2015 Annual Review

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2015 is coming to a close and this will be my 2nd time writing an Annual Review – which will give me a chance to reflect on what went well and what could have gone better, as well as giving me a moment to enjoy the progress I’ve made over the past 12 months (You can check out my 2014 review here). Again, here are the 3 questions I’m going to answer in my review:

1 – What went well this year?

2 – What didn’t go so well this year?

3 – What am I working toward?

Let’s get this party started…

1 – What went well this year?

Reading. Reading has become one of my most influential habits this year. What I mean here is leisure reading, not academic reading, and to be able to have time for that as a college student is extremely difficult. In 2015, I have read 14 non-fiction books, with a wide range of topics including business, technology, startups, leadership, psychology, sociology etc.

  • Here’s the list of the books I’ve read this year: Simon Sinek’s Leaders Eat Last, Daniel Pink’s To Sell is Human, Elizabeth Gilbert’s Signature of All Things, Ken Robinson’s Finding Your Elements, Susan Cain’s Quiet, Daniel Gilbert’s Stumbling on Happiness, Brene Brown’s Daring Greatly, Shawn Achor’s Happiness Advantage, Ben Horowitz’s The Hard Thing About Hard Things, Reid Hoffman’s The Startup of You, Ori Brafman’s The Starfish and the Spider, Seth Godin’s Linchpin, Chris Guillebeau’s The Happiness of Pursuit, and Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point.
  • I am currently reading Nir Eyal’s Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products, and also plan on finishing 2 other books – Eric Ries’ The Lean Startup and Peter Thiel’s Zero To One before the end of this winter break.

I found myself learning a ton of new knowledge about the topics mentioned above, definitely in an extent that I’m unexpected of. Undoubtedly, applying that knowledge in my daily interaction and career preparation will be the ultimate goal.

Networking. Carrying on what I did last year, summer 2015 in Seattle provided me great opportunities to take my networking skill to the next level:

  • I participated in the Koru professional bootcamp on June: Not only did it give me a taste of how business in the “real-world” look like, but also did it introduce me to peers, mentors, career coaches, and professionals working in the tech industry. I have had conversations with people working from small startups like Anthology, Trupanion, Koru; to mid-size companies like Zulily, Zillow, REI; to huge organizations like Gates Foundation, Starbucks, Amazon… These definitely have broadened my outlook on professional options.
  • The Denison Alumni network is extremely beneficial again: I was able to conduct roughly 20 informational interviews with Denison alums living in the Seattle area, and working in many industries as well (not just technology) – marketing, public relations, finance, consulting, real estate, material engineering, freelancing… This shows the huge benefit of a liberal arts education – a rich, generous, and well-connected alumni network.
  • Finally, thanks to my uncle’s introduction, I have met with many Microsoft employees and figured out my dream job – product manager. In the tech industry, this is a position that intersects business, engineering, and design. More importantly, it requires a good balance of the technical abilities, people skills, as well as a drive for creativity and innovation – something that I have been working extensively to build upon at Denison with the double major of Computer Science and Communication.

College Involvement. A problem that I’ve been struggling with in college throughout freshman and sophomore year has been being over-involved (I guess it’s pretty common for other Denison students as well). Thus, I’ve been working a lot on delegation, prioritization, and time management this year.

  • Dropping many extracurricular activities from last year, I alternatively looked for opportunities to get involved in planning events that require low time commitment yet still have heavy impact for the student body. Leadership Fellows O.N.E conference, TEDxDenisonU 2015, and D-Day 2015 with T-Pain as featuring artist are the favorite events that I helped planning.
  • Being a staff member for ISS Pre-Orientation and serving as a mentor for incoming international freshmen was a truly an awesome learning experience. I got very close with my mentees and found my Denison experience much more refreshing.
  • And of course, Beta Theta Pi has been a strong brotherhood in which I can always rely on. Parties, rituals, service, formals, pinning ceremonies, Anchor Splash practices… filled my 2015 with fun memories.

Picking Up New Skills. I refer mainly to technical skills for this part. A lot of things that I have learnt were part through formal classes, and part through online courses like Udemy and Udacity.

  • On programming: C/C++, Assembly Language, Linux OS, MySQL, and Visual Studio IDE in 2015. My goals for 2016 include JavaScript, Machine Learning/Artificial Intelligence basics, and most importantly, computer science data structures/algorithms.
  • On software: Stata (statistical analysis), LaTex (mathematical spec), and Final Cut Pro (video editing) in school. Right now, I’m learning Adobe Premiere Pro (video editing), GoPro basics (video shooting), and Photoshop (image editing/web design) for some ambitious projects in the spring.
  • On social media: Buffer is an awesome tool that helps me schedule posts and track analytics for all my social channels. GitHub for coding projects and Medium for technical blog posts will be my main focus next year.

2 – What didn’t go so well this year?

Academics. I had the roughest semester this past fall in terms of academics. Taking Computer Systems (learning low-level languages, debugging assembly code, solving software problems, and building hardware projects) was a huge burden for me. I’m glad it was over, but my GPA dropped significantly this year. Good thing is that I’m done with all GE requirements and can fully focus on the majors in senior year.

Writing. I’m not sure that I got better as a writer this year. Mostly, it comes down to this: I didn’t write enough (not counting papers for classes). The only way to get better at the craft is to do the craft, and I spent too much time doing other things. I’d like to fix this in 2016 by scheduling a handful of blogging exercises, which will be dedicated to experience in Europe in the spring. You can be sure that some blogging essays will be coming your way.

Traveling. I didn’t make traveling a priority this year, so I wouldn’t consider this a thorn. I still managed to visit 8 cities in 2015: Indianapolis, Hilton Head, Savannah, Seattle, Chicago, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, and Los Angeles. Next year, however, will be filled with exciting travel plans (see below).

3 – What am I working toward?

Semester Abroad. I’ll spend my spring semester in Copenhagen, Denmark via the well-known DIS abroad program. My core course is on Game Development & Design, but I also take many interesting courses on Artificial Intelligence, Virtual Worlds, and Design Thinking. More excitingly, I am making a travel bucket list for my European adventure and am seriously thinking about a YouTube vlog channel to capture such experiences. Lot of photo essays and engaging videos will be out soon!

Summer Plans. Summer before senior year is extremely critical for getting an internship. I’m still looking for one, ideally in the San Francisco Bay Area and ideally something related to product management. Data analysis, business development, or software engineering are other options if this do not work out. It is going be tough but I believe I can figure it out.

Exercising. This stays at the top in my list of habits to improve for 2016. Balancing a physical life, in conjunction with the mental, emotional, and spiritual aspects, is necessary. I will need more strength to develop confidence in myself and there is no better time to pursue new physical goals on a consistent basis.

Senior Year. As a culmination of my Denison career, I’m eager to see how senior year will lay out itself. I’m stoked to live in an apartment. I’m thrilled to see friends who I wouldn’t see in months/year. I expect to try things I haven’t tried. But most importantly, I just want to have fun.

The Bottom Line

I found the process of writing this annual review deeply enjoyable and meaningful because of two things: 1> As a personal process, it gives me an honest view on my life, my actions, and what I want to do for myself; and 2> It is about looking forward and about how the life I’m living now is building toward a bigger future.

Again, I’m not an expert in any particular life aspects, as I see that I have plenty of things to improve upon. I’m just sharing what I learn along the way. Certainly, I’m happy with the progress I made in 2015 and I’m excited to see how my 2016 annual review is going to look like.

In the meantime, this is the 1st winter I spend at home in Hanoi since 2010, and indeed that gives me a different vibe. I’m grateful for all the experiences I’ve been a part of, adventures I’ve done, and people I’ve met in the past few years. Thanks for reading, and may 2016 be the best year yet for all of you!

Note: Thanks to James Clear and Chris Guillebeau for inspiring me to write this Annual Review.

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