What I usually do when I start a new job

Starting a new job is an adventure and a challenge. There are so many new variables with which you must familiarize yourself: new colleagues, new cultures, new ways of doing things, new knowledge, know industries and new required skillsets, just to name a few. Below are a few things I tend to do to help myself navigate through the first few months on the job

  • Work hard. A bit obvious heh? Starting a new job means that you start behind almost everyone one else in the team. If you want to take on new responsibilities and advance in the future, put in a couple of hours before 8am or after 5pm on workdays and on the weekends. Once you have a solid footing on the job, you can take your foot off the gas pedal a bit. Personally, I prefer not working too much unless I really have to; which is usually the case whenever I start a new job. If the job is technical such as programming, hone your coding skills by reading others’ code or complete online classes. If the job is more qualitative such as digital marketing for retail, read about digital marketing tools, concepts, metrics and the industry.
  • Verify your work privately first. It’s important to have a round of validation first on whatever you are about to publish with other teams. Have your teammates preferably, and perhaps your boss help you validate your work internally. It’s better than to go back and forth, wasting the credibility you might have
  • Ask questions and take notes. Ask a lot of questions in the first two months. People understand that you are new and are lenient to your mistake as well as willing to answer questions that would become basic knowledge in a while. At the same time, take meticulous notes. Though understanding and lenient, your colleagues don’t want to repeat what they already said multiple times. I strive not to ask the same questions more than twice. Everyone will be pleased to see you spend effort on jotting down notes.
  • Request challenging projects. I am tasked with three difficult projects at work now even though I have been four months on the job and in this industry. Even though they are a bit scary since I don’t want to look stupid, having to work on real challenging projects enables me to learn a lot more about not only programming in SQL Server, SAS, but also retail banking data which is by no means straightforward or easy. I read somewhere a quote that goes like this or to some extent: mountains are always high and daunting. The only way to conquer them is to actually climb them.

Hope whatever I have to share here helps and if you have anything else to share from your personal experience, feel free to leave a note in the comment section. Enjoy the rest of the weekend.

Having more by wanting less

I was talking to a friend who kept telling me that she didn’t have enough time for all she wanted to do: translation work, teaching, preparing curriculum, researching for PhD program and running a business of multiple AirBnb listings. Many of us have the same issue: day time job, workout, cooking, eating, socializing, reading, side projects, family, friends, 8 hours of sleep, transportation, you name it.

The 24 hour allocation every day isn’t going to change. The more we want to do and complete, the more we feel that there isn’t enough time. If time isn’t going to expand, I believe that the solution to this issue is to want less. If we decrease the number of activities, we’ll have more free time on hand.

The concept can be applied to personal finance as well. I came across a report on how Americans incur more debt for weddings

The Washington Post reports that these companies—amongst them Prosper, Upstart, and Earnest—are offering five-figure-plus loans with up to 30% interest. Unlike other types of personal loans (which, in 2019, typically have interest rates between 5% and 36%, according to personal finance site Value Penguin), these loans are specifically for brides and grooms to help pay for their special day.

According to the Post, these lenders say that, already in 2019, they have issued up to four times as many “wedding loans” as they did last year for couples paying for their own weddings.

What’s driving this trend? It seems to be the confluence of several different factors. First, the majority of those taking out wedding loans are millennials, a demographic that is under substantially more financial pressure than previous generations. Millennials are spending more money on things like education (or, rather, paying off student debt), healthcare, and rent; their average net worth is $8,000, 34% less than Americans of the same age 20 years ago. That leaves a lot less money to spend on extravagant nuptials.

On top of that, the average cost of a wedding is rapidly rising. According the Brides‘ 2018 American Wedding Study, a wedding in 2017 cost around $27,000. A year later, in 2018, that number nearly doubled to $44,000.

Adding to that cost is the so-called “wedding tax,” the premium that party vendors—such as photographers, caterers, and florists—place on a product or service when its meant for a wedding.

Young Americans are racking up debt for Instagrammable weddings

A colleague of mine once shared his financial concerns about his upcoming baby and wedding. Apparently, he would have to care about paying for the wedding, the baby’s birth, a new car as his current one isn’t friendly to babies and day care. All of them are significant expenses. In many cases, many of us have only one income and a lot more expenses. As the number of expenses increase, the disposable income left shrinks and debts can rack up. Either we have to grow more income sources or expenses have to be cut down so that there is more free money in case of emergencies and more freedom. Obviously, having a secondary or third income besides a day job is more difficult than eliminating unnecessary expenses. So again, to have more, we should want less

Weekly readings – 22nd June 2019

“Amazon’s Choice” Does Not Necessarily Mean A Product Is Good. Amazon’s Choice is a popular trigger to shoppers about a product’s quality and popularity. This piece sheds some light on the feature.

Algorithms Won’t Fix What’s Wrong With YouTube.

How a janitor at Frito-Lay invented Flamin’ Hot Cheetos. An amazing story about the VP of PepsiCo from a janitor to a C-Suite executive of a world class corporation. “I do have a Ph.D.,” he responded. “I’ve been poor, hungry and determined.”

This psychologist explains why people confess to crimes they didn’t commit

IAB Podcast Ad Revenue Study: An Analysis of the Largest Players in the Podcasting Industry

Reuters Institute Digital News Report 2019. A very interesting study on consumption of digital news across countries

Tesla, Facing Setbacks and Skeptics, Tries to Get Back on Course. A nice overview of Tesla’s situation

Why Google’s Advertising Dominance Is Drawing Antitrust Scrutiny

The ambitious plan behind Facebook’s cryptocurrency, Libra. A quick overview of Libra, if you don’t have time to read the supporting documents released by Libra Org.

Scooter Breakdowns Weigh on Lime

I’ll take Heartland B-Cycle over E-Scooters

E-scooters have been taking over for the past couple of years. Brands such as Lime or Bird have received millions of dollars in funding and expanded to countries all over the world. Names like Lyft also ventured into this area. In big cities and even smaller ones such as Omaha, folks, mostly younger ones, can be seen riding scooters pleasurably.

Personally, I; however, prefer riding the rentable bikes from Heartland B-cycle. They are bikes available for rent for $10/month or $80/year at stations throughout an area of Omaha. Riders can use the bikes for one hour before having to return them to a station to avoid additional charges. There are a few reasons that can explain my preference for the rentable bikes.

Cost

My last ride with Lime was 0.7 mile long and it cost me $2.45. With $10/month, I can have unlimited rides with B-Cycle

Health issues

There is virtually no health benefit that can be gained from e-scooter. You hop on the scooter, turn it on and go. With B-Cycle, at least it’s going to be a nice cardio workout.

Maintenance

Already in Omaha have I seen many e-scooters left carelessly everywhere downtown. Folks have no regard in where they should leave the devices after use. On the other hand, you have to return B-cycle to its stations, unless you want to pay a significant fee afterwards.

According to Quartz, an e-scooter’s lifespan is 28 days. The Information reported that two of Lime’s models can last a bit longer, up to 17 weeks. In addition to expensive marketing and promotions, e-scooter companies burn a lot of cash in maintenance their fleet. Each Bird scooter costs $550. Imagine having to replace hundreds of them every 3 months. Bird has raised $415 million to date with the latest round announced just 5 months ago, but it is said to have around $100 million left in the bank and to have reduced its fleet.

The unit economics for e-scooters doesn’t look very appealing and there is no clear path to profitability. I do think more good would be done from having all that money invested in public transportation or alternative such as B-Cycle.

Some may argue that e-scooters are more flexible and can get riders to more places. Nonetheless, within 2-3 miles, a well-planned network of B-Cycle can get us into walking distance to anywhere. For a reasonably long distance, it would be much more expensive to ride e-scooters. And for a long distance, it’d be best to use other alternatives such as buses, cars or services like Uber of Lyft.

For your imagination, take a look at what Germany has for bikers

Discussion on socialism on the Internet and the news

Socialism is one of the most polarizing topics out there, either in politics, on the news or on the Internet. Whenever socialism is mentioned, the two extremes are often cited: the social democracy in Scandinavian countries and failures such as Venezuela.

What I found troubling with the use of socialism on the news is that it is closely associated with social equality. Whenever the discussion on increasing social benefits to citizens starts, the term socialism follows. Proponents cite Scandinavian nations as examples of success while critics use countries like Venezuela to demonstrate how horrible socialism is.

In my opinion, increasing social benefits to make the playing field more even isn’t equal to socialism. If that were the case, why Scandinavian countries haven’t failed or plunged into oblivion and chaos yet? The problem lies in the state-owned privatization of industries, the suffocation of free markets and corruption. It is not the social benefit programs that plagued Venezuela’s economy. It is the catastrophic privatization by the government, the removal of free markets and the extreme reliance on oil which is turbulent.

American politicians who oppose social benefit programs use Venezuela as an example to stop those programs, but I think they are wrong. And what’s wrong with leveling the playing field a bit more? America is obsessed with working hard and defying the odds. Yet, having a leg up or a bit of help in the beginning doesn’t take anything away from the triumph in the future. Folks in Western Europe still have to compete and work hard to excel in life. Nonetheless, at least on average I think they have better help from the government than Americans.

This is not a declaration of my political view. It is just to say that the term “socialism” is falsely used to scare off folks when it comes to any discussion that can benefit citizens. It shouldn’t be like that.

Access to Internet. Difference between America and Estonia

Internet is now a necessity to our life, in addition to water, electricity or clean air. It’s wildly hard to imagine our life without the Internet. Yet, to some in rural areas in America, access to Internet is a luxury. Today’s episode on Patriot Act with Hasan Minhaj shed light on the problem that seems unbelievable in this day and age in the country known for being a leader in technology. Apparently, millions of people in the US don’t have access to the Internet. It’s bonkers to think that some kids have to access Internet from parked buses at Coachella to do homework.

The cause of the issue lies in the monopoly and hence, lack of competition. The market is controlled by two companies only, both of which have more motivation to increase their bottom line than to deliver quality services. To make the matters worse, the authorities haven’t exactly come to the rescue of consumers. Have a listen to know more about this astonishing problem in the US

Meanwhile, Estonia is a little country in Europe with 1.3 million in population. Yet, it makes access to Internet a human right and creates a digital society that serves as an example for other countries. Things that are painstaking and time-consuming in the US are done in little time in Estonia. For instance, you can vote electronically in Estonia. You can get your medical records online. You can file taxes in no time as well. The Estonian government prepares all the tax documents so that all that is required of you is for you to verify the information. Have a listen to a mini documentary below

According to PBS, when Estonia left USSR in 1991, there were few computers in the country and 20% of the US population already had access to the Internet. Almost 30 years later, Estonia already surpassed the US in this regard.

Infrastructure in the US is notoriously in a shabby shape. However, when infrastructure is mentioned, we tend to think about roads, railway and highways. Not the Internet. But the story by Netflix above shows that the US has a serious problem at hand with one of the fundamental necessities, despite possessing some of the most advanced technologies in the world.

The longer I live in the US, the more I am convinced that inequality is ubiquitous in the US. Not just geographically, but also across domains. While being excellent at some specializations, the US underperforms in some fundamental foundations.

Half Year Progress Reflection

We are already past the middle of June; which means that half of the year 2019 was gone. Blink your eyes and you’ll look at 2019 in the rear mirror soon. I took a walk today to do some thinking and reflect on what happened in the first 6 months of the year. So far, I have had some ups and downs. Let’s talk about the ups

  • I managed to get my dad to visit the US, his first overseas trip ever. I was in awe when I saw the outside world for the first time at the age of 19. I can’t imagine his feelings when he did at the age of 60
  • I joined a wonderful team and company. My teammates are excellent in their abilities and, more importantly, manners. They have been nothing, but helpful to a new guy with little experience in the banking industry. My paperwork has been luckily smooth so far. Yayyyy!
  • I have been pretty consistent in maintaining this blog. So far this year, I have written 135 blog posts, well ahead of my goal of 200 blog posts at the end of the year. Since January, the traffic has been doggedly increasing with last month as the new high. Though it is somewhat positive, maintaining a habit is more important
  • I think so far I have done a decent job of keeping myself from stress. Being able to take long walks, exercise, do some reading or travel at will is awesome
  • Except for a few nights that I could count on one hand, I have largely stayed away from alcohol

But I still have a lot of work to do:

  • I still don’t get 8 hours of sleep every night. Getting even 7 hours is rare enough
  • On average, I frequent the gym less often than I did in the same period last year. On top of that, my addiction to and increased consumption of ice cream have added a few pounds (7 to be exact) to my body
  • I made some bad calls in investing, including bad timing and missed opportunities (Zoom, for instance)
  • 8 books have been read so far. I went for 3 months in a row without finishing a book and it needs to be changed
  • My circle of local friends hasn’t changed much compared to 2018; which is a pity. I feel that I still face the same struggle integrating into American culture and making American friends as I did in 2018. Additionally, I don’t venture much outside of my comfort zone
  • Lastly, I was a bit reckless in expenses for the past 3 months. The increase in expenses comes mostly from my urge to explore all restaurants in town and my dad’s visit to US.

Overall, I would give my first half of the year a solid 6.5. It’s below a C and I’ll need to up it to at least a B in 6 months’ time. How did you rate yours?

Weekly readings – 15th June 2019

iOS 13 now shows a map of where apps have been tracking you when requesting permission. Your location at any given time is sensitive information. This feature will allow you to protect your privacy from apps

They See It. They Like It. They Want It. They Rent It. An important shift in consumer behavior.

A mentalist’s guide to being happy

Internet Trends 2019. The annual highly anticipated report by Mary Meeker is here.

Shopify unveils first State of Commerce Report

The I in We How did WeWork’s Adam Neumann turn office space with “community” into a $47 billion company? Not by sharing. Personally, I am not a fan of the hype given to WeWork despite all the glaring issues the company has shown so far. Read the article and see if you are still comfortable with your own evaluation of WeWork

Maine Governor Signs Strictest Internet Protections in the U.S. I am in favor of this bill. Internet is now an indispensable part of our life and so is our privacy. Why do Internet service providers whose services we PAY have the rights to our data without our consent?

The New York Times has a course to teach its reporters data skills, and now they’ve open-sourced it. Kudos to the Times for investing in its reporters and props to them again for open-sourcing the materials.

Amazon Secured Credit Card for those with low credit profile

Amazon partners with Synchrony to offer a secured credit card to those who have a low credit score. Normally, a low credit score results in a rejection of a credit card application at a financial institution due to default concern; which, in some real-life cases, can lead to significant trouble. With the Amazon Secured Credit Card, potential customers put in an amount of money that serves as collateral and their credit limit. Customers then gradually build up credit profile by being financially responsible before graduating to a better credit card.

I think it’s smart of Amazon to implement this initiative

They can tap in a new customer segment

It’s hard to imagine that folks with low customer score can be Prime members and Amazon’s profitable segment. Yet, after years of exploiting the higher customer tier, Amazon will likely need to widen the customer pool for growth and more than 11% of the population in the US is a sizable segment to appeal to.

This will increase switching costs and customer loyalty

Amazon Secured Credit Card comes with 5% cash back on purchases like the ordinary Store Card. A pretty competitive cash back rate on every purchases. Convenience, a variety of choices and generous cash back can definitely encourage purchases on the Seattle-based company’s website.

More customers and purchases mean more vendors and advertisers

Vendors who wish to appeal to low-credit-score customers will want to get on the e-commerce platform if there is enough demand. Advertisers will be willing to pay to put their products, services or brands in front of the new customer segment, in addition to the existing customer base.

Technology at La Guardia

Today is my first time at La Guardia airport in New York. I am pleasantly surprised by the fact that there are an iPad and a credit card reader at every table, next to a separate electricity outlet.

The devices have every information that a passenger may possibly need while at the airport. More importantly, it makes orders more accurate, self-serving and efficient. No waiters need to take orders and dispense bills. There is no difficulty in locating the customers who placed orders as I am sure that every iPad comes with a unique ID. Moreover, there will be no argument over the accuracy of orders as everything is recorded digitally.

Because the iPad and credit card reader combo sit next to an outlet, passengers can order some food and spend hours with ample electricity. The wifi is reasonably fast enough that I can stream videos. It’s more difficult than you would think to build a network big and fast enough to accommodate thousands of Internet users with heavy demand at the same time. The bandwidth, reliability and consistency have to be maintained well enough to make waiting a pleasant experience. Plus, the network has to handle numerous transactions at a time by passengers. I am intrigued to know the infrastructure like the one at La Guardia.

I may not be as experienced as other fliers, but I know that what is offered at La Guardia isn’t available at every airport. Technology, when used properly, can benefit human beings greatly. This is one of those cases. I am glad to be alive in this era. At this moment.