Why I blog

One of my goals in 2019 is to write often and specifically, have at least 200 published blog posts when the year closes its curtains. So far I have been on track to meet the target. As I look back at the last 8 months of consistent blogging, this endeavor has brought to me so much more than I anticipated.

Last August, I started this blog as a medium to practice what I learned, share my opinion in my own way to give back, create a healthy habit and build up my self-confidence. Fast forward to now:

  1. I have learned a lot more along the way. To really write about something, first I need to know what I am going to write about. I read more quarterly/annual reports, earning call transcripts, industry reports, long blog posts, you know, the boring stuff to many of my peers. I listen to more podcasts, interviews. I read more books. I analyze reported numbers by companies more. And it leads to a lot learning; which fits the name of this blog.
  2. I enjoy the process. Writing is such a pleasant experience to me nowadays that I often really look forward to it as a highlight of my day, especially when I have a long day at work. Anne Lamott said it best: “Writing has so much to give, so much to teach, so many surprises. That thing you had to force yourself to do – the actual act of writing – turns out to be the best part. It’s like discovering that while you thought you needed the tea ceremony for the caffeine, what you really needed was the tea ceremony. The act of writing turns out to be its own reward.”
  3. I feel much more confident about blogging now than when I first started. Not because I am an expert now. I still have a long way to go. But I believe it is because of the practice. Blogging often helps me reduce my self-doubt and shyness bit by bit and gives my confidence a little boost. Even though the progress is nothing earth-shattering, as long as I don’t stand still, I am happy.
  4. I came to realization that this blog gradually is becoming a collection of my notes, a bookmarking tool, a mind-refresher. Sometimes, I come back to remind myself of some highlights in a book I read, of some code I wrote and of something that I jogged down. Instead of carrying an actual notebook which would be challenging to categorize and search, I know where to find what I need with just a few key strokes.

I came across a post by M.G. Siegler that really hit home to me:

Imagine the humiliation of putting yourself out there and zero people caring because zero people saw it. I know a lot of people feel this way when they start doing something with regard to content on the internet — I applied it to blogging, but I imagine it’s the exact same story with recording videos for YouTube, starting a podcast, etc. Just keep at it.

This is, of course, easier said than done. It takes time to do anything, no matter the type of content you’re focused on. The good news is that even if the audience doesn’t show up at first, the work pays off in other ways. Namely, you’ll get better at what you’re doing.

I look back at some of my early blog posts and cringe. They were awful. I was foolish. But I kept going and the posts got less awful and less foolish (this statement is subject to review in another decade). I honestly think the worst thing that could have happened was getting a large audience from day one. I wouldn’t have been ready for it (even if I thought I was).

And so again, the advice is simply to keep at it. Even if the next post gets zero readers too. And the next one. Eventually, zero turns to one and then one to two and then you’re off to the races.

M.G. Siegler

I know the feeling of having zero people view what you wrote all too well. Part of it is I don’t advertise it. I put a link to my blog on my Instagram profile, LinkedIn profile and in my resume. That’s it. I don’t actively post on Facebook or tweet about it whenever I publish. I am doing this for me first and foremost, not to be validated by others. Plus, I know I am not ready. Even though this blog has gained traction in the last few months , I am still on my way from zero to one. Good news is that I am willing to keep at it.

Don’t judge a person for his/her broken English

I had lunch with a friend whom I met in college today. It has been a while since we met and the meet was pleasant. In addition to catching up with what the other was doing, we touched upon what would seem to be quite a deep topic for lunch, but you could tell that we were close enough to open up on it.

Long story short, I told him the last time we met that I somehow felt looked down up on by Americans because I am Asian, because I don’t look big enough and because I don’t speak English like a native speaker. I have been trying hard since I was 16 and I wish I could, but the fact is that even though I speak the language well enough to get me a job and two Master’s degrees, I don’t talk like a native speaker.

The friend brought it back today. He talked about his encounter with a French engineer who uprooted his life back home to come to America to have a better career and life. The French guy doesn’t speak English well, said my friend, but my friend admired the courage taken to go to a foreign country alone, as he once told me. My friend said that the biggest lesson he had in the last few years was to learn that it wasn’t easy for others to come to the US and that no matter how good or bad someone’s English is, the effort to speak the language is already admirable and it shouldn’t be the basis on which judgement is passed.

As an immigrant, of course, I understand the sentiment, yet it is great to hear it from my friend. But if I have to be honest, I don’t use my inability to speak English natively as an excuse. To me, if I succeed, good. I did put in the work, but I was lucky as well. If I fail, well I was just not good enough. Coming here to study and work is a game. I chose to participate in that game and it just doesn’t make sense to say that my failure is justified because the rules are not in my favor. Nonetheless, I am happy to hear that from my friend and proud to have him as a friend.

For the compassion and humility, I have learned a great deal myself from learning technical topics such as coding and IT. I am always a believer in the notion that we all should try to find answers on our own first before asking questions or for help from others. It matters more to me that a person actually tried on his or her own first than whether he or she succeeded in finding the answer. But admittedly, I easily got irritated. I was arrogant. I got annoyed whenever I thought people asked too easy questions.

Since learning how to code, I have realized that I was…well, an asshole. Code is very binary. It either works or it doesn’t. There is nothing in between. When trying to find answers to my coding problems, I encountered numerous times guys who were better than me, but gave replies that asked more questions than answers. Some guys on StackOverflow or at school answered, but in a way that you couldn’t fathom unless a significant amount of time is spent on that or the person elaborated more.

When I was still an intern at an IT company, all the technical details and jargon floating around the office were initially another language to me. I had to, if I am honest, disturb some engineers in the office to help me understand even the basic concepts in their mind. I told them: “please speak English to me. I am dumb. Dumb it down for me”. I am glad that they did because it helped me tremendously then, now and in the future I believe.

Since then, I have learned the value of humility and compassion more. I have consciously made an effort to be very specific with words and visuals when helping others. I have consciously tried to be patient and understanding that the person processes information differently than I do and that I used to or still am in that position.

Humans of New York and Brandon Stanton

I am a big fan of Humans of New York. There are so many great stories told in just ordinary yet moving languages. Whenever I run into those stories, they just create beautiful moments in my days and lift the spirit a little bit. In the time when racism, lack of compassion and cynicism are dangerously present as our time now, stories like the one below offers a pure and beautiful break

Source: Humans of New York

I also recommend the interview between Tim Ferriss and the founder of Humans of New York. It’s an engaging and incredible interview shedding light on his story and the struggle he went through to have his photo project take off

Vietnamese Lunar New Year Holiday

Tomorrow will be the official start of the Lunar New Year holiday in Vietnam. It’ll be the third straight holiday that I have missed since I landed in the US 2.5 years ago. Time does fly, doesn’t it?

Contrary to what may be the conventional thinking, I personally don’t think Lunar New Year, or we call “Tet” in Vietnamese, isn’t a great time to visit for foreigners. Big cities will be seriously less crowded since folks go back to their hometown to spend quality time with their families. Meanwhile, folks who were born and raised in big cities such as myself will likely travel somewhere. Hence, big cities become boring and popular destinations become too annoying.

I’ll let you in a little secret. Tet is only truly great during the days leading up to the first day of the holiday. Families gather and hustle to decorate houses and prepare for the holiday. The sense of togetherness is greater than ever during the 365 days of sunsets of the year. After the first day, it’s just formalities and gift-changing for a few days before the normal life kicks in again. In the past, my family used to prepare marinated allium chinense in jars. But my grandmother, mother and aunts are now too occupied and old to do it. Time doesn’t spare anyone in its wake, does it? I missed that time. The tradition is no longer there and there is something missing during Tet.

Cách làm dưa kiệu ngon, trắng giòn, để lâu không hỏng
Source: sieungon

Personally, I like Tet. Growing up in the economic capital of Vietnam, I grow used to and sick of the terrible traffic in the city. 12 million people hustle every day to make ends meet. During Tet, the majority which is made of ambitious immigrants from poorer provinces go home to spend time with family, a privilege of which life strips them during the other 345 days of the year. Hence, traffic is much more pleasant during Tet and I like it.

This will be my 3rd consecutive time missing out on Tet since landing in America 2.5 years ago. This is not my first rodeo, but it sure doesn’t make it any easier. Anyway, I really hope 2019 will be better than it has been to me so far. The calendar will turn pages in about 22 hours. Finger fucking crossed!

Book: The courage to be disliked

I spent some time thinking about what I should write first in 2019. Instead of some predictions, I decided to write a bit about the book that influenced me greatly in 2018 – The courage to be disliked. I am reading it for the second time and believe that by writing about it here, it will stick longer in my memory and can be beneficial in 2019 for those who happen to read this post. Here we go.

Avoid the victim mentality

According to the author and Alfred Adler, the psychologist and philosopher, even though we can’t change what happened in the past, our past should not dictate our happiness and future or should not be an excuse for our unhappiness. In layman’s terms, we should not have the victim mentality regarding our past or what we were born with. For instance, even if you are born in a poor family or short, it should not be the source of your unhappiness or you shouldn’t use it to say that causes your failures in life.

Adlerian psychology is a psychology of courage. Your unhappiness cannot be blamed on your past or your environment. And it isn’t that you lack competence. You just lack courage. One might say you are lacking in the courage to be happy.

One tries to get rid of one’s feeling of inferiority and keep moving forward. One’s never satisfied with one’s present situation – even if it’s just a single step, one wants to make progress. One wants to be happier. There is absolutely nothing wrong with the state of this kind of feeling of inferiority. There are; however, people who lose the courage to take a single step forward, who cannot accept the fact that the situation can be changed by making realistic efforts. People who, before even doing anything, simply give up and say things like “I’m not good enough anyway” or “Even if I tried, I wouldn’t stand a chance”.

Anger

You did not fly into a rage and then start shouting. It is solely that you got angry so that you could shout. In other words, in order to fulfill the goal of shouting, you created the emotion of anger.

In a word, anger is a tool that can be taken out as needed. It can be put away the moment the phone rings, and pulled out again after one hangs up. The mother isn’t yelling in anger she cannot control. She is simply using the anger to overpower her daughter with a loud voice and thereby assert her opinions.

Love yourself

“I’m sure that no one would want to get involved with a guy as warped as me”. I am sure you understand this already. Why do you dislike yourself? Why do you focus only on your shortcomings, and why have you decided to not start liking yourself? It’s because you are overly afraid of being disliked by other people and getting hurt in your interpersonal relationships.

A healthy feeling of inferiority is not something that comes from comparing oneself to others; it comes from one’s comparison with one’s ideal self.

Avoid the fabricated superiority complex

One makes a show of being on good terms with a powerful person. By doing that, one lets it be known that one is special. Behaviors like misrepresenting one’s work experience or excessive allegiance to particular brands of clothing are forms of giving authority and probably also have aspects of the superiority complex. In each case, it isn’t that the “I” is actually superior or special. It is only that one is making the “I” look superior by linking it to authority. In short, it’s a fabricated feeling of superiority.

There’s the kind of person who likes to boast about his achievements. Someone who clings to his past glory and is always recounting memories of the time when his light shone brightest. Those who go so far as to boast about things out loud actually have no confidence in themselves. As Adler clearly indicates, “The one who boasts does so only out of a feeling of inferiority”…those who make themselves look bigger on borrowed power are essentially living according to other people’s value systems – they are living other people’s lives.

Separation of tasks

All you can do with regard to your own life is choose the best path that you believe in. On the other hand, what kind of judgment do other people pass on that choice? That is the task of other people, and is not a matter you can do anything about.

You are worried about other people looking at you. You are worried about being judged by other people. That’s why you are constantly craving recognition from others. Now, why are you worried about other people looking at you, anyway? Adlerian psychology has an easy answer. You haven’t done the separation of tasks yet. You assume that even things that should be other people’s tasks are your own. Remember the words of the grandmother: “You’re the only one who’s worried how you look”. What other people think when they see your face – that is the task of other people and is not something you have any control over.

Those are the main lessons I picked up from the first half of the book. They really hit home with me and changed my perspective in 2018. Of course, there are many more lessons and nuances, but the above stood out for me. Others might do for you. If you find them helpful, give the book a try. You’ll likely find more interesting insights from the book which will be helpful to your growth in 2019 and beyond.

What I got better at in 2018

First of all, 2018 has been an eventful year. There are a lot to be concerned about in the past 12 months, but there are also plenty to be thankful for and optimistic about. I came across an article that summarized how the world became a better place in 2018. Highly recommended.

Personally, the following are what I got better at in 2018

Javascript

I didn’t write a single Javascript line of code before August 2018. That; however, changed during the course of 4 months. My MIS Capstone project forced to work mostly with Javascript as I was responsible for data visualization piece of the project.

Python

From January to December, I had courses in which I had to use Python every single month. Hence, I am much more comfortable with the language now than I was in 2017 in different ways, from data analysis, data cleaning and writing functions in the back end.

GitHub

I am still a bit frustrated and annoyed by GitHub. As somebody with a background in business, GitHub can be annoyingly user-unfriendly at times. But the Capstone project taught me a lot more on how to use branches, set up the origin URL and push code more efficiently.

Reading books

This year, I have read arguably the most impactful and best books in my life. 16 books were read in 2018, but I didn’t finish all of them. In the past, I was determined to go cover to cover for every book, but this year, I let loose. For some books, I stopped reading whenever I thought that I got the gist of it and that the rest of the book was just anecdotes and examples. It’s a better use of my time.

Knowledge in enterprise IT

12 months of working, reading and learning in the industry gave me a better handle on what was going on. The fact that I haven’t been fired from my job at a Managed Service Provider is proof of that. But there is a lot to learn and the IT field moves dizzyingly fast that getting complacent or listless isn’t an option.

Compassion and control of my emotions

I used to be angry, hot-headed and very impatient. Over the course of 12 months, I sought feedback from folks around me and received positive comments on my improvement. I still feel the urge to do things fast and speed things up, but I have a better control over my Hulk now than I did.

Blogging

I was more committed to this blog than I had ever been. I reached my goal of having the 100th blog post published in 2018. At least I could say there is an improvement in this area in 2018 than in previous years.

B2B Marketing

My working experience was mostly in B2C space. Since August 2017, I have been working in a B2B company and as a result, have learned a great deal about B2B marketing. For the past year, I learned much more about HubSpot, Salesforce, Webinar making, content marketing strategy and so on. Hopefully in 2019, I will get more experience in webinars and podcast as well. We’ll see

Honorable mentions: playing pool and cutting my own hair

It’s much easier to list what I got better at than to list what I am still lacking. There are just too many and we don’t have the time and space for that! Coming to 2019, I really look forward to learning more things or the same things but with more depth. Let’s see in about 8760 hours what I have to share again.

Podcast: Russell Brand and Candace Owens

A friend recommended to me the interview below that featured Russell Brand and Candace Owens. Even though I still have 17 minutes to go, I think I have enough to say a couple of things about it.

Extremisms

From my perspectives, the two people in the clip came from two opposite extreme positions in a variety of topics, whether it was about the role of governments, the entitlement mindset, socialism, capitalism… The issue with coming from an extreme position is that it is too generalizing and often times it is right in a few scenarios. Take socialism. Candace cited multiple times Venezuela as the proof of socialism as a failed social system. On the other hand, Nordic countries have thrived in the past decades because of governments and societies that are more socialist than capitalist. Yet, such cases are conveniently ignored when critics of socialism take a stage and voice their criticisms.

Decentralization vs Centralization

Decentralization has become increasingly popular nowadays whether you talk about governments or cryptocurrency. Fans of decentralization don’t hesitate to criticize governments and centralization. Don’t get me wrong. A lot of governments fail at their jobs and deserve criticisms. Essentially, governments are run by human-beings and we are naturally flawed. We tend to succumb to excessive greed and thirst for power. That’s why we need checks and balance.

Nonetheless, centralization has been there for centuries. And it happened that way for a reason. If it were so bad, why wouldn’t something like centralization happen earlier? We may have the technology in what powers bitcoin or cryptocurrency to actually have a shot at scaled decentralization. When that will happen remains unclear, but I am amazed at the tendency to dismantle completely centralization by some crypto fans.

I believe it is a more efficient way between the two concepts at hand (centralization vs decentralization) to distribute resources and run societies. If there were no banks, how much less efficient would our societies be? If everybody had to keep his or her record and there were no trusted intermediary, how much more time and effort would be wasted to do what we normally do with government agencies and banks.

Additionally, many are concerned about growing influence of big corporations on our societies. Yet, without governments, who would be able to keep those corporations in check?

Conclusion

The interview itself is a refreshing one that features a civilized argument littered with disagreements. A rarity nowadays.

There are points from each side that I agree and disagree with. One of the things I have learned in the past two years is to have strong opinions and loosely held views. Or in layman’s terms, I avoid extreme positions. Particularly, regarding very complex issues such as socialism, centralization vs decentralization and macro-economics, just to name a few, I believe the extreme perspectives are even less accurate or helpful. You can’t tell me a government-led society won’t work when there is Singapore. You can’t tell me socialism won’t work when there are Nordic countries.

Each country is very different. One concept that works for one country is not guaranteed to work in others. Using one particular failure/success to dismiss/over-hype that concept is, in my opinion, not right. What is failing is the execution. Not the concepts. What matters is reality. Whatever works works, regardless of what it is called.

Thanksgiving

In Vietnam, we don’t have Thanksgiving and it’s not a big deal in Europe either. So it’s a new concept to me. Nonetheless, I feel very thankful to America and what I have had for the past 2.5 years. 

I came here for more education, especially on the technology side, and a chance at a better life and career. In about 4 weeks, this Vietnamese will graduate with no student loan whatsoever. It’s all thanks to the school and the opportunity it’s given me. 

My first internship in the US was at an e-commerce website based in Omaha. It was an SEO position. Though I knew conceptually what SEO was, I had had little experience in both SEO and e-commerce. Yet, they took a chance on me and while it lasted for 10-11 weeks only, I picked up something along the way that proved to be useful later on. 

My next internship that has been going on for 1.5 years is at a technology company. The position advertisement was labeled Graphic Design, but the job description sounded an awful lot like one of a marketer. I applied and got an interview. It went well and I got the job. My boss later told me that she and the VP of Sales and Marketing agreed that even though I wasn’t exactly what they were looking for (someone with more design skill) and they didn’t know yet how I could fit in, they determined that I would come on board. 

Plus, I have met some great folks at school and forged friendships that would last for years to come. 

So I am pretty thankful for everything America. 

Gratitude

If you get to know me these days, I have a tendency to go on and on about how much I am struggling between two Capstones and a job. I am not good at programming, but I have been hustling to write line after line of Javascript, Python and HTML. Hours and hours of being glued to my desk and sometimes the code didn’t work. Imagine that monumental amount of frustration.

This weekend, I am on a quick getaway trip to see a good friend from Belgium, who is in the US right now for business. So while on the planes and during layover, I have some time away from all the coding, Slack messages and fear that the code won’t work. Time to reflect.

Before this semester, I kept saying to whoever cared enough to ask: I can’t wait to graduate. 5 weeks from graduation, I am; however, often overwhelmed by the feeling of uncertainty. What will I do when I am no longer a student? Being an immigrant in the US these days is not easy or enjoyable. Finding a job and getting the paperwork to work is challenging, requiring quite a bit of luck. Even though I have a clean track record (I don’t even have speeding/parking ticket) and my employer indicates an intention of keeping me permanently, my fate rests entirely upon some stranger in the Department of Homeland Security. There is nothing else I can do, but to wait and pray.

There are things that I don’t like about the US. It’s normal. I don’t think there is anywhere I wholeheartedly like. But I have gained quite a lot here. I wouldn’t have learned about coding had I still stayed in Vietnam. Instead, I am able to write some code now to the point that I enjoy doing it. Who knows? Maybe it will lead me to a great opportunity one day.

My job teaches me a great deal about enterprise IT infrastructure. Without coming to the US, how could I have known about cloud computing, storage, next-generation firewalls, etc…? (sounds smart heh?). Trust me, I am a newbie with a mountain of knowledge to learn. It’s like Himalaya. It keeps rising higher and higher.

More importantly, I have met some incredible people while in the US. Some will still be my friends a few years from now. Three days ago, a friend from Germany that I met while in Omaha, texted me out of the blue on Whatsapp, saying: “Minh, how is it going? Closer to graduation? Just want to let you know that if you want to find a job in Germany, don’t hesitate to ask”. I made my day and days after that.

What I am trying to say is that I am grateful for what I have got during the last two and a half years. Has it all been perfect? No. But I am grateful for it.

I spent an illegal and unacceptable amount of time on debating with myself: if I could do it all over again, would I still come here? Trust me, such a debate could drain you. After all, I left behind everything I had up to August 2016 to come to the US. No friends, no family, all the professional credibility and network in Vietnam that would mean nothing , and a personal relationship that would be broken at some point.

But whenever I am not in a bad mood, at a low point, drunk or bone-tired because of work and school, I feel grateful to the US and all the people that I have come across. Really. Would I still do it? The answer is yes.

Patriot Act with Hasan Minhaj & the man himself

I was told to watch Hasan Minhaj’s new show on Netflix called Patriot Act. If you don’t have a Netflix account, rest easy. The first three episodes are available on YouTube.

I like the show and Hasan. For some reasons, I am not a big fan of most of the late night comedy shows any more, except Last Week Tonight with John Oliver. Celebrity interviews or games or only “anti-Trump” rhetoric that sometimes comes with lame jokes don’t engage me. I prefer learning something new from a show or a funny take on the current issues. So far, John Oliver and now Hasan deliver that in my opinion. While John Oliver has a knack for choosing overlooked issues in our society, Hasan is a masterful story-teller. He just sucks you in the story he is telling whether it is a story on his family after 9/11, his take on that John McCain debate during 2008 presidential debate, or his being bullied in high school.

I was in the gym today, listening to his commencement speech at high school. He told the story of him being bullied, of being rejected from his dream of playing basketball in high school and of how that forced him to comedy. I recommend listening to his speech. In the end, he got real.

“It doesn’t always get better. The world doesn’t care one bit about your dream. But if you keep working, you’ll find something that you are meant to do. You’ll eventually find where you are supposed to be. If you can’t get into the front door. Go through the side. If you can’t go through the side, go through the backyard. If you can’t go through the backyard, go through the window. No matter what. Never stop fighting through the pick”.

Or something along that line. He has other great interviews on YouTube, but I’ll let you discover them.