Ethan Chiu My personal blog

Lessons Learned 3 Cities

Lessons Learned from 3 Cities

tl;dr: hard work compounds, invest in finding good doctors (not addressing sickness compounds), budget your time and finances, and more!

Favorite Sayings

Favorite Sayings

Work and life is full of ups and downs - your loved one(s) might get sick, you can get sick, someone might treat you poorly at work, etc.

Here are some phrases that I like to repeat and remind myself every day that helps me with these ups and downs:

  • “do good work and good things will happen” - this phrase helps me remember that hard, honest work will pay off long term even if you don’t see the “payoff” till much later.
  • “short term pain, long term gain” - this phrase helps me in the context of dealing with illness, stress, or personal matters. Every failure and difficulty will strengthen you as a person.
  • “this person is mean but they are also human and they can grow.” Throughout my career, I’ve dealt with some mean and rude people who lack control over their anger. The best way to confront and change this behavior is to stand firm and push back with kindness and constructive feedback.
  • “be kind” - this phrase has helped me when dealing with situations where I have to effectively communicate quickly with other stressed-out individuals (cross-team SEV-2s, short deadlines, etc.) I define kindess as always telling the truth, being honest, and always communicating through the lens of empathy.

Great vs. Bad Engineering Managers

As a software engineer, the manager you work under can greatly impact your job satisfaction and career growth. My first job in tech, back in 2016, was a small real estate startup in Philly where I was paid $14 per hour and provided free housing through the PennApps Fellowship. At the time, I thought I had hit the jackpot - I was able to work directly with the CTO on various tasks and learn a lot about different aspects of software development. However, I soon realized that my manager was not invested in my growth as an engineer. He gave tasks with unclear metrics, provided little guidance or mentorship, and simply wanted the tasks completed, rather than caring about my learning and growth.

Since then, I have worked at several companies and have had the pleasure of working with amazing managers and leaders. Comparing my experiences, I realized that a great manager can make all the difference in your job satisfaction and career growth. In contrast, a bad manager can stunt your growth and make your job unpleasant.

Characteristics of a Great Manager

  1. Receptive to Feedback: Great managers listen to and consider the feedback of their team members. They are willing to make changes based on this feedback, rather than ignoring it or always following their own path forward.
  2. Advocates for Their Team: A great manager cares about the success and growth of their team members. They will provide structured guidance and support to those who are struggling, and proactively work to help top performers advance in their careers.
  3. Challenges Team Members: Good managers give their team members tasks that challenge and stretch their skills, allowing them to take on more ownership and responsibility. They also listen to team members’ career goals and assign work that aligns with their aspirations for growth.
  4. Provides Clear Metrics and Focus Areas: Great managers set clear guidelines and metrics to help team members work efficiently and effectively. They match business needs with team members’ skills and give them opportunities to exceed expectations.
  5. Offers Mentorship: A good manager values the professional development of their team and offers mentorship through regular 1:1 meetings. These meetings provide a safe space for team members to discuss their careers, areas for growth, and any wins or promotions.

In my experience working at companies such as Amazon, GitHub, Etsy, and Alpaca, I have learned the value of having a great engineering manager. They can truly make all the difference in your job satisfaction and career growth.

Building Human Centered Algorithms in Connect@Cal Pt. 1

It’s been a few months since I graduated from UC Berkeley.

Looking back, one of my proudest achievements was building the nonprofit student org Connect@Cal with my friends during my last year of school.

I think one of the most impactful programs we built was our resource matching system.

We first started with a simple MVP where users would fill out a Google Form and we would email back each respondent with a personalized list of resources based on what we could find in our custom database. Throughout the first few months of testing, we conducted focus groups and looked at our own analytics to see what users valued the most.

Here were some key takeaways we had:

  1. The main way people find resources is through word of mouth from their friends.
    1. Hearing how a resource is used by a friend contextualizes how the resource can be used by people
    2. Hearing from a friend lends credibility and makes it more likely for them to actually use the resource.
  2. Sometimes people don’t know where to start or what to search for when trying to figure out what they want to do in college.
    1. A key thing for students during college is discovery: finding their passions and interests. How can we aid in this discovery phase for students?
    2. For example, I might be interested in building tech with a focus on social impact. I might be interested in a variety of clubs, research, or professional frats. Which sort of organization would be the best fit for me? We found that this was dependent on a variety of factors including your background, experiences, and motivations.

From there, the business teams worked on developing a robust tagging methodology. The tech team built a few algorithms and tools that helped students discover resources more efficiently and helped speed up our internal resource matching system.

In my next blog article, I’ll talk about how we built these tools and systems.

Process Matters: Creating the Best User Experience at Connect@Cal

A few months ago, Johnny Nguyen, Eric Cheng, and I created a nonprofit student org that helps connect personalized resources with students called Connect@Cal.

Our mission is to connect every student to the right resources at the right time.

We believe that the overabundance of information, siloed resources, and the state of UC Berkeley’s support system have inhibited students from achieving holistic wellness on campus. Our program will serve as a trusted resource hub connecting students to the most relevant services and programs.

Right from the start, we wanted to create an intuitive and efficient system that helps our users easily articulate their needs as well as quickly receive personalized resources. To achieve this goal, we focused on both designing an intuitive experience for our users as well as building tools for our team to help them support our users.

For our user experience, we wanted to design it so that when a user lands on our webpage, they immediately understand what we do and how they can get the resources they need. For our internal experience, we wanted to create a website that helps our associates effectively identify unresolved cases and correlate information in those cases with our internal databases so that they can create the most relevant and effective response to our clients.

Originally when our tech team was just me and Eric, we quickly built this for our beta site so that we could launch quickly: Connect@Cal Old Site

Then, after Dana Feng joined our team, we were able to completely redesign our user experience: Connect@Cal New Site

How were we able to accomplish this?

After we launched our original website, we soon realized from our analytics that users weren’t using our platform for our intended goal in mind. After meeting with our business development teams, we identified that the main issue with the beta website was that it looked untrustworthy and was not user friendly. So, we created a user workflow diagram that maps out how various users could interact with our website to figure out what we needed to change as well as build for our website: Connect@Cal User Workflow

After we understood the various paths users took on our website, we created high fidelity mockups of our user website so that we could continuously experiment and visualize different approaches for features we wanted to build: Connect@Cal HiFi Mockups

Lastly we wrote the website code, tested it out on mobile and desktop devices, and then launched it 🚀. Over the last few weeks, we have been able to steadily decrease our bounce rate by 3% weekly while also increasing our amount of cases by ~10% weekly.

Throughout this redesign, we learned that process matters.

Oftentimes, when we feel really passionate about a problem, we jump right into building a solution without walking through every possible user path. By taking a step back and revisiting how the user uses our platform, we were able to check our own assumptions of what users want and figure out the potential holes within our existing model and fix them. Afterwards, we explicitly constructed mockups before coding out our website. If we didn’t have mockups before, we could have inadvertently left out important user feature(s) as well as potentially created code that would have never been used. Having a structured and systematic process of redesigning our website helped us create the best possible website for our users while also enabling our tech team to work efficiently.

Connect@Cal’s north star is to create the most effective platform for students at Berkeley to find relevant resources that will help them find their communities, calling, etc. As learned throughout our redesign process, we need to continue to create structured processes to ensure we are producing the highest quality features that users want and need.

If you interested in hearing more about Connect@Cal, follow our Instagram and Facebook to stay posted on our upcoming partnerships and projects!

In my next blog, I’ll talk about how we redesigned and built from scratch our internal tools which allow our associates to effectively identify resources for students! In the next few months, keep your eyes out for even more blog posts on our new features such as our upcoming chat bot.