Category Archives: Work Ethics

Is Artificial Intelligence (AI) the next big thing?

Earlier this week I attended New York’s Artificial Intelligence (AI) summit offered for free through my company. This event is meant for businesses who are interested in getting AI in the many uses of every facet of the company. The event was attended by over 5,000 “delegates” and various speakers. While I feel that the overall purpose of the event is informative, I did not find it that much useful. This is due to the fact that AI is not an easy subject to tackle.

That brings me to the title of this blog, is AI the next big thing? Over the century, there were tons of “next big thing”. The discovery of personal mobility, discovery of flight and the coming of internet to name a few. After being exposed to the subject, a developer of the “AI” and attended the many discussion of the AI – I find that the AI is an unavoidable subject that everyone is living in.

What is AI?

The AI is a broad subject that covers a wide range of automation. By just implying AI means robotics is incorrect. AI refers to automating tasks that we do every day. Going into deeper level, AI refers to making not only the tasks easier, but better. However, there are a number of risks involved. In this blog I’m not going into the subject that deep because I’m not an expert in this are.

What is AI, really?

AI is just pure “If and then” statement. In other words, it translates to cause and effect. In computer lingo, you program the machine to identify a statement or action. If the action is satisfied, what will happen next. Let’s use Alexa for an example. You can program Alexa through a routine to run the task of telling you a weather condition. “If” the temperature outside drops below 30 degree Celsius, you want Alexa to remind you to wear heavy jacket before going out to the cold. AI can be categorized in multiple categories. AI can cover front end use (i.e. applications etc), to Machine Learning (ML) and Deep Neural Network. For the sake of not confusing anyone, I will use AI to cover all these subjects.

My exposure to AI

Everyone of us are using AI whether they are aware of not. For example if you are reading this, I can assume that you already have a Netflix account. A normal user would not know that there are various AI running every time he or she opens the Netflix app. Netflix uses your past behavior and make future movie suggestion on your home screen. Additionally, Netflix uses AI to create thumbnails on the home screen. The biggest question is how did Netflix manages to do that in split second? I like everyone else are mainly user of AI. However, only the last year or so I realized that I’m a developer of AI, albeit in a small scale. I’ve been developing databases using Microsoft Access for over 15 years. During this time I crated over 50 different databases (or tools) to do things more efficiently. Additionally these tools were able to generate hundreds of different reports through conditions I built in.

Is AI easy?

Even though I’m an AI developer by definition, I would be lying to you by saying AI is easy. This is one of my criticism of the AI summit that I attended – all the speakers, delegates and the various booths at the conference seem to suggest that AI is a must have and easy. After I attended the bootcamp of Amazon Web Services (AWS) too months ago, I realized that AI is not as easy as advertised. Not only you need to understand computer lingo, you need to have a good understanding of programming. There is nothing “click” and “drag” in AI.

Should everyone work with AI?

The answer is yes. In one of the talks in the conference, the speaker mentioned that in the next several decades AI is so important that it will decide if the business will succeed or fail. Businesses who start incorporate AI in their business models will likely succeed and those who do not thing of AI today will fail (see above). That translates to the work force. If you want to succeed in the work force, you need to start thinking how to incorporate AI in your career. For years I’ve been satisfied staying in my “comfortable” spot and not worrying about my future. This is no longer the case as I see my other friends started to progress further while I feel “stagnant”. That’s why I’ve begun to explore this are a more and more.

What do you need to do now?

If you are currently in the work force, start investigating the subject on AI and how it will help you or vice versa. Start incorporating AI in your daily work. One way to do this is to look at your internal tools and processes and see if there is any option that you can make things more effectively. If you are parents with children still in grade schools, start encouraging them to learn about computer coding (particularly Phyton).

In the next several blogs, I will invest more time in discussing AI. If you have any questions of comments, feel free to respond to this blog.

Vicious Cycle of Modern Day Lives

Yes, this blog is about enjoying work and life. You can’t have one and not the other. That’s when one would either stressed out (being hating work) or failed to achieve one’s potential (being enjoyed life while ignoring everything else). Finding the perfect balance is easier said than done.

Today’s blog is about neither. It is about how everyone of us are trapped in a vicious cycle of trying to achieve something that the society expects us to do. For example, everyone in the modern day is expected to go to school, learn life skills, start working , get a career, build a life, etc. At the end of our life-cycle, we are expected to pass on our knowledge to our future generation. And the cycle begins again.

This is not so bad if there are no hurdles or life-events along the way. But God always have different plans for everyone. There is always unforeseen events that may appear and stop the plans half-way. For example, while one is doing find and having a successful career may find himself out of job and living on the street.

Well, today’s blog is going to discuss why are we all in this predicament, and is there anyway we can get out of this vicious cycle. I’ve pondered this question for years and I come to the conclusion that I could not get out of the cycle unless I decided to drop everything in front of me and live in a forest and live off the land.

Let’s build the case shall we by asking several questions.

Why do we exist

We exist today because God has plans for everyone of us, big or small. However, God does not tell us what He has plan for us. We just have to figure it out ourselves. But the problem is when we were born, we are just one of the helpless creatures with no capability of defending ourselves. We go through years of learning and training before we are even capable of being independent. We exist to be part of a larger community so we can give back to the community for years to come. So should we be selfish and say the hell with it and just do whatever we want? The answer is unfortunately no. We will continue to stick to the plan (unwritten plan) and hopefully we are on the right plan.

Why do we do what we are told

Early on we’ve already been told that we should do this and that. If we don’t we will fail in life. To a certain extent this is true because everything has already been dictated by society. For example, if a 6 year old child says he wants to be a fireman when he grows up, he cannot just wear the fire proof and jump in a building that is in fire and hope to put out the fire. No, the child has to learn all the necessary skills and when he becomes an adult will have to take all the training and exams and hope one day he will become a fireman. But what if the child decides to step out of line when he was 12 and did something different? Using my personal experience as an example, I knew that when I was in high school I want to be in the business world, but I don’t know how. But to get there I learned that I MUST get good grades, go to college, obtain certain skills, apply for jobs, go to interviews and hope that I get that job. Now after 25 years, I continue to follow the unwritten route and hope that one day I’m well off to retire. What if I decided that I don’t want to follow the plan anymore? My whole life-being, including my children’s will collapse. So the conclusion is I don’t have a choice.

What about the haves and haves not

When we start to become independent of our parents, we were already exposed to how the society works in terms of livelihood. For us to be able to get what we want in life, it will cost money. To get the money, we need to earn it. And to earn it, we need to use a third of our lives in it. Take for an example of buying a car. When I was in grade school I already wanted a car of my own. Unfortunately I learned that the car is not like a toy and costs a lot of money. When I became an adult, I soon realized that to get the money to buy the car, I need to get a job. However, at the same time I found out that what I make is not what I earn, and that means that it is much harder to buy the car. Not only that I need to pay the government and everyone in between of my hard earned money in order to get the car I wanted. The another question arise out of this dilemma – do I really need the car? The short answer is no, but society tells us we do because it bring us convenience and freedom to do what we want. So we fall back into the same cycle with no way of getting out.

As I noted earlier, the only way for us not to participate in this cycle is live in a forest and go off grid. If we live off land where no one (in this case society) can reach us, then we won’t be influenced by all the rules, systems and programs. We could be free from all the hassle and stress of the modern day lives. Unfortunately, reality hits us like a rock. Homo sapiens are creatures who seek convenience, even cavemen invented wheel and discovered fire that staying status quo would never work.

At the end is it really that bad to be in the vicious cycle? Personally I have given it a lot of thoughts and realize that if we manage our expectations and be happy with what we have following the cycle is really not that bad.

Let me know your thoughts!

You’re Fired

Last week I had the unfortunate opportunity to terminate an employee who was working for me. The good news is she was only an intern and had no impact on the company; but the bad news is I ended her chances to work with the company. The question that one may ask is what could any person do wrong to be “fired” by any company.

Let’s start by understanding the term of employment, in any companies. The term that I am describing only applies to general companies that are not specific regulated or any government agencies that require certain “supervision”. Most companies use what they call “voluntarily” employment – meaning that both sides of the parties (employer and employee) made an agreement to work for each other with both benefits from each other. The “voluntarily” also means that both sides could and would terminate the employment agreement at will. Of course, in today’s employment law employees usually get the most protection.

So the question is when does an employee get terminated and why? There are several reasons and for most seasoned people who have been employed for many years would understand. For recent graduates who just started in the workforce, read on.

Do Not Break the Law

Every living things in this world are entitled to be protected by the law where they reside. The law that I’m referring to covers myriad of subjects. That could be from common laws to business laws. A company exists to increase the asset of its books. This includes increase in revenue for the owners and shareholders (if it is a public company). No company exists as a welfare; even a non-profit organization needs certain income to operate. To be able to operate positively, the company must follow the laws as set forth by the government. This is particularly true for banks. Banks could potentially have thousands of laws and statutes that they have to follow. Breaking any of the law could potentially put the business in jeopardy. Having said that employees must abide by the law – breaking anyone of the law could have serious consequences including termination. For example, one of the most critical law today is ant-money laundering. Do not mess with it.

Follow Company Policies

Each company requires multiple policies where it operates on. The policies are “internal law” the company must follow. For example, some companies have policies on travel and entertainment. Banks may have policies on trades. The policies are intended to prevent the banks from breaking the laws (see above) and companies expect every employee to follow. These policies are usually communicated to the employees when they are first hired. In some policies they state that not abiding to the policies could subject the employees to termination if the offence is serious enouth.

100% Commitment

When an employee is hired, he or she is expected to invest time in performing the role that he or she assigned. The first day of work usually involves explanation of roles and responsibilities. Then expectations are communicated. The reasons I terminated the employee were mainly due to her performance. The first day she was hired, she failed to come to work on time. For the 5 months she worked, not a single day that she was not late. To add to that she would disappear in the middle of day for several hours without informing anyone. Finally, when work was assigned to her it would take her several days to complete.

Do Not Take the Job Lightly

Everyone should perform the tasks assigned should feel like your life depends on it. Any work that was given should be done 100% to our ability. Doing halfway and expect others, especially the supervisors to agree, will not cut it. Imagine a cashier accepting money but did not count it properly the company may lose money because if it. Using my work as an example, I am tasked in summarizing data for the board members. I ensure all my work is checked and completed correctly and accurately because any errors on my part could potentially cause problems for the management and could also effect someone else employment. The employee I fired did not feel that she need to put in the effort even though I warned her the importance of the work. Not only her work was lackluster, it contains errors too which required additional work on my part.

There are other minor things that I did not list here that everyone should consider. However, most employers are more lenient when it comes to minor offences and would not consider termination as the last resort. If an employer needs to terminate an employee, there should be just cause for the action as employment law is usually lean on the employee side more than the employers. Regardless, if employees want to ensure continue employment, they need to ensure the 4 points above are considered.

Getting the Job of Your Dream

How do you get the job of your dream? There is no clear and easy answer but there are certain things you can do to increase the chances. For most college graduates who recently graduated, this has become much more harder.

When I graduated more than 20 years ago, the job prospect during that time wasn’t great. At least there were opportunities if you look for it. In the US today, things have gotten worse. There are multiple factors such as current state of the economy, the political environment (i.e. trade war with China), the influx of college graduates, the changing industries have make job prospects much more difficult.

While getting the “dream job” has becoming more difficult, it is not impossible. Here I list several things that you can start to increase your chances of being employed higher. These points are generic in nature so they should be applicable to all professions.

Don’t Follow Your Dream

What? Isn’t this an oxymoron; the title says “Getting the Job of Your Dream” but the thing to avoid is “Don’t Follow Your Dream”? Yes, this is quite true when it comes to getting a job in current environment. Most young people who just graduated from high school have high lofty goals. But in reality this is a lot more difficult to achieve when most of them do not have the necessary experience. The worst is for those who want to be something when there is no possible way for them to achieve. Believe it or not in my experience and what I’ve observed, a lot of professionals achieve their goals by luck not by plan.

Some high-schoolers who are getting ready to go into college want to work in a field that they dreamed of when they were younger. Some like music so they want to be a musician; some like art because they are good at it during school but not knowing there is not much job in the art industry. Some believe they are really good in singing; being a singer is the way to go when there is only one in a million chance they will become famous. Don’t be a psychologist because you love it too much. The thing that will kill someone’s dream is when they realized that they spent years study the field and finding out that that field is in “freezer”.

Be Open to Other Opportunities / Be Flexible

This brings to the second point, be flexible. Going to higher education is a goal in itself and not many have the real privilege. However, once there be flexible enough to change your focus of study if needed. Using the examples above as an example. If you decided very early that you are good in art, you need to be flexible enough to learn to adapt. For example, if you learned during the first year that being an artist is a dying field (i.e replacing by mobile applications) be flexible enough to change your major. be open minded and start looking for other opportunities. If you invested too much time in the “dying” field during your junior and senior years there will be no way for you to turn back.

Start Early

It is important for high-schoolers to start early in investigating what are some of the opportunities that are available once they graduated from higher education. If you start late, especially during the junior year in college, then it will be too late. Starting early will help you planned ahead on the fields you want to study. It will also help you determine what major you want to study, by keeping in mind that you also need to be flexible to change if necessary.

During the exploratory stage in high school will also help you in deciding what other extra-curricular activities you want to be involved in. For example, if you really like to be in nursing join a hospital as a volunteer. That will assist you in determining if you really like the nursing field. It is much worst to find out that you hate tending to sick patient after graduating with a nursing degree.

Don’t Think Like You Deserve It

I’ve seen my share of recent graduates who think they deserved to be hired. After being a manager of several multi-national companies for over 20 years, I’ve met with multiple recent graduates who think they deserve the jobs. All newly hired employees must go through the rut and earn recognition. Unless they proof they deserve to be recognized the other option is to be bypassed them from being hired or being promoted. I remembered years ago when I delegated an audit work to an accountant at Arthur Andersen and I was met with a hateful look. The end result was I bypassed him for any other audit work. I also interviewed multiple candidates for an internship at my current employment. The altitude I’ve seen in some of the candidates could only be described as condescending.

Be Mindful of Your Resume

The resume is an important piece of document that many graduates often overlook. A badly written resume could only result in a miss opportunity. A resume is the difference between getting your foot in the door or getting the resume placed in the trash. Every company who is hiring goes through thousands and thousands of resumes just for one job opening. Literally the recruiter or hiring manager will spend less than 10 seconds to decide if he or she wants to continue to read the resume. Once the resume makes it to the desk, the hiring manager will spend less than a minute to peruse the contents. Bad presentation, typos and badly written English are some of the causes will end the resume in the trash can.

Do Your Homework

It is essential that every candidate who are being asked to an interview to make every effort in doing his/her homework. Be prepared such as perform some research about the position and the company may seal the fate of any job prospect. I remembered when I went to my first interview I made the blunder by thinking Coca-Cola Bottling Company as the same as the Coca-Cola Company. Needless to say I was not considered for the position.

Don’t Bullshit / Don’t Be a “Yes” Man

In an interview, do not every lie. Deception can be easily picked up by the interviewer. Never say or express anything that you are not comfortable in demonstrating. If the interviewer captures you lying in the resume and in the interview, the likelihood of being considered for the position will be very slime. Another pet-peeved of mine is meeting yes-man candidate. I’ve candidates agreed with everything I asked and said during an interview. Candidate who challenges and asks difficult questions mean the person does his/her homework and is ready to perform.

I won’t claim that by following the points above will definitely help you get the job. There are a lot more books out there that will discuss this subject in details. The points above are something that I observed and my help you to be a better candidate among seas of other applicants.

If you believe I miss anything, feel free to comment.

Work Smart or Work Hard

I think a lot of us heard of the title above before. This could be applied in our personal lives or our professional lives. Today’s blog is focusing on professional/working lives.

You may wonder what does this matter. Work is work! As long as we get things done and get paid at the end of the day, we are happy. It matters because it is one thing to work but it is another thing to enjoy work and be recognized.

I started my career as a lowly worker at Arthur Andersen as a Human Resources generalist. At the beginning I was learning my rope around the big organization, but I was not happy because the work was tedious and did not provide any satisfaction. Soon I realized that I wanted more – to get more I have to do less. I began to work smarter instead of just getting things done.

After I started focusing on working smarter, my career took a rocket ship and moved up the chain. I was noticed and was offered more pay with promotion. I was recognized for my work and on the path of management. Today I want to go over several pointers that I use that I believe you may find useful in your career. Don’t just do the job that is given to you; just do it better and more effective.

Organize

It is important to organize your daily task. That means that you have a clear desk and you know where your things are. I don’t mean clean desk. Clean desk is for people who are too focused on one tiny task and miss the whole picture. It is fine to have things lying around your desk but as long as you know where things fit, that’s what matter. For example, I have an old calculator that is always around when I need it. Things that I no longer need, I’ll put them away so they don’t hinder my progress. Everything has its place and putting them in their right place will help you focus what needs to be done. It is the “mind” thing.

Prioritize

Our daily lives contain tons of “to-dos” and our professional lives is not any exception. Prioritize your task to ensure what is important and what is not. Some people list to list all the to-dos on a notepad, which is a great idea. It helps you to focus what is important. You may want to list the items an number them by importance. I use to-dos list when there is a too many things to handle at a given time or when I first started on a project. Overtime I use the list less and less because I started to have a mental note that tells me what is important.

Quick Kill

This goes along with the item above. Listing things by importance will show you if you need to work on the item. Sometimes an item my be down on the bottom list but can be easily done in 2 minutes. You may want to complete the task right away. Spending the 2 minutes will help free up your mental note for additional space for other more important things. Procrastinating will not work in this instance as it tells your brain to shelf this item.

Timely Response

A big organization has many employees. In any single day every employee may receive hundreds of email requesting assistance or updates on certain items. If you receive any such emails and you have the answer to the question being asked, don’t wait. Respond right away with your answer. The recipient will appreciate your response not because they think you are responsive, it will also help them with the task they are working on. Plus, your email will show up on the top of their mailbox requiring their attention. Over time, you will also get reciprocal response from them. Sitting on the email and not working on it right away will only create more item on your to-do list and create another mental note.

Ask for Deadline

Every company has task to be completed and project to work on. All of them are controlled by one thing, deadline. For example, payroll needs employees to complete their time-sheet with cutoff time, or SEC filing on certain date. When you receive a task to complete, make sure you ask when do you need to complete it. Give yourself time to complete and review your work before submitting it. Having this information, the task becomes a to-do item and helps you prioritize your work.

Don’t Settle for Easy / Make Improvement

Sometimes easy is not the way to go. You need to find ways to simplify the work by making improvements on how you do things. For example, you know it is easy to sort though a set of data, filter the information and do a manual count of the items. What you do not realize is that easy does not mean time savings. Invest time in understanding tools available to make the task more effective. One good example is utilize Pivot Table in Excel to help you summarize the data, or use Macros to repeat the steps easily. This task has many downstream effect. It frees up your time to focus on more important things, re-prioritize your work and be responsive to your colleagues and your customers.

Advertise Your Success

One way to get noticed in a big organization is advertise yourself. No, it does not mean publishing an ad on a newspaper or company newsletter. What I am referring to is let your customers know that you are reliable and responsive. When you respond to your customer/stakeholders in an email, copy your manager. After you meet with your customers, give a summary of the meeting to your manager of what you have done and what your customers said. If you a people manager, do the same by recognizing your subordinates. For example, I am responsible reporting audit issues to business heads of businesses and functions. When I receive any questions from the business heads on the report, I make sure that I respond immediately and copy my direct manager. Make sure your response is appropriate or you could cause more problems. At the same time, if my subordinate who is helping me in responding some of the questions, I make sure I recognize that person in my response by giving “thanks”.

If you want to move along in a corporate world, it is no longer important to just get things done. You need to prove to everyone that you are capable and effective in many ways when it comes to completing task, projects or responsibilities. Take my points above and start thinking how to be smart when you work. Just putting time in is no longer enough. Be outstanding and stand out among your peers.

“Convert Data into Useful Information”

I remembered the quote above very well and it stuck in my head for so long that it became the driver that I live by. Most people do not know how to make use of it, but what they don’t realize is that everyone of us is part of the data that is constantly being used by big corporations – for good and bad.

This blog is not intended to provide the pros and cons of data usage but to highlight how looking at data differently could help you in your career.

My career has always been assisting managers, stakeholders and customers in understanding data. Data in its current form is useless – that’s where my role comes in by converting and massaging the data into useful information.

I spent countless of years in reporting information to my managers. My career soon took me from reporting directly to my managers to reporting to business heads, to the board of directors and the US regulators. I find it fascinating and challenging at the same time. My role went from detail reporting to high level summary.

For the past 5 years I’ve been knee deep in changing my ways of working. Instead of focusing on getting the right data, I’ve becoming more analytical. It is a whole different mindset when I started to look at the data more closely and making sense of what it is telling me. Data in itself is not that interesting until you start to peel it, massage it and linking it.

My current role involves providing high level information to the board of directors. These individuals are people (majority of them are independent from the company) who have oversight of the company. They make important decisions and determine the directions of the company. The board members require information to do their job correctly. To achieve that they require various functions within the company to provide them the information that they can act on.

Board members usually came from other companies and their schedule usually prevents them from spending time reading pages and pages of materials on a quarterly basis. For the past several years my team and I have been challenged in summarizing our data into shortest form without losing the message. One thing I learn is “keep things simple” – avoid using big words that do not add any value. When writing summary for business heads and upper management, less is more.

I could go on in giving various pointers but it will take days, weeks and even months to go over every one of them. Perhaps I may consider writing a book just on this subject.

Are you involved in management reporting and require insights on how to do your work better? Feel free to drop me a line.

Is working for big corporations better than small companies?

All my professional working experience has been evolved around big multi-national companies. Prior to working full-time, I was exposed non-profit organizations and also small companies on Wall Street, New York.

After being exposed to different working environment, personally without a doubt working for big corporations is preferable for several reasons. There are other cons too, but the pros definitely outweigh the cons. Obviously not everyone can and will have the opportunity to work for big corporations. If given the chances, I would highly recommend that you take “going” big route. In this blog I will list some of the pros of working for big corporations. My next blog fill focus on the cons.

If you read my previous post, I was lucky enough to be hired by Arthur Andersen. You may not heard of this company because it is no longer in business after the Enron crisis. Arthur Andersen was one of the big 5 public accounting firm up until early 2000.

After leaving Arthur Andersen I moved to Citigroup and remained there for 12 years. Finally, I’ve landed a senior manager position at HSBC, one of the biggest banks in Asia.

Exposure

Big corporations allows exposures at all level. Big companies are like well oiled machine and the require all cogs and wheels to turn at the same time. The opportunity is limitless if you put in the work. Work means getting things done 110% and do it above and beyond what is asked of you. Once you are recognized for your work, you will be recognized by all level of management.

Movement within Organization

Companies today, like HSBC, care about its employees well being. They care because studies find that it is cheaper to retain “A” employees than continue to hire entry-level employees. Hence, to ensure employees are happy some companies allow movement within the organizations. HSBC is a UK-based company and it my tenure at the bank, I’ve known several colleagues moved from UK to US, and from US to Hong Kong. Movement within the US is also encouraged.

Higher Salary

Most big corporations do pay better than small companies. Not only because they have the means to afford high salary, it is the same reason as above to retain “A” employees. Of course this also depends what department or business you are in within the corporation. Taking HSBC as an example, employees who are in the investment bank will probably pay higher than employees in Human Resources. As an example, my salary (including bonus) increased by 700% when compared to my salary at Arthur Andersen 21 years ago.

Recognition and Achievement

Working in a big corporation is great but it is important to keep your personal goals in check. Are you happy in what you are doing? Are you being recognized for the work you have done? The answer is quite simple if you want to achieve your personal goals: work smart, not work hard. If you work hard, sooner or later you are going to burnt out. Work smart includes how do you do things better and more effective. Companies recognize employees who are able to do things more effective at a shorter time frame.

Fringe Benefits

Big corporations continue to provide health care and other benefits to their employees. Depends on the industry, things are not what is used to be. Prior to the financial collapse in 1998, big banks would give all kinds of benefits to their employees. Today things are very different as a lot of the banks trying to cut costs. Citigroup stopped investing in pensions for its employees after 1998. We no longer had free lunch during training sessions and employees are absorbing more healthcare costs as health insurance costs starting to spiral out of control. Some companies such as Google, Facebook or other “hot” tech companies continue to provide their employees a log of fringe benefits that most small companies are not able to.

If you disagree any of my points above, I would like to hear them. Feel free to comment.