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.

Continue readingRebuilding 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:

Continue readingFind a work culture and environment that fits

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. :)

Value of My Work and My Value as a Human Person

I’ve shifted through different jobs in the past few years. Even so, it has never been a breeze to price my work and my hours. I have done freelance work in the past, but I was never a hundred percent confident that I wasn’t undervaluing my work or that I wasn’t over estimating the work involved that I’d charge a client too much. It’s even harder, I think, when you grow up in a country where hourly pricing is not the norm and a starting designer would be surrounded by ‘clients’ trying to get his/her to work pro bono, if not totally free so he/she can put something in his/her folio.

Luckily, I met a designer back home who actively shared about his own experiences and principles when it comes to putting value on creative work (although at this point in time, both of us have started working outside the Philippines). There are a lot of articles nowadays by other designers themselves to never work for free, or how your free design will end up in the trash. Or books about how design is a business and a job. I’ve made a lot of mistakes along the way, and in the end I learned how to value the work that I do. In finding a fair price for myself and my client, I also felt like I had value as a person. My role as a designer feels important, and it makes me feel like my client (or employer) cares enough that I can pay for my bills and feed myself to achieve self-actualization (or maybe they don’t, but it feels good that they care to be fair).

This change in perspective made me very critical of how salaries are typically made and done in the Philippines. My limited experience involved a lot of local companies that pay quite low for people in creative fields. It was only with foreigner-owned companies (or start-ups) or foreign clients that I felt that my value as a designer was recognized and appreciated. (Although this also wasn’t always the case. There have been foreign clients or companies and start ups who look to pay very low in the Philippines because they think we are a pot of cheap labor.)

I also became critical of how my boyfriend earns doing video production and editing work. I have been part of and have been an observer of production shoots. It’s very, very exhausting work. Knowing the overtime work and physical exhaustion and everything else involved, comparing it with my own work and salary at times, made me hope with every fiber of my being that he would find properly compensated production and film work abroad. In a third world country, creative work simply isn’t normally financially rewarding. And most common, still, is that good design is often a “plus” with products, not necessarily a must. One of my regrets have been leaving a company who actually valued me a bit too early, only because it always seems greener on the other side. But that’s another story.

It’s not about doing as much work as I’ve been paid, but rather, doing a lot of hard work (be it because of love, passion, responsibility, diligence, for whatever reason anyone has for doing well in a job) and having enough to recharge, eat good food, and be Human. The plus side: I can avoid financial worries in order to focus on improving skills and knowledge, leading to performing better with the team. Having associated the value of my work to my value as a person, it is much harder to be content with being underpaid.

It’s all part of the Circle of Appreciation

As a kid, I learned how to use Photoshop because of pirated software. I didn’t have purchasing power as a kid, but I really wanted to do design and there were very few options over a decade ago. As a working adult with disposable income, I now make it a point to purchase products I enjoy using. By buying stuff, I can support artists, makers, inventors, designers, developers, creatives. Because I want other people to put value in my work as a designer, I think it is only right that I support other people’s work as well. If I want to be paid fairly for work that I’ve done, so should other people reap the fruits of their labor. Because I now have control over how I spend my money, I buy games and apps from their respective stores. I buy design software I use to generate income. I’m an avid supporter of all of Iron Hide GamesKingdom Rush that I purchase them as soon as a new game is out. I don’t mind having paid for Paper even if all the add-ons are free now. From time to time, I buy tickets to the cinema to watch movies that actors, directors, crew members and filming/editing teams worked hard on. I buy e-books and other published media where I learn things from.

I feel that by giving back to the community, I am able to enjoy more things that they provide. We all feel valued, we all contribute to this tiny wheel of self-worth. I’m not saying that you should base your self-worth wholly on how people value what you do, but it helps contribute to the love of self. Especially when most of our time we actually spend with our job, you might be like me who wants to find meaning in what I do. Never underestimate the feeling of being appreciated by others.

Jack of all trades

By the time I graduated 3 years ago, I’ve already had an idea of what I wanted to be: a designer who could build stuff. This was my main motivation in learning how to design and code (not only javascript, but also to be able to build stuff from ground up, like Rails, so I could make prototypes and test my ideas).

Three years later, some of that have changed. I still wanted to build stuff and I’m still designing and coding, but I’ve valued teamwork a lot more than I did before. I haven’t yet built a product by myself, but I’ve worked on a couple with talented developers and it was a lot, lot of fun and usually a great learning experience. A lot of times though it feels like I’m a “jack of all trades, master of none”. I always read about mastering one thing, or developing strengths, and that trying to develop weaknesses is a waste of time. As someone who’s primarily a designer, I would view “coding” as a weakness, though I’m not so confident that I’m that great with visual design either. This leaves me feeling that I’m actually good at nothing, making me feel much more discouraged than when I just started to think about what the hell I’ve been doing.

This always made me question if I’m wasting too much time learning skills that I’ll never be good at anyway (I learned some Cordova in my last part-time job; we didn’t even finish that project so I only learned how to compile and use SQLite but that’s it. I’m actually not sure when I’d ever use that knowledge again). To quell this cognitive dissonance, I just tell myself that learning new things, no matter what they are, is good. I’ve attended JSConf Asia and felt inspired (to make stuff). I’ve attended UXHK and felt inspired (to spread good design thinking). But they haven’t really done much to convince me that I’m doing the right thing in building my career. I feel like I’m floating in between design, front-end, javascript, UI, UX, whathaveyou.

Recently though, a new job and a new project with a missing Product Manager, I’ve been forced to think about this new product we’re doing a LOT. In the beginning, it was just hard to design for something that I hadn’t yet fully understood: I didn’t know what the product’s goals were, what exactly we wanted to achieve after the MVP has been released. And even when the basic functionalities for this MVP has been laid out, I kept on thinking and thinking about our roadblocks and how we might overcome it. I’m supposed to be thinking about wireframes and flows and even branding, but I couldn’t help but brainstorm on what our new product needs so that it could work. The books I’ve been reading are related to design — but much less with just the visual design of things (i.e. UI), but more so on psychology and product development.

This made me go back to David Cole’s article on the web: Applied Discovery: Presentation Build from 2013. He’s a designer I admire a lot mainly because he seems to be the type of designer I want to be (a designer who codes). When I first read that article, I shared it everywhere. I shared it a lot. I just felt like it spoke to me on so many levels and made me feel like I still knew what I was doing. That hey, all the time I’ve spent trying to learn code instead of practicing more visual design wasn’t all for naught. And that all the roles I’ve taken on, and all that I’ve learned from past projects is movement towards the goal that I had from three years ago: to build stuff.

There’s a temptation, when your only domain is the interface, to look there to innovate…

This narrow view also threatens the ability to do our best work. Far too often, a designer is charged with designing a product that will never make sense when expressed in UI, and the feedback loops rarely move backwards to force the product to change in response to the interface. By owning both halves, each process can move in appropriate response to the other, ensuring harmony. This is also why I believe designers should code, but again, that’s another subject for another talk.

Here’s a question to ask yourself: if the project you were working on failed — it hit the market and nobody wanted it, nobody used it — would you blame yourself? If the answer is no, then I think you don’t have enough authority. If you’re blaming others for the outcomes in your work, it’s time to demand more.

Maybe it’s no longer enough for me to just be thinking in wireframes or design or front-end. Maybe it’s time to get dirty with designing what a product will be and even have more responsibilities tied to its success and failure. Maybe I have big ideas to contribute to product development or design, in conceptualization and implementation.

There have been some projects where my ideas were “advice” — not enough authority to push through with the released product because again, my role was mainly just on the UI and front-end side of things. Perhaps now is a good time to start doing more, as product design is just another part of what I need to build stuff. I just hadn’t really thought that hey, maybe this is also a path that I could take.

We’ll see.



“Wake up every day like you mean it, sacrifice inconvenience for kindness; surround yourself with good people. Cry when you must, look for inspiration where you must. Never fall into any extreme; be truthful, be loyal, be a person of class no matter your status. Love more than you think is possible; forgive always. Be willing to sacrifice for what is good. And when you are tired, rest.”

There’s More to Life than Happiness, by Kovie Biakolo

It’s never too early to have resolutions.


the long road

I’ve been looking for job options since I’ve left my full-time job at Save22, and I’ve met up with someone who offered me a job when I was a fresh graduate. We caught up with each other and what’s happened in the last 2 years.

One thing’s consistent: I want to work on design and front-end (maybe learn more Javascript skills), and pursue learning more back-end/development work — enough for me to build my own things in the future. I want to work in an environment where I could collaborate with a designer and developer/s at the same time.

I have to remind myself of this goal since there are so many options around me. I could pursue anything, but I shouldn’t lose sight of this long-term goal.

I feel like I want to work with them because they offer me this. But I’m also apprehensive when it comes to certain people, due to some things that happened a few months ago. No, I’m not comfortable with seeing any blockmate, I think. I fear them, I doubt them, and it’s really not cool.

Sigh, but then again, that’s a bridge I only have to cross when I get there.