1984 by George Orwell

Whenever a conversation at work mentioned 1984, it seemed like a novel was always brought up and an understanding was shared among the people who got the reference. Although I tend not to read fiction, there came a time when I decided to add it to my reading list despite knowing as much about the book as its title can possibly suggest.

1984 by George Orwell takes place in a dystopian setting where the Party, a totalitarian government led by the Big Brother, closely monitors everyone’s actions and demands complete loyalty.

There is the Ministry of Truth, which rather than upholding the truth, dictates what the truth is. This is achieved by the constant rewriting and falsifying of past records to serve the Party. The ministry also created a new language, Newspeak, to limit the thoughts that can possibly be expressed. One of the words introduced is doublethink, which is the practice of believing in contradicting statements while forgetting that the contradiction exists. The truth is constantly changing and any level of questioning can quickly caused your entire existence to be erased.

The Party eliminates any rebellious thoughts through the Ministry of Love. It instills love to the Big Brother through mass surveillance, fear, and torture. The Thought Police are the secret police who discovers and punishes thoughts unapproved by the Party. People who show any level of opposition through their actions, words, facial expressions, or even what was said in their dreams are brought to the Ministry of Love where they’ll learn to love the Big Brother.

Winston Smith, who works for the Ministry of Truth, is not contempt with the current way of living. Although Winston is adept at conforming outwardly to appear loyal to the Party, his rebellious desire grows with each passing day.

Julia, who also works for the Ministry of Truth, confessed her love to Winston in secrecy one day. They quickly became lovers and would spend time together out of the view of surveillance. Winston and Julia agreed that when they get caught, there’s one thing the Party can’t take away from them, which is their love towards each other.

There are stories about a secret organization called the Brotherhood whose focus is to take down the Party. O’Brien, an inner member of the Party, was believed by Winston to be working for the Brotherhood. Winston’s suspicious appears to be validated when O’Brien asked Winston and Julia the sacrifice they are willing to make to overthrow the Party.

Winston and Julia continued to meet up in their hiding place until one day when they got caught by the Thought Police. To Winston’s surprise, the person who disciplines him is O’Brien. O’Brien then carried out physical and mental tortures on Winston. The goal is not to extract information, which Winston had already given all up, but to completely remove any thoughts against the Party. Even though Winston was able to stick with his beliefs during the initial torturing, he finally betrayed his love for Julia when he was brought to Room 101, the dreaded room where you are faced with your deepest fears. Winston was then released before his eventual execution.

Winston and Julia encountered each other one day. They both confessed that they had betrayed each other, which when you do, you don’t feel the same way about the other person. They no longer have feelings for each other and went their separate ways. As Winston was about to get executed, Winston thought to himself that he had finally won the victory over himself. He loved Big Brother.

It’s hard to put into words the feeling of reading 1984. I was expecting Winston to find his way to the Brotherhood and to overthrow the Big Brother. However, there came a time when I realized that there is no way out. It makes you ponder what can happen if a group of intelligent people with a pure pursuit of power has the technology and resource to perform mass surveillance on the public.

I’m still amazed at George Orwell’s ability to provide such in depth details on how a dystopian world with a totalitarian government will look like. Contrary to the usual endings where the protagonist will achieve certain level of victory, an ending of complete defeat of the protagonist’s character is not only thrilling for the readers but also fitting for the dystopian setting.

The Bullet Journal Method by Ryder Carroll

I had used the 5 Minutes Journal (5MJ) for nearly 3 years since I read Tools of Titans by Tim Ferris. 5MJ is great especially for people who want to try out journaling. It only takes up 5 minutes of your day and the structured questions you have to answer helps you prime your state of mind for the rest of the day.

The structure 5MJ provides is also its constraint. For several months, I found myself going into autopilot when filling out my journal. I had been answering the same questions on a daily basis for the past several years and when you get too used to something, you tend to skip over any thought process.

I want my journal to be much more, to be tailor made for me, so if I want to elaborate on a memorable experience I’ll have plenty of room to do so. An idea popped into my mind, why don’t I experiment with a notebook layout that will work for me and build my own journal? I quickly jot down my idea and didn’t give it much further thought.

A few weeks afterwards, my brother asked me what I thought about A Gentleman in Moscow and The Bullet Journal Method. I really enjoyed A Gentleman in Moscow but I completely forgot I have bought The Bullet Journal Method awhile back. It didn’t take me long once I started to read The Bullet Journal Method before I realized I got it all wrong. There isn’t any perfect notebook layout. Everyone has different needs and each person’s need is constantly evolving as they advance into different stages of their lives. Rather than look for a perfect notebook layout, look for a journal method that is adaptive to any scenario.

This is where the bullet journal method comes in. The bullet journal method is a mindfulness practice disguised as a productivity system which aims to help you live an intentional life. It provides you a proven method and four building blocks for you to journal effectively.

Index

The index serves as a table of content for you to quickly locate different sections of your journal. For example, you can have a section to keep track of your reading list and you will simply record in your index the reading list and the corresponding pages numbers.

Future Log

The future log keeps track of any tasks or events you have in the future. Similar to context switching, the more things you have on your mind, the harder it is for you to focus on the task at hand. Future log notes down your future commitments so you can be more focused on the present.

Monthly Log

At the beginning of each month, you will migrate the current month from the future log into a monthly log. The monthly log consists of two pages, a calendar view and a task view. Now is the time to act on that commitment you had previously note down for the current month.

Daily Log

Daily log is where you will do the bulk of your journaling. In the morning, write down any task or event you have for the day. Review what you have on the monthly log and see if anything can be worked on today. At the end of the day, it’s time for you to reflect on what happened throughout the day and to examine whether you have completed your tasks or if they need to be rescheduled or even removed. Be mindful of only working on tasks that are meaningful to you. If there’s a task that you keep putting off, see if you truly find value in completing it.

With the four building blocks, you have the minimal structure to build on top off to customize your journal. For example, as part of my daily log, I’ll note down what I’m grateful for and elaborate on memorable events that happened throughout the day. I also have a section for my reading list and the Spanish songs I’m learning.

The customizable aspect is what makes the bullet journal method stands out. There is a big bullet journal community with lots of examples on how people apply the bullet journal method. Learn more about it, experiment, and do what works for you.

How I Prepared for the Amazon Interview

Since I started to work for Amazon as a data engineer, some friends have asked me how I prepared for the Amazon interview. I have organized the list of resources gathered during my interview preparation and will also share my interview experience.

I have gone to the software engineer and the data engineer final round interviews. The interview processes are similar with both requiring you to know how to solve coding and system design problems and to demonstrate you have Amazon’s leadership principles. Data engineer interviews have an extra SQL component and will test your knowledge on how to design data pipelines depending on the reporting need requested. Software engineer interviews focus more on software design and on writing clean and maintainable code. If you just want the resources I’ve compiled for the Amazon interviews, please feel free to skip to the summary.

Online Assessment

Assuming you have passed the resume screening, the first round is the online assessment. It consists of two coding challenges, “describe your approach” questions to describe each of your solutions, and a work style survey.

For the coding challenges, you’ll get the type of questions that you see on LeetCode. I recommend doing LeetCode questions on a consistent basis. Spend an hour each day or every other day if you have less time but the key is to be consistent. As for the difficultly of the problems, I like to do medium difficulty questions exclusively. Medium difficultly questions reflect most closely what you would see in an interview and will help you learn some of the common coding concepts and approaches. If you are interviewing for a data engineer position, do all the LeetCode database questions for SQL practice.

After you have completed the coding challenges, you will be prompted to describe your approach and to state the big O runtime of your solutions. The online assessment will then conclude with a work style survey, which is a series of questions about your work style where you have to rank on a scale how much you agree or disagree with the statements. It’s intended to get an honest assessment of your work style so doesn’t require any preparations.

Phone Interview

Once you’ve passed the online assessment, you will advance to the phone interview round. The phone interview lasts for an hour which starts off with Amazon leadership questions for around 20 minutes and the remaining for a coding problem and time for any questions you may have for the interviewer. For the data engineer interviews, you will also get asked a few questions on SQL queries but the coding problem will be less difficult and require less time to complete.

Keep on doing the LeetCode problems to prepare for the technical portion of the interview. However, unlike the online assessment, you won’t necessarily be given an IDE, a method signature, or sample test cases. Practice solving problems on a text editor and ask questions to clarify the problem. Type out a few test cases and its expected output before you code so you can identify edge cases and let your interviewer correct any misunderstandings you might have early on.

Although this is a technical position, demonstrating Amazon’s Leadership Principles is just as important. Take some time to reflect on your experience and list out the projects and challenges that you’ve worked on. When you go over each Leadership Principle, assign the experiences which relate to it. Ideally you will have at least 3 experiences to talk about for each Leadership Principle. Search up your completed tasks if you have a ticketing system which keeps track of the work you’ve done. Often times, you’ll be able to discover things that you have overlooked or forgotten.

Once you have done the prep work, search up Amazon Leadership Principles questions. You can follow the STAR method when answering the questions, but essentially you are trying to describe a situation, what you did to improve it, and what resulted from your actions. Answer the questions out loud so you can mimic a real interview. Keep in mind that it’s very possible to have talked about an experience for an earlier interview question so be flexible with which aspects of a particular experience you highlight. As you practice more questions, you will become more articulate and better at answering the same questions with different experiences. If you don’t feel as confident with interviews, I suggest doing mock interviews with a friend.

In-Person Interview

The final round interview consists of five hour-long in-person interviews. For software engineer interviews, there are three coding rounds, one system design round and one round for Amazon Leadership Principles. For data engineer interviews, there are one coding round, one SQL queries plus scripting round, one system design round, one data modelling and ETL round, and one round for Amazon Leadership Principles. All the technical rounds will also have 20 minutes allocated for Amazon Leadership Principles questions and how you do in them is as important as how you do in the technical portion of the interviews.

The preparation is similar for what you would have done while preparing for the phone interview with the key difference being the extra system design and ETL rounds. I would recommend going through the Grokking the System Design Interview course early on as I find system design preparation is the most time consuming as engineers tend to have less experience designing complex systems.

For software engineers, you are expected to choose the right data structures and to apply good software designs. I’ve gotten questions where the interviewer simply tells me the type of system and the functionalities that need to be supported with nothing provided on the shared editor. In this case, you’ll need to determine which data structures to use, what kind of classes you will have, and how to adjust your solution and its design for any additional requirements. Be prepared to get a real life problem your interviewer is solving. You’ll need to verbalize how you will approach the problem so ask clarifying questions.

For data engineers, you are expected to be familiar with how to design data pipelines so read up on the common data concepts which I’ve shared in my preparation resource below. You don’t need to be an expert at any specific big data technology but you should be familiar with the tools available and what tradeoffs to consider when designing a data pipeline.

Summary

The Amazon interview is a long and rigorous process. If you are considering applying for Amazon or have already applied in the past, don’t get discouraged if you get rejected. Interviewing is a skill which requires practice. You can apply every 6 months to Amazon and through each preparation you’ll become more familiar with the process and the knowledge you’ve gained will be helpful for any jobs you wish to apply. Best of luck with your careers and feel free to download the Amazon interview preparation resources I’ve compiled.

Thank You Index Exchange

After working at Index Exchange right out of school for nearly 4 years, I started to work for Amazon this month.

I still remember attending the on-campus recruitment event. It was a whole day event with hiring companies holding info sessions at separate lecture rooms. There were info sessions for Intel and another company called Index Exchange happening at the same time. I had already gotten a chance to speak with an Intel engineer so I decided to attend the session for Index Exchange.

The room was filled with no more than 20 people since the majority of the students attended info sessions from more well-known companies. The recruiters, Aaron de Wit and Jessica Apelowicz, were personable, engaging, and passionate. I never heard of Index Exchange nor knew anything about advertising technology but they seemed like the people I would enjoy working with. I went home that day and told my mom Index Exchange had made the best impression on me.

I was happy when I got the Intel interview. The question I got was about string manipulation. It was meant to be easy to just get me started. It was easy, but I couldn’t solve it.

After a few weeks, I got the Index Exchange interview. I read up on all the topics covered and made sure I was able to answer all the questions posted on Glassdoor. I asked for the interview to be delayed for 3 weeks so I could have more time to study. I was prepared. I passed the phone screen and got invited to the on-site interview. My interviewer was Roni Gordon, who unbeknown to me at the time, would be the engineering lead I would work closely with throughout my time at Index Exchange. I solved some coding challenges, answered a few questions on how I would test a product, and eagerly showed him my mobile app. The interview ended a few minutes early since there was a meeting he needed to run to.

When I got the offer the following day I was happy, probably not as happy as my mom, but very happy. I studied and was fully prepared but I was also fortunate. Graduating with a commerce undergrad degree, I rushed through my computer science major in two years. I never had any engineering internship or co-op experience as most computer science students had. I could have easily not passed the resume screening. I might not have even passed myself.

Fast forwarded to 4 years later, I’m no longer working at Index Exchange. I needed a change at this point of my career. I want to tackle different technical challenges and learn how other companies approach problems.

I joined Index Exchange as a solutions engineer before transitioning to a data engineer and had been on multiple teams. One thing that is constant is the people. The engineers, managers, directors, product managers, engineering leads, agile coaches, commercial and facilities teams are all eager to help. No matter how senior a person is, it’s literally one message away.

I love Index Exchange. The work environment is amazing and the people are the reason why. There are so many people I’m happy to have gotten to know. A lot of them have helped me, a lot of them I call friends, and one I call my girlfriend. You know who you are and I want to thank every one of you.

I’m excited to get started on my new journey with Amazon. I wish everyone the best at Index Exchange and keep in touch!

The Richest Man in Babylon by George S. Clason

The Richest Man in Babylon by George S. Clason uses a collection of parables to give financial advice. The parables are revolved around a character named Arkad, a poor scribe who became the richest man in Babylon. Even though the book was written nearly a century ago, the principles still hold true today.

A part of all you earn is yours to keep

Some of us are fortunate to be in situations where we can keep a significant portion of what we earn. However, with rent, tuition, family obligations, and leisure, a majority of us might find ourselves in situations where our years of hard work do not result in much savings.

George advocates that everyone should put away at least one-tenth of their earnings to create an estate for their future. Rather than save your remaining earnings after you’ve paid out your expenses, first put away at least one-tenth of your earnings then plan out your expenses. Odds are you will be able to identify and cut down unnecessary spendings.

Even though saving for you and your family’s future is important, George also stresses the importance of enjoying your life in the present. Do not try to save more than what you can comfortably keep. Life is short and full of things to enjoy. Save at least one-tenth of your earnings and save more if you and your family can still live comfortably.

Learn to make your earnings work for you

If what you save can earn for you, then its children can also earn for you, which will enable you to multiply your wealth in the long run. Seek advice from those wise in managing money and handle your wealth accordingly.

For all the financial advices given, this is probably the hardest to accomplish. Finding a safe and profitable way to invest your money is easier said than done. You can place your earnings in your savings account which with inflation doesn’t increase your wealth by much. You can invest in stocks. However, different investment analysts recommend different stocks. You can place your earnings in index funds which can be a good option but it doesn’t yield high returns.

Learning to make your earnings work for you is important. However, I’ll say it’s more valuable to listen to what George advices not to do. Do not invest based on the advice of people who are not experts in the field they sell. Do not trust your own inexperience or desires in investment if it’s not based on sound reasoning and analysis. Do not chase after impossible earnings.

Don’t feel obliged to lend your money to any person

When you become wealthy, naturally a lot of your friends or relatives will seek your help financially. It’s human nature to feel a sense of obligation to help those who are close to you.

Even if you are in a position to lend your money, always take a step back and evaluate. Does the person who you are trusting your money with have a track record of handling money successfully? Are there valid reasons for you to be confident in the person’s ability to pay you back? And is lending your money the best way you can help this person? If the answer to any of the questions is no, find other ways to help. When a relationship involves a large sum of money, it can destroy relationships including with friends and family. Think carefully before you trust someone with your money.

Summary

The Richest Man in Babylon contains many valuable financial advices. Despite being a quick read with only 100+ pages, it can feel dragged out with many parables emphasizing the same set of financial principles. It’s a book I would recommend since it can have a positive impact on how you handle your wealth. If you are into the investment side of things and enjoy a deep dive on it, I would recommend The Intelligent Investor by Benjamin Graham.

Shoe Dog by Phil Knight

Whenever I go shopping, Nike is the one store that I always visit. I love Nike’s simplistic logo along with its casual and sporty look. However, when it comes to Nike’s history, all I do know is it’s the largest supplier of athletic shoes and apparel and it sponsors many of the NBA players I follow.

Shoe Dog by Phil Knight is a memoir on how Phil founded Nike and grew it to the empire we know today. As one of the most successful entrepreneurs, Phil didn’t emphasize his contributions. On the contrary, he simply tells the story of Nike and might even give you the impression that he was just lucky to be surrounded by geniuses who propelled him. That couldn’t be further from the truth.

Luck plays a big role. Yes, I’d like to publicly acknowledge the power of luck. Athletes get lucky, poets get lucky, businesses get lucky. Hard work is critical, a good team is essential, brains and determination are invaluable, but luck may decide the outcome. Some people might not call it luck. They might call it Tao, or Logos, or Jñāna, or Dharma. Or Spirit. Or God. Put it this way. The harder you work, the better your Tao.

Phil Knight

Phil Knight was lucky. When Phil asked to be the US distributor for Onitsuka, a Japanese shoe company, they agreed to it based on Phil’s lie that he represented Blue Ribbons, a company he made up on the spot. His track and field coach at Oregon, Bill Bowerman, was a mad genius at experimenting with shoe designs who was also the Olympic track and field US head coach. His reputation and charisma alone garnered respect in the shoe industry and his constant pursuant of a more performant shoe was a competitive advantage which set Nike apart from its competitors. Phil didn’t approach Bowerman to be his partner. Bowerman was the one who asked to be in on the partnership after Phil sent Bowerman shoe samples from Onitsuka.

Phil’s first full time employee, Jeff Johnson, happened to be another mad genius who worked tirelessly and took care of sales, advertising, customer retention, store opening, you name it with minimum leadership and oversight from Phil. These are just a few examples of how lucky Phil was.

However, if you read closely, you will see the brilliance of Phil Knight. Phil was a kid who loved running whose final year entrepreneurship project claimed that Japanese running shoes can make deep cuts into the shoe market similar to how Japanese cameras did. Unlike the majority of us, his crazy idea didn’t end with the course. He did his research, understood the shoe market, and identified Onitsuka Tiger as the shoes he wanted to distribute. Then he flew to Japan alone.

Bill Bowerman saw Phil as someone he wanted to partner with and asked for Phil to have controlling stakes of the company. His number one full time employee, Jeff Johnson, had nonstop ideas on how to improve the business. Phil unlike many managers we see today, did not micromanage and instead allowed Jeff the autonomy to maximize his impact. Phil greatly appreciates and values those around him and you can clearly tell from how he described each of those he worked with.

For all the great qualities that Phil possess, one of the most important is his persistence to accomplish his dream. There were the times when Onitsuka did not deliver the initial Tiger shoe samples for more than a year, when Kitami, Onisuka’s export manager, went behind their agreed contract and planned to replace Nike with a different US distributor, and when Onitsuka was looking for a distributor who had a store on the east coast which Nike didn’t have. These were all valid excuses that nearly all of us would have used to give up. But Phil didn’t, he pushed forward, got a group of people to work together and resolved one challenge at a time.

Shoe Dog is by far my favorite memoir. Phil Knight is an excellent writer and was able to reflect on his past with such truthfulness. I learned a lot about the type of challenges that come along with starting a company. Shoe Dog is one of my top book recommendations and I hope you will enjoy it.

The Best We Could Do by Thi Bui

My parents escaped Việt Nam on a boat so their children could grow up in freedom.

Our parent-child relationship is one that we seldom reflect upon. In the illustrated memoir, The Best We Could Do, Thi Bui examines her relationship with her parents and how their history of having to live through the Indochina wars have impacted who they are today.

Thi Bui is a novelist born in Vietnam, three months before the end of the Vietnam war. In an effort to become closer to her parents, Thi began to inquire about her family’s background and their journey of escaping to the United States as refugees in 1978.

The Best We Could Do started with Thi in labor and concluded with Thi and her son, however the plot is mainly revolved around Thi’s parents, Bố and Má (father and mother in Vietnamese). The lives they led before they met each other were very different. Má’s father was the chief of public works for the government so she grew up living in a big house in Cambodia with servants, cooks, and gardeners. Má was always the top student in class and won many awards. On the other hand, Bố’s family had to survive by whatever means they had during the Second World War. One night Bố watched his father beat his mother and threw her out. As a result, Bố was never able to develop a close relationship with his parents.

Afraid of my father, craving safety and comfort. I had no idea that the terror I felt was only the long shadow of his own.

There were trouble in Cambodia where Vietnamese people were being killed, which forced Má’s family back to Vietnam. Bố looking to avoid joining the army, applied and passed the exams to join a teacher’s college, where he met Má. Even though Má’s family was not fond of Bố, they still ended up married. During the Vietnam war, bombings happened regularly and they had to survive skyrocketing inflation with fixed teachers’ salaries. Friends, neighbours, and students were killed and people including children were incentivized and taught to spy on each other including their parents.

There is no single story of that day, April 30, 1975. In Việt Nam today, among the victors, it is called Liberation Day. Overseas, among expats like my parents, it is remembered as the day we lost our country.

After South Vietnam lost the Vietnam war, living conditions were still poor. People in the south were name called and distrusted. Families were constantly monitored and could at any moment be separated. With the changed currency and inflation once again, there was a daily survival for food. Bố and Má then decided to flee Vietnam and was able to escape via boat and reached Malaysia in 1978.

The Best We Could Do is the first illustrated novel I’ve ever read. It’s an easy read and the graphics helped visualize the living conditions during the wars. The plot is well told and I’m impressed at how truthful Thi was at examining her vulnerabilities and her relationship with her parents. I enjoyed reading this book and I’ve learned a lot about Vietnam and got a glimpse of life during the Vietnam war.

Nine Pints by Rose George

This year hasn’t gone well for me in terms of keeping up with my writing routine. I’ve been spending lots of time reading data-related topics and practicing coding challenges to improve my technical skills as a data engineer. This along with my job moving to work from home 6 months ago due to COVID has made it challenging to keep up with my habits.

As I type and reflect, this made me further understand the importance of setting achievable goals and adjusting your mindset when your day to day routine is affected. Due to me moving out and gyms being closed due to COIVD, my goals of practicing piano and working out became hard to achieve. As I started to not keep up with these habits, it also negatively impacted my discipline to accomplish the rest of my weekly goals.

I’ve reflected on my goals and redefined it so it’s achievable and relevant. I’ll start with a low baseline and turn on the intensity after I’m accustomed to the frequency of the habits I’ve set for myself. Besides this, I’m going to dive back into meditation as I felt like I was not as good at dealing with distractions compared to when I was meditating. Hopefully, if you are in a similar scenario, you can also reflect and redefine your goals to see if this can help you get back to your routine.

BLOOD-PINTS

The first book I’ve read while working from home is Nine Pints by Rose George. It’s a book about blood which drew my interest as it’s such a vital part of me which I know so little about. Rose covered topics which includes the usage of leeches, blood transfusions, HIV, and menstruation.

Rose George is an English journalist and writer best known for her non-fiction, The Big Necessity: The Unmentionable World of Human Waste and Why It Matters. Rose’s ability to dive deep into a topic and her persistence to understands really shines through as she traveled to India, Nepal, South Africa, and the Canadian prairies to conduct her research.

Rose started out with a visit to a leech farm in Wales. The connection between leeches and blood seems apparent, however, I was still amazed to learn that leeches were widely used as a medical instrument and at times treated like a cure-all prescription in the 1800s. And even though it’s not popular now, leeches are still being used medically due to its natural abilities to increase blood circulation and to break up blood clots.

Moving to Canada, Rose investigated the business side of blood as well as the ethical and safety aspect of selling blood and plasma. When corporations are allowed to profit off of blood, they can take advantage of people in need and target people in poor neighborhoods. By paying the donors, it will also entice people to lie about their medical status which will put unsafe blood in the pipeline to be transfused.

Rose then went into great depth to talk about menstruation. It’s very insightful to learn about all the troubles that come with menstruation. For developing countries, this can be a huge issue. When Rose was in Nepal, she discovered that there’s a tradition of women having to sleep in slacks during their period due to the belief of women bringing bad luck when menstruating. A lot of the women interviewed were firm believers of the tradition as it’s usually passed down from their family and so engrained in their culture. Rose further talked about how unaffordable sanitary pads are to women in some regions which force women to use whatever they can find instead which can often lead to infections and diseases due to poor hygiene. This further highlights the importance of further education on menstruation especially in developing countries.

Nine Pints is a very informative and insightful book on blood. It shines light on many aspects of blood that my review doesn’t cover. I’ll definitely recommend this book if you want to learn more about blood or want to read a different topic.

I started my blog as a way to document my learnings and improve my writing after I’ve read Crush It! by Gary Vaynerchuk, but I must say I really do enjoy writing again. 🙂

How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie

It’s been around 3 months since I published my previous blog post. I went back home to Taiwan for three weeks to attend my friend’s wedding and also spent a couple of days in Korea to visit my family there. After I returned to Toronto, I’ve started to get back to my usual routine this past month and I’m happy to be back.

How to Win Friends & Influence People is a book I read around 2 months ago. It’s harder to recall the details of the book but it also gives me a better idea of what I took away. After reviewing my notes, I remember that I find the book a bit dragged out with examples that often illustrate the principles in the best-case scenarios. To clarify I do believe the examples did indeed happen, it’s just that the outcome of some of the examples can easily be undesired under different circumstances.

All in all, I do find the book filled with many principles everyone can use and learn from. If you practice the principles it teaches, it can definitely be a very impactful book.

Let the other person feel that the idea is his or hers

If you involve someone in the decision-making process, you will get better buy-in from that person. And if you let the other person feel that the idea is his or hers, the person will champion it.

This does not mean you should try to trick someone into coming up with an idea they don’t believe in. Instead, ask questions to help them see different perspectives that they might not have considered. They might end up with a different idea than you do and that’s ok. When a team is brainstorming ideas, the goal is to come up with the best decision possible.

In a performance-driven society where demonstrating your value can be the key to a promotion or a raise, you might think twice before giving other people credit for your idea. I’ll say try to help others grow, share the credit, contribute to a better work environment, and most likely, things will work out for you. 🙂

Throw down a challenge

For my 2019 resolutions, I’ve set weekly goals for me to accomplish. For example, I had practicing piano for 30 minutes 3 times a week as a weekly goal. It has helped me to keep my focus and to make incremental progress consistently.

Seeing the effects it had on myself, I’ve started to throw down challenges for my friends and colleagues. Usually, the conversation will start with a desire to achieve something. I’ll follow up with “when are you going to start doing this then?” This is very helpful to get people to start thinking about how their goal can be accomplished or for them to start listing out the reasons which prevent them from accomplishing it. Often times, the reasons listed are solvable. For example, the reason for not starting kickboxing can be having a foot injury. I’ll then follow up with questions such as “when will you fully recover?” and “when will you start rehabbing on a daily basis?” When you are trying to motivate people to accomplish their goals, the key is to get people to commit to an actionable step with a specific timeline.

Commitment secured! But don’t stop there! You want to help others achieve their goals. Remember to follow up and encourage. If a commitment is set for Thursday, ask the person to set up a phone reminder or even check up yourself. And when the person is able to deliver on their commitments, be happy for them and let them know about it.

Give the other person a fine reputation to live up to

Give the other person a fine reputation to live up to. This might sound counterintuitive as we often heard quotes such as respect is earned. However, if someone is given a reputation as a hard worker, the person will be incentivized to work harder to not let down the team and his own reputation. By giving others a fine reputation, you are also more likely to get him to listen to any constructive feedback you might have.

“the average person,” said Samuel Vauclain, then president of the Baldwin Locomotive Works, “can be led readily if you have his or her respect and if you show that you respect that person for some kind of ability.”

So rather than only giving people credit after they’ve earned it, try giving them a fine reputation to live up to until they have shown that it’s not warranted.

Summary

This is not a book I would recommend as I’m not a fan of the writing style. However, it is filled with principles that are beneficial when you practice them so I can see why this book is so popular. The principles it teaches definitely bring a lot of value so please don’t let me discourage you from reading it. 🙂

Have you read this book? And is there any book you would recommend? I’ll love to hear your thoughts. 🙂

Bad Blood by John Carreyrou

It depends on the genre and the occasion, but when people ask me for my book recommendations, Mindset by Carol S. Dweck, Tools of Titans by Tim Ferriss, and Educated by Tara Westover were often the first books that came to my mind. Now I’m adding Bad Blood to that list, if not at the top of the list.

Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley by John Carreyrou details the rise and fall of Theranos, a multibillion-dollar biotech startup founded by Elizabeth Holmes. Holmes was a Stanford dropout with a vision to make lab testing quicker and more accessible by requiring blood samples as small as a single drop. With the ease of the sampling procedure and the proclaimed 4 hours on average test result completion time, Theranos’s revolutionary device would allow lab testing to be done more frequently and for doctors to adjust drug prescriptions sooner if needed. This can lead to the early detection of diseases and save lives. Holmes’s charisma, determination, and relentless drive along with Theranos’s proprietary lab testing device attracted multiple credible investors and vaulted Theranos to a $10 billion peak valuation. There was only one problem. The technology never worked.

Despite Theranos’s high turnover rate and the apparent technology issues known internally, Theranos’s problems never made it to the public. With a culture of secrecy and intimidation, employees are often isolated from other departments. The computer network is closely monitored and confidentiality agreements are often presented when employees leave. In 2014, Holmes started gaining more popularity and appeared on the covers of reputable media companies including Fortune, Forbes, and the New York Times. However, Holmes and Theranos’s fate started to change when John Carreyrou of the Wall Street Journal received a tip from Adam Clapper, a pathologist who ran an industry blog.

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John Carreyrou is a two times Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist best known for his reporting on corporate scandals. Carreyrou started investigating Theranos in late 2015 after he finished “Medicare Unmasked”, a project that forced the American government to release important Medicare data kept secret for decades.

The journey to uncover the truth behind Theranos’s deceptions was challenging to say the least. Barely any employees who’ve worked for Theranos in the past were willing to answer Carreyrou’s calls due to fear of reprimand from Holmes. And many of the few sources who were willing to speak on the condition of anonymity went silent after Holmes discovered their identities. Carreyrou himself was pressured multiple times to drop the story. When that didn’t work Holmes turned to Rupert Murdoch, the founder of The Wall Street Journal’s parent company who also happens to be the biggest investor in Theranos in 2015, to kill the story. Luckily Rupert rejected Holmes’s request citing that he trusted the paper’s editors to handle the matter fairly. The relentlessness that Holmes showed in shutting down this story further speaks to Carreyrou’s amazing investigative efforts.

Even though Bad Blood is a non-fiction but the clarity of facts and people’s accounts are so well encompassing that it feels like Carreyrou was looped in on every email and phone call. However, what I’m most impressed by is how matter of factly Carreyrou was able to tell this story. Carreyrou was able to cast his opinion aside and simply let the readers make their own conclusions with the series of facts presented.

I’ll say this is my most enjoyable read ever. The storyline is so compact and thrilling that it’s hard to put down the book. I hope you will enjoy it as much as I do if you decide to learn how Holmes and Theranos were able to fake its way to a $10 billion valuation despite being in one of the most highly regulated industries.

Have you read this book? And is there any book you would recommend? I’ll love to hear your thoughts. 🙂