I just ended a 24 weeks internship at the Government of Singapore Investment Corporation (GIC).
In case you do not know what’s GIC, it is one of the sovereign wealth funds that invest Singapore’s reserves on behalf of the Singapore Government – the other is Temasek Holdings.
GIC has 2 goals
1. To preserve the long-term international purchasing power of Singapore’s reserves placed under its care.
2. After achieving 1, it proceeds to enhance the long-term international purchasing power of Singapore’s reserves placed under its care.
Simply put, its job is to first and foremost provide returns that match the global inflation rate (preserve purchasing power). After achieving that, it then tries to invest and earn a return above that global inflation rate.
Actually, over 20 years, GIC has achieved an annualised 3.4% return ABOVE the global inflation rate (AKA if the global inflation rate is 3%, GIC’s return was 6.4%).
Alright, now that you have read some background information about GIC, it is time to read what I have learnt.
But before you continue reading, I would like to warn you that this is going to be very long.
So if you are in the middle of doing something important, bookmark this article to read later.
Brief Information on my Role
I interned in the Technology department – no, not the technology investment department (though I wish I did).
I interned in the Technology department – as in the department that manages and develops all the tech/software that keeps GIC running.
My role is to develop software and applications for GIC’s employees to use in their daily work.
So if you are hoping for some investment tips, I’m sorry, there aren’t any.
1. Ask, Don’t Reinvent the Wheel
There were many instances during the internship where I spent time exploring and experimenting on solutions and ideas that others before us had already completed. Asking people might be faster than Googling for unclear answers and had I asked more often, I might be able to save more time and worked on more tasks. But I think the first thing we as people have to do is to overcome the stigma or fear of being seen as always looking for shortcuts and the idea that if someone is constantly asking for help, it means they are lazy and not willing to do their own research. We have to understand that if someone comes to us for help and if we help them, they can get work done faster, and they will gain experience, and that is a great thing. But we have this stigma that if we give them everything, then they would not learn; but everyone learns differently, and some people learn by breaking ready-made things apart, reverse-engineer, and learn from it.
2. Enterprise are Technologically Backward
While startups and new companies use applications like Slack for their internal communication, many old enterprises are still using Email (Microsoft Outlook) and Skype. In modern times, collaboration is important, we could simultaneously work on the same document via Google Docs, but when it comes to our workplaces, we end up creating a Microsoft Word doc, send that Word doc to our supervisors for vetting, our supervisors come back with their comments, we then make the changes before sending the document back to them. We make so many copies of the same document and sending them back and forth when all these could be reduced if we simply just used a collaboration tool like Google Docs. On a side note, Office 365 now offers online Office Suite, and you can collaborate simultaneously with your colleagues on the same document now – so do check with your company if you are subscribed to that service. If your company is using Microsoft Office, start using their online version of the software so that you can collaborate instead of creating multiple copies of the same document. But given that people are often reluctant to change, I think unless the on-device Office applications are removed, people will probably not move over to the cloud/online version of the product and will continue to use Email as the primary tool for sending and transferring documents.
3. Culture is Important
I had learnt earlier from my other internships that culture is important, that it is possible for some people to not be able to fit into a certain company’s culture. The problem with culture is we will never know how it is like until we get into the company, and we will never know what culture fits us until we tried a few companies to know what we look out for. Personally, from my previous experiences, I learnt that I am not interested in companies that are focused on time spent in the office. An example would be like a company that requires employees to be on time or be at their desk most of the time during working hours. I think everyone works differently and works best in a different environment, some may like being bound to their desk, while others like myself, prefer to work in a different environment – some times at the desk, some times in the pantry facing the view outside the building, et cetera. To me, it is more important that work is completed on time (regardless of where I am doing my work) than spending exactly eight or nine hours per day sitting at the same desk, especially so in modern times where the workforce is mobile. Don’t hear it from me, hear it from the great Mr Wonderful, Kevin O’Leary from Shark Tank.
If you are wondering about GIC’s work culture, it is actually kind of in line with mine: as long as work is done, all is good. GIC practices flexi-hours, allows employees to work from home if needs be (usually for parents who needs to take care of their sick children), and practices open office and hot-desking, which is great since I can get a change of environment and let the brain “stretch” a little as well, which helps when I am stuck on a certain problem.
4. Find Interesting Tasks To Do
“If you do what you love, you’ll never work a day in your life”, these were the words from Marc Anthony. While I do agree with this quote, I do not think that we can be that lucky to have a job that always lets us do what we want; even if you are the boss of a company, there will be business matters that you hate to do but have to do it anyway. But, I do think that it is possible (and important) to be spending more of your work time on tasks that interest you. If the task interests you and has a purpose, then it becomes more than just a task, but like a stage in a game that you want to conquer – which is why gamification of work is getting more prominent in workplaces. I had my fair share of tasks that are interesting and meaningful, and some that were not so much of both, so I think it is a pretty good mix. Below is a table of how I view tasks; doing tasks in the green box is the best (tasks that interest you) and it is important to try and avoid the tasks in the red box unless there is no choice.
Nonetheless, I still completed the tasks assigned and you should too! As Amazon.com CEO Jeff Bezos says it, we can ‘disagree and commit’. We can disagree on what is the best solution for a given task but once it the solution is decided on, we will give our best to get the solution done.
5. Make Faster Decisions
Facebook’s founder Mark Zuckerberg’s motto used to be ‘move fast and break things’, which was how he navigated and dominated the social media space. Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos says that decisions should be made with just 70% of the information because waiting till 90% would be too late, and most decisions made are reversible if proven to be wrong down the line. Both of them placed emphasis on one thing: speed. Technology changes very fast, decisions that were made yesterday might become obsolete by today because of a new technology breakthrough. Instead of waiting for more information or confirmation, sometimes the best course of action is to Just Do It.
During my internship, I would have debates with my supervisor over which solution to implement. But that caused a simple five-minute discussion to drag into a 30-minute long debate; which I thought was just time wasted. Eventually, I would just voice my opinion or solution, and if it was not taken, I would let it be and focus on working on the chosen solution – essentially putting that 25 minutes of discussion time into product development. If the chosen solution fails, then we would fall back on my solution. Most of the solutions are for the product’s small components and the impact on the product would not be huge; and if we were wrong on the chosen solution, they were easily reversible.
Like Jeff Bezos said, there are 2 types of decisions, and most decisions belong to Type 2. But large companies have the tendency to use Type 1 framework on Type 2 matters, which slows down progress and leads to frustration. So make sure you use the correct method for the corresponding decision.
6. Have Clearer Communication
Tesla’s CEO Elon Musk once lamented that the excessive use of made-up acronyms within an organisation would inhibit effective communication and that it should be cut down to the minimum. Amazon’s founder Jeff Bezos banned PowerPoint in Amazon.com, choosing to instead have employees to write a six-page, narratively structured memo. The emphasis here is on clarity – getting the message across with minimal understanding lost. I saw my team spent a lot of time working on their slide deck to present their solutions to the senior managers. I thought that time would be much better spent if instead of a slide deck (which requires time spent on the design, animation, etc.), a six-page narrative might actually work better in conveying the information that they wished to convey. It is clearer than icons and provides a source of reference that is there instead of relying on their memory on what was discussed or on the minutes which might not fully record the meaning behind what was said. Acronyms were another hindrance, with terms like EDMS, etc. that made no sense to someone who has not been with the organisation for longer than one month. Even though we did ask what they meant, my brain could not remember every single one of them and eventually I gave up since most of the acronyms I heard I ended up not having the need to deal with them – it is like they are rarely used so why even have an acronym for them in the first place?
7. Have Fewer Meetings
Tesla’s CEO Elon Musk set three rules for more effective meetings in his companies.
- No large meetings (maximum 6 people)
- If you are not adding value to the meeting, leave
- No frequent meetings.
While it is true that everyone finds meeting a waste of time, no one actually leaves a meeting even if they are not adding value – unless they have something else on. You will have a room of associates, managers, supervisors, or more, all in a meeting listening to the discussion, with most of them bring quiet most of the time and some gave inputs once in a while when asked. But we would not leave these meeting because it seems rude to just walk out of a meeting with the reason: “I don’t think I am adding or receiving value from this meeting”. But I guess this is something that we need to get used to if we want to be more productive in our work – meeting really takes up too much of our time.
Side note: since I cannot leave the meeting, I zoned out during these meetings that I am not adding value, and focused on my other tasks.
8. Role of Middle Managers
Tesla’s CEO Elon Musk restructured the company’s management structure in 2018 to improve communication and increase efficiency. Facebook’s founder Mark Zuckerburg states that Facebook aspires its organisation structure to be flat, to be nimble, have more coaches than bosses, more facilitators than gatekeepers. The goal is to let people be in-charge of themselves and for communication to reach the key decision-makers as fast as possible so that decisions can be made fast. If we think about what middle management do, generally most of them break down tasks given to them from their bosses and pass them to be done by their subordinates. If their subordinates are managers, then the sub-task gets broken down into even smaller parts that are passed down to their subordinates – like the illustration I put below. Would it not be a lot more efficient if the first middle manager just split the tasks down into small components and pass it over to the associates, or if the associates themselves are formed in teams and each team is given a sub-task to complete (and how they would complete it is up to the team to split it among themselves).
But despite all the pros that might come with a flat organizational structure, the con is that there are limited positions available to promote amongst a huge pool of candidates, and some people no matter how good they are might just get stuck in a position forever because there are no seats at the top for them to promote to.
9. Agile / Scrum Leads to Faster Burnout
GIC is moving its development methodology to follow the Agile / Scrum framework. As part of our Scrum practice, we have daily standups with our supervisor to go through our progress from yesterday, our goals for today, and the problems that we faced. This part of Scrum felt stressful because what we do not want to do during the standup is to tell our supervisor that we did not manage to get anything done yesterday because we were trying to debug our program – it kind of made us look inefficient, which was something we did not want to portray. So what happened was we ended up working overtime quite a bit to try and get some tasks completed so that we have something to show the next day. This went on for almost two months and it felt extremely taxing and burnt me out that eventually I stopped and started saying “work in progress” when I faced a bug and could not resolve it by the end of the day. But apparently feeling burnt out is a common issue of Scrum, so it is not anyone’s fault; it is just the way the framework is, and me being inexperienced about how Scrum works, worked tirelessly on tasks using the framework that led to my eventual burnout. So if you following the Agile framework, do a search online for ways to reduce your burnout.
I had a really great experience in GIC, and I learnt a lot.
If you are interested, APPLY!🤣
Recommended Read: What is CPF Basic Retirement Sum (BRS)?
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Unhappy with your job? There’s something you can do about it.A. Save up enough money from your job so that you can fire your boss – the problem is it might take some time and some effortB: Find a new job, search for new opportunities. A career coach might be able to help you with that. And if you are looking for a free career coach, visit Workforce Singapore via the link below.They can link you up with the career coach and you might be able to find new opportunities on their jobs portal.http://ow.ly/GY8150wlfrF