Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Funny Thought: Love Me, Hate Me

There are 2 ways to inflate one's own sense of self-importance. One is to think that people love me. The other is to think that people hate me.  

In reality, I discovered, people just ignore me.

Funny Thought: Daylight Saving Time

I had to wake up early this morning to send my in-laws to the airport.

And then it occured to me, waking up early is my version of Daylight Saving Time.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Funny Thought: Christmas Time

Every year, right about this time, I get annoyed that Christmas happens in late December, right when the weather sucks.  Constantine could have chosen any day of the year to be Christmas Day, but instead of choosing a nice spring or summer day like a good emperor would, he chose December 25th.  Very annoying.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Funny Thought: Stop Sign

A joke my 9-year-old Angel made up:

There was a man who came to a 'Stop' sign.  He stopped for an hour and caused a lot of traffic.  A police officer came by and asked the man, "Why aren't you moving?".  The man replied, "I'm waiting for the sign to say 'go'".

Friday, December 12, 2008

Meng's Orthodox Paradoxes (unfortunately, these are all true about me)

  • I strive hard to be lazy.
  • I'm selfishly compassionate.
  • I desire to not want.
  • Sometimes, I'm not myself.
  • Often, I'm not here, where I am.
  • I actively engage in non-activity.
  • I feel spiritual about my earthly desires.
  • I sometimes fail at failing.
  • I make careless mistakes carefully.
  • I think about non-thinking.
  • Sometimes, my mind is full of nothing.
  • My own arrogance humbles me.
  • I've become a famous unknown.
  • I sometimes pity the more fortunate.
  • I'm so rich I'm working for food.

Funny Thought: Bar

When I go to a bar, I expect to see a bunch of crazy people saying nice things about me. You know, complimentary nuts.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Special Column: I will always be 'Made in Singapore'




I was invited to write this special column in the Straits Times for National Day in Singapore.



I HAVE been living in California for the past 10 years. Years of living away from Singapore has given me a much deeper appreciation of my own heritage.

Like every good Singaporean boy, I was Made in Singapore (just check the label on my back, I often quipped).

I grew up watching SBC and, like every kid in my class, knew what the letters stood for in Hokkien (something about a lack of fragrance in the air). I went to school and college in Singapore (Catholic High School, Hwa Chong JC, and Nanyang Technological University). I spoke fluent Singlish.

And when I grew up, I had a nice Singaporean job, married a nice Singaporean girl, settled in a nicely expensive government apartment, and moved ourselves from point A to point B in a small overpriced car. And everybody lived happily ever after.

Except I didn't entirely live happily ever after.

See, I wasn't entirely a good Singaporean boy. I was a bit of an iconoclast (still am, but don't tell my daughter).

I appreciated humour in a way slightly different from that of people in authority. When I was a kid, I would often make a funny remark in response to something a teacher said, except that unlike the kids, the teacher seldom found it very funny. ('Are you trying to be funny, boy?' 'Yes, Sir.')

I delighted in creativity and idealism, and I often felt tied down. I didn't fit entirely into this society, and I didn't feel I had the right opportunities to fulfil my full potential.

I made the final decision to go abroad on the morning of Jan 3, 1997, right after the General Election.

I figured it was time I lived and studied outside of Singapore for a few years to expand my intellectual and experiential horizons, before I became too old and collected too much inertia.

So I began the painful process of applying to graduate school and, in August 1998, found myself on the other side of the Pacific Ocean, attending graduate school in the Club Med-like campus of the University of California at Santa Barbara, where the weather is perfect, and my engineering lab was right across the street from the beach.

One thing led to another and, soon, I was beginning what would become a very successful career in this small Silicon Valley company with a funny name, Google. (That company didn't stay small for very long, by the way.) Sometimes, I think my life is very funny.

Many things about Americans fascinated me, especially when seen close-up.

I was struck most by their entrepreneurial energy and optimism. I kept running into serial entrepreneurs here. Two recent ones I've met are an audio/visual guy starting a solar business, and a bus driver starting an information business. I see entrepreneurial people, they're everywhere, they walk among us, they don't know they're amazing.

As a society, Americans are very open to experimentation. They are willing to fail and accept the failure. They like to have fun. They have a very healthy disregard for authority.

In my opinion, these cultural strengths are major ingredients of America's success in science, technology and entrepreneurship.

To create a scientific breakthrough, for example, one often has to demonstrate that something everybody else believed in was wrong in some major way.

To bring something innovative to market, one must be willing to fail miserably. And to sustain a start-up through its initial struggles, founders and initial employees often need to have fun with each other. Americans as a society do these so well because of their cultural strengths.

These are some important things we can learn from our American friends.

I didn't have trouble adjusting to American culture. I was already creative, iconoclastic and funny, and I already drank Coke and watched Friends. I fit right in, like an old cliche involving duck and water.

Over time, however, my experience studying and working in America gave me a deepening appreciation of my own Singaporean heritage. I realised that being 'Made in Singapore' prepared me for success in many important ways.

Singaporeans are blessed with many advantages.

The most obvious is the quality and rigour of our education, especially in maths and science. Our maths syllabus for primary school, for example, is widely reputed to be the best in the world. In addition, we all studied hard as kids, because we did not want to end up cleaning longkangs (drains) when we grew up. That's why we grew up with very solid academic foundations.

I realised that many cultural values I picked up as a Singaporean also prepared me for success.

The obvious ones are thrift, diligence and the willingness to make sacrifices for the future.

In addition to all those, I grew up observing how careful my elders were with nuances involving words and subtle social gestures when interacting with each other.

It used to annoy me a little, but once I started living in a foreign land, I realised that underlying all that was a very healthy respect for inter-personal relationships, and that respect has unconsciously been passed on to me.

One reason I'm successful is my ability to build solid relationships, and my heritage provided the foundation.

Finally, being fluent in an Asian language is a boon, not just because it gave me access to Asian markets that monolingual Americans find less accessible, but also because it gave me familiarity with powerful ways of thinking, such as the philosophies of Lao Zi and Sun Zi, that are different from but complementary to Western systems of thought.

As I spend more time outside Singapore, I increasingly appreciate how much it had nurtured me in my youth.

In a way, Singapore is like Mum. No matter what you have achieved in life, a lot of it goes back to what Mum gave you and taught you. At the end of the day, wherever in the world I am, I will always be Made in Singapore.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Meng in the News: 谷歌首名新加坡雇员陈一鸣 名人访谷歌都要同他合照



星期天联合早报


谷歌首名新加坡雇员陈一鸣 名人访谷歌都要同他合照

陆彩霞 (2008-08-03)

  他的名字取自楚庄王“一鸣惊人”的故事,而他也相信自己有一天能成就惊世之举。

  但在10年前,陈一鸣从未有这样的想法。当年,他还是一名在本地受教育的工程师,因为想到外国转一圈,而前往美国加州深造,没想到人生就此起了戏剧性的变化。

  2000年,他加入规模仅有约100人的谷歌(Google),担任软件工程师一职。当时,他是公司聘请的第一名新加坡人。

  今天,他已成为这个网络巨擘的“亲善大使”。每位到访谷歌位于加州山景市(Mountain View)总部的名人政要都会同他合照,而这个有趣的习俗,也让他上了《纽约时报》的封面。

  如今和妻女居住在加州库佩蒂诺的陈一鸣,每年都会回新加坡度假一次。本报记者趁他上个星期回国时和他做了专访,了解这个聪明平凡人的背后,不平凡的故事。

  “我觉得自己就像阿甘(Forrest Gump)一样,但我是聪明版的。”

  为什么这么形容自己呢?外表朴素、言谈举止带有一点憨厚傻气的陈一鸣,确实像个从电影里走出来的人物。他说,自己和汤姆汉克斯扮演的经典角色一样,只是在做自己该做的事,却没有想到能取得今天的成就。

  到美国深造前,陈一鸣一直都在本地受教育,先是毕业自公教中学和华中初级学院,后来到南洋理工大学修读应用科学(电脑工程)学位。

  1998年,他决定暂时离开新加坡,到加州大学圣塔芭芭拉分校(University of California, Santa Barbara)修读硕士课程,没想到这一走,竟为他的事业和人生开拓了一片新天地。

在外国生活如鱼得水 在新加坡感觉到拘束

  “到了那里一两年后,我的感觉是……华人有一句话这么形容:如鱼得水。在新加坡,我一直感觉和别人不同,有点拘束。”

  陈一鸣这次回国,接受了资讯通信发展管理局(IDA)的邀请担任一系列讲座的其中一名嘉宾,和年轻创业者分享他在谷歌的工作经验和心路历程。有人问他当初如何适应外国的环境时,他以“如鱼得水”四个字,总结了自己离开后的心境。

  八年在外,他还是用道地的新加坡口音和记者交谈,在讲座上也同样左一句paiseh(不好意思),右一句paiseh,和出席者打成一片。

  考取硕士学位后,陈一鸣选择留在美国找工作。在几家公司当中,谷歌的面试过程最为苛刻,而这一点令他印象深刻。因为觉得这样的公司能让自己有很大的学习空间,他成了它的第107名雇员。

  回想当时的经过,他说:“我要在一个有很多比我聪明的人的地方工作,向他们学习。谷歌的面试难度最高,要当场解答很难的问题。当时我就想,能通过这一关的人肯定都很聪明。”

  获《财富杂志》评选为100个最佳工作场所之一的谷歌,自由的工作文化和令人称羡的员工福利圈内无人不晓。陈一鸣在访谈中和讲座上也分享了公司一些独特的做法。

  “你听过百尺规定吗?”陈一鸣在讲座上提起这奇特的公司规定时引起哄堂。“百尺规定就是在谷歌里,没有人应离开食物超过100英尺。曾有一名工程师因发现自己离食物122英尺远而提出投诉,结果管理层的回复是,他的头顶上就有一个小型厨房。”

  免费的美食、理发服务、游泳池和沙滩排球场。陈一鸣对一脸难以置信的记者点头说:“这些都是真的,不是传说。”

  除了把工作环境塑造得像游乐园,谷歌也规定所有工程师可用20%的工作时间,随心所欲做自己想做的事。

  陈一鸣认为,这样的做法能激发由下而上的创意。他刚加入谷歌时,公司并没有这样的规定,但当时的工程师都在非常自由的环境下工作。后来,当公司规模逐渐变大时,管理层想保留当初的自由文化,因此设定了这样的制度。

两名新加坡人 参与研制Gmail

  谷歌的许多产品,都是在这个时间内诞生,如谷歌资讯(Google News)、电邮(Gmail)和搜索引擎的英文拼写更正(spelling corrector)。陈一鸣不忘提到,研制出Gmail的三人小组中,有两人是新加坡人。

  除了鼓励员工自由发挥创意,管理层也提倡开放文化。陈一鸣说,公司成立初期,每一名员工都能知道公司每一天所赚取的收入,而即使现在公司已有一万多到两万名员工,上下的阶级还是很少。

  在谷歌,管理层职衔里都有“Fellow”一字,相等于一般公司的副总裁。有一回,陈一鸣想幽此名衔一默,于是申请把自己的职衔改成“Jolly Good Fellow”。没想到,公司竟然批准他的申请,而这个职称从此就出现在他的名片上。

  在谷歌的工作生涯进入第八年,陈一鸣如今已卸下软件工程师一职,当起培训公司员工的灵魂工程师。他和《情绪智商》作者科尔曼(Daniel Goleman)合作设计一项课程,教导谷歌员工提升自己的情趣智商。

  谈到自己接下来的目标,他说,眼前没有任何事比维持世界和平更重要。这句简单的话,在讲座上得到台下热烈掌声。

  他说,就像运动是身体上的锻炼一样,冥想是心灵的锻炼。若人们都学会把心灵的锻炼视为理所当然,就能取得内心平衡。当大家都自内心感到快乐时,世界就由内而外变得更祥和。

  他一脸认真道:“我的最终目标是要为人类贡献,不一定要拿诺贝尔和平奖(Nobel Peace Prize),但要做到一件值得拿到这个奖项的事。”

新加坡应如何留住人才?

  陈一鸣认为,新加坡最顶尖的工程师,能够和世界上任何一个地方最好的工程师相比,但政府若要留住这些人才,就必须让他们有改变世界的机会和成长的空间。

  他说:“新加坡人是非常能干且有进取心的。我认为如果有办法让每个新加坡人发挥他们的最佳潜能,那我们的成就将会非常不得了。”

  但他也认为,新加坡目前还不具备让人发挥最佳潜能的环境,因此他们必须出国,而他自己就是个好例子。

  也因如此,他觉得政府让新加坡人到海外发挥所长,同时和他们保持紧密的联系,是明智之举。

  对于新加坡是否能够制造像硅谷(Silicon Valley)一样群英汇集的环境,他说:“是能够尝试的,但尝试往往是最难的部分。

  “许多比新加坡更有条件的地方都尝试过了,但都不成功。不过,新加坡是个非常特别的地方。我想还是值得一试,但要下很大的功夫。”

  他也说,新加坡人要学习一个很重要的概念,而那就是失败,因为失败是取得创新的关键,没有失败过,就无法创新。


  谷歌的总部有一面特别的墙壁,叫做“鸣”人墙(Meng's Wall)。

  上面挂满一张张到访过谷歌的名人的照片:国际金融家索罗斯(George Soros)、西藏精神领袖达赖喇嘛、美国前副总统兼诺贝尔和平奖得主戈尔(Al Gore)、美国民主党总统候选人奥巴马。他们的身边都站了同一个人,而他就是发起这个特殊传统的陈一鸣。

  话说2003年的某一天,陈一鸣看到美国前总统卡特(Jimmy Carter)来到谷歌,兴奋地拿了相机上前要求和他拍照。这张照片和另一张同戈尔的合照,之后就贴在他办公室外的墙上。

  久而久之,每个到访谷歌的名人政要,都得和他拍照才算“到此一游”。

  荣登“鸣”人榜的人,还包括美国共和党总统候选人麦凯恩、美国前总统克林顿、拳王阿里(Muhammad Ali)和好莱坞喜剧明星罗宾威廉斯(Robin Williams)。

  值得一提的是,我国纳丹总统和社会发展、青年及体育部部长维文医生,也榜上有“鸣”。