Camille Blogs a Bit

Writing about design, technology, maybe philosophy, and daily living (in Singapore)

Menu Close

Rebuilding Confidence

This year, I’ve been thinking more about the kind of career I want. It’s becoming less hard for me to think of what my long-term goals are in the next 2, 3, and 5 years but I have a weakness that has been pulling me back: my lack of confidence. I’d describe some of my flaws as a mix of meekness, passiveness, and a lack of trust in my abilities. I am surrounded by friends who are supportive and aren’t shy in giving compliments, and it makes me even more aware of our difference in perspectives. How could they think I could accomplish so much, and why could I only see myself as so little? Losing that belief in my skills as a designer was a change that gradually happened, and I haven’t even noticed until earlier this year. I became determined to rectify it, and I’ve made some decisions that are helping me regain that confidence back.

working with mentors

I’ve been working in small teams far too long and in that few years, I’ve been building a general set of skills and a passion for building digital products. But I still felt lacking in some areas — there are some things I’d like to learn how to do and skills I want to develop, and areas I want to specialize in.

I’ve decided to work at a place with senior designers in order to observe and experience their approach to designing digital products. To learn by working with them. The feedback I’ve been getting are constructive and objective, less personal and indecisive and it helps me focus on what to improve on. I’ve been noting down the critiques to build a habit of self-awareness when it comes to designing interfaces and approaching UX.  I’m finally no longer working in a “design team of 1”, and the feeling is liberating and empowering at the same time.

Owning designs and learning from mistakes

In the past, when I said I wanted to “own something”, I don’t think I was able to articulate what I meant by it. In teams where too many stakeholders drive product and design decisions, I slowly stopped believing in whatever we were supposed to be making. When mistakes were made, I didn’t feel responsible and I started to care less about the product because of this.

Now, things are different. Designs are discussed, ideas are shared and listened to. When I’m assigned to a project (or part of a project), I feel responsible for it. I feel challenged in my struggles, and I feel accomplished when a screen design has gone through a couple of iterations just to get those user goals right. I never want to make others feel like that I would need hand-holding to do something right, and the best I can do is to make sure I do it better the second, third, and fourth time. It gives me a rush of accomplishment when I get positive feedback after learning from earlier missteps, and makes me feel like I’m improving.

being part of a supportive community

Community is important: everyone is on their own journey but the journey doesn’t seem too hard, too long, or impossible when we receive help from other people. I know I have to reach out to others when I need help, but there’s a difference when friends from our community extend help themselves. Sometimes you wouldn’t know what’s possible until someone offers it to you. I’m definitely looking forward to accomplishing more things with other people this year!

making (and finishing) projects

I’ve been starting to pick up some smaller projects so I can keep building digital products. One of my happiest moments earlier this year was finishing a working prototype of a sprint board using  Trello’s API. I’m now trying to into the habit of building again, and I have a couple of projects planned (and one started). I just need to make sure I finish them, even if it’s just a working prototype!

I have four months to go this year, and building my confidence is currently a work in progress:

  1. By the end of September, finish building 1 app.
  2. By the middle of December, share something with the design community.
  3. Publish blog posts regularly, at least once a month.

By reaching those goals, I should have a bit more of confidence 😉

Find a work culture and environment that fits

I spend around 40-50 hours a week on a full-time job,  which is 50% or more of my waking hours per day. These days, I’ve grown to truly value the influence that work culture and environment has on my happiness scale. People may have said to separate work and ‘personal’ life, but when half of it is spent in the office then it’s easier said than done. I’ve personally come to believe in the impact of an environment that cultivates and improves my skills,  keeps me challenged, growing, and happy. When I was in the middle of transitioning jobs, this was a deciding factor that determined which companies I applied for.

Culture and work environment may not always be visible to a newcomer’s eye on the get-go, but a little bit of research definitely helps:

  1. The company’s core values — it may be found in the company’s site, or maybe someone’s blog or slides shared online.
  2. Glassdoor reviews — I’m able to get different perspectives when it comes to the strengths and weaknesses of a company. Things won’t be perfect on all fronts, but I can narrow down characteristics that I find are most important for myself.
  3. Personal experiences — the tech industry in some countries like Singapore is quite small, so for the more established (or popular) companies it is possible to ask around and find out what the work culture and environment is like there (are the engineers overworked? Is everyone doing overtime? How are the benefits? Are you happy?).
  4. Interviewers — I also ask the people who interview me about what keeps them in the company. This may be a biased (usually positive) POV, but it also helps me compare if these are things that I value as well.

There are some comparative work environments that make a huge difference for me:

Collaborative vs. siloed

Do teams work independently of each other, or do they work to support each other? More collaboration between teams mean that ideas, data, and skills are more easily shared. Siloed companies often feel like each team is moving in their own pace without much regard to what other teams are building. Some conflicts may arise, especially in communication, where teams that run on their own don’t work together. Siloed teams would have different goals, whereas a collaborative culture helps everyone make more informed decisions and promote knowledge-sharing.

Open vs. secretive

Is management transparent when it comes to how decisions are made, the state of the company, what the strategy and goals are? I found it difficult to come up with plans or to prioritize when the team didn’t understand what the company wants to achieve, and how they plan to achieve it. It’s also very jarring when secrets and speculations float around the company. The fact is, people talk and it’s better to build a culture of trust than try to give employees false reassurances. Being honest about the company or product also helps teams make informed decisions.

Inclusive vs. exclusive

Does work culture favor the few “chosen ones”, or is there equal opportunity for everyone to be heard? Favoritism ruins trust and respect, and also lowers motivation and morale.

How easy is it to talk to people from other teams? Everyone is coming from a different perspective and sometimes (maybe, oftentimes) there may be some things that I wasn’t able to consider until someone brings it up. It also sheds light on what might affect people from different teams, especially when I may be thinking too often from the user’s perspective. Cultivating a culture of inclusiveness  may encourage other people from different teams to speak out, engage each other in conversations, and slowly transform raw ideas into great ideas.

Supportive vs. unresponsive

When issues are brought up or members from a team ask for help, do they get any response? Is the response followed up by inaction? When it takes too long for issues to be resolved (maybe never), it may affect team morale, happiness, and productivity. But when the culture is one that listens to people in the company and measures are put in place to address the problems, it fosters a network of support and improvement (as individuals and as a company). When ignored, it just creates a cycle of recurring problems thatwill drive people away.


Is it a culture that not only encourages but also kick-starts initiatives to establish the company’s core values? Or is it an environment that only reacts to events that happen once in a while? Reactions may sometimes be too late, whereas a proactive culture sets good examples and encourages members of the team to do the same.

Sometimes, things don’t always go the way we plan. With every job comes a “honeymoon” phase where everything is so new, shiny, and hopeful until you’ve stayed long enough to see the flaws. Do the good aspects of the company and your work life outweigh the bad? If not, it might be time to rethink how your work life influences your day-to-day living. Life is short, and it’s not worth spending it in misery 8 hours a day.

Japan: Osaka, Kyoto, Kobe (Part 2)

Personal cultural highlights from our trip:

Read more

Japan: Osaka, Kyoto, Kobe (Part 1)

In between transitioning jobs, I asked Charlie to go with me to Osaka (and tour the nearby prefectures) since it seemed like the perfect time for vacation for both of us. It was the first time I’ve visited Japan in summer (an earlier trip with family happened in May, just as spring was ending, where the weather was cool and perfect). I may have gotten feet tan lines and facial irritations (getting better now, thankfully!) but experiencing two summer festival events made the trip worth it!

Of course, it needn’t be said that everything was made better because Charlie and I finally get to take a break from this Long Distance Relationship thing. 

We just stayed at an Airbnb in Osaka for all eleven nights, then went out on day trips to Kyoto, Nara, and Kobe. We took it slow because it’s supposed to be a vacation, and I didn’t want to be too exhausted just before I start my new job, heh.

Read more

Digging deep to find product problems

Double hatting a Product Design + Management role these past few weeks have pushed me to look at product design in a different perspective. Previously, I admit I haven’t been trying hard enough to understand why “we’re doing what we’re doing”, and my product thoughts were something I treated as merely suggestions I can offer to the team. I used to think that whatever feature has been decided on, I’d only need to focus on finding the design solution to solve it. But these days, prioritising which problems to solve and deciding on what to build for the next two weeks drove me to a quest to dig, dig, and dig some more.

Working on a product that has a huge user base affords me the access to a great number of feedback, which is great on paper but not always so ‘great’ when you have limited resources. I think, it was only now that I truly understand what it means to understand who exactly your users are, in what context are they experiencing these problems, and why these problems are happening in the first place.

The past couple of weeks, I’ve been going through a few things over and over:

  1. Finding Problems and Understanding Them – which problems happen most frequently, and affects the biggest percentage of our customers? The loudest of your customers aren’t always representative of the majority, so I have to take qualitative feedback with a grain of salt. At this point, I need to support qualitative data with some user research: who is writing in (or giving this feedback) and why? What kind of quantitative data do we have (which are maybe raw for now, so what kind of questions should I be asking so I could find relevant data)? Are they problems for the target market that we’re focusing on? If not, I don’t immediately set it aside. I still have to ask the next question


  2. Understanding the Problem in the Perspective of Different Users – even if feedback came from a small but loud minority, does it actually also affect the majority of our customers? If yes, sounds like solving it will have a big impact for our product! For each feedback we receive, I seek out to know more — who is experiencing this problem, why does this customer care about it, what specific pain point are they experiencing?


  3. What are the Possible ways to Solve this Problem? – the fun part about brainstorming: you don’t have to worry about resources or time (just yet!). Coming up with ways to solve some problems also involves people from other teams, and this requires an active effort to reach out because I realised that not everyone is used to just approaching you to share ideas!


  4. Narrowing Down Solutions – this part may be tricky. I quickly learned that despite having done as much research as I could, solutions will still need to be tested and validated (and some experiments I couldn’t always do on my own). I read that some teams have a “Discovery track” in their Scrum process precisely to validate and test problems and solutions.


  5. Measuring Success – I’ve come across some problems that are hard to measure by just quantitative data (either by clicks/taps, sessions, etc) just because it’s more on the intangible side of things, and for those maybe I could only get assessment through qualitative feedback. But for everything else, finding which metric will show if the needle would move is my next challenge. How will I know this solution worked, and if not how would I know why it failed?


  6. Deciding on What to Build, and By What Means – to be honest, this is the trickiest part for me because I just doubt even what I initially thought were “good ideas”, and then try to convince myself through different means. This includes getting feedback from engineers and other teams. Some questions help: does this problem happen frequently, and to most users? After which I have to balance the answer to that with time and resources.

This is still an ongoing process for me but from the perspective of a designer, asking all these questions made it easier for me to understand why I’m designing something: for whom, and what for.

Empathy at Work

I’ve been reading up a lot on what makes people tick and company culture some few weeks back. This is another valuable insight and you’ll see where things in teams can break apart:

“…when companies try to optimize everything, it’s sometimes easy to forget that success is often built on experiences — like emotional interactions and complicated conversations and discussions of who we want to be and how our teammates make us feel — that can’t really be optimised.”

What Google Learned from Its Quest to Build the Perfect Team

It’s a good insight on how psychology, and things like empathy plays into one’s work experience. So those evenings when you ask your teammate how things are, how he/she honestly feels today — those moments are worth it.

I value working with my team and I’m glad to see that these things that I think are important actually do have some kind of research behind their impact.

But Google’s data indicated that psychological safety, more than anything else, was critical to making a team work.

The behaviors that create psychological safety — conversational turn-taking and empathy — are part of the same unwritten rules we often turn to, as individuals, when we need to establish a bond. And those human bonds matter as much at work as anywhere else. In fact, they sometimes matter more.

What Project Aristotle has taught people within Google is that no one wants to put on a ‘‘work face’’ when they get to the office. No one wants to leave part of their personality and inner life at home. But to be fully present at work, to feel ‘‘psychologically safe,’’ we must know that we can be free enough, sometimes, to share the things that scare us without fear of recriminations. We must be able to talk about what is messy or sad, to have hard conversations with colleagues who are driving us crazy. We can’t be focused just on efficiency. Rather, when we start the morning by collaborating with a team of engineers and then send emails to our marketing colleagues and then jump on a conference call, we want to know that those people really hear us. We want to know that work is more than just labor.