My 2021 in Summary: Highlights and Lessons

My 2021 in Summary: Highlights and Lessons

A personal reflection article on lessons I have learned in my first year at PayPal + my 2021 overall highlights

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Victoria Lo
ยทDec 31, 2021ยท

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Hello everyone! Time really flies, hasn't it? The year 2021 is ending in a few hours, which means it's time for another personal reflection article (will not be published on Hashnode for the public). If you found this article, thank you haha!

WARNING: Long read. You may want to skip to the end for special thanks section.

In this article, I want to document my learnings and experiences as someone who's transitioned from a solo freelancer to working at a global corporation this year. I also want to highlight some of my personal milestones in 2021.

The Corporate World: Initial Struggles + Learnings

Part 1: Communication

I first entered and got introduced to my team (virtually) during the pandemic/work-from-home period in December 2020. Hence, I faced some slight bumps in the beginning, in terms of communication and building new relationships.

As most of my readers know, I am a total introvert. I am often not the conversation initiator and while onboarding into the company from home, this became more difficult for me since:

  1. I don't know how and who to approach in my team, as I cannot read social cues or learn the team culture while working from home.
  2. Figuring out the many processes, tools, departments, and "stuff" I need to know while being at home
  3. I am intimidated by the fact that I'm in a new and unfamiliar environment

I felt I was thrown into the abyss in the first 2 days. Sometimes, I found myself staring blankly at the computer screen like:

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Of course, after those "lost" days, I was contacted by the HR manager who enrolled me in new hires sessions and showed me training videos to get me started. In hindsight, I should have been more proactive and communicate - with a capital C.

After being a lone wolf as a freelancer for quite some time, I thought I needed to get things done alone. I thought I should show them that I am independent and knew what I was doing; that was quite a mistake.

Part 2: Learning the Products

PayPal has a plethora of products. It is, after all, the corporation that has been around for more than 2 decades. In the first 3 months, I was learning a lot of products at once, both public and private ones.

Though I fortunately received a lot of help and guidance from an assigned 'buddy', my brain was quite overloaded with tons of new information, technology, product details, "stuff" to know, etc.

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I would voluntarily work overtime, just to review and squeeze more information into my brain. Most importantly, I was trying to understand not just the what, but the how and why of these products. The many processes and flows that each product entails also became an important focus in my learning.

Looking back, I think I set myself to very high standards. Perhaps too high. There was no pressure for me to learn everything at once. My team members were very kind and told me to just learn on the go, at my own pace, while I fulfill my responsibilities. But I thought to myself: "No, I do not want to be a hindrance, I want to be a better contributor and a good team member."

However, the biggest "oof, why did I do that" mistake was not about setting these high goals. It was the fact that I didn't try to rely on my 'buddy' or team members at all. It must be that 'lone wolf' syndrome from freelancing solo for years again.

Whenever I faced some tough issue or a product I didn't quite understand, instead of asking my team, I foolishly spent hours to read the docs, navigate through the codebase and troubleshoot issues myself. It would have been more efficient if I asked an experienced team member for help and rely on them more. But alas, there's the little voice in my head that said, "You should solve the issues on your own, and not be a hindrance to the team."

Part 3: Navigating Organizational Structures and Cultures

The most tricky part about working in an organization is, working in an organization. In a huge organization like PayPal, there are many intricacies to learn about how things work. From team culture, dynamics and workflow to understanding employee rights and benefits, there is a lot to adjust when entering a new workplace. My goal was to quickly fit in and do well in my role - but it was not that simple.

Ultimately, this adjustment requires a good level of soft skills, which I frankly see myself as not having enough of those skills. It is really not my forte, so I kind of struggled in the beginning when trying to reach out to get to know my team members. Luckily, they were all wonderful and nice people, so we quickly got close. Building relationships with my team members was the first hurdle. The next one was adapting to company culture and participating in virtual social events.

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These events are optional, but they are essential in facilitating team-bonding across different teams. In this global company, we may be physically apart by several miles, but we are always connected under one organization. Although at first I was quite overwhelmed, now I believe that being able to meet and network with colleagues from many parts of the world is truly a surreal and incredible experience.

While meeting and socializing with my co-workers turned out to be an amazing experience, I also made sure I spent an equal amount of effort on my work. Finding the right balance to stay productive was tough. There were things to get done immediately and things to get done eventually. And then there were all sorts of distractions happening around me at home, so I learned that focus and time management became even more important when working from home.

The Corporate World: Highlights

In terms of learning the products and learning them fast, I did what any software developer would think of doing: building a demo playground that features all the products.

I typically prefer to learn by doing and getting my hands dirty with code. The demo I built was meant to be for my eyes only. But my 'buddy'/mentor suggested I presented this demo to everyone in the team.

Building that demo snowballed into many amazing and collaborative opportunities for me. Firstly, it inspired a fellow team member, who asked me to collaborate on a new demo playground for another product. Next, I started proactively building other internal tools to automate processes within my team.

Finally, the most astonishing highlight was when my partner and I published a blog article featuring the demo playground for an internal blog-a-thon; and it was one of the winners! As a result, we were mentioned and spotlight by our CTO himself.

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It was a huge honour and I considered this achievement as something I could never have accomplished alone. It was all thanks to the support of my team, and my partner who built the demo and wrote the article with me.

Personal Highlights: Beyond the Writing

This year, I really did things which I never imagine I can do. I've been so used to just typing in front of my screen and publishing articles that it didn't occur to me what I can do more for the community beyond the writing.

So here's some milestones that I achieved outside blogging.

1. Joining More Communities

Early this year, I was invited to be a Founding Creator of Showwcase.

Join Showwcase here and check out my Showwcase page at: showwcase.lo-victoria.com

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At first, I was quite hesitant as that means I have to, once again, navigate the platform and meet new people (a fear for many introverts). But it turned out great. Everyone was nice, welcoming and even better, I found an Indonesian group for me to interact in languages I know other than English.

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Plus, the swags are awesome.

Next, I joined Virtual Coffee, thanks to Ayu Adiati. I'm not quite as active there as I am on Hashnode but it's definitely a genuine and supportive community. I attended their events and participated in their writing challenges in November.

2. Voicing Out

After about 1 year and 7 months of consistent blogging, it is fair to say that I'm quite comfortable using writing as a medium to express myself. However, this year, I challenged myself to use my voice as well.

The first one was at The Solo Coder Podcast hosted by Aderson Oliveira, a warm-hearted college teacher based in Toronto. Do check out his incredible podcast.

When he first invited me to speak at his podcast, I asked him why he wanted to invite me, since I don't think I am successful enough to inspire his students.

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He kindly replied that where I am right now is already admirable, and those words helped me overcome the imposter's syndrome I was feeling then. It was thanks to Aderson that I was inspired to write the article, How I Overcome Imposter's Syndrome.

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Since then, I continued to use my voice more, such as Hashnode's Twitter Spaces, AMA at SheCodeAfrica and the CodeNewbie Podcast. I consider each of these as one of my greatest highlights in 2021.

3. YouTube with Video-ish

If I had to state the greatest challenge I overcome this year, I'd say it is publishing a video on YouTube. I'm super thankful to everyone who supported and encouraged me when I first published my video and blog post about the journey.

Honestly, it was a huge struggle (and relief) to finally publish the video. Although I haven't been able to publish videos as often as articles, I do plan to work on it but at the same time, not pressure myself too much as I'm still not that comfortable with video format.

I consider myself only an infant (or even embryo) in the YouTube tech community, so I will take baby steps to keep growing slowly and steadily with everyone's support.

So 2021, what's the verdict?

The year feels like a warm drizzle, where I can walk quite comfortably far for a long time, but still have to stop every now and then to make sure I'm not too wet.

Author's note: It's a weird analogy, probably only I will understand haha.

Overall, it has been a pleasant journey in 2021. I am very grateful to a lot of people for inspiring and supporting me throughout this year. All their names are in the Special Thanks section below.

If you have read till this far, I wish you a happy new year! Wishing you the best for next year and onwards! Cheers!

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Special Thanks To (in no particular order)

  • Sandeep Panda
  • Syed Fazle Rahman
  • Sam Sycamore
  • Shad Mirza
  • Catalin Pit
  • Tapas Adhikary
  • Chris Bongers
  • Olubisi Idris Ayinde
  • Fatima Senouci
  • Favourite Jome
  • Megha Pathak
  • Ayu Adiati
  • Ricardo Mendoza
  • Sunrit Jana
  • Mr. Unity Buddy
  • Geeky Chakri
  • Victor Ikechukwu
  • Sabin Adams
  • Vincent Ng
  • Eleftheria Batsou
  • Francesco Ciulla
  • Suhail Kakar
  • Ayodele Samuel Adebayo
  • Rong Liew
  • Chuong Tang
  • Mike Chen
  • Saurabh
  • Atinuke Oluwabamikemi Kayode
  • Edidiong Asikpo
  • Fernando Doglio
  • Aderson Oliveira
  • Tracy Nuwagaba
  • Ashish
  • Usman Sabuwala
  • Ayu Adiati
  • Afoma Orji
  • Farhan Hasin Chowdhury
  • Marko Denic
  • Braydon Coyer
  • Levi Sharpe
  • Savio Martin
  • Maila Camungay
  • Sreeram Vasudevan
  • Chai Heng Yeo
  • Rex Sunny
  • Choi Ying Wai
  • Steven Chong
  • Jacqueline Lua
  • Gordon Chan
  • Jinsung Kim
  • Eric Pang
  • Ursula Chiang
  • Shobana Kandaswamy
  • Rajasekaran Radhakrishnan
  • V Thulisile Sibanda
  • Lena Fawaz Mohammad
  • Thomas Lim
  • Han Zhi Fang
  • My family & friends

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