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10 career hacks for every ambitious man

(EDITORIAL) Succeeding in business takes grit and determination – here are 10 hacks for any fella looking to get ahead in their career.

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Gender equality (for real)

Most career hacks are focused on women these days, but guess what? Men still exist, too! News flash! And another news flash – men of all races and sexual preferences are ambitious in their careers. Wow. What a concept.

Sure, there’s a pay gap. Sure, men have always been allowed to be ambitious without any questions. Sure, sexual harassment is more often inflicted upon women. But there are plenty of men that are underpaid, questioned for their ambitions, and even sexually harassed.

If we truly believe that genders are equal, we must offer career advice to men as well, so in that spirit are 10 career hacks for our male readers that want to be even more ambitious about their careers.

1.) Maintain insanely detailed notes

Early in my career, I got in the habit of keeping a phone log where I documented every single inbound and outbound call, who I talked with, and what the highlights were, no matter how minor or major. I even wrote down (in front of leadership) when the President of the company sat on my desk, inches away from me, and lingered to touch my shoulders. Ick. I wrote down the time, who was at my desk, and what happened. Right in front of him. It never happened again.

Notes, whether digital or hand-written, are an insanely valuable tool. When digitized, all meeting notes and information can can be searchable and easily tracked.

If you meet someone, take real notes, and immediately add a calendar item to follow up with them at a specific time (this is the part everyone always forgets).

Finally, keep an accomplishment journal to be able to suggest and defend a future raise or promotion – it works.

2.) Know your tools

Perhaps you’re recently really into Trello, and during your next job interview, they happen to ask about your organizational skills. Instead of rambling on, you can talk about how streamlined your life is with Trello and follow up by mentioning your three favorite browser extensions that aren’t about sports or beauty but about real work.

Remember your tools when you’re climbing the ladder and always refine them – nothing’s ever good enough, nor is your process. Test them out, be able to defend them, and be ready to recommend them to others.

3.) Be a master of research

Never stop learning, or seeking relevant information. If you’re a new coder, obsess over Stack Overflow during lunch every single friggen’ day. If you’re in the marketing department, stalk Quora topics. Read every industry publication you can get your eyeballs on.

Establish yourself as the go to person in your office, no matter your job title. Be careful not to be the office know-it-all, but definitely act as an information absorber.

4.) Communicate like a boss

This doesn’t mean condescend, it means to over-communicate, which is more rare than you know.. When you meet someone, reach out to them without waiting for them to reach you.

When working on a project with a team, make sure to keep teammates apprised of what you’re doing (without bragging); too often do people assume everyone knows what’s going on.

An example of over-communicating effectively without sounding narcissistic is letting your team know: “I’ve completed X and am moving on to Y – before I do, is there anything I can do for you guys since I’m at a stopping point?”

5.) Always ask if you can help

No matter how busy you are, no matter where you are in the hierarchy, stop to ask others if you can simply help. Just as with the closing of #4, come to a stopping point and ask.

Most people will say no, but a simple, “hey, I know you’re working on the Simon account – I have 30 minutes I could help you reorganize if you’d like!” helps significantly.

Give them a specific reason you can help, too. Not only will this make you the office “go-to” but it makes you so deeply ingrained in the team that people can’t imagine the place without you! Which they shouldn’t!

Just don’t be annoying – know when you’re coming across as fake and knock that off.

6.) Don’t be afraid to say “I don’t know”

Too often in the workplace, people are scared to sound stupid so they’ll guess. This can lead projects down really bad paths, so get used to hearing yourself say “I don’t know.”

And then add the phrase, “but I’ll find out!”

Yeah yeah, you already know this advice, but you haven’t been told is to try this: “I don’t know, but I’ll find out within the hour.” Add a deadline for yourself so you set expectations just like we talked about in number four.

Or suggest that you both work together to find a solution: Teamwork makes the dream work.

7.) Be kind, even when it kills you inside

You may hate the guy in the office next to yours and Lord knows you might literally die if he tells you the same fishing story again, but you spend more time with these people than you do your own family and they’re human.

They want to be heard, they want to belong, so remember that annoying as they can be, they’re people. They’re YOUR people.

Be kind, and remember that something about you is probably annoying, too.

8.) Smile (hear us out on this one)

Smile when you’re on the phone – your positivity conveys even when people can’t see you because you literally transform your facial muscles, thus altering your voice. It feels awkward, but so what? Kindness is memorable! Especially smile when someone is speaking in a meeting and meets your eye contact – not a flirty smile, but the disarming kind that says “I’m listening and you’re interesting.”

9.) Get to know your five minute tasks

If you always know what can be done in less than five minutes, your down time is never used standing around like a moron.

For me, I keep all emails unread that require any sort of action, and if I only have five minutes before my next call, I’ll hop in and deal with one because I already assessed how long it would take. No down time, no twiddling of thumbs. Those five minutes add up over a week!

10.) Exercise a little

Without exercise of some form, be it running, yoga, or even just walking, research proves the brain is less focused, less sharp.

We won’t recommend a type of exercise, a time of day, or anything specific, but almost every single successful executive, regardless of gender, is pretty serious about fitness.

Eat well, make yourself get up from your desk and move around every hour, and mostly – extend your lifetime so you can actually enjoy retirement instead of enjoying heaven (or whatever afterlife you subscribe to).

It’s a trick!

If you’ve read this far and you’re thinking, “Lani, I just read this exact same list, verbatim but it was called 10 career hacks for every ambitious woman, what the hell?”

You’re right. Because guess what? I don’t believe general career advice is different for men and women. Stories about negotiating salary are slightly different, suggestions for how to request a breastfeeding room are different, notes on gender identity are different, but to succeed in a career takes the same grit and dedication, no matter what’s in your pants.

Lani is the Chief Operating Officer at The American Genius - she has co-authored a book, co-founded BASHH and Austin Digital Jobs, and is a seasoned business writer and editorialist with a penchant for the irreverent.

Opinion Editorials

Why robots freak us out, and what it means for the future of AI

(OPINION / EDITORIAL) Robots and humans have a long way to go before the social divide disappears, but research is giving us insight on how to cross the uncanny valley.

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Close of R2D2 toy, an example of robots that we root for, but why?

We hate robots. Ok, wait, back up. We at least think they are more evil than good. Try it yourself – “are robots” in Google nets you evil before good. Megatron has higher SEO than Optimus Prime, and it’s not just because he’s so much cooler. It cuz he evil, cuz. It do be like that.

It’s not even a compliment to call someone robotic; society connotes this to emotionless preprogrammed shells of hideous nothing, empty clankbags that walk and talk and not much else. So, me at a party. Or if you’re a nerd, you’re a robot. (Me at a party once again.)

Let’s start by assuming robots as human-like bipedal machines that are designed with some amount of artificial intelligence, generally designed to fulfill a job to free up humanity from drudgery. All sounds good so far. So why do they creep us out?

There’s a litany of reasons why, best summed up with the concept of the uncanny valley, first coined by roboticist Masahiro Mori (Wow he’s still alive! The robots have not yet won) in 1970. Essentially, we know what a human is and how it looks and behaves against the greater backdrop of life and physics. When this is translated to a synthetic being, we are ok with making a robot look and act like us to a point, where we then notice all the irregularities and differences.

Most of these are minor – unnaturally smooth or rigid movements, light not scattering properly on a surface, eyes that don’t sync up quite right when they blink, and several other tiny details. Lots of theories take over at this point about why this creeps us out. But a blanket way to think about it is that our expectation doesn’t match what we are seeing; the reality we’re presented with is off just enough and this makes us uncomfortable .

Ever stream a show and the audio is a half second off? Makes you really annoyed. Magnify that feeling by a thousand and you’re smack in the middle of the uncanny valley. It’s that unnerving. One possible term for this is abjection, which is what happens the moment before we begin to fear something. Our minds – sensing incompatibility with robots – know this is something else, something other , and faced with no way to categorize this, we crash.

This is why they make good villains in movies – something we don’t understand and given free will and autonomy, potentially imbued with the bias of a creator or capable of forming terrifying conclusions all on its own (humans are a virus). But they also make good heroes, especially if they are cute or funny. Who doesn’t love C3PO? That surprise that they are good delights us. Build in enough appeal to a robot, and we root for them and feel empathy when they are faced with hardships. Do robots dream of electric sheep? Do robots have binary souls? Bits and zeros and ones?

Professor Jaime Banks (Texas Tech University’s College of Media & Communication) spends a lot of time thinking about how we perceive robots. It’s a complex and multifaceted topic that covers anthropomorphism, artificial intelligence, robot roles within society, trust, inherently measuring virtue versus evil, preconceived notions from entertainment, and numerous topics that cover human-robot interactions.

The world is approaching a future where robots may become commonplace; there are already robot bears in Japan working in the healthcare field. Dressing them up with cute faces and smiles may help, but one jerky movement later and we’ve dropped all suspension.

At some point, we have to make peace with the idea that they will be all over the place. Skynet, GLaDOS in Portal, the trope of your evil twin being a robot that your significant will have to shoot in the middle of your fight, that episode of Futurama where everything was a robot and they rose up against their human masters with wargod washing machines and killer greeting cards, the other Futurama episode where they go to a planet full of human hating murderous robots… We’ve all got some good reasons to fear robots and their coded minds.

But as technology advances, it makes sense to have robots take over menial tasks, perform duties for the needy and sick, and otherwise benefit humanity at large. And so the question we face is how to build that relationship now to help us in the future.

There’s a fine line between making them too humanlike versus too mechanical. Pixar solved the issue of unnerving humanoids in their movies by designing them stylistically – we know they are human and accept that the figure would look odd in real life. We can do the same with robots – enough familiarity to develop an appeal, but not enough to erase the divide between humanity and robot. It may just be a question of time and new generations growing up with robots becoming fixtures of everyday life. I’m down for cyborgs too.

Fearing them might not even be bad, as Banks points out: “…a certain amount of fear can be a useful thing. Fear can make us think critically and carefully and be thoughtful about our interactions, and that would likely help us productively engage a world where robots are key players.”

Also, check out Robot Carnival if you get the chance – specifically the Presence episode of the anthology.

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Opinion Editorials

BIPOC Gen Zers are using TikTok to create cultural awareness

(OPINION / EDITORIAL) TikTok has become a platform for younger generations to share their cultures, paving the way for a more inclusive society. And they’re doing it one 15 second video at a time.

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Black person's hands holding a phone loading TikTok above a wooden table.

When scrolling on TikTok, you might come across this question posed by a BIPOC creator (Black, Indigenous, or Person of Color): “How old were you when you realized you weren’t ugly, you just lived in a predominantly White space?”

Growing up in predominantly White spaces myself with immigrant parents from the Middle East, I had a warped perspective of beauty. Straight light hair, fair skin, Western features, a stick-thin figure – I internalized my physical otherness as lack.

It wasn’t until I moved to a diverse city for college that I realized this. I saw others speaking different languages, eating ethnic foods and dressing however they wanted without fear of losing their proximity to Whiteness. Exposure to others who didn’t fit “the mold” was transformative for me.

As someone in their mid-twenties, I came of age with social media like Tumblr, Facebook and, ultimately, Instagram. But I’d be lying to you if I said that I didn’t wish TikTok was around when I was a kid.

For reference, most TikTok users are between 16-24, meaning that many are still in high school. While content on TikTok is really all over the place and specifically catered to your preferences (you can feel the algorithums at work as your scroll), one facet that I find integral to the app’s essence is Gen Z proudly showcasing their cultures – aka #culturecheck.

Besides the countless ethnic food tutorials (some of my favorite content on the app!), fashion has become a main way for BIPOC or immigrant TikTokers to fully express their identities and share their culture with other users on the app, regardless of physical location.

Take the #FashionEdit challenge, where creators lip sync to a mash-up of Amine’s “Caroline” and “I Just Did a Bad Thing” by Bill Wurtz as they transform from their everyday Western clothes into that of their respective culture.

In her famous video, Milan Mathew – the creator attributed to popularizing this trend – sits down in a chair. She edits the clip in such a way that as she sits, her original outfit switches to a baby-pink lehenga and she becomes adorned with traditional Indian jewelry. Denise Osei does the same, switching into tradition Ghanaian dress. If you can think of a culture or ethnicity, chances are they are represented in this TikTok trend.

This past Indigenous People’s Day, James Jones’ videos went viral across various social media platforms, as he transformed into his traditional garments and performed tribal dances.

Though the cultures and respective attire they showcase are unique in each video, the energy is all the same: proud and beautiful. Showing off what your culture wears has become a way to gain clout on the app and inspire others to do the same.

The beautiful thing about cultural/ethnic TikTok is that it isn’t just Mexicans cheering for other Mexicans, or Arabs cheering for other Arabs – the app sustains a general solidarity across racial and ethnic lines while cultivating an appreciation of world cultures.

But just how deep does that appreciation go? Some users think (and I agree) that “liking” a video of an attractive creator in traditional dress is hardly a radical move in dismantling notions of Western beauty.

While TikTok trends might not solve these issues entirely, it’s important to note that they are moving things in the right directions – I certainly never saw anything like this when I was growing up.

For whatever reason, Millennials, Gen X and Boomers seem to have a lot of shade to throw at Gen Z. But one thing is for certain – this young generation is paving the way for a more inclusive, more respectful society, which is something we should all get behind. And they’re doing it one 15 second video at a time.

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Opinion Editorials

This website is like Pinterest for WFH desk setups

(OPINION / EDITORIAL) If you’ve been working from home at the same, unchanged desk setup, it may be time for an upgrade. My Desk Tour has the inspiration you need.

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Man browsing desk setups on My Desk Tour

Whether you’re sitting, standing, or reclining your way through the pandemic, you’re most likely doing it from home these days. You’re also probably contending with an uninspired desk configuration hastily cobbled together in March, which—while understandable—might be bringing you down. Fortunately, there’s an easy, personable solution to spark your creativity: My Desk Tour.

My Desk Tour is a small website started by Jonathan Cai. On this site, you will find pictures of unique and highly customized desk setups; these desk configurations range from being optimized for gamers to coders to audiophiles, so there’s arguably something for everyone—even if you’re just swinging by to drool for a bit.

Cai also implements a feature in which site users can tag products seen in desk photos with direct links to Amazon so you don’t have to poke around the Internet for an hour in search of an obscure mouse pad. This is something Cai initially encountered on Reddit and, after receiving guidance from various subreddits on the issue of which mouse to purchase, he found the inspiration to create My Desk Tour.

The service itself is pretty light—the landing page consists of a few desk setup photos and a rotating carousel of featured configurations—but it has great potential to grow into a desk-focused social experience of sorts.

It’s also a great place to drop in on if you’re missing the extra level of adoration for your desk space that a truly great setup invokes. Since most people who have been working from home since the spring didn’t receive a ton of advance notice, it’s reasonable to assume that the majority of folks have resigned themselves to a boring or inefficient desk configuration. With a bit of inspiration from My Desk Tour, that can change overnight.

Of course, some of the desk options featured on the site are a bit over the top. One configuration boasts dual ultra-wide monitors stacked atop each other, and another shows off a monitor flanked by additional vertical monitors—presumably for the sake of coding. If you’re scrambling to stay employed, such a setup might be egregious.

If you’re just looking for a new way to orient your workspace for the next few months, though, My Desk Tour is worth a visit.

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