Monday, April 11, 2016

How Do You Shape Your Career?

[Good reading for fresh grads and those who want to change their career!]

I checked my LinkedIn profile rarely. I know it's a treasure trove for networking, but I have managed to get by building communities and getting more people to use technology through offline means (since the purpose of what I do is to get more people to use technology). I also rarely read email notifications from social media sites, but one email caught my eye. It was from an educator/musician from Sydney and he was asking for advise on how to improve his career. He also mentioned that it would really be an achievement if he'd be able to join the company I'm working for.

It took me a few days to respond to him since I had to think about how I managed to land the job I have now. I never planned to work for a global company. I always thought I'd spend my whole career in the Philippines. There was one thing I did that helped me shape my career: I purposely picked up many different skills since I was a student. And here's I picked up skills along the way:

Organizing and Being Focused. I learned this from my Mom. When I was about four years old my parents and our neighbors worked on building a new and bigger Parish church. They had most of their meetings at our house and being the baby of the neighborhood I always sat with them. My Mom always thinks ahead and lists down everything that needs to be down. I learned the 5Ps from her -- proper planning prevents poor performance.

Communications and Writing. I realized when I was in high school that I was a very bad writer. I started writing when I was just 8 years old and when I read my diary I realized I was a really bad writer. I joined the writing club and eventually our university's literary publication to improve my writing skills. I wasn't as good as my friends and I still feel awkward with my compositions until today, but I improved. I could write in both English and Filipino and the skills makes it easy for me to write reports, blog posts at work. The skill has helped me put together appropriate stories for my audience (especially during reviews).

Sales and Distribution. My first corporate job was at a telco and our team was tasked to break in new products in our sales channels. I learned to pitch, close sales and maintain relationships with frontliners to purchasing to executives. I'm not very good at selling and getting a no from a client always breaks my heart, but it helped me have better interpersonal skills and presentation skills. From this job I learned also how to strategize breaking in new products.

Production and Being Entrepreneurial. When I left the telco I worked on completing my MBA. My parents then decided to start a business on manufacturing stone crafted furniture. I had to learn to do costing, purchasing, production, managing workers, banking and finance etc. It was very hard to be an entrepreneur and at that time the export market was very hard to crack. I learned a lot about production processes since we were in manufacturing. The key skills I got from this stint was costing, budgeting and creating forecasts.

Marketing. Aside from production work, I was in-charge as well of marketing our items. This was back in early 2000s so digital marketing was just starting back then. Aside from offline brochures, I learned how to create a website and I explored the many online directories. It's so effective that we still get calls until today even if we closed shop more than a decade ago already. During this time I realized that I had a huge interested in the online world and I wanted to become a product manager.

Product Management. Since my son was growing up fast and generating furniture and houseware was hard I decided to try my luck and find work. I almost worked for a high-end furniture shop, but I flunked the final interview when I was unexpectedly interviewed by the president of the company. I froze up. Because of that I prepared well for my next interview which was for a startup tech company. I was lucky because they were looking for a product manager for an online directory for exporters. The previous skills I had acquired made it easy for me to strategize how to grow the product locally. It grew so well at some point it was bigger than the local directory. Because of that I was moved to manage the main directory.

Advertising, Research. and Trainings. I was eventually moved to the main company backing up the startup. Since the setup was more corporate I had the chance to pick up more skills. I jumped on the chance to be mentored by Dr. Ned Roberto for Research and I did not shy away from other marketing work that would be assigned to me. I had the chance to work on ads (TV, radio and newspaper). Since I was managing our online and mobile product I had to conduct a lot of trainings across the country. I learned a lot during this time but I unfortunately had a tyrant boss so I decided to leave.

Community Management. My first role at the global company was to be the eyes and ears for my country. I was alone and my mandate changed every quarter. I realized though that there were so many people who wanted to learn, but I don't know everything. I discovered that there are people who are willing to help others learn too. I was never shy to ask for help and help was given by local experts to grow the dev community. Learning this skills has helped me grow many different communities from developers, to entrepreneurs, to students and now educators.

So that's what I told him (this is an expanded version though). In the 2 decades I've been working this is has been my mantra:
1. Pick up as many skills along the way.
2. Never shy away from an opportunity to learn.
3. Be open and flexible.

Friday, April 8, 2016

How I'm Going to Assess Candidates for the 2016 Philippine Elections

The election season is at fever pitch right now in the Philippines and it's just really sad how it divides the country so much. I've decided to keep mum about my thoughts about candidates since there's so much noise already. I've been keeping my usage of social media at a minimum since a lot of the discussion anyway has been based on feelings. We have not reached the point where we vote for a candidate because we assess their platform. We have been voting mainly because of character and gut feel.

There's so much politicking happening at the national and local level it's so hard to weed through the information. There's been a lot of whisperings over rampant corruption where I live. I used to live a few houses away from an elected official and it's not hard to see what's happening. I always wondered why people are so bent on getting a seat in government. Took a look at local budgets and it explains it all. It has to stop and we should stop voting for abusive politicians.

Anyway, my son is going to vote for the very first time in May. I wondered how we could confirm that his registration is valid. I don't have to wonder anymore since our too friendly Congressman has already sent postcards campaigning for himself (so much for data privacy!). So I asked my son how he was planning to select his candidate. He said he didn't know yet, so I thought of sharing how I'm going to assess candidates based on what is important to me as a citizen.

I am assessing candidates based on their job description. The 1987 Philippine Constitution provides a list of qualifications and general job description of the President and Vice President. The President basically has control over the executive branch and he needs to appoint a gazillion people into office with consent of the Commission on Appointment (he has to do a lot of interviews then!), ensure that "laws are faithfully executed", Commander-in-Chief of all armed forces. The president can suspend the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus, declare martial law and may contract or guarantee foreign loans with approval of the Monetary Board. The only qualifications provided are: (1) must be a natural born citizen, and (2) should be at least 40 years old (which technically qualifies me to run for office too).

So knowing the job at hand here's how I am going to assess who I'm going to vote for President and Vice President:

1. The candidate must have the skills and network to find the right persons to appoint into office. He should have a good understanding of what these positions need to deliver so he should appoint the right people (and not just get cronies!). I.e, he should not appoint lawyers to run the transport ministry! Good examples of well placed appointees are Secretary Mon Jimenez for Tourism, and Secretary Br. Armin Luistro FSC for Education (they've really done an awesome job!).

2. The candidate must have a good understanding of what our country needs in terms of security. That's security mainly on the national level and my main concern now is China and terrorism. I will leave my personal security to the local officials.

3. Having the right to suspend the writ of habeas corpus and martial law is BIG. I don't want to just disappear into the night (almost happened to my family back during the Marcos years)! So it must be a president who values this right and would not abuse it.

4. Utang! Back when I was small elders would usually joke that babies in the Philippines are born crying because they are already in debt. I would like to have a President who would only contract debt only if it is really needed. This also means he has to hire a really good tax chief who would get companies to pay the right taxes. And get a fierce Ombudsman and Secretary of Budget Management to ensure that all the government money is used correctly.

5. Other things that are important to me: education, science and technology/ICT, crisis management, infrastructure management, transportation, taxes, international relations, but this generally goes back to #1.

The Constitution has provided only very general guidelines. It didn't event mention the economy (unless I missed that in my reading), but one thing that really struck me was the responsibility of the President to appoint the right people to a gazillion positions. Maybe this is something that we should see as part of their plans and not just see their platform. As a program manager, targets and key results are only as good if you have a proper implementation plan. I do a lot of interviews at work, so if you are a candidate and I interview you, do you think you'd pass my standards?

For the local elections, I'll write another post about it =)

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Dealing with Stress the Aileen Way

My doctor said that stress will always be there and I think I've managed to handle it quite well. There are days though when it overshoots the limit. When that happens everything is overwhelming and I become unproductive.

This is what I do:

1. Magpahangin which means get some fresh air. But since we usually have haze in Singapore what it means to me is to run to the nearest Toastbox to get a glass of iced teh c (iced milk tea).

2. Window shopping or go to the grocery. Nothing like getting distracted by retail therapy (this is why I have a weekly allowance to buy 3-5 items at Daiso).

3. TFC/DVD! If reality is a bit of a mess, it helps to get lost in another world and watch other characters get more stressed (it's usually worse than what you are going through anyway).

4. Color your world. I got several coloring books on my last birthday. Or you can bake colorful cake! They're a good stress buster.

5. Be creative! To get my mind off things I quilt. Concentrating on not getting pricked by the needle absolutely helps.

Friday, April 1, 2016

Is Work Life Balance Achievable?

Important read for those just about to join the work-force. Congratulations graduates!

"Ngarag na ngarag na ako."

"I stayed up late coz I finished some work."

"Wiwi na lang ang pahinga."

Familiar? These are just some of the things I regularly hear from friends and I honestly try to emphatize (hehe). It does get annoying though when it's the same thing day in and day out because I believe that work is just work and you shouldn't let it eat you alive.

My Dad used to come home before sun set and I don't remember him coming home late from work (like never!). This meant that we all had to be home by sunset as well. It was really annoying for me when I was in college so I purposely came home just in time for dinner (7pm) [because I'm really stubborn].

What I learned though from my Dad was one should not work beyond work hours because beyond work hours is time for family and yourself. Looking back I rarely burned the midnight oil. I only stayed up late because I was reading a novel. I rarely did overtime much to the consternation of a previous boss who believed that one should be chained to your office desk. I just really believe that work should not be your life and that a company just pays you 8 hours per day to work. The other 16 should be spent doing your own stuff and sleeping.

"But there's so much to do at work."

Know your limits is the key to having good balance. It took me years to understand what "You don't have to do much to make an impact" meant. I used to work on a gazillion projects and I eventually realized that doing a lot didn't meant it was productive or impactful. It didn't mean either that my manager was happy about it. If it didn't sync with our targets, then it just didn't matter.

Find out what's important to your boss and make sure that's what you work on. At the beginning of each quarter I sit down with my boss to find out what is important to him. Oftentimes he just gives me general directions so that's when I figure out what to deliver by end of the quarter. I still work on other projects which are important to me, but what I highlight are the ones that hit the target directly.

Work on a process to hit your targets. I still get overwhelmed. I even hyperventilate at times when a goal is too moonshot. What works for me is when I break down the big hairy goal. When I know what exactly I need to deliver I then break it down to a process and then a schedule.

So is Work-Life Balance Achievable?

Of course it is! Discipline though is key in achieving this. I cut off work at 6pm and time after that is my time. I tried to attend late evening global meetings, but it was detrimental to my health (very bad for my heart) since it takes me several hours to cool down before sleeping. Weekends are sacred to me. I turned off email notifications on my phone and I made it a point to snooze my work hangout. I don't entertain work related messages on my FB so don't be offended if I respond to you by asking you to send me a message on my work email (I am not a millenial!).

Compartmentalize. I generally don't blur the lines between work and non-work. It's very hard though since I work with communities, but I think most people I work with get it and they respect that. I noticed that sometimes I lapse and I end up very stressed when this happens.

Have a get back to the happy path exercise. My doctor said that work stress cannot be avoided. It's there and will never go away. What helps is having a plan on how to manage stress. I recently hit the peak because I traveled for 2 straight weeks, then my big boss visited (that's always stressful!), then hubby arrived for a long visit. I didn't get enough rest so I ended up in a rut. To reboot myself I took a day off since my whole body hurt and I couldn't get out of bed. I slept and then when I was up I tapped on my creative side and quilted. It quickly got me out of the hole I was in.

And two important things to do to have balance: (1) Avoid negative people; and (2) Pray (having a rosary app on your phone helps!).

Achieving balance is a mindset. You have to choose to do it.