Office idiosyncrasies

There are so many office acronyms and strange sayings. I’ve especially learned a good number of them while working here. There also is a supposed respect for people’s calendars. It seems to be a thing for people to just throw calendar invites onto your calendar, so these are some of the calendar blocks I have seen while working here:

Wednesday, 8-11: FU — it means “follow-up,” not the “F U” you were thinking of.

Monday, 3-5: GSD – “get shit done” aka do not schedule time here.

Thursday, 4-6 – Commute home. Yes, that’s commute time. Don’t add anything here.

Friday, 3-5: DNS – short for “do not schedule.”

Thursday, 9-11: Think time. Do not schedule over “think time.” All great leaders need this. 

Tuesday, 12-3 – schedule meetings. So, this one is ambiguous, right? Why does it say “schedule meetings” when if I schedule a meeting at that time, you get annoyed and tell me that the time was blocked off. It literally says “schedule meetings”!

Monday, 9-6pm – OOO – out of office. Why didn’t you just set an ‘all-day’ event instead of cluttering your calendar and then mine by sharing this invite with me?!

Glass Door

About ten years ago, this website called got started where employees, past and present, could post reviews about companies where they worked. It started out as an employer rating site and gradually kept expanding. Now, you can even post and apply for jobs on it and learn about things you previously wouldn’t get to know about a company until you started interviewing for them, things like benefit types, paid time off packages, compensation amounts, etc.

One of my very jaded colleagues insisted to me when I first started here almost a year ago that our company was not without drama. It’s no walk in the park here. Well, what company is? “If you don’t believe me, just go to GlassDoor and read the reviews. You’ll see it all there, publicly written in black and white.”

I took a cursory view of our company’s page on GlassDoor shortly before I started. For the most part, nothing really surprised me, and most of the negativity was around the San Francisco office, which is our headquarters. That wasn’t surprising. Most of the reviews in the New York office were quite positive. And then there were the glaring, repeating themes of the reviews: lack of diversity, lack of true meritocracy, lack of transparency in spite of company values that explicitly say “transparency” is a value. “If you are a white male named John, then you will do well here.”

Compared to other companies I’ve been at, I think we’re actually more diverse than most. I also think that for the most part, my colleagues are all extremely dedicated and good at their jobs, and everyone is clearly trying. And I’m certainly not in the honeymoon phase of being an employee here, either. It is more of a reality check that we all have areas where we can grow. This is still the best place I’ve ever worked at, but it is not without frustration and politics. But the question is… how much more of the politics game can I really deal with? I’m just shy of my ten year full-time working anniversary and so sick of dealing with office politics. And yes, I realize I sound like a spoiled, whining brat. My mom dealt with far worse and more demeaning politics in her over 26-year-long career, and unlike me, she had no role to get promoted to, no role to grow into… no real growth opportunities period due to her lack of education.There is more to life than working an office job. But what is it, then?

Doing an exemplary job and getting along with colleagues is never going to be enough.

Next-door neighbors

When I was growing up, my parents always had a friendly relationship with the family who lived in the duplex next door to us. The family, who were Russian immigrants, owned a catering company and oftentimes, they would share food with us — everything from fresh cut meats, cheeses, to hot loaves of bread. My mom, endlessly obsessed with “paying back,” would always return the favor by buying an extra box of pastries or cookies and ringing on their door. I always wondered if they enjoyed the food we gave. We certainly appreciated their food.

When I moved to New York, I was a little sad at how anonymous neighbor relationships are. Of course, I expected this, but I do like having friendly relations with neighbors. No one really knows their neighbors here in the city, and they don’t care to. In the last building we lived at on the Upper East Side, we’d be polite and say hello when we ran into each other, but I didn’t even know their names. So now, we’re in a building now that, although big, has only six units per floor, I thought I’d start sharing some food. I knocked on the door of the unit two doors down to ask if they wanted some bottled, unopened tea that was gifted to us that we didn’t need, and they happily accepted it (it’s a family of two very young kids, so I’m sure they appreciated any free food). Then, we have a couple who lives in the studio next door to us who look to be around our age. I shared my banana bread with them a few days ago. Today, they knocked on our door and asked if we’d be interested in some freshly made tiramisu; they love to cook too, and they cook often. My eyes widened. I LOVE TIRAMISU.

I love having friendly neighbors, especially ones who like to share food.

Boss vs. manager

It doesn’t matter what kind of organization you work at; there will always be some level of hierarchy, and that’s just life. In the tech industry, where people are always talking endlessly about being more egalitarian and democratic, a truly “flat” organization is a fantasy. You need leaders, decision makers who can be high level and set company goals. You also need people who are focused on the executional aspects of the business. You can’t have everyone do everything and have everything be a vote.

I was discussing with my manager today that I am about halfway done reading Radical Candor, and it’s been a really good read for me; it’s probably one of my favorite career books I’ve read thus far. I’ve been thinking about it constantly the last two weeks in terms of everything: my last ten years of work experience, particularly how awful the last company and job were. It’s made me think about how to be more direct in my communication style at work without coming across as an asshole.

My manager asked me a question today about the term “boss” vs. “manager” in light of this book. Kim Scott uses the word “boss” a lot. What do I think about these terms? I personally hate both. “Boss” feels very hierarchical, yet to my earlier point, hierarchy must exist at any organization whether we like it or not. But where the term “boss” doesn’t sit well with me is if someone says they can just make decisions simply because she’s “the boss,” and not provide data to back up that decision. “Manager” also feels shallow to me. It feels very tactical — you “manage” others’ workloads, their day to day. There’s nothing in that word that indicates that a lot of your job requires building a relationship with your direct reports, understanding what their goals are, and knowing them as people. There’s an absence of empathy in there. Both terms completely fail.

Maybe we should be creating new words to replace these to be more effective. Or maybe there’s too much focus on the language and the politics at work, and none of us will ever reach optimal effectiveness.

International Women’s Day

Today was International Women’s Day, where people around the world are celebrating the progress that we’ve made for gender equality…. at least, some of us are. It’s disheartening to know that there are still countries like Afghanistan and Pakistan where people believe that women shouldn’t even have a basic skill such as knowing how to read.

To celebrate the day, our office manager ordered afternoon-tea style foods from Bosie Tea Parlor in the city, complete with a tiered tea cake stand, tea pot, and cups with special tea bags. After my morning meetings off-site, I arrived at the office to see this setup, and it was completely untouched. No one was eating it.

“How come no one has touched the afternoon tea food?” I asked aloud.

A male colleague looked up from his computer and had an awkward smile on his face. “I kind of wanted to, but I didn’t feel I should be the one to touch it first.”

“Is it because you’re a man?” I responded pointedly. “You know, International Women’s Day isn’t just for women. It’s for people around the world who believe in gender equality and want the best for the women in their lives. That applies to you, doesn’t it?”

He looked even more awkward after that and continued working.



It’s already March, and yet we’re still getting snow. Yesterday, the neurotics of the Northeast all had their hands up in the air because of yet another “Nor’easter” that was scheduled to descend upon us today. I wasn’t super excited to hear this given this would result in a number of rescheduled customer onsite meetings for me, but I guess it’s a day to relish working from home on my couch, wrapped up in a blanket and drinking my hot loose leaf tea. Throughout the day, I peered out the window to see a mix of rain and snow, massive snowflakes and teeny tiny ones, sometimes delicately falling and other times flying furiously with the wind.

I had a moment where I realized exactly how lucky I am. My friend who works at Trader Joe’s texted me to ask if I was warm and cozy working from home in my apartment, to which I answered… yes, I actually am. In her job, she obviously doesn’t have the option or luxury of working from home, so she had to drag herself out of her Brooklyn apartment into Manhattan regardless of the weather conditions. I always had a choice of whether to go to the office or not. I decided to stay in and wear my pajama bottoms all day.

I know I’m very privileged. I have so many things and experiences that others probably don’t even dream of having. But I do try really hard to be mindful about it. I feel very grateful every single day to have what I have. Gratitude is everything, even if just for the little things.

Remembering what doesn’t exist anymore

What is it about moving to a new place and settling in that makes us constantly compare it to home? What is it that makes us always nostalgic and think how much better home is than the current place we now call home? I don’t actually do this because I think it’s stupid, and at the end of the day, after three months, the novelty of living in a new place should really be over. Well, maybe I can ask my cousin who lives in New York this. He constantly complains via text and in person about how awful and selfish New Yorkers are, how stupid they are, how no one knows anything here. He complains about the slowness of the subway, the dirtiness of the streets. Yet, I know what he’s really doing is saying that San Francisco is so much better than here.

The reality check that he wants to ignore is that… people are really the same here and in San Francisco. There’s just as many selfish people in San Francisco as there are in New York City. There are just as many incompetent fast food and pharmacy workers there as here. The Muni there is by far worse than the MTA subway system here; in fact, the last time we both visited home at the same time and sat on Muni together, he wouldn’t shut up about how slow the bus was. He conveniently forgets that, though. He also doesn’t visit the parts of San Francisco that are overrun by homeless people who are actually shitting right in front of you while smiling and making eye contact with you.

Home isn’t really better. It’s only better if you keep romanticizing senselessly that it is and refuse to accept reality where you are.


White Plains

I’ve been living in New York City almost ten years. I spent my first four years living in Queens, in a not-popular or well known neighborhood unless you’re a Queens native. I’ve spent my next near six living in the Upper East Side, and now on the border of Hell’s Kitchen and the Upper West Side. I’ve visited all five boroughs repeatedly, but somehow, I’ve never quite made it up to Westchester County. As far as I am concerned, anything north of the Bronx is “upstate.” I never really. had a reason to go to Westchester County. It’s not like I have friends who have parents who have invited me to their homes. So it wasn’t until today that I finally made it there for a customer visit in White Plains, which is about a 45-minute car ride from the Upper West Side, or 1.5 hours in traffic.

I had a customer meeting up there, which ended with a visit to my customer’s manager’s office. He’s the chief digital officer of this organization. We made some small talk, and I quickly realized he was a born and bred Westchester County boy who had pretty much never lived outside of this area before. He was shocked to hear that I’d never set foot in Westchester all this time.

“You’ve never been here… even once?” he said this repeatedly to me.

This reminded me of Trevor Noah’s comedy clip, during which he gets annoyed and makes fun of his friend for giving him such a hard time when he first moved to the U.S., and his friend just cannot fathom that he’d never had a single taco in his entire life. “How is it possible for you to have a completely different life experience than I do?” He half-joked.

There’s nothing really in Westchester County that would draw me up there. And in my short time there, I realized why: I was the only person of color everywhere I went. It was as though I was the diversity up there for my visit. And that didn’t sit well with me.

Story time

This afternoon, I went uptown to my cousin’s place to drop off a very belated Christmas gift for his son and to spend some time with his son. He’s just over five years old now and in kindergarten at the autistic school in the neighborhood. It’s been really trying for my cousin and his wife to be a parent to this little innocent child, and for the short time I was there, I was already feeling a bit impatient and tired being around him. You can’t really help what kids end up with, and so as I am trying to interact with him, play, and read with him, I can tell his focus isn’t quite there. I’m having a hard time gauging what he wants. He’s interested in me one second, then physically pushes me away another, and his eye contact is still poor. One minute he wants me to read him a book, and the next, he takes the book out of my hands, throws it against the wall, and wants to play with his toy guitar. It finally took some coaxing from his mother to get him to sit on the couch properly with me and read together. It was short-lived peace, though.

I felt terrible as I was leaving. I don’t think the best of my cousin or his wife. But I do feel sorry for them. I was barely there an hour and already felt frustrated. How do they probably feel every single day? 

Lines for coffee

This morning, I met my friend for a coffee catch up at a popular Australian-style cafe that opened a few years ago called Little Collins, named after a street in the Melbourne central business district. In the last few years, Australian-style cafes carrying what they claim to be “Australian quality coffee” have been popping up all over New York City. One of them has even become a mini chain. Bluestone Lane now has multiple locations in Manhattan, and even has expanded to have two locations just in downtown San Francisco. These cafes have now gotten so popular that you have to line up just to get your carefully crafted flat white.

It was fortunate and unfortunate situation. Because the snow had stopped last night, I was honestly a bit sad because I realized that would mean that people would not be deterred to go outside for coffee this morning. When the weather gets bad in this city, like I said yesterday, people can’t hand it even a little and refuse to go outside. When the weather is sunny and mild, like it was this morning, the queues are just endless. There was a crowd out the door of Little Collins, so we decided not to wait and went a couple blocks away to Ninth Street Espresso. No, they didn’t have the same drink selection as Little Collins, nor did they have anyone there at all except two others. But at least we could talk comfortably in peace without fear of having what would have been our $4-5 coffee spilled or knocked over by the crowds in the crammed interior of Little Collins.