Camille Blogs a Bit

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

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Category: Introspection (page 1 of 3)

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.

PROACTIVE VS. REACTIVE

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.

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.

Idea vs. Vision

Before midnight musings: every person that leaves, leaves with their vision.

This is the same as products copying other products. You can copy features, but not the vision of the people who made them. So even in an array of products that do similar things, those that show promise have a strong vision behind them.

So for every person that joins a team brings their vision with them. For every person that goes, takes their vision with them. For an individual, where would that person bring their vision to?

Marcos and Martial Law: History that should trigger, except it doesn’t

Every year around this time (or earlier) in September, the Philippines will seem to want to remember Marcos and his dictatorship over the country. Since I haven’t been born during this era, much of what I knew was taught in school or by my parents (them having participated in the rallies themselves). My generation grew up without really knowing, just hearing about what happened. It was part of our history books, even of our Philippine Literature Curriculum in high school. We were required to read Dekada ’70, by Lualhati Bautista, watch the film, and have teachers describe what happened that lead to the TIME-covered “peaceful revolution”.

More recently though, it seemed like every anti-Marcos article published online is swarmed by “supporters”, especially with Marcos’ wife and children are still active in politics and (for whatever reason!) people are still voting them in office.

When I was young, I thought that everyone was taught the same version of history: Martial Law under Marcos was a period of countless human rights violations, with people either getting locked up (most famously Ninoy Aquino) or beaten and killed. The country’s money was stolen by Marcos and his family, shared among their cronies. The movie version of Dekada 70′ was released back then, and it seemed like a given that most people watched it. In the past few years, however, more and more I see published articles about Marcos and his regime swarmed by supporters who continuously defend him and praise his reign. Their arguments would usually include his presidency being a “more peaceful time”, that only people in Manila were fighting against him, and that the economy was progressing because of his leadership. Somehow it was so easy to conveniently forget about the deaths, all the youths that fought for freedom of speech, to forget about all the monopolies formed during his time and all the wealth stolen by his family and cronies. So convenient, even, to forget all the debt incurred and even the reason why the country seemed to be so ‘rich’ during that time.

Under martial law, Marcos suspended then revamped the constitution, silenced the media, and used violence and oppression against political opposition. He nationalized and monopolized increasing portions of industry and further increased spending on patronage. Throughout this time, the US and international organizations such as the World Bank and IMF generously supported the Marcos regime with aid and loans. Marcos was able to exchange solid commitment to the Philippine-US alliance with significant US aid, due to US Cold War interests of having military bases strategically located in the Philippines. It is often argued that a great proportion Marcos’ patronage was funded by US aid.8 The World Bank and IMF regarded Marcos as emulating tactics of Lee Kwan Yew’s successful authoritarian regime in Singapore, making the Philippines a “special focus” area to target funding.

The Political Economy of the Philippines Under Marcos

For us, the younger generation, Martial Law is like a memory to be remembered, a past we revisit a few days in a year. Will remembering the deaths of students who died (or disappeared) during that time inspire us, our generation, to live passionately and die courageously for principles and ideals that are worth fighting for? Every once in a while I’d see published articles locally and globally praising how well the economy back home is doing. But every day living in the city only seemed to get worse: traffic so bad compared to when I was younger, no improvement in public transportation, still a lot of murders and kidnappings first thing in the morning news. Wherever this “economic progress” was, it wasn’t so easy to spot out in the public. I couldn’t really see drastic changes in the majority of the population (which is still the ‘masa’, the lower-income, the poor) and in fact some things only seemed to get worse.

What good is not forgetting when everything stays the same? Looking at the list of candidates for the presidential elections, I have no hope for the country back home. Even if there is no martial law, there is still no justice. No justice for all the massacres and deaths that happened in the past few years, and probably never will be. If back then our parents marched against Marcos, I cannot imagine the same happening with my generation. It could be that some of us are too jaded or are like me who see the system as too corrupt to even fix or change. There was wisdom in those who fought during that time, for they realized the importance of toppling down (or trying to fight) a system that chokes. The government right now, with the same cancer that Rizal died for still deeply ingrained in the system, isn’t all too different from the corrupt government under Marcos. There is no strong political leader back home, but there is also no passionate demand from the people for a radical change. I don’t see things changing for the better in the next five years, and Marcos’ Martial Law will continue to be a memory drowned out by celebrities, movies, short-term gains, and false promises.

Break the Pattern

I’ve been working on some work-life balance recently, and been experimenting on some things to become more productive. One of the things I’m trying out is outlining a schedule for myself every day, making a kind of general task list of when to do things. I forgot which article I’ve read some months ago (and couldn’t find it through Google), but measuring time seems to be one of the steps to a more productive lifestyle. Some of the things that I quickly become aware of are my habits or ‘patterns’. I just then have to decide if they are good patterns to keep, or a bad habit I need to change (likewise, coming up with habits that I decide I want to develop). What I didn’t immediately realize though, is how breaking patterns from time to time is also a refreshing change that can contribute to productivity (maybe) or just a more ‘balanced’ lifestyle.

It’s so easy to fall into habits, good or bad. Sometimes, even staying late in the office can become a habit. Things that are fun (and work can be fun) are easiest to get into, and I end up being blind-sided by forgetting that there are other things in life. This isn’t a novel idea, but just today it really occurred to me how refreshing breaking patterns can be. It can be a movie night with friends hastily scheduled, or buying lunch from a place I’ve never tried before, or even going to a meet-up that I don’t normally attend. Maybe even picking up a free class, or signing up for something I never imagined myself trying. Doing something different every once in a while could also force me out of my comfort zone unexpectedly, and I think these are things that contribute to Life Skills! It could also lead to seeing things in a different perspective; who knows?

I want to be more conscious of breaking patterns. To do things I probably won’t normally do. Let’s see where I go from here. 🙂