Sunday, October 7, 2018

Applying product management skills to parenting

It has been a little over 3 years since I transitioned from head of engineering for startups to a product manager at Google. Can't say it has been an easy transition, probably one of the hardest things that I have ever done. But that's the blog entry for another time. Last time, I wrote a blog entry was the same time, during the middle of the 7th-grade quarterly check. Well, 8th grade is here and I'm a bit more prepared this time and got ahead of many surprises in advance. This time, instead of teaching time management and planning, I wanted to take a big step back and think about applying my product management skills to the problem of parenting.

In true PM style, I wrote a deck (here) :)



Thursday, November 9, 2017

My journey with a disorganized 7th grader

Original Post on Medium (here)

Imagine my surprise. A few weeks ago, I did a mid-quarter grade check with my son. My son who has never been super organized but managed to get it together enough to get straight A’s in 6th grade and received the Presidential Educational award upon graduation. I was in for a shocker. ‘A’ for PE and a no homework elective class, all the core academic subjects ranging from F to B. I joking said to him.. looks like you got a whole rainbow of grades. I would be lying if I said, I took it calmly and with strides.
After *much* yelling, screaming, and lecturing, I put on my Program Management hat and work on troubleshooting this issue. The good news is that we don’t have deeper social problems with bullies, drugs, break up with friends, etc. This is really just a matter of scaling from few teachers to 6 teachers, all with different styles and higher expectations.
Following his work for a week and I identified many issues, roughly prioritized severity.
  1. Lost homework is the number one issue. It’s lost among all the mess with other papers. His backpack is a dump. I found homework from the first week of school that was never turned in, crumpled and partially complete, stuffed in some random section of the backpack. He doesn’t do the homework because the assignment is lost. Sometimes, he completes the homework, then didn’t turn it in or turn in late. Dispute with the teacher, turned in or not, on time or not.
  2. No clear understanding of the objective of the homework and how it would be scored. Not following up with the teacher on results of homework or quiz to look for opportunities for feedback and improvements.
  3. Multiple teachers, assignments, and different styles of homework. We had it easy in the good old days, teachers gave us homework on a tangible piece of paper and we turn in that paper. Easy! Nowadays, we have digital homework, semi-digital homework, and physical homework, and endless variation of things in between. All the teacher uses the digital resources slightly differently and multiple signup and login to different digital tools. It’s a mess. I can’t blame my son for this one. It’s really complicated.
  4. Time management is another serious problem. Unable to properly estimate the time needed to complete homework and taking numerous “breaks”. Large time spend on the computer with low productivity (unnecessary browsing online youtube, changing music, snacking, and sneaking in online games here and there.) Homework that should take 30 minutes to 1 hr stretches to upwards of 3 hours and with low quality.
  5. Lack of planning for longer range projects and assignments, unable to break down the phases of the homework and plan out the steps. If the assignment is due the next day, there is a higher chance of the work getting completed, anything that’s one week out, forgot about it. It will be a late nighter the night before and with terrible quality if he even remembers, which is unlikely.
  6. Cherry picking interesting homework to do first, instead of work in priority based on due time or estimated time to completion.
We all can relate to this challenges. It’s not just middle school, in my professional work when I have too many projects with different customers and teams, it’s hard to get them right. I broke down the root problems as follows.
  1. Need a system to track all work items for all the sources in one place
  2. Need to understand the full “lifecycle” of quiz and homework
  3. Need organized homework time and space
  4. Need communication with teachers and friends to understand the expectation of high-quality work (scoring rubric)
My goal is to focus on the process of managing and planning for the homework. I *TRY* not to manage the “content” of the homework. He is responsible for the quality and outcome of his effort. I can teach him the executive planning function and skill that he lacks at this time. I want to give him a starter system, so he’s not learning this skill through trial and error. Unfortunately, I’m still checking of the basic stuff (name on paper, fill in all the blanks, the questions answered completely). It has been about 5 weeks of struggle to help my son to get better organized. His grades stabilized and slowly improving, but this is not my objective. He is beginning to see the benefit of this system and very reluctantly practicing it. I need to work with him until he fully understands and sees the benefit of the system, customize it and own the system for himself. Ultimately establish long-lasting habits that will enable him to be independent.

Friday, October 10, 2014

My answer for Quora. What are some smart moves a 22-year-old can make as soon as he/she starts earning?

What are some smart moves a 22-year-old can make as soon as he/she starts earning?

I'm sure there are many different cultural and economic specific situation to account for. My assumptions are U.S. middle class, and resident. I think many of the answers above are all great tactical advice. I think you want to step back and look at the big picture of your life.

My first and only financial advice is to set some goals. Decade by Decade..
My plan was to start my own business by 30.
Have net worth of $1M by 40.
Have the option to retire from work by 50. 

You goals will be different but until you have some goals you can't judge any of these advice are worthwhile or not. You need a yardstick to measure your progress in life.

The second part of my financial advice is to track your money carefully. Doesn't matter if you use paper and pencil, spreadsheet, or personal finance software, but learn to track your income and expense down to the smallest detail. This skill is like a muscle. If you're successful, your financial records and taxes will get more and more complicated. You need to build up the financial muscles for tracking and thinking about all your expenses and income sources. The rest is all up to you. Keep your expenses down. Make a budget. Diversify your income. All these goals requires you to track your money and make money work for you. This skill will be invaluable if you start your own business. Tracking your income and expense regularly will help save you considerable time and frustration when doing taxes.

The third part of my financial advice is to diversify your income sources. Make higher salary is great but you can get laid off any time. Start a consulting business and some clients doesn't pay or sues you. Buy rental properties, and some tenants will not pay rent. Buy 401k and invest in stock market with all the tremendous ups and downs. Buy CD with fixed income and inflation increase higher then the CD rates. I don't believe there are any risk free financial instruments. The only way to go is to diversify your income sources, and make enough margin so you can hire other people to manage the income source for you. You focus on growing and diversify multiple streams of income and scale up your financial power over time.  Hire other people to manage any single income sources.

My second advice is to find the love of your life..
With luck your life will be will long, find the right person to spend your  life with will be the happiest thing you ever do for yourself. No matter how much money you have or how successful you become at work, I don't think you can be truly happy unless you have someone to share it with.

My third advice is to practice life work balance.
You will never find that balance for long. Life and work change too quickly but as a skill you can learn to re-balance  more quickly over time. Learn what it takes to recharge your personal battery and your family's batteries. Traveling, vacation, reading, sports, volunteer, whatever. Don't wait until you're burned out to recharge. Recharge often!

My forth advice is start a diary or a blog..
And write in it regularly and often, about the things that you are grateful for in life. You will look back over time and be amazed. Human memory is a strange thing. People tend to remember the painful things and forget about the good things. You need to write it down to compensate. You'll live longer and be happier for it.

My 1ast advice is to do something personal, beautiful and creative. If you are like me, my life up to the point of college graduation was planned or filled with external expectations. Which school I go, what classes to take, what activity to do, what books to read, etc. There is something freeing about turning 22, graduating from college and making my own money. You will have the time, and the financial means to pursue something personally beautiful, creative, and emotional rewarding. Drawing, dancing, playing an instrument, singing, hiking, golfing, photography, etc. You don't have to be good. This is not an competition. This is fulfilling your personal need for beauty and freedom in your own life. I started photography once I had enough money to buy decent gears and taking photography classes. Now, I'm learning to play the piano with my kids.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

The Art of Managing Up. How to write better emails to your boss. (duplicate of the post on Medium)

Original post on : The Art of Managing Up

I've managed software engineering and product teams for a long time, and I have seen all sorts of email styles from my peers and team members. If you have a manager, it’s a safe bet that you've never asked her what the best way to communicate via email is. I've never been asked, but wished that I had.
Now is the perfect time to write this article, since I'm not currently managing anyone (I started my own consulting company and no employees yet). I can always point any future employee here. Please read this article, because this is the honest truth about how I, and probably most managers, prefer to get emails from team members. This article will help you avoid some awkward conversations. There’s no easy way to tell someone that he doesn't know how to properly write an email, and that he doesn't need to cc me for every task completed throughout the day.
Here is my advice
  1. Do ask your manager how she would like to get email communication from you. It shows consideration and respect. You get a opt-in effect and early buy-in. Of course, your manager expects to get email from you but it’s better if you ask how often and in what situation email is appropriate or unnecessary. It will get you points. It would be a delightful conversation because your manager probably has never been asked, and you two will have a good time talking about it.
  2. Do not cc your manager on everything that you do in the attempt to keep her informed. Your manager is just as busy as you are and she hired and trusts you to do your job. You already have specific meetings, status reports, or wikis to keep your manager informed. You don't need to cc again as FYI. You do not need to cc your manager when communicating inside the team or the project. You are expected to work efficiently and communicate effectively.
  3. Do cc your manager when communicating outside your team or your manager’s peers. Your manager needs to stay on top of external communications because there are no status reports from outside groups, and real-time email discussions help keep the pulse on the situation, bcc might be appropriate in this situation.
  4. Do not forward email with just FYI. If you are going to take the time to forward something, then take the time to explain your perspective on the need to forward the email, even it’s totally obvious to you. Believe me, your manager lives by email and gets 10x the email volume compared to you, so take the time take to explain why she should read just one more FYI email from you.
  5. Do not forward a long email with a long conversation thread and expect your manager to digest it all and make the appropriate decision or action because you forward it. It’s your job to provide the context and content to help your manager make the best informed decision possible. Do keep the original email thread at the bottom as reference but always provide a summary of the situation as you see it in a balanced and professional way, and most importantly, make it clear in the last sentence the expected action or decision.
  6. Do avoid long emails or emails with multiple important to-dos. If your email is more than one page long, then pick up the phone or walk into the room and talk. Break up email with multiple requests or multiple subjects into separate emails. It’s easier for your manager to manage emails and tasks this way. One task per email allows her to delete an email as soon as the task is completed. This way multiple requests can be handle independently, based on priority, and will not get lost.
  7. Do use and change the subject line as appropriate. The subject line and the closing lines are absolutely the most important part of the email, use them wisely. Email without subject line or bad subject line is an indicator of a disorganized mind.
  8. Do read and follow email etiquette. There are many blogs about email etiquette. Avoid ALL-CAPS, use punctuation, avoid texting shorthand , use smiley faces sparingly, etc.
  9. Context before Content. This is branding 101. Don't assume that your manager is up-to-date on everything that you do or knows the correct decision. Your manager hired you because you are the expert, her go to person for the challenge. Every email that you send to her is an opportunity to demonstrate your knowledge. Show her how you can analyze a complicated issue, and synthesize it to a few critical decision points, and have the strength and knowledge to take a position and make a recommendation. Take the time to craft a high quality email that provides the context of the situation and the content of the decision. Even if the manager disagrees with you, you have shown your experience and judgment. Be proactive with your opinion and recommendation, but be respectful and let the manager have the final say.
  10. Finally, this is the most advanced technique, write the email from your boss’s perspective, and write the email such that she can copy and paste then send it off to her peers, her manager, or the rest of the team. If you want that promotion then you need to show how you can think and talk like your manager. Your manager has to juggle more projects, situations, and people than you know. She spends ungodly amounts of time reviewing reports, spreadsheets, and writing emails to drive a project to conclusion. Anything you can do to help would be highly recognized and appreciated. So write emails like your manager and you are on your way to earning that promotion.
In summary, as a manager, I want to see fewer, higher quality and more thoughtful emails that respects my time and demonstrate your value. The advice is not just for email to your manager, it’s good advice for all email communicating with everyone in and outside team. Practice them and you'll go far.

Why I Work! (duplicate of the post on Medium)

The original post is on : Why I Work
One of my favorite books on leadership is by Simon Sinek, titled “Start with Why”. This is my attempt to apply what I read into a meaningful and personal example. I always choose jobs and projects by gut feel and now I want to explore that gut feeling and put into words, the higher purpose that I want to achieve from work.

What I do:

IT Return On Investment
Agile Software Development Management
Technical Team Management (onshore and offshore/distributed team)
Data Analytic Decision
Coaching and Mentoring for Engineers
Technology Road Map
Product Management
Application and Data Security
Cloud Computing
Software as a Service
Database Architecture
Software Architecture
System Architecture
User Interface
Software Programming (C/C++, C#, Java, PHP)
What I do was very easy to write; I listed some of typical things on a resume.

How I work:

Lead a team to analyze many possible solutions based on Return on Investment (ROI) of Information Technology (IT). Create prototypes and Minimal Viable Product (MVP) to jump-start a business concept. Plan and execute long term product road map to enable the business to scale and grow.
How I work was harder to write. I love to build technology and I love to build teams. When the team members and the technology come together, everyone feels the energy and the positive momentum. Everything seems to be in the Zone. We might be arguing about some minor point about UX or algorithm efficiency, but everyone depends on each other for the success of the upcoming release. Words can't describe that optimism and productivity that’s literally in the air. We all drank the Kool-Aid and there is a sense of mission and purpose. As a leader, I try to create that sense of common purpose. Create a team ego, where everyone knows the team and individual responsibilities and values each other’s role, skill, and contribution.

Why I work:

Create innovative products that solve a human problem through the business of technology.
Why I work turns out to be very hard to define, and I’m not sure if I have the right reason, yet. I know it’s not about money, title, technology, or learning cool stuff. I have walked away for all those things because I felt a company’s reasons and values were not in line with mine. I don't want to be busy with work; I want to work with a purpose. Yes, I want to change the world, and it must be a better world.
I’m not interested in making rich people and corporations even more money (although I don't object to that, clearly in a capitalistic society, profit is a critical measurement of one’s success.) Profit should NOT be the primary measure of success and purpose. I see profit as a natural outcome of a successful venture. When a product has the correct value, customer traction, and scalability, then profit is the natural outcome. I accept the Darwinian necessity of profit as a corporate survival fitness measure.
I’m technology agnostic. I worked for Microsoft and I have many good things to say about their products. Open source technology is great too. I don't have a dogma of Java vs. C# vs. Objective-C vs PHP, etc. I don't need to argue the benefits of VMs, Just-In-Time compilation, compiled, or interpreted languages. There is no perfect fit for any specific set of technologies. There are many cultural and technical reasons to advocate one set of technology vs. another. I'm more interested in making a right decision based on corporate culture, hiring availability, and business risk.
The reason why I work is certainly a mouthful of words. What does it really mean? I’m pulling a Matrix, Morpheus quote.
You're here because you know something. What you know you can’t explain, but you feel it. You've felt it your entire life, that there’s something wrong with the world. You don't know what it is, but it’s there, like a splinter in your mind, driving you mad.
This is how I feel when I work; there is something wrong, something that should be better and easier. I want to drill down to understand this feeling, why is it wrong, how did become this way, was it always this way, why does this wrong continue? And I'm driven to correct the wrong using technology. I know the problem and the solution is larger than me. I need to build a team, gather people with the same feelings and desire to correct the wrong. Gather people who are smarter and more skilled than I and together we can try to make a difference.
I want to solve problems for people.
NextCard — For me it is a more fair and faster way to get a better credit card. People deserve smarter score and better service online. Paper statements and paper checks are lame. It’s standard nowadays, but during the late 90's, it was all new.
Entropia — Distributed computing. Why buy more computing power when you are not using the power you already have.
Karma Innovation — Kids’ toys are boring. I wanted to create better toys that really taught music, were fun, and most importantly, felt magical.
EPS — Energy management is broken, it’s an invisible cost and full of lost opportunities. People want to do the right thing, but don’t know what to do. Data and algorithms will be the light that shine and make the invisible, visible.
As Jack Dorsey said “You have an idea and the company becomes oxygen for that idea… In these times, a company is the best way to spread that idea.” Building technology to solve problems takes money, skills, people, and planning. Business is most effective way to raise money, gather, organize, plan, and manage all those resources to deliver a meaningful solution. Helping customers and business planners understand what’s possible with technology and delivering the result is the ideal way to work.
I’m still an optimist and I still want to change the world for the better (for me, for people around the world, and for my kids.). That’s the big picture of why I work.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

7 suggestions to avoid discipling via spanking.

Growing up I was often spanked by my parents, and my teachers with a thin flexible bamboo sticks over the knuckles of my fingers (not the palm where where there are plenty of meat to soften the blow, but the bone part of knuckles on the back of the hand). In case you're curious, yes, it's quite painful.

I don't have a problem with spanking. In political speak, i'll "consider all options". However, I do think that escalation to the point of disciplining by spanking is failure on my part where I have lost control of the situation.

The most important thing I learned so far is that with some planning and care, I can avoid situation where I need to discipline by spanking. 

1) give enough attention. I definitely notice when I spend more time with my children. They doesn't act out nearly as much.

2) give enough time. Don't expect immediate response, be patient and firm. Plan extra time in advance before activities that involves the children. 

3) Keep rules to the minimal. The rules gotta be really important, something that I care to maintain even at the end of the day when I'm super tired. In fact, in our family, we try to only focus on 2 or 3 behavior improvement per year. 

4) Apply the rules consistently - make sure everyone from spouse, grandparents, nanny, play dates all know about the rules.

5) Avoid situation where disciplining is necessary. I don't want kids to eat candy, so I don't have any candy in the house. Don't want to get the argument of why, who, when, how much, etc over candy. It's a lose-lose situation any way you slice it. 

6) Make allowance for special situations in advance. There always has to be occasional special exception, otherwise, life is just too boring. If we going out to eat, I make it clear that candy is allowed but only if dinner is finished and they are on they best behavior the whole time. Reach a common understanding before going out.

7) Discipline the action not the attitude. Kids can have bad days just like adults and they don't have the emotional maturity to keep their emotions in check. It's hard but I let the kids know that the attitude is not helpful and it puts everyone in a bad mood. Or on my good days, I try to use humor to distract the kid. Either ways, i don't believe that spanking for show of attitude is appropriate. 

That is it. 7 ways to keep things simple so as parent we can reduce the need to discipline young children. At least discipline in a more fair and consistent way.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Owner vs renter mentality and why you should align your long term benefit and the transaction model.

Owners just have a different mentality compared to renters. The mentality shows up in so many little ways. The pride of ownership really can't be mistaken. Fundamentally the difference can be simplified as this: owner gives and renters takes. Owners invest time, money, and other resources into the asset to maximize the value of asset or the extend useful life of the asset based on some reasonable expected return on effort. Renter minimizes the effort and avoids investing time, money, and other resources in preparation for the exit based on the expected rental time span.

The most obvious example is car owner vs leaser. Most owners would not miss the recommended oil change or other scheduled maintenance. On the other hand, some car brands has to give away oil change for free during the lease period to incentive leaser to bring in the car. Leaser would do it in the beginning because the expected rental exit time far exceed the effort time. But as the exit period approaches, the value or the benefit of the scheduled maintenance decreases dramatically because long term benefit will go to someone else after the rental period.

I'm not suggesting that everyone should only buy a home, a car and completely avoid leasing or rental. These are financial transaction model decision that can be decided by considering multiple factors and can be quite advantageous. However there is a strong correlation between the transaction model and the user's mentality, and that is the source of the danger.

 I believe in order for a person to be successful in anything, one must *own* the problem and the solution. Ownership is a mental attitude completely within ones control. You can mentality own any problem and solution that you put your mind to. When you own the problem, you will invest time, and money into the problem and solution. If you have a renter attitude of the problem, then you hope it will go away on its own or you want call someone else to fix the problem as cheaply as possible. 

The initial purchase transaction model will likely to set the mental attitude and behavior for the useful lifespan of the asset. It's quite difficult to apply a different attitude after the transaction model as been set. Here are my personal finance spending short hand.

1) Avoid buying or leasing if possible. Less is More.
2) Buy to own appreciating asset and build up equity over time.
     House, stock, businesses, etc.
3) Buy big ticket items to keep so you will be motivated to maintain the value and extend the useful life
     Car, TVs, major appliances.
4) Rent lifestyle or rapidly depreciating items.
     Gym membership, gym equipment, boats, RVs, skis
5) Pay per use
     Carpet cleaners, DVDs, books, vacation house, time-shares,

Back to the car example, I wouldn't lease a car because the I believe I could maintain the car better and could do a better job selling my car for a good price then the dealership. I can keep the margins on the transaction for myself in case I decide to sell. I wouldn't buy a used car even though the saving is considerable because I don't trust the maintenance level of the average car owner. I still own my first car and it's almost 19 years old. The car is still in good condition (relatively for a 19 years old car) because I had an owner's mentality and invested the proper time and energy for the maintenance. I budgeted 10 years as the useful lifespan for the car ( and I'm nearly 100% over my target. It's a great feeling. Instead of car payments, I invest that money into other opportunities such as sport camps and college funds for the kids.

The decision to rent or own is not a simple decision that can be made by the online calculators. Those calculators are useful starting points. The real decision is your personal mental attitude and setting proper goals and expectations that are in alignment with the attitude.
If you know your enemies and know yourself, you will not be imperiled in a hundred battles... if you do not know your enemies nor yourself, you will be imperiled in every single battle.
Sun Tzu The Art of War