Podcast by InnovatorsBox®

Dear Workplace: Season 3

Ep 3: All About Jobs, Careers and Compensation – 3: Finding Joy

Dear Workplace – a Podcast by InnovatorsBox®. Hosted by Monica H. Kang.

Reimagine how you thrive at work through conversations that matter. Hosted by workplace creativity expert Monica H. Kang, we’ll study the latest trends, changes, and challenges to untangle workplace people problems. We’ll talk with executives, innovators, and experts and visit different industries around the world so that you get first dibs into the changing workforce. 

Guest: Mensur Durakovic

Senior Software Engineer at Studion

Mensur Duraković, based in Split, Croatia, is a software engineer with a passion for sharing his extensive knowledge on programming, technology, and soft skills. In addition to his professional endeavors, Duraković contributes to academia as a part-time professor, enriching students' learning experiences at several universities in Split. Beyond his professional and academic commitments, he has a wide array of interests including travel, gaming, reading, football, padel, and engaging in pub quizzes. Duraković is also an ardent advocate of stoicism, a philosophy he diligently incorporates into his daily life, aiming to foster resilience and clarity in both his personal and professional spheres.

Guest: Christina Lu

Senior Vice President, Strategy @ Carat (a Dentsu agency)

Christina is the Senior Vice President of Strategy at Carat New York. Christina leverages critical and creative thinking across data insights, cultural & societal shifts, media trends, business dynamics and technology innovations to inform strategy. She has led marketing and strategy on brands including AbbVie, Adobe, Coca-cola, Goldman Sachs, Google, LinkedIn, Target and UNICEF. Christina has spoken at industry events including Marketing Science Institute (MSI) and guest lectured at Columbia Business School, Cornell University, and New York University. She serves as a board member and strategic advisor at Asians in Advertising and Clade.

In this intriguing episode of Dear Workplace, we navigate the demanding yet rewarding realms of public relations and software engineering with insights from Mensur Duraković, a software engineer from Croatia, and Christina Lu, a PR strategist from New York. Their stories not only shed light on thriving in these competitive fields but also offer universal lessons for career development.

Mensur shares his journey from an accidental entry into software engineering to becoming a mentor for the next generation, emphasizing the balance between technical proficiency and soft skills. He advocates for specialization followed by diversification and highlights the significance of sharing knowledge within the community.

Christina discusses the flexibility, continuous learning, and the pivotal role of networking in her career. She illustrates how adaptability and a proactive learning attitude have opened doors to opportunities, underscoring the importance of staying informed and engaged with industry trends to avoid burnout.

This episode is a treasure trove for anyone looking to navigate their career path with intention, curiosity, and resilience, offering actionable insights from two distinct yet parallel worlds. Whether you’re interested in PR, software engineering, or seeking guidance on career growth in general, join us for a journey of discovery in Dear Workplace.

All About Jobs, Careers and Compensation

2 Videos

Episode Shownotes

 1. Episode Title: All About Jobs, Careers and Compensation – 3: Finding Joy

2. Host: Monica H. Kang, Founder and CEO of InnovatorsBox

3. Episode Description:
Why do some people love what they do, and how can they build such careers? Public relations and software engineering are two competitive careers that could lead to burnout but also great success if you do it right. I was curious. Even if you don’t choose to work in these fields, there is something important to learn about their journey that you’d want to include in your career development. Meet software engineer Mensur Duraković in Croatia and public relations expert Christina Lu in New York. 

4. Guests:
Mensur Durakovic, Senior Software Engineer at Stadian and part-time professor in Split, Croatia;

Christina Lu, Senior Vice President of Strategy at Karat, a Dentsu agency in New York.

5. Key Topics Covered:

  • Misconceptions and truths about careers in software engineering and PR.
  • The importance of soft skills alongside technical skills in software engineering.
  • The evolving landscape of PR and the significance of adaptability and networking.
  • How AI and machine learning are impacting these industries.

6. Highlights:

  • Mensur Durakovic’s accidental journey into software engineering from a medical school applicant to a passionate software engineer.
  • Christina Lu’s non-linear path into PR and strategy, highlighting the importance of being curious and open-minded.
  • Discussion on the common misconceptions about software engineering and PR, emphasizing the gap between academic preparation and real-world demands.
  • The role of AI in modernizing workflows and decision-making processes in both fields.

7. Quotes from the guests:

  • Mensur Durakovic: “You need to adapt to those [challenges] if you want to be successful.”
  • Christina Lu: “Don’t let other people say no for you…but what if they say yes?”

8. Insights shared by the guests:

  • Choose and Master One Skill at a Time:

    • Mensur Durakovic advises focusing on mastering one programming language or technology before expanding your skill set. This depth-first approach can make you more competent and confident in your field.
  • Develop Soft Skills Alongside Technical Skills:

    • Both guests highlighted the importance of soft skills such as communication, teamwork, work ethic, and approachability. These skills are crucial for career advancement and effective collaboration in the workplace.
  • Be Open to Learning and Adapting:

    • Christina Lu emphasizes the importance of being flexible and adaptable in your career. The ability to adjust to new situations, learn from them, and pivot when necessary is invaluable in the rapidly changing job market.
  • Network and Build Relationships:

    • Christina also suggests leveraging your network and building relationships as a way to open doors to new opportunities. Don’t be afraid to ask for meetings, advice, or mentorship; you might be surprised how often people are willing to say yes.
  • Utilize Online Courses and Certifications:

    • To future-proof your career, Christina recommends taking advantage of online courses and certifications in areas that interest you. This not only broadens your knowledge but also demonstrates your commitment to professional growth.
  • Seek Firsthand Information from Industry Professionals:

    • According to Mensur, one of the best ways to learn about a field is to ask someone who is already working in it. This firsthand information can provide insights that are not available through other sources.
  • Contribute to Your Community:

    • Mensur’s practice of writing a blog to share knowledge and experiences with others exemplifies the value of giving back to your community. Sharing what you know can help others while also enhancing your personal brand.
  • Prioritize What’s Meaningful to You:

    • Christina talks about being intentional with how you spend your time and energy. Focusing on activities and commitments that are meaningful to you can help prevent burnout and ensure personal fulfillment.
  • Stay Informed with Curated Content:

    • To keep up with industry trends without feeling overwhelmed, Christina suggests subscribing to newsletters or joining organizations that curate relevant information. This can help you stay informed without having to sift through vast amounts of data.

9. Resources Mentioned:

  • Mensur Durakovic’s blog on software engineering.
  • Asians in Advertising, a nonprofit organization promoting AAPI representation in advertising.
  • Online courses and certifications for skill development.

10. Contact Information:

11. Closing Thoughts by Monica Kang:
Monica Kang emphasizes the importance of curiosity, open-mindedness, and the willingness to explore different career paths. She also highlights the need for diversity in the workplace and the continuous effort to upskill and adapt to new challenges.

12. Episode Length and Release Date:
Episode Length: Approximately 54 minutes
Release Date: Feb 22, 2024


Monica H. Kang
Welcome to your dream job and dream company. You’re finally here. And just when you thought everything was figured out, as you walk into your new job, open up your new email, you might realize, wait, some of this looks different than I thought. But don’t panic. Surprise, surprise. Actually, most jobs are like it. A lot of it requires a lot more work, care and dedic vacation. But that’s okay. The key is how you notice how to thrive and realize that wait, there are a lot of human skills we got to learn on the job. That’s the very thing my two friends who are joining our show today will share as they shed light into the two industries that many of us want to work in, but many might not realize how to thrive or enter software engineering and pr. 


Monica H. Kang
Today, I’m thrilled to have two friends who’s going to share a little bit more what it’s like. First, meet Mensu. He is a senior software engineer at Stadian and a part time professor teaching programming in Split, Croatia. He is passionate about breaking down barriers and misconception of technology and programming and likes to write and speak about the field for more to learn about it. In fact, the first time I came across his work was because of his blog, a particular blog that was written in October 2023 that was titled ten Hard to swallow truth that won’t tell you about software engineering jobs. My husband’s a software engineer and he shared with me to help me understand about why work life balance as an engineer is a little different than somebody like me who’s doing leadership coaching perhaps, and it sure did. 


Monica H. Kang
It made me understand that engineering, even though it’s a job that we hear all the time, requires different skill set and a different work routine and helped me understand the holistic opportunities and challenges one might need to face to thrive and be a leader in software engineering. And it’s the very reason why Menser wanted to write about it. Even though he loved and thrived and already did well in his job, he wondered, how can I help others understand better about what software engineering actually means and serve back to the community? So let’s dive in. 


Monica H. Kang
So welcome to this show, mentor. I’m very excited to have you. As I mentioned when I first reached out, I found you because of the blog that you wrote. How in the world did you get passionate about wanting to build a career in software engineering? 


Mensur Durakovic
Hi, so happy to be here. Thank you for the invitation for the software engineering. I have to say I got into software engineering by accident or not because my main wish was fulfilled. Because in the middle school, believe it or not, I was in a medical school, so I wanted to be a doctor, but things didn’t turn so well for me. I’m now thankful for that because if I remember correctly, the quote for the medical college was I think they accepted maybe 23 or 25 people and I was like maybe 28 or something like that. So I wasn’t accepted there. And my second choice was it basically I just went there and now I’m thankful for that because the IT industry bloomed over like last ten or so years. So it’s definitely good branch or field to do your work. 


Mensur Durakovic
And I’m really happy with my job, with my work and the field that I’m currently working on. So I can help a lot of people impact a lot of lives and stuff like that. So it’s very challenging but also rewarding. 


Monica H. Kang
That’s incredible. I mean, especially with the humble beginning that you didn’t know if that was even the field you wanted to get into. Do you remember your first job in software engineering and what was it, and how was that? 


Mensur Durakovic
Oh yes, definitely. So my first job, let’s say, is when I was a little, I lived in Bosnia, so this is neighbor country to Croatia, and there I was interested in computers. I was like, I may be the only person in the village host that I could reinstall the windows and stuff like that, fix the computers. So I got the computers very early, but my first job, believe it or not, I actually started coding first year of my college. 


Monica H. Kang


Mensur Durakovic
People start a lot of earlier, but it’s never too late. In this field. You can learn if you are like, I don’t know, 60, 70, 80 years old. I even read about grandma from Japan. She developed a fully iOS application at 80 years old. So it’s never too late. 


Monica H. Kang
Yeah, that’s incredible. 


Mensur Durakovic
My first job was my final year of college. I got an invitation of local it company here in Split. I accepted that. And as you know, Croatia is very tourist focused country. So everything here revolves around tourism, from tourism basically, especially here in my region, like Dalmatia region split. This company that I worked on is called hotels Touch. We developed smart solutions for the hotels, like booking management systems, like digital signage, so you can manage your multimedia systems and stuff like that. There are also a lot of cool projects. So I was there for three years. It was very hard at the beginning, very stressful, very different from the things that you learn in college. So everything you learn there is the greenfield projects, the new projects. 


Mensur Durakovic
But when you came to this job, the real job with real tasks and real challenges, it’s very different. So the first year was very stressful, but after that first year, you get used to that. You learn how to fight with timelines, with the different bugs, the problems and stuff like that. So it’s easier after the first year. So that was my first job and it was really cool. I’m still friends with those people and they are great guys, so very thankful for that. 


Monica H. Kang
Yeah, that’s amazing. And I want to piggyback on what you were hinting at the very end, which is actually very much to kind of the manifestation of many of the blogs that you continue to write, which is debunking what people think about engineering, both the joy and the challenges. Tell me a little bit more like why write about it? What motivated you to want to start your blog and share with the world about what it means to make sense of what it means to build a career in software engineering? 


Mensur Durakovic
Yeah. In my family, my father is also a writer. He published seven books or so. I found his books a little bit boring, but yeah, you can say that I was okay at writing. But here in split we have a local community that is called split Tech city. And this is like community of companies, meetups, organizations, individuals all combined into this one community. And I started writing for them as a, I don’t know, volunteer writer. So after some time I stopped and I had to do like one big project. But after that I was thinking, okay, maybe I could get back to writing. I decided, okay, I want to have my own blog because I want the freedom to just write about anything that I want. So whatever comes to my mind, I can write whatever I want. 


Mensur Durakovic
So basically I started and it was fine. It’s just like, I don’t know, some fun thing for me to do. I write mostly about things that I hear from my friends. I have a lot of friends that are younger than me, so a lot of colleagues, a lot of junior developers, students and stuff like that. Usually people like to hear about the problems that are common or they are facing at work or they have some technical difficulties around that. So if you write about that, people will actually read that. So not that I think it’s important for you, but when you are like older. I’m currently in the IT industry for maybe eight years, so it kind of goes with seniority. So for me, it’s expected from a senior developer to share the knowledge, to mentor the younger colleagues. 


Mensur Durakovic
I noticed that in last maybe year or two, there are a lot of senior developers, but not every senior developer writes about their experiences, their advices, what they encountered with the clients, the problems and stuff like that. So I think it’s very beneficial for each developer to share what they are working, what they are solving at their job, and share this with the whole world. This skill got lost within maybe last three or four years, because before that I think I could find more of these blogs. There are couple of folks that I follow on LinkedIn that are writing technically and stuff like that. But I would say there are also a lot of people to do these blogs just to earn the money or something. Bombard you with the subscriptions and stuff like that. 


Mensur Durakovic
On my blog, I don’t have any ads or subscriptions. The content is the same for the people who are subscribed. I don’t have any tiers. You don’t have to pay money. I just want to write and share my experiences or technical advices with the world. And basically that was my main motivation. The second thing is that you actually get a lot of benefits for you, like your personal brand and stuff like that. So that’s also very good. That’s my beginning, how I started. So I don’t write for a lot of time. I write for maybe one or two years. I write new article every two weeks. So that’s my schedule and I could write maybe more, but I have also other things to do. 


Monica H. Kang
That’s incredible. I mean, I think your heart and intention really reflects through the blog. I appreciate whether it was your LinkedIn or on your blog. You do make that statement. For those who do get a chance to now read his blog for the first time, you’ll see he deliberately says, this is not a sponsor ad, I’m not also interested. I just want to write something from heart. And as a result, I think that permitted you to share all these different things. Speaking of which, could you highlight briefly what are perhaps some of the most common misconceptions people do have about engineering, as that is a job many people want to potentially work in but don’t understand. 


Mensur Durakovic
I think I wrote an article about that. You probably saw the article online. It was, I think, number one post on Reddit programming, subreddit r programming. It was, I think on hacker News as well. So I wrote about ten things that are hard to swallow about software engineering job. It really was very popular within short amount of time because people think in the IT industry, everything is smooth, sun always shines, and you just type your code and everything works, paid well, you’re happy. Yeah, you earn a lot of money and it’s like that and sometimes. But there are also a lot of negative things. I wrote mainly about those negative things that are just by the default with this job. You need to adapt to those if you want to be successful. 


Mensur Durakovic
For example, the shocking thing for me, at least, was when I came from college to my first job, how unprepared I was for my job, because everything that I learned under college was maybe like 30% of my day to day work. Because I can learn technical things. That’s not the problem. I can learn code, syntax, and stuff like that, but other things, like communications, teamwork, work ethic, willingness to learn my approachability from other colleagues so they can ask me for help. My soft skills, let’s say. So those are the things that you cannot learn in the college. You can learn other things, but you just need to polish on yourself through the experience. 


Mensur Durakovic
Also, I’m not sure how it’s in the US, but here in Croatia, the colleges are maybe not so up to date with the current industry standards, so they have programs that are maybe ten years behind. And when you come to job there, you have a situation similar. That situation I described in my article. You basically learned to swim in the college, and someone just explain it to you, like the words and stuff, and then you come to the actual job and you have to swim, but you never actually swim. So it is something like that. There are also other things. For example, people think that you just write the code and that’s it. But the truth is, a very small portion of people at your company care about your clean code. 


Mensur Durakovic
Developers are all so proud of the code that they write and stuff like that. But the main reason you are hired in this industry is to just bring value to the company. Nobody cares about your clean code. If you wrote a function this way or that way, if it works, fine, if it’s clean, it will be expected from you to write a clean code and stuff like that. But you cannot just waste three days to just write clean code. You just need to make things work and clean code. 


Monica H. Kang
Could you clarify what that means for our non engineers? 


Mensur Durakovic
Yeah. Clean code is like, I don’t know, when you write some sentence, let’s say in a normal language, you want to send the email, and then you write everything down, blah, blah, blah. And you will not, of course, send the email instantly. You will glance over that, you will do correction, you will be cleaning, reformatting, and stuff like that. So that sentence is good to go and grammatically correct. So similar thing is with the code, you need to write optimized clean, nicely formatted, optimal code that will work. 


Monica H. Kang
So that’s called clean code. Having done that work. I see. Thank you for sharing that. It dawns me on another question. I’m curious if you have thoughts on this, which is similar to engineering. I feel like there’s lots of other jobs. It looks shinier, it looks greener on the other side. Basically. It looks, oh, that person doesn’t know how painful and how much extra work I have to do in my job. But actually if we look at maybe that job or that industry too, there’s a lot of extra work that they have to go through or like different challenges. And so I’m curious what your thought is about general. Just how we understand about careers in jobs, not just engineering but other industries as well. Are we perhaps maybe over informed about different jobs, but misguided, as you have pointed out. 


Monica H. Kang
And I’m curious on your kind of overarching thoughts on it. 


Mensur Durakovic
Yes, definitely. I think a lot of these misconceptions and confusion comes to the, let’s say some marketing part of the company. So everyone wants to know that their company, fancy, has a fancy office or a PlayStation five or the table tennis in the office, or I don’t know, free lunch. And how awesome are Google’s offices and stuff like that. But people, when they see these things, they think, wow, this is great, this is perfect, I want to work there. I admit there are a lot of benefits from the work in the IT industry. For example, I don’t have to set my alarm up. I can wake up whenever I want. I can work whenever I want. I can do like, I don’t know, I can start an hour or two late or earlier. I can, I don’t know, go on a longer post. 


Mensur Durakovic
But someone who is working on other industry or other field of work, they cannot do that. But besides that, I think the IT industry also has this dark side which is like, they don’t tell you about things that, for example, sometimes you will work also with incompetent people. You cannot just say, okay, man, you are so incompetent, you are so dumb. I don’t know. You need to be professional. You need to handle all these challenges and obstacles with dignity and treat people professionally. Also, like, I also mentioned that you will spend a lot of time in the meetings. For example, people think like, okay, you are engineer, you will just write the code. No, you will not. 


Mensur Durakovic
Because you will spend a lot of time having conversations with people, how you will approach certain things, how you will implement something, you will communicate with your team, with your manager, with your colleague. You will help other people on your team. So it will take a lot of times. And there are also other things kind of know. People think, okay, someone will give you the assignment, you will just code it. But sometimes they will ask for the estimates and you don’t know how long it will take to implement that. For example, I don’t know. If I pick up a hammer and smash on your fridge and I say, okay, here is something wrong in the fridge? Give me an estimate how long it will take to fix this. You don’t know what is wrong. You don’t know what’s going on there. 


Mensur Durakovic
So there are a lot of these things that are not mentioned in the media and people don’t see that. 


Monica H. Kang
To your comment about meeting, I’m immediately going to do you create also the animations and the graphics in your blog? 


Mensur Durakovic
No, I use this ghost platform. 


Monica H. Kang
I do. 


Christina Lu
They have integrated because those animations are. 


Monica H. Kang
Incredibly accurate and well, relatable. I’m thinking about especially going to your meeting. I’ve seen the animation of the meeting example where the little person’s very happy coding and then suddenly they’re stuck in meetings and they’re like unhappy. And then blah, blah. And then by the time they finish, it’s like evening. I didn’t do any coding today. I was sitting in meetings. I couldn’t do anything. 


Mensur Durakovic
Yeah, those are taken from the monkeyuser.com. Awesome stuff there. 


Monica H. Kang
Yeah, well, credits shout out to them as well. We’ll make sure folks get a chance to look at them and we’ll give proper attribution. But it brings to a really key conversation you’re raising, which is how do we make sure not just maybe the future generation, but actually all of us do a better job understanding about what it means to have a happy, thriving career. How do we debunk that? How do we proactively seek for those in the industry? How do we not make it too picture perfect? Actually, it’s better to clarify and upfront inform about it, as you have said. And so I’m curious, on that note, what advice you have to share for future generations, or maybe even those in transitions who are wanting to enter software engineering. 


Monica H. Kang
What skills do you think are going to be even more important other than the traditional technical stuff? You’ve listed many. What’s going to be even more important now for the future, if they want to be a software engineer? 


Mensur Durakovic
I would say for the software engineering, there are some must haves. You need to have technical skills. You cannot work without technical skills. I see a lot of young people make mistakes. For example, they are all over the place. They want to learn Javascript, they want to learn c sharp, they want to learn, I don’t know, ruby and rails and stuff like that, but it’s not good. Just pick one thing, master that one thing, get good at that and then expand on that. And that’s the first thing. The second thing is you need to get good at these soft skills. People do not believe, but actually technical skills are something that are considered to be just like by the default you have them. 


Mensur Durakovic
But soft skills are those who will decide if you get promotion, if you will get a raise, if people will actually like you, if you are not good with those skills. I met a lot of people that cannot just work in teams. They argue a lot. They do not want to listen to colleagues or they have hard time on the code reviews and stuff like that. So the advice that I want to give to young people that just want to enter into the software engineering is if you have friend or anyone that you know that’s already working in this field, ask them about the experience. That’s the best way that you can get information from the firsthand if you like. I don’t know, follow some folks on the LinkedIn. 


Mensur Durakovic
They are also good bloggers that you can also read about their experience and they say a lot of useful things for this domain. So I think those would be the best way to learn about those things. Not something on the Internet or the company website where you go and you see all these things that are shiny and they just want to try to sell themselves as a good company. They can be a good company, but it is definitely a different perspective from the company and from the worker. Make sure you ask the person, not the website. 


Monica H. Kang
Yeah, that’s a very good point. Talk to the person, especially in this generated AI world, very important to make sure you’re speaking to somebody and getting the nuances. Mr. Thank you so much. We covered so many different grounds. Any final words of wisdom you want to share to our innovators who are listening in on any general advice in different careers and jobs they’re navigating, nothing special. 


Mensur Durakovic
I would say just be yourself, be the best version of yourself and try to help as much people as you can. So that’s the generally best advice. Do not compare to others, do your own thing and that’s basically it. 


Christina Lu
I love that. 


Monica H. Kang
Well, thank you so much for taking the time to share your wisdom and insight, folks. We’ll be back again with another story and we will see you soon. Thank you so much. 


Mensur Durakovic
Thank you. Bye. 


Monica H. Kang
As men, sir Pront sound start with being curious and open minded makes a difference and it’s probably something that you’ll notice. My second guest will highlight too, Christina Liu. She is the senior vice president of strategy at Karat, a densu agency in New York. At Karap, Christina leverages critical and creative thinking across data insights, cultural and societal shifts, media trends and business dynamics, and technology innovations to inform strategy. That’s a lot, right? She has led marketing and strategy on brands including Adobe, Coca Cola, Goldman Sachs, Google, LinkedIn, Target, and UNIcEF. So she definitely knows how to speak and relate to the different industry trends and insights. She has also spoken as a speaker at industry events including marketing science institution, and guest lectured at Columbia Business School, Cornell University and New York University. 


Monica H. Kang
She also serves as a board member and strategic advisor where she often mentors Asians in advertising. Christina’s definitely rethinking how we thrive and grow in the PR industry. So let’s dive in what it’s like in her day to day life. 


Monica H. Kang
So I am very excited to have my friend Christina here to speak a little bit more about how in the world she got into where she is. So, Christina, tell me a little bit more. What does it mean to work at PR and in an agency? 


Christina Lu
Yeah. Thank you so much for having me here, Monica. I’m super excited and happy to share. It’s actually really funny. I wasn’t one of those people who set out in high school or college saying, I want to get into strategy, I want to work at an agency. But I stumbled into a little bit, and it was actually the perfect storm of my passions, my experiences that brought me to where I am. And what I mean by that is I am curious by nature. I majored in philosophy. I love people and cultures. And digging into psychology, I worked across various different industries and categories, whether that be technology, food and wine, nonprofit, as well as pharma. 


Christina Lu
And what strategists really do is they lean into what are the category cultural, consumer, as well as brand insights, and formulate a way for the brand or company to be able to actually reach their consumers in not only a differentiated but very relevant way. 


Monica H. Kang
Thank you so much for sharing that. I feel like there’s so much probably to learn into it. So diving right back in, tell me, your first job and what was it like? What skill did you need to excel in that job? 


Christina Lu
Yes. So I have a bit of an untraditional path into strategy, and my very first job was actually in sales. I wouldn’t take it back. Even though it sounds a little bit unglamorous, it was a lot of hard skills that brought me to where I am today. I learned how to be able to communicate appropriately. I learned, most importantly, the specific attitude, I think that got me to where I am today. And that is, don’t let other people say no for you. Meaning a lot of times people just automatically discount themselves and say, well, I don’t know if I should even ask, because what if they say no? But the correct attitude that I actually learned during that first job is, but what if they say yes? 


Christina Lu
And so that has brought me so many opportunities by asking someone, hey, do you mind to have a meeting? What do you think about this? Do you think that we can talk about XYZ topic? And you’d be surprised how many times people do say yes. So I think some of the most important skills that you can learn is being able to just ask and not being afraid of no, that’s so important. 


Monica H. Kang
I’m sure also, as you continue to now build your expertise and grow into the industry that you’re in right now, you’ve also noticed a lot of misconceptions and misunderstanding people have of the field. Tell me a little bit more, what are some of the most common misconceptions people have and why they exist? 


Christina Lu
Sure. So I think that media has a big role in playing what stereotypes could be like for certain jobs. Right. So when people say, oh, you work in advertising and media, is that like mad men? Partially yes, but also partially no. So the misconceptions are that it’s just a lot of big room brainstorming, a lot of action, but behind the scenes, there’s so much more that’s going on. I think that also a misconception is being first generation here. My parents, when I tell them, hey, I work in marketing and advertising, specifically within media strategy, they say, so you make commercials, which is not even close to what I do, but I’m like, yeah, sure, that’s sort of ish it. 


Christina Lu
So I think what people should really learn about the industry is that it is so big and wide, and there’s multiple different verticals and areas that you can work in, whether that be on the agency side, servicing clients on the actual brand side. Even now, like within media, there’s the publisher side, too. So there’s multiple different roles in which you can have, whether that be strategy or account planning or business management. And it’s really the world is your oyster. So I would say, have a lot of informational conversations to be able to sort of figure out what exactly you would want to do within the advertising and marketing industry. 


Monica H. Kang
I really love your point and that reminder that it is so diverse. And so tell us a little bit more how your experiences and skills helped you get clarity, which direction you wanted to hone. 


Christina Lu
So I think that some of the skills that I was able to find really valuable in this industry is flexibility. Not only are things changing at such a rapid pace within culture, but also within our industry. And so being able to adapt quickly to whether it be a new updated timeline because maybe budgets are getting cut, or a new direction because there’s someone else who had a different idea, or being able to appropriately work within your collaborative teams is highly important. And that flexibility skill is really key no matter where you go, and very transferable. 


Christina Lu
And another thing that I think that is really important is the ability to be able to cut through a lot of the noise and find that simple, clear way of not only communicating, but maybe distilling certain insights so that you can make whatever you’re saying to the client or your team very understandable. 


Monica H. Kang
So many skills that I feel like I’m hearing from you that is so important bring us back down to your kind of past. When you think about how you built your career and experience to be here, what are some perhaps surprising lessons or surprising skills that you have gained that you realized, wait, I didn’t realize this experience or this event or this person would help make a difference, but it did later on. 


Christina Lu
That’s a really good question. So what I didn’t realize, I think coming up through all of this was when I graduated, I worked a variety of different roles, right? So I worked in sales, I went to China, and I was a language instructor for a year. I worked at a startup, and this was fully remote. So I actually traveled around central and South America for about six months before this whole working remote thing was a trend. And I worked on the client side, I’ve worked on the agency side, and throughout the whole experience, transparently, I felt, oh, I’m trying all these different things. I’m building all these different skills. Meanwhile. So a lot of my colleagues, they picked a specific line of work and they climbed the ladder through specializing in something. 


Christina Lu
And what I’ve realized is that now there’s actually an article that came out on the drum recently saying that generalists are actually more in demand than specialists, especially coming into 2024. And for the first time, I found that, oh, this is really interesting. And cool, because for the longest time people have wanted specialists. Given the economy, given the ability of what I was saying before and about how flexibility is so important, the ability for someone to be a generalist and dangerous enough in most of the different topics but have a few key superpowers, I found is actually something really surprising. So even though this whole time I’m not a specialist, if you would say in a certain area, I think that being able to build a variety of different skills, learning a lot as you go, shouldn’t be discounted. 


Monica H. Kang
Thank you. That’s really powerful and insightful. You’re also working in New York. I feel like that in itself brings a different culture. Tell me a little bit more about the New York culture, especially when it comes to media and advertising, because I feel it’s even more of a hustle than I think in other places. 


Christina Lu
Oh my gosh, definitely. Yes. So I definitely started off in New York. I’m currently based in Pennsylvania, but my company is based in New York, where I often go. Most of the time I’m a fully remote hire. But the New York hustle and bustle is definitely in kind of like this. In your face. There is a certain energy to the advertising and marketing field in New York, which is where a lot of the jobs are concentrated. So you always have some kind of interesting event or get together or nowadays a lot of virtual ways to be able to connect and share and learn from everybody within the industry. 


Monica H. Kang
So that relationship and networking is so key. I know as you were sharing this, you’ve hinted this earlier, it’s so important to be able to give back and recognize how a lot of these places, there’s still not enough diversity and representation. And you’ve hinted that at the very beginning, too. Tell me a little bit more. I know you’re very big on mentoring and advocating for AAPI representation. Why is that important for you, and what are you doing to help change that narrative? 


Christina Lu
I love this question. This actually goes back to almost about a year ago when I was coming back from maternity leave and I wanted to take some time to reevaluate where I wanted to put some time in helping, furthering something that was meaningful to me. At the time, I was president of my alumni chapter. I was also volunteering for this organization called Streetwise Partners. But I came across Asians in advertising. And Asians in advertising is a nonprofit organization that helps really elevate AAPI voices and build community and help further and mentor other AAPI people who are navigating corporate America or just trying to build their careers. And it immediately spoke to me because similar to a lot of other people, being first generation chinese American here, my parents started their own business, but had zero understanding of how maybe corporate America really works. 


Christina Lu
The important things in order to be able to build your career, how to network, how to interview, and just navigating all of that. So I think it’s really important to be able to pay that forward. Having learned a lot from all the different informational interviews I’ve done, going on, all the different interviews I have and having all the different kind of jobs I’ve had, being able to kind of pass that on and give others, maybe the opportunity that I haven’t had is really meaningful to me. And so that’s why I hope to, as one of the board members of Asians in advertising, continue to help move the needle in giving others this opportunity, building community and creating a sense of belonging for everyone. 


Monica H. Kang
And part of me, as I listen to all this, I’m wondering, I mean, Christina, how is she managing her time and energy? How do you manage your time and energy? How do you make sure you don’t burn out? 


Christina Lu
This is a really important question. I’m a new mom. I have a full time job. I’m also a board member of a couple of organizations. And I think what’s really key, to be able to be very thoughtful and intentional about how you’re dividing your time and knowing what is important to you. All of these things are really important to me. And so I actually feel full when I am being fully engaged with my baby. I’m being fully engaged in agents and advertising, making that really awesome presentation when I’m at my job. And so one of the ways that I avoid being burnt out is being very intentional with what I choose to spend my time with. Because at the end of the day, all of these things are meaningful to me. 


Christina Lu
And so that’s why I can avoid some of that burnt outness, because I’m not over committing to the things that are totally possible, but being very intentional about where I’m committing my time. 


Monica H. Kang
I know also AI and machine learning has been a hot topic in all industries. Of course, in media, marketing, and advertising, a lot is changing as well. How has AI influenced how you work and show up, maybe even save you time and effort, as you said, in making sure you show up intentionally in the spaces you want to. 


Christina Lu
Yes, AI is everywhere. It’s the new buzword. If you can say a sentence without AI, I don’t know if you’re in all of the right conversations. But anyway, AI is definitely changing not only my current job, but also within the marketing and media landscape. I definitely leverage some AI tools to help at least start off what I need to do. A great example of this could be chat, GBT or bard, right? A part of my job is being able to look into the different category and cultural and consumer insights and be able to distill what are some key themes, what are the key insights. And some of these AI tools are really great for being able to brainstorm and use as a sounding board. 


Christina Lu
Other times it’s also really great to whether it be helping me write certain lines or helping me create a swot analysis where I’m understanding the different strengths, opportunities, weaknesses and threats. AI is definitely a great tool to help me get started and do and automate a lot of work. But at the end of the day, you still need that human lens to look at all the different things that are being outputted. Sometimes double check what they’re putting forth because it’s not always correct and be able to say, oh, actually this is a great starting point, but let me bring in the other things that I know to be able to bring it that much further and elevate it. 


Monica H. Kang
I love it, that human lens of importance. I feel like every time I get a chance to ask this question, I’m being reminded that, hey, don’t forget, being human is part of the things that AI cannot do. So how do you bring that out more? So, speaking of which, we probably have listeners here who are either curious to enter this field inspired by story or maybe exploring pivots. Want to better understand for anyone, wherever they are, particularly in the field, for your marketing and advertising. If they want to enter, what skills would you recommend? They have to build even more, maybe even more so in the future because of the changing work landscape with AI remote and everything. And what would you recommend? Sure. 


Christina Lu
I think since your question is specifically targeted towards people who are trying to get into the field, I would say there’s two things that I could recommend and the first skill would be to go online and look at all the amazing pieces of knowledge classes, things that are out there. If there’s a specific topic that interests you, take a class on it. There’s all these free classes, but then you can also pay for a certain class and get maybe a certification. Make sure that you can almost future proof your career so that because you’re building all of these skill sets, you don’t get discounted because you don’t know a certain skill. So learn the second thing I think that is a little bit more, not a hard skill, but more of a soft skill, is that flexibility I was leading to earlier on. 


Christina Lu
Just given the economy and how fast our industry is changing and evolving, it’s so important to be adaptable, to be nimble, and to have that ability to have a certain idea of how to reach your certain goals, but have the flexibility and adaptability to change and still get there. But maybe it’s not the original way you thought you were going to go. 


Monica H. Kang
And piggybacking on your comment. So when you say learn, is it learning any topic that you’re mentioning that they just have to be in the learning mode? Is that what you’re saying? That’s important for advertising? 


Christina Lu
I think diving a little bit deeper, right. For example, within my specific line of work, like strategy, there’s a lot of specific classes that you can take, maybe within strategy or creative brief writing or whatever that might be. But if you wanted to go into advertising and there’s like a whole consumer insights division, maybe it’s about learning specific data analysis skills, understanding certain tools, or maybe mastering Excel. So depending on the specific line you might want to go into, there’s specific skills that which you could either learn more about and get certified in. For example, I took a class from UPenn and there I got a certification on brand strategy. This was an online course offered through Coursera, and this was during the COVID shutdown of 2020 where everybody was shut down for a while. 


Christina Lu
And I said, oh, well, I could probably use this downtime and learn a little bit more about brand strategy and portfolio and product management. So why don’t I spend some time and get a certification in this specific area topic. 


Monica H. Kang
So I’m hearing that it’s really important to be able to really just that learning mindset first identify what you know, you’re passionate and interested about. But if you’re not sure it’s okay, don’t overthink about it. Just start with where you can. Thank you for sharing that, Christine. We’ve already gone through so many different insights. Really grateful that you are here. As we wrap up, few rapid questions. One, any final advice you share to our innovators out there, no matter where they are in their journey, how they can continue to innovate and thrive. 


Christina Lu
Yes, I think the number one thing I would say is to leverage your network. And what I mean by that is build on the relationships that you have. They are in places where you might not even expect, lean into your alumni network, have friends introduce you. Monica and I actually met through some kind of really funny, serendipitous moment where now we are connected to each other, and it’s really amazing. So don’t ever stop building relationships. And I think that you’ll be very surprised where that can lead to. 


Monica H. Kang
The second question is, actually, because of the work that you do in marketing and advertising, what’s the best way to keep tap of global affairs and global business trends, whatever industry you’re in, but without getting burned out? Because I think that’s a big challenge. How do you make sense of everything? So much has changed, whether it’s how we do marketing, how we do advertising, but also what’s going on in the world. And so I’m curious if you have tips and tricks for how you make sense of it, but also in a digestible way to not get burned out. 


Christina Lu
In an era of information overload, it can be very overwhelming. On top of the ever evolving landscape that everything is always changing, but that everything can be found somewhere. I would say find a few really great either sources of information or newsletters that you can subscribe to. That way, it curates a way very easily for you to read what is actually happening and for you to stay abreast of specific categories or topic areas. I like to be able to do this where I sign up for a couple of newsletters, but then also within my organization, our head of innovation formed this organization called the CIA. It stands for CArA’s Innovation association, where we meet on a pretty regular basis to discuss all the different kind of trends that are happening. 


Christina Lu
There’s a weekly newsletter that comes out from this specific organization where it helps curate what are the evolving topics, whether it be innovation or tech or just the general market culture, to kind of stay abreast on these key topics that are happening. So I would say sign up for certain newsletters that you think would be helpful to you and then try to join organizations that specifically want to stay abreast of all these topics so that you can be part of the conversation. 


Monica H. Kang
Thank you so much. And final word is, what’s the best way people can stay in touch with you? 


Christina Lu
Find me on LinkedIn. I’m happy to connect. 


Monica H. Kang
Awesome. Well, this is Christina. This is Monica, your host. Thank you so much, Christina, for joining us. Really appreciate the conversation. Folks will tune in. We’ll have another conversation next week, and we will see you soon. Thank you. Thank you. 


Monica H. Kang
As Christina points out, it might not always be that clear, but you have to put in the work, be curious. I think we’re seeing that consistently, right. And stay open, especially in a place like PR and software engineering. You just never know where you get the inspiration. And as we’re getting more clarity and excitement into the roles that we are, you’re probably now noticing another thing. Diversity. That’s right. How can we bring more diverse voices into the works and industries that we work in and perhaps also hire those right people? 


Monica H. Kang
So in our next episode, we’re going to get a chance to ask some leaders who are working on that effort how to bring diverse leaders into the different industries, but also encourage employees to consider different types of jobs that they might not have thought of and how to upskill their position and how to upskill themselves. So we’ll see you next week. This is Monica Kang at Dear Workplace by Innovators Box. See you soon. Thanks again for joining us. This is your host, Monica Kang at Dear Workplace, and I’m so glad you are here. This show is possible thanks to our amazing podcast team who has worked with me at Innovators Fox Studios. 


Monica H. Kang
Shout out to audio engineering and producing by Sam Lehmart, Audio Engineering assistant by Ravi Lad; website and marketing support by Kree Pandey; graphic support by Leah Orsini, Christine Eribal; and original music by InnovatorsBox Studios. And writing, interviewing, podcasting, directing, and all that jazz by me, Monica Kang. Share us your feedbacks and suggestions as we continue to look to improve and answer the questions that you have about the workplace. Have a great day and I’ll see you soon. 

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