Twenty Four

3 months into graduation, I was panicking.

I remember sitting down at the Arts canteen with two of my friends lamenting about our slim chances of getting employed at a good company with our “tissue-paper” degrees.

Both of my friends had more hope than I did, armed with economics and business degrees, they could at the very least join a bank.

I on the other hand, had on the previous night interviewed for a role at an 4A advertising agency like most of my “Communications and New Media Studies” peers.

They told me my starting salary would be $1,800 if I was hired and that I was expected to work mostly long hours, 14 minimum a day, without overtime pay. I asked my interviewer what I could expect to learn from him, especially since I would be spending so much time working with him. He looked shocked that someone so low down the chain dared to ask.

“Well, (he cleared his throat nervously and continued speaking in a fake american accent) you can learn a lot from me,” he said. He then proceeded to show me how fancy and creative the space was.

Right.

When I walked out through that door I told myself that there was no way I would join an advertising agency to work with a guy whose life goal was to help a telco company (M1, I think it was) change promo ads every week and couldn’t even grow a moustache successfully. No matter how fancy the office.

Now what?

I never considered a job in tech before that, mainly because I hated the way my “Intro to Web Development” teacher was teaching us to use tables instead of CSS to layout our sites (it made me horrified at my own creations). But that night two job openings caught my attention. The first was an opening at Facebook for a Sales Associate, the second, another opening at a local startup called 2359 Media.

“I could do that,” I thought to myself.

Thinking that since I was a “people person” who had successfully sold photography workshop packages to unsuspecting parents before, I applied for both – determined to get any other role than follow the sad fate of maiming my existence by getting into the ad industry.  (Little did I know that there was no way I would be able to escape from the ad industry.)

I got through to both of the final interviews of the Facebook interview where I had to simulate a pitch to sell Facebook Ads to an advertising agency. Naturally, I was trained by university to whip out  my PPT slides and go straight into hard selling Facebook Ads. Little did I know that that just wasn’t the way to sell (at least not for high-value products).

I didn’t get it and was a tiny bit disappointed, but 2359 took a risk with me and as soon as I graduated, I had a job. 9 months later into my sales role, I was pitching and closing deals with brands like Laurier, big 4A  ad agencies, Capitaland, government agencies and so on. I learnt that you never begin a sales meeting with powerpoint slides, but instead ask like a normal human being, “how can I help you?”. I realised why Facebook didn’t hire me. I was a complete noob.

9 months later, at a beginner’s programming workshop for girls, I decided to start Singapore Geek Girls together with a friend I met on Twitter. She later introduced me to a job at Microsoft.

2 years later, I was managing the startup community at Microsoft BizSpark in Singapore, organising events where I invited prominent VCs, CEOs and in general worked with many inspiring people in the startup industry. With an awesome team at SGGG, we also started a series of events to teach women to design, code and start their own company. We had over 1000 people attend our events in the last 3 years.

It was amazing. But I had to take a break and travel. I was tired, so I here I am, writing this note of reminder to myself of everything I’ve learnt in the last 3 years. It is all I wish I knew at 24.

1. I don’t know shit 

There is a Chinese saying that goes, “If you think you know everything, you don’t know anything. If you think you don’t know anything, at least you know something.”

When I first graduated, I felt like people owed it to me to employ me and give me a high salary, “But I’ve worked so hard for this!,” I felt like waving my tissue paper degree to their faces. It was only when I started working that I realised how little I knew about building a business and how to effectively contribute to a company. What is my value proposition? I started to ask myself. I was humbled by the opportunities I got to learn from my experiences at 2359 Media and Microsoft. There is so much I still do not know. And I rejoice at that, because not knowing makes me want to learn.

2. You learn much more about what you know and don’t know when you join a startup 

When you join a startup, you can’t afford to “stick to your job description”. Everyone has to contribute and there is little space to hide behind your laptop screen and pretend that you are contributing by surfing on Facebook and YouTube. At my first job I was networking like mad, learning to convert leads to actual sales, prepping sales decks, learning about marketing the business and I even had to project manage the deals after they were closed because we didn’t have enough project managers at the time. It was tiring but I learnt so much.

In life you can choose the easy way and learn a little, or the harder way and learn a lot. It’s about getting out of your comfort zone and you will never be ready for it, but you can choose to just do it anyway.

3. You learn even more about what you don’t know when you start something of your own.

Starting Singapore Geek Girls is more or less a trial and error process for me. At first I was doing it by myself. And then I realised I couldn’t do it by myself. Then I realised how I could get support from volunteers. Then I got volunteers and teachers. Then we started giving classes and it just rolled out piece by piece by itself. I became a pro at getting sponsorships because I was also learning to sponsor events at Microsoft. I learnt about pricing and that people who don’t pay probably aren’t serious about wanting to learn about something. I also learnt that you learn even more about what you don’t know when you start something of your own. And that’s an important revelation because if you do start something, it will probably be at something you like.

4. Everything’s going to be alright.

Now that I’m 2 months away from going back home. I find myself slightly nervous and worried. Kinda like how I felt like when I first graduated. But the most important lesson I’ve learnt is that everything’s going to be alright. No matter what choices I make, I just have to have an open mind, learn as much as I can while I’m young and just keep hustling.

I hope if you’re 24 and at the start of your career, this helps you too!

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