Professional Progress Report – Milestone Review, Year 2 of 5

In one month, I’ll have been with my present company for two years as a software tester. Every year around this time I like to look back and see whether or not I’m on track in relation to my five-year plan. Having a five-year plan is important, not only do managers ask you this during your interview, but it’s a good thing to have to make sure you’re progressing towards a goal rather than just droning on day to day surviving the daily grind. For me, my five-year plan has always involved positioning myself such that I’m on the right path to getting into management.

In my first year at the company, my focus was mainly on proving my worth to my manager, lead, and the people who worked with me. In that regards I believe I was successful in accomplishing that. Not only did my manager recognize my hard work and dedication, but my colleagues also noticed my passion and drive to make sure things are done correctly. I built strong bonds with the people I work with daily and ultimately grew a lot in that first year. The project at the end of that first year carried shortly into my second year, as well as many new challenges.

My goal for year two was to be more involved and hopefully be recognized officially for my merit. This second year, I delivered my primary project, delivered a short flow project with a two month timeline, oversaw the stabilization of a program on fire, assisted in a high priority delivery, and was involved in two components of new development for my primary customer. During review season, I thought surely this increased workload, successful track record, and how hot the programs were would give me a good shot at receiving a promotion based on merit. Unfortunately, things don’t always happen the way we think they will. To be fair, my manager gave me a pretty solid review and I was recognized twice this year for performance, but not receiving what I felt I deserved stung a bit. I’m not going to compare myself to other people in the company because I don’t know their full contributions or what the other managers factored in, but I was left questioning what else they wanted to see out of me. All I got from my manager when I asked him what more I could have done was him saying to keep doing what I was doing and we’ll come back to this again next year.

So at the end of year two, I’m still stuck at level one. I’m a level one that spends half my day correcting  and guiding level twos, threes, fours, and fives with them wondering who the hell this level one is and why is he telling me what to do. I’m a level one with the passion that is lost on those above me. Ultimately I’m a level one wondering if maybe I should have been more vocal or demonstrative about my contributions to the company. At the end of the day, I’m the level one who isn’t going to give up due to a temporary road block.

How does this play into my five-year plan? I’m not the type to jump ship when something doesn’t go my way. Ultimately in this third year, my focus will be getting the other managers, not just in my department, to recognize what I have to offer as a leader. Luckily for me, I was tasked to be a subject matter expert for a part of our system. I’ve used that opportunity with the fact that our customer generally always buys the latest features we have to offer to show what I can do with new knowledge. With this title, I’m in charge of helping my colleagues when they have issues and teach them if they haven’t dabbled in this part of our system before. I’ve also started documentation to give them a reference point to use as a jump-start to understand the system rather than have to learn by fire, one of the biggest challenges of black box testing. Outside of my responsibilities, I’ve been organizing priorities for the developers in terms of which programs are hot, a task they were doing over word of mouth rather than via a calendar. I’ve been synchronizing the communications between project managers of various programs and engineering so that everyone is on the same page and less time is wasted with repetitive questions to the developers and testers who need to focus on what they’re doing.

Who knows? Maybe this year I’ll open more eyes and cement a path leading to a management position. Personally, I think I have a lot to contribute given the opportunity. My biggest obstacles right now are probably my youth, the company culture, and my impatience.

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My Foray Into Yoga – An Attempt To Exercise Keeping An Open Mind

As I was saying in my last post, one of my goals for this year is to be more social and open to trying new things. One of my regrets after graduating college was not exploring more and being more open to things. I’m pretty stubborn when it comes to knowing what I do and don’t like. As such, trying yoga was a challenge for me to practice keeping an open mind because in the past, I had already flagged it as something that I wouldn’t like.

Why yoga? One of my coworkers and I spend a lot of time after work hanging out. Most of what she and I do are fitness related, i.e, gym, running, basketball, etc. I noticed most of the time what we do is mainly things that are either convenient for both of us, or something I initiate. As such, I decided to take one for the team since she kept saying she wanted to get back into yoga. Along with this, I’d heard stories of professional athletes that said yoga helped them with their balance and flexibility. Due to how much I had been lifting and an ill-timed shoulder strain that restricted me from doing anything lifting related, I decided to give yoga a try so that I could restore some flexibility and give my shoulder a break.

After talking it over with my coworker and ordering what I needed, we decided on doing hot yoga at Purple Yoga in Tustin because they have a two-week, unlimited classes intro package for $29. Instead of easing into it, I jumped right into their red classes, which is the advanced class conducted in a room set to 100 degrees. In the course of two weeks I attended four classes with three different instructors. Instructor one was Melody, probably a bad instructor to go to if you’re brand new and not sure of what you’re doing. Her class was the most challenging out of all the classes I tried because it incorporated a lot of hand plants/upper body stability/head stands. Instructor two was Alex.  Alex’s classes seem to be focused a lot on stretching out your back, shoulders, and lower body. Instructor three was Ace who focused a lot on balance, lower body, and hip stretching. All three instructors are nice and patient, but Melody’s class is definitely not a beginner friendly class.

I remember going into these classes with an open mind. The greatest challenge was keeping an open mind as my body was struggling to keep the poses. One of my most hated things to do during high school was to stretch before and after cross-country and track practices. Yoga reminded me of why I dreaded it so much. Mentally I don’t have an endurance type mentality. I thrive on my competitive personality. In races I had a chaser mentality, if I had people to target, I would be able to push harder. If I was left alone, it’d be harder to kick it into the next gear. Yoga requires a lot of endurance as you hold poses for periods of time while focusing on form, balance, and extension. It isn’t competitive, there’s nothing to chase, and for me, each second felt like an eternity in that 100 degree room.

So what did I learn after the last two weeks? First off and unfortunately, I was right about not liking yoga. There’s nothing wrong with yoga itself. Yoga just doesn’t cater to what I would rather do for an hour-long workout. Secondly, if you were an athlete in high school or college, many of the common poses are things you’ve done before or based on things you’ve done for stretches or conditioning training. Lastly, yoga isn’t for everyone, but if you end up liking it, it seems like a lifestyle choice. I agree with the professional athletes when it comes to some of the benefits of yoga. The poses definitely can help you work on your flexibility, fix your posture, and help work on your balance.

If you’ve never tried it and you’re in the OC area, give Purple Yoga a shot. They have a friendly staff and they allow you to go at your own pace. Thanks for reading. Feel free to comment.

Who We Are Versus What We Do

As we get older and meet more people, the way we identify with others often times ties in with our occupation or what we are studying in school. I understand this way of getting to know people is part of networking, but it shouldn’t define who we are. Even when people are on a date and introducing themselves, a lot of the time people will introduce themselves and then lead the introduction on who they are with their profession.

In a sense, society set us up for this method of defining who we are. Some people still have last names that are based on the sort of work their ancestors did. This practice of labeling people based on their occupation does not correctly define who they are, it only tells us what they do for a living. Just because someone is a professor, an engineer, a doctor, or a lawyer, it doesn’t mean that is who they are, it only shows the surface of who they are. Our profession is what we thought we would be interested in working in as a means of providing for ourselves and our families. What sets each and every one of us apart from another person in our profession is our hobbies, personality, character, and opinions.

Who we are is more accurately defined by our moral character, what we believe in, and what we’re interested in. When people are asked to introduce themselves or tell someone about themselves, people seem to forget about this. In a lot of the interviews when I asked the hiring manager about themselves the resultant answer would be professional, which is understandable. But when I ask some of my friends how they see themselves, a lot of them still define themselves by what their studying or what their occupation is. To go beyond that is hard for them to communicate. In part I think it’s partly due to our lack of openness in this society and it’s why I decided to point it out in this post. By being able to define ourselves, we are more able to connect with people and build stronger relationships.

In either case, how you want others to see you is entirely up to you. In some settings you may not feel comfortable exposing too much of yourself which is fine, but when you don’t know how you see yourself, there’s a problem. If you’re one of those people who don’t know what you want, like, or who you are, then take the time to ask yourself these questions. It’ll help give you direction and allow you to pursue the things you want.

Thanks for reading. Feel free to comment or share.

Taxes, Their Effect On Your Budget

This week I finally got my time sheets processed and saw the resultant pay slips for the scheduled payments. I was quite shocked by the amount of my paycheck (33%) that ended up going to taxes, social security, and various other fees. It isn’t that it’s any surprise, I had income tax calculated for federal and state before I accepted my offer. But actually seeing it and feeling the sadness that comes with knowing Uncle Sam has come to collect makes it feel more real.

So how does this affect my budget? Well, my coworkers who get paid monthly say they miss being paid weekly and that being paid weekly allows you more financial flexibility. In my opinion, it’s all the same. So what if you get paid weekly versus monthly. At the end of the day, you’re still getting paid the same amount, just at different times. Rent is still due when it’s due. Bills, mortgages, and any other monthly expenses also come once a month. What really matters is that you don’t spend more than you make, and that you save some of what you make for a rainy day. As long as you have the discipline to differentiate between your needs and your wants, then the frequency of your pay makes no difference. What does matter is how much you pay in taxes and maximizing your deductions so that you aren’t paying more than you have to.

I know that sounds bad, but honestly Uncle Sam will just collect later on. The first piece of advice is putting aside money in a retirement fund. For me, my company offers 401k plans with vested matching up to a certain point. I hear I can also buy an IRA account. All of these things help me save money for my future in addition to reducing how much money I end up paying in taxes right now. What hurts the most is being a single full-time worker. For those of you who don’t know, single people get taxed the most. By putting aside money for retirement, I will be reducing how much money I have to spend now. This means that although I’m making more than I’ve ever made in my life, it doesn’t mean I will be able to go out and buy whatever I want, when I want. I still have to have a fixed budget for going out, food, and commuting expenses. In addition to these, I need to subtract the costs of rent, utilities, and other monthly expenses that come on a regular basis. As much as I would like to think I have a lot of extra money, Uncle Sam haunts my wallet in another way, college loans. After all these things are considered, I don’t have much money on the side to splurge with. So in the end, the lesson is to outline all your financial obligations, investments, and compare that to what you make. Only after seeing the big picture will you understand how much money you have left over to save or spend. Up to you.

Thanks for reading. Feel free to comment or share.

 

Society’s Moral Fiber, Change

On Monday one of my coworkers said something interesting that addressed two interesting topics. The first was how the way you look at current events changes when you become a parent and the second was about how society’s moral fiber changes. This post will mainly address the second topic primarily, but if any parents are reading this, I’d love to hear about how their views changed by comparing how they looked at things before and after they had kids.

Society’s moral fiber is a very interesting topic because the easiest way to see this change is through the change of style of women’s clothing. I’m not saying it to address anything in a sexist or negative manner, but the change over the last 100 years basically shows how society changed what they accepted over time. In the beginning women were basically wearing large dresses that covered up the majority of their body and swimsuits were one pieces. Now, we see little girls in mini-skirts, spaghetti straps, and women on the beach in bikinis.

The way this topic came up was because one of my coworkers mentioned how she wasn’t really bothered by Miley Cyrus’ behavior. My other coworker quickly asked her how she could say that when she had a kid. He asked her how she would feel if she had a daughter doing that on stage for the public to see. Her response was that society was coming down too hard on Miley and that no harm came from her performance. His final response was that there was no apparent harm, but it could set a precedent that other people base their decisions on. Given enough time, this precedent could lead to other more vulgar performances. His summary was, society’s morals change slowly over time, the change is so slow that people overlook how much harm this change can cause, at the end of the day if it isn’t stopped now, then society lowers its standards, resulting in comparably low moral fiber.

In a sense I do agree with what he is saying. I don’t have a problem with fashion because at the end of the day it’s another form of expression. I must admit I am not in favor of Miley’s decisions, but it’s her life, her image, and ultimately her freedom of expression. Ultimately I feel that society is ever changing. What we agree to one day may not be the same idea, action, or policy that we agree with in the future. The results of our approved standards or moral fiber is what we as a society must deal with whether they are positive or negative.

Thanks for reading. Feel free to comment/share your thoughts or experience.

Workplace Shenanigans – Drawing The Line

So I’ve officially been working for two weeks now for my company. Overall I get most of what I’m responsible for as well as the structure of our team. What I really enjoy about the people I work with is their lightheartedness and their work ethic. In the middle of this week I realized how much more time my lab puts in compared to the other programs in our company as I was looking for supplies in the building. If it wasn’t for the group of playful people I work with, I don’t think I’d be able to stand the long hours and high demands our program has. So what’s the point of this post? Well, with all the jokes that we have going on in the workplace, I figured this post would highlight where we draw the boundary between when and where joking is acceptable and unacceptable at work. I must admit I am still redefining the line in my present environment, but there are still set cases.

The Obvious Do Nots:
In the presence of upper management, executives, and visiting clients there is zero tolerance for joking around. This is a very simple and obvious thing to say because at the end of the day the relationship you have with these people needs to stay strictly professional unless they are the ones crossing the line. Even if they cross the line, you shouldn’t take it upon yourself to exhibit similar behavior.

The Grey Area:
When interacting with your team lead, your direct manager, and other leads within your team there are times when it is okay to joke around. These times are around lunch, towards the end of the day, and at workplace gatherings. Beyond these times, it just depends on the people you work with. For me, my managers and team leads are a bit relaxed, but I can always tell when it’s time to be serious and when it isn’t. What I’m still getting used to is the running jokes that the team already has going and if it is even appropriate for me to get involved. In either case, there’s a time to laugh and there’s a time to work seriously.

The Bottom Line:
At the end of the day most managers don’t care how you go about your work just as long as there aren’t any complaints and that you get the job done in the time you promised. You as a professional working in a professional environment need to remember that you’re being paid to generate results and represent the company in the face of the client. In doing that, there are times where you need to do what you need to do to please the client. If anyone reading this watches Mad Men, then you know a little bit of what I’m talking about.

Thanks for reading. Feel free to comment or share.

 

Learning With Limited Resources

So it’s been a long time since I was last put in a situation where I had very little if any resources to learn something new. Presently I am once again in that situation. This post is directed more towards college students and young professionals like myself who have been far removed from this type of situation. Why does this matter?

First off we need to recognize how much technology has spoiled us. With the internet and Google readily available, the majority of what we need can be looked up. Whether you’re in high school, college, or working, most of what you want to know is online. The only exceptions to this case is when the subject you are researching is proprietary knowledge or knowledge that hasn’t been developed, organized, or published yet. Prior to the internet, everyone’s resources came from books from libraries nearby. Even when you had the book you need, the time it took to read through it and find what you need made learning very difficult. The time and effort back then compared to now is pretty significant, it highlights how the pace of life has changed as well.

So what does that mean for us? Well if you’re studying engineering, science, or plan to work for a private company, odds are the details regarding their products are proprietary knowledge that many people don’t have access to. How are you expected to learn then? Everything goes back to the basics. Asking good questions and taking notes. Why do I write a post that is ultimately summed up by these two actions? Because many of us stayed quiet in class or didn’t ask too many questions. If you’re still in college, start asking questions to practice speaking up. If you are working, don’t be afraid to ask questions, managers prefer you speak up when you don’t know something rather than waste too much time trying to figure it out.

In my case, I have a team of experienced coworkers I can fall back on. I still prefer to learn by trial and error so I only ask when I am really stuck. That may or may not be the case for you, but at the end of the day, just remember that not speaking up annoys managers more than asking a question.

Thanks for reading. Feel free to comment or share.

MLK’s Dream, Stalled Progress

This morning when I was waiting for my orientation to start, I saw a TIME magazine with Martin Luther King Jr’s face on it. I decided to read the article One Dream. In the article, the author describes how MLK’s famous “I Have A Dream” speech came to be, how his vision was a spark for change, and how the progress from that change is still a work in progress.

The most interesting thing about the article is it only addressed the issues that African-Americans face in society today. To a certain degree I understand why that is. African-Americans face the most negative stereotypes in society today. They are one of the most harassed minorities when encountering law enforcement. Society itself also tends to behave differently around African-Americans thinking they are criminals or less educated. For the most part the civil rights movement did have a positive outcome. But the progress has seemed to stall. The blatant racism and hate crimes are rare occurrences, but Americans still have issues with all minorities.

I have no problem with the author’s focus on African-American civil rights because of the magnitude of the issue in our country’s history, but to leave out the issues that all minorities face in an America where the minority’s voice is louder than ever is just a shame. African-Americans aren’t the only ones who’ve suffered racism in our country’s history. Mexican Americans/Latinos/Hispanics deal with just as many social stereotypes as African-Americans. The likelihood that they are harassed by police is close to African-Americans. Asian Americans face jokes about their last names, eyes, and accents. Everywhere you turn, what may seem like a harmless joke about race is actually a form of racism. Even if you have no malicious intent, telling these jokes only tells others that racial stereotypes are funny.

The likelihood that these stereotypes go away is very low, but being aware of the things we say, do, and think about minorities is a step in the right direction. What we need to remember is that America was built on the backs of immigrants from all over the world. Every race/ethnicity has just as much of a right to be in America as the others. No one ethnicity was the sole reason why America is as successful as it is now. The true meaning to being an American is about coming together and working for a better future for ourselves, our children, and our society.

Thanks for reading. Feel free to comment or share.

Living Within Your Means, Views Of A New Young Professional

Okay, like I said in my last post, I am busy moving this week. Yesterday I spent the majority of my day moving my belongings out of my parent’s house with the help of my dad and buying some furniture for the living room of my apartment. So far it’s no bueno. My IKEA sofa bed has a faulty hinge that I need to get replaced and I still need a fridge. The amount of money that is flying out of my wallet right now is the inspiration for this post. What I’m learning from this experience is that moving for a new job is really expensive. For me, I’m only moving about 50 miles away from home, but this move is taking a big chunk out of my savings before I’m even making any money.

So why am I writing about living within your means?
Well, the assistant manager of my apartment community and I were talking about how some of his applicants move in with bad credit which requires them to put down 2 months rent as their security deposit. He briefly stated that in the area we were in, housing is extremely expensive, but 15 miles north of us, housing is significantly cheaper. People however choose to move into the nicer area even though it’ll eat up the majority of their income. For you young professionals that have yet to move, the general rule of thumb regarding how much you can afford for rent is 1/3 of your monthly income. It shouldn’t go above that number. For me, I’m fortunate to be an engineering graduate, but I’m unfortunate that my workplace is located in such an expensive housing area. I have never in my life paid this much for rent, but it’s also because I’m renting a 1 bedroom apartment.

Why is moving so expensive?
Moving can be cheaper and it can be much more expensive as well. After taking out first month’s rent and your security deposit, the costs of moving are entirely up to you. If you want to save money, do it yourself and borrow a van or a truck from a friend. This way, all you really have to pay for is gas and lunch for your friend. If you don’t have that luxury or know of anyone with a truck/van, then renting a truck gets pricey. The distance of your move also matters as well. For me, 50 miles isn’t too bad, it’s about $10 of gas money one way, so $20 round trip. My friend however made the move to Seattle, shipped his belongings in a moving capsule, and then proceeded to road trip up to Seattle. I can only imagine what his final costs were, but lucky for him his company gave him relocation assistance.

Besides the cost of moving comes the costs related to furnishing the new residence. In college I used the bed I had since 1995, I’m still using that bed. Other than that, I only have a couple of folding tables, and one of those small $20 coffee tables from IKEA. Moving into my own place means I needed to furnish it. I could have gone the creative route and mad my furniture or lived frugally for a while, but I decided to make the initial investment in a sofa bed and a few other items for my living room. What I couldn’t avoid spending money on was pots and pans, plates and bowls, utensils, and eventually a fridge. All in all, I’m set to spend ~$600 on things for my kitchen.

So how does this relate to living within your means?
Like I said above, for my first salary, I’m doing pretty well for myself. But the unfortunate reality is that most Americans aren’t engineers, doctors, lawyers, or scientists. Not everyone has saved the majority of their income and has a savings account to pay for move in, furniture, and other household needs. So what does that mean? Before you consider moving into a place, figure out how much you can afford to spend on housing. Look for places slightly below that range because you’ll need to remember to put down a security deposit. If you have savings to buy furniture, then go for it. If you don’t, then do what my parents did when they first moved from college, live with little to nothing and start saving. Americans of the greatest generation were big savers looking to put aside something for their kids. Around the 80’s or as I like to call it, the marketing/free credit era, Americans lost their ability to discern needs versus wants. Marketing people then began to go from convincing us that we need something, to telling us we need something. At the end of the day, I didn’t need a sofa bed, but I do need a fridge to store my food.

How do I live within my means?
So the first thing I did after securing a place was create my monthly budget. I took my monthly income and subtracted all the unavoidable monthly commitments such as rent, utilities, consumables (food, hygiene products, toiletries, gas), and loan repayments. After all that was accounted for, I took the remainder and set aside 70% as my savings for a future house or a rainy day fund, and the other 30% is what I’m allowed to spend when I want to go out or when I want to buy something I want but don’t need. For those of you thinking “what’s the point of making money if you don’t spend your money?,” I do enjoy spending money, but I also know the fear of being close to broke. I think this fear changes people and makes them never want to feel it again. In a sense this fear makes sure that I live within my means because not knowing if I’ll be able to buy food or gas is very stressful.

So I hope whoever is reading this either relates to what I’m doing right now, or takes my experience to heart and can learn something from it. The true costs of moving to a new place around your area is around 1 months rent plus $500 security deposit and about $500 more for miscellaneous things you need for the new place. If you’re moving long distance, then I’m not quite sure how much more it is, but overall the same basic costs apply.

Thanks for reading. Feel free to comment.

Lessons I’ve Learned From Job Hunting

So I guess I’ll make it official, I’m no longer unemployed. I received an offer on the 20th, and I start on the 7th. This means this week I may not be posting much due to moving to a new apartment as well as other family affairs.

What have I learned in the last 6 months?

First off, job hunting is a long mentally trying ordeal. Naturally there were times when I felt frustrated, but I never lost hope. The key thing most college graduates that are job hunting need to know is that we’re not competing exclusively with other college graduates for entry level positions, we’re also competing with the entry level workers who have been recently laid off or are looking for a pay raise by switching companies. So for those of you who are reading this and aren’t in college anymore, it’s probably too late to get an internship. What you can do instead is devote yourself to a project in your free time. Use that as a conversational driver in your interviews. Fully invest yourself in it and your passion will show when you’re in an interview. The x-factor in interviewing these days is being able to impress the team you’re interviewing with so that they envision themselves working with you and they can see what happens when you’re passionate about what you do.

Secondly, don’t be overly selective when applying to jobs. The key thing is applying to a job where you can do the work and in return the job stimulates you through the challenges of the task. I’ve met a lot of people in my life who hate their job. They say their job is boring, that it doesn’t challenge or interest them, and that they dislike the people they work with. When you’re applying and interviewing for jobs, take these things into account. A company’s culture and the people you surround yourself with 40 hours a week matters. If you end up hating your job, well that’s too bad because you’re stuck for at least a year to a year and a half. Any shorter period of time reflects poorly on you when future employers see it on your resume. People always tell others to do what they love, but the odds of you finding work regarding something you love is slim. If I did what I loved, then I’d be the first 5’9″ Asian in the NBA. But that’s not going to happen. Instead, people need to tell others to do what interests them. Suggesting this is more realistic than telling people to pursue what they love or dream for. After all, a dream is called a dream for a reason. It’s a far stretch. Don’t get me wrong, some dreams can be accomplished, but as a new college graduate, the odds of that are slim.

Lastly, stay confident and believe in yourself. If you graduated from school whether it’s trade school, college, or anything else, you have the skills necessary to do what you studied. After my interviews I would always ask myself how can I improve myself so that I could do better in the future. Some of the things I did paid off, some of it didn’t. In the end, I still spent a lot of my free time learning and reviewing things I felt were necessary to perform the jobs I was applying for. Keep that in mind and mention it in interviews. By doing this, your interviewer will know that they will be hiring a person who will constantly improve rather than just stay stagnant.

These three points are the best way to sum up my approach to job hunting. I also want to thank all of the people who gave me advice and encouragement. Hopefully those of you job hunting have people to support you as well.

 

Thanks for reading! Feel free to comment.