it as a guest post. I plan to break up my writing process (research, draft outlines, write content, search for images and refine the post) and spend perhaps 1–2 hours each day to do a part.

In terms of content, I would like to write more on topics than myself. Most of my 30 posts were about myself. I would like to write about topics such as productivity (since I’m quite a productivity freak) and happiness (because it’s important and nice to be happy ☺)

As for my writing style, I have been thinking about using memes and gifs in my posts. I think memes and gifs would add humour to my blog posts and when used effectively, would improve the quality of the posts. Furthermore, I think it would show my humorous personality too. I might try to use them in future posts, when appropriate!

Graduation

I’ve graduated from the challenge!!☺


If you are interested to read any of the 30 posts, you can find all of them here!


(This is my 30th blog post of my 30in30 challenge — 30 blog posts in 30 days. Through this challenge, I hope to feel comfortable and more confident with writing and become better at writing.)

3 Unexpected Benefits Of Writing

3 Unexpected Benefits Of Writing

When I started my writing challenge, my aim was to become more confident with writing. In the process, many unexpected things happened.

In this blog post, I will share the 3 unexpected benefits that I’ve experienced from writing. I hope that it would inspire you to write too.

1. Helping Others

I had been hesitant to share my blog posts on my Facebook because I was afraid that I might receive negative comments. Last week, I decided to share and see what would happen.

At first, nothing happened.

Then I started to receive messages and comments from friends which said that my blog posts have helped them or taught them something.

Justin, my close friend, messaged me to say that my blog post, 9 Things I Do To Be More Productive, made him decide to exercise and exercising gave him a new perspective to his problems:

Justin's messages

My junior college teacher (:O) said that she learnt something from the same article. I have never expected to be teaching my teacher. I’m really glad that she benefited from my blog post.

Mrs Chua's comment

My post, Fighting Against Facebook Notifications, gave my school mate some ideas on how to reduce the time she spends on Facebook. Hope they have worked for her!

Meg's comments

I think that we all have our unique experiences and by sharing them, we might help others who are in same position as we are or were.

Thinking back, this is the reason why I started blogging again. I want to “share my experiences and help those in the same situation as me”. I didn’t expect that the few blog posts I wrote would actually help anyone, but I’m glad they have.

So I would recommend more people to write because others would benefit from your writings. What you write would matter. So far, I’ve learnt that my blog posts on lessons I’ve learnt benefited others the most.

2. Good Things Would Happen

Another thing that I did not expect was to be featured by The Republic Of Singapore Air Force on their Facebook page.

RSAF Feature

One of the administrators discovered my blog post, I Am An Air Force Officer, and wanted to feature me on their Facebook page.

What is great about this is not that I was featured, but that I made my mom and my relatives proud.

When I wrote about my sister, a self-taught cake artist and shared it on Facebook, one of my friends read it and he recently ordered his wedding cake from my sister!

My sister, the cake artist

It is not definite that something good would happen when you write, but if you write, chances of it happening would be higher.

3. Strengthen Friendships

The last benefit that I didn’t expect is how my blog posts helped to strengthen my friendships by creating topics for conversations.

Lucas, whom I knew through Twitter, was so amazed by my Air Force story that we talked about it for quite a while when we met last night.

Dale, one of my Air Force mates whom I’ve not spoken to for a long time, approached me recently. He realised that we are quite like-minded after reading my blog posts. He shared with me many books that he thinks are useful for entrepreneurs and I’m so grateful for it.

Create > Consume

It’s easier to consume information and use products than to create them. However, by choosing the harder option and creating, we can bring value to the people around us.

I’m not going to lie. Writing is hard. If you noticed, these 3 benefits came from 3 of my blog posts, out of the 28 posts I’ve written so far. Each blog post took me 3 to 8 hours to write.

However, when you find out that you have helped someone with your blog posts or when someone reached out to you to say “Thank you”, you will realise that all that effort is worthwhile ☺

What unexpected things have happened to you when you wrote? I would love to hear them.


(This is my 29th blog post of my 30in30 challenge — 30 blog posts in 30 days. Through this challenge, I hope to feel comfortable and more confident with writing and become better at writing.)

What I Learnt From Missing 3 Days Of Writing

What I Learnt From Missing 3 Days Of Writing

Since I publicly committed to writing daily for 30 days, I felt that I should explain why I missed 3 days of writing last week.

Last Thursday, I wrote a draft in the morning and planned to complete it on the train home that night. On the train, I developed motion sickness and could not work on the draft properly. I decided not to press on and hence, did not publish a post that day.

I know that it was simply due to bad planning. Had I allocated more time to writing that day, I might have been able to publish the post.

The day before, I had a bad day for my writing too. These 2 days made me lose much motivation to write. Therefore, I decided to take a break from writing. As I was travelling to Oxford for 2 days, I decided to take the 2 days as a break from writing.


Looking back at those 3 days, I feel that it might be a mistake to miss those days of writing. Instead of looking for excuses, I decided to analyse what happened and see if I could learn anything.

Better Planning

I missed my daily writing deadline last Thursday because I didn’t want to publish drafts that I’m not satisfied with. Despite knowing that, I did not allocate sufficient time to write and refine the post.

That day taught me 2 lessons.

First, I underestimated the amount of time I need to write a post that I’m satisfied with. Looking back, I realised that I would spent at least 3 hours to write a post that I’m happy with. Some days, I took up to 6–7 hours.

There are 3 things I could do about this moving forward:

  1. I could speed up my writing process, which I’ve tried without much success. I guess speed would come with more practice.
  2. I could allocate more time for writing. Allocating 6–7 hours for writing each day might not be feasible considering that I have other commitments apart from writing. However, this would be less of a problem after my challenge to write daily as I could break up my writing process into a few days.
  3. With my current challenge to write daily, it might be better for me to write shorter posts on days when I have less than 3 hours available for writing. Of course, this does not mean that I should compromise on the quality of the posts.

Second, I learnt that I do not write well under time pressure. When I have 30 minutes or less to write, I found it hard to pull my thoughts together to write something meaningful. So instead of having pockets of 30 minutes throughout the day to write, I might be better off having blocks of 1–2 hours.

Be Consistent

As mentioned earlier, I decided to take a break because I had 2 bad days for my writing, which demoralised me quite a bit. I felt that taking a break might allow me to be motivated to write again and perhaps think and write better.

I’m not quite sure if the break was helpful as I’m still finding it hard to write today. Perhaps it might have been better if I wrote regardless of my mood or motivation level.

In her post, 7 Habits of Highly Effective Writers, Alexis Landau wrote:

There is no “writing mindset” — if I waited for that, I would never write. The only thing that helps is sitting down every day, at the same time (roughly) and having peace and quiet, even if it is just an hour, to think, without the pressures of the outside world. I don’t check email or take any phone calls. It is a reserved time, just to ponder and explore various ideas, scenes and characters. Mary Oliver once said something about how if you show up for the muse consistently, then she will start showing up for you consistently, as if the psyche knows that you are writing and preparing, and so after time, you get something back, but you have to be there to receive it, no matter how painfully slow or awful you think it’s going.

Having read this, I am determined to “show up” daily for the remaining 13 days of my challenge.

While it might have been a mistake to miss 3 days of writing, I’m glad that I took away some valuable lessons.

Have you had days when you lose motivation for writing? I would love to hear how you deal with it 🙂

(This is my 17th blog post of my 30in30 challenge — 30 blog posts in 30 days. Through this challenge, I hope to feel comfortable and more confident with writing and become better at writing.)

Start Somewhere

Start Somewhere

There are so many articles online on how to write a good blog post and how to make a blog popular. Some of the advice that stuck with me are have a strategy for my content, focus on a niche area and write long and useful posts.

Those are helpful advice but have also subconsciously made me fear writing on my blog. Whenever I try to write on my blog, I will go through these advice in my head. Many a times, I feel that what I want to write does not tick all these three boxes. Then, I give up.

This week, I tried to understand why I have been acting and thinking this way. I realised that it was because I feel ashamed to have poorly written blog posts online. I was afraid that my friends or prospective employers will somehow stumble upon my blog posts and see how bad my writings are.

Essentially, it is because I want to have a “clean” history online. I only wanted to be associated with well written and useful blog posts. I wanted a blog that will impress readers.

I realised that I was letting my ego take over me.

I think that being aware that my ego is stopping me from writing or doing things is a good first step to correcting it.

I follow a few blogs on startup and marketing and I began to wonder if the authors were such great writers right from the start. So I went to find the very first few blog posts on their blogs and compared those blog posts with their recent blog posts. For most of them, there is quite a huge contrast!

For example, Ryan Hoover, who writes incredible articles about products, wrote about quite random things when he started his blog. He wrote about things like Mythical Creatures Drawn by SF Restaurants and An Email from my Russian Admirer. Well-known marketer, Noah Kagan’s first blog post on Okdork is a marketing idea for Coca Cola.

Please don’t get me wrong. I am not criticising them because they are undoubtedly great writers. Comparing their first few blog posts with their recent ones taught me something. It taught me that I have to start somewhere.

It is alright that I do not produce blog posts as good as them now because I have to start somewhere. If I do not write at all, I will never improve.

An interesting thing to note is that they did not delete blog posts which are not as good as those they write nowadays. I find it interesting because I had thought about deleting my lousy blog posts in the future, so as to maintain a “clean” history. However, I realised that it is a really silly thought because when judging if they are good writers, it is their recent articles that matter; not the articles they have written five to ten years ago.

So I have decided that I will start somewhere. I started with this blog post. I know it will not get viral on social media; but it is alright because that is not the point. The point is to start somewhere and I’m glad I have done it.

What A Turkish Student Taught Me About Practising

Istanbul

Early this week, I was in Istanbul, Turkey for a holiday trip with my house mates. While I was visiting the Blue Mosque (Sultan Ahmed Mosque), I was approached by a local.

“Are you from China?”, he said.

“No.”

“Can you speak Chinese? Fluently?”, he asked.

“Yeah.”

Then, he started to converse with me in Chinese and told me that he is learning Chinese in his university. Although it was only a short exchange of a few sentences, I was really impressed by him.

It was not because he could speak Chinese very fluent. He could not actually. That was what I was impressed by. Although he could not speak Chinese fluently, he approached a Chinese stranger to practise the language he was learning.

If he keeps up with this practice, I am very certain that he will pick up the language much faster than his peers who do not practice outside the classroom.

3 Things I Have Learnt From Him

1) Being an amateur is the reason to practice, not an excuse to not practice

This is very clichéd but I always make the mistake of not practicing because I feel that I’m not good enough, people will not like what I produce and people will laugh at me.

I realised that those are all my perception. That may all be true. Or not.

If I want to improve, I have to overcome those fear and practice. The Turkish student spoke to me in Chinese even though his Chinese was not very fluent.

Thinking back, my event photography skill improved tremendously when I was forced to practice it in my job in the events team of Singapore Exchange (SGX). I only just bought a DSLR as I want to take nicer photographs. However, my superior assumed that because I have a DSLR, I was good with photography. (I was not.) So I was in charge of taking photographs during events almost every week.

I am not of professional photographer standard yet, but I am very certain that I am way better than I was when I just bought the camera. Now, I am taking photographs for my triathlon team during races.

BUCS Duathlon 14

However, is simply practicing sufficient? Something else may help to speed up the learning process.

2) Practice outside the “classroom”

By saying “classroom”, I meant our comfort zone. It can be an actual classroom or, for those learning a new skill online, the environment you are learning in.

The key here is practising outside our comfort zone; and not just simply practicing. The Turkish student practiced Chinese, not just with his classmates, but with a Chinese stranger tourist he met on the street. I believe practising this way will speed up our learning process.

As with my photography experience in SGX, I was not taking photographs and hiding them in my laptop. I had to post them up onto the intranet of the company. It was definitely not comfortable to share them with the entire company at first, but I had to. That certainly helped (read: forced) me to improve fast.

It can be as simple as what the Turkish student did – exchanging a few lines with a Chinese.

As I am learning to code in Ruby on Rails, it means that I should not just follow tutorials and practice to code, but also sharing my code with other coders and asking for feedback.

For an amateur photographer, it means taking many photographs and sharing with people beyond your family and social circle. Perhaps on Flickr? For a designer who just started, it means not hiding your designs in your “Designs” folder but posting them onto Dribbble.

Usually, the hard part is not the action of practising outside the “classroom”; but the mental barrier of actually doing it. If we want to improve faster, we just have to get over it.

Learning Ruby on Rails

Ok, we are all ready to practice with others now. Who should we practice with?

3) Practice with someone better than me

Did you notice that the Turkish student asked if I could speak Chinese fluently? I believe he was intentionally looking for native Chinese speaker to practice with.

There are many benefits for doing this. We can trust that he or she is less likely to teach us the wrong things. He or she may correct our mistakes, which will help us improve.

This can be applied to many aspects of life. For example, for swimming, I have been forcing myself to train with the faster swimmers in my team this year. I always finish each set behind everyone and have to do shorter sets due to the time constraint of each training session. However, I have improved much more than when I swam with the novice group last year.

It is because the faster swimmers corrected my technique when they spotted mistakes in my swim stroke. It is also because I felt challenged and that made me work harder.

In summary, these are what the Turkish student taught me about practising a skill and becoming better:

1) Being an amateur is the reason to practice, not an excuse to not practice
2) Practice outside the “classroom”
3) Practice with someone better than me

What have you learnt about becoming better? I would love to hear about them (:

I’m Sticking To My Commitments

Crossroad

In my last blog post, I wrote about focusing on three priorities – coding, triathlon and school, after eliminating marketing from the list. On the same day, I was presented with a conundrum.

After seeing how I worked for Leanconf, one of the Leanconf organisers offered me a paid social media role for his upcoming online conference. The role ties in well with what I have been doing for Leanconf. It was very tempting to accept the job as I believe that I can learn more about social media marketing. Furthermore, it is the first time I was offered a paid job because of what I have been doing.

However, I just wrote about eliminating marketing from my priorities. Taking up this job will be going against my commitments.

Experience and money or sticking to my words?

In the end, I rejected the offer. (Manuel, if you are reading this, I’m very thankful for the opportunity.)

It was not an easy decision to make then so I want to document the rationale of my decision and the lesson that I have learnt.

Why did I make that decision?

1) Commitment: The main reason is to force myself to stick to my commitments because I’m tired of chasing after everything and ending up with nothing. I have made many goals and resolutions in the past, especially over the last year. However, I have not been able to stick to them and have always been chasing after new things (ie. shiny object syndrome). The end result? Embarrassing progress (read: attempts) in so many things; none that I would want to talk about when someone asks me what do I do. Hence, I made this decision as a commitment to my priorities.

2) Choice: If I were to accept the offer, I am unlikely to let it affect my studies or triathlon. So learning to code will be the commitment that suffers. Making the decision to give up a paid social media role and to focus on learning to code is simply a matter of choice. I want to be an entrepreneur who can at least build a basic prototype or product and sell it well. For now, I prioritise learning to code over marketing, so I rejected the offer. (See my previous blog post for my reasons.)

3) Focus: This decision will not automatically make me better in the areas of my three priorities. However, it will allow me to focus on them without distractions, thereby increasing the likelihood of improvements.

What have I learnt?

I have learnt that blogging about my promises makes me accountable for them. I’ve tried many ways to make myself accountable, such as typing my goals and commitments into a Word document, printing it out and sticking it by my bed, and telling my close friends about them.

Announcing my commitments on my blog seems to be the best method so far. If the same situation was presented to me last year, I would have probably taken up the offer and given up learning to code. However, I actually gave up a paid job to stick to my commitments.

I suspect that this method worked well because of two reasons. One, I want to be seen online as someone who is consistent, especially since anyone whom I may work with in the future (potential employers, partners, co-founders, etc.) can easily read up about my past online. Two, I do not want to disappoint my “readers”. I know few people read my blog but it has a psychological effect on me.

What have you tried to make yourself accountable? I would really like to hear your experiences (either success or failure) on this.

Photo credit: Ron Cogswell