From Las Vegas to Penang: Finding Happiness on a Malaysian Island
How did you start your journey?
A colleague tweeted a link to Jobbatical’s feature in Mashable, and I found the idea really intriguing. I poked around on the site and came across Piktochart’s posting. After doing some research on the company, I fell in love with what they were building and was excited by the success the team had. I applied.
A very large percentage of Piktochart’s 4 million uses are in the US and UK. When I applied for the position via Jobbatical, we talked a bit about what the role would be. Since I am from the US, the idea of me coming to work from Penang for a month and then staying with the team remotely from the US was brought up. The CEO Ai Ching and I really brainstormed what would not just be best for Piktochart, but for me too. We looked at where my skill set would be best for the company and didn’t stick to the position description the team had posted.
For me, Piktochart quickly became my dream company and my role has turned into an amazing fit for me!
Was there anything that surprised you about the Piktochart team and culture?
I was surprised by the beauty of our team’s office space! I wasn’t sure what to expect on that front, and I liked it very much. It’s very much like a startup space I’d find in the United States — open working space with small break rooms, bean bags, a foosball table, a snack pantry, and colorful walls and decorations. Since then, we’ve actually moved to a bigger office space to accommodate our rapid growth and we have even more awesome perks like catered meals!
As far as the team, I was surprised at how warmly they welcomed me. My entire first day was spent getting to know each member of the team, which was a change in pace for me from working in startups in the United States. The company culture is very deliberately built and valued at Piktochart — and it shows. We also take time to do fun team outings like movie nights or team dinners. I felt like I had just joined an amazing new family!
What were your favorite things about Penang?
During my time in Penang for the month, my favorite thing was the amazing food and street markets. Penang is known as the foodie capital of Malaysia, so I lucked out as a foodie! I had absolutely amazing food while I was there.
Some of the people on my team were nervous that I’m a vegetarian and they hoped I’d track down good things to eat. I found a vegan cake house and deli called Cloud Dreaming that I liked very much. I had vegan durian sushi at a place called Sushi Kitchen, and that was a whole new experience! My favorite Indian restaurant was called Woodlands and it’s located in Little India in George Town. Their entire menu is vegetarian, which was awesome. Across the street from our office is a market. I’d head there in the morning to grab all kinds of exotic tropical fruit I’d never tasted before for breakfast. It was really fun to try new kinds of food!
What is one valuable thing you’ve learned from your colleagues?
Since joining Piktochart, I have learned so many things from my colleagues. The biggest one that has stuck with me (and comes up a lot with my friends in the United States) is the idea of not being rushed to complete tasks. It’s very common in the United States, especially in the fast-paced world of tech startups, to be overly concerned about timelines and moving quickly.
Friends of mine seem constantly rushed, projects they are working on are always due quickly, and they sometimes have a hard time winding down at the end of the workday. There’s a lot of pressure to move quickly and check as many things as possible off a checklist each day.
In Penang, I found the same quality of work was being done with much less pressure and stress. It makes me notice when I am manufacturing stress, or setting unnecessary deadlines out of habit. I’ve tried to remember to take time to slow down, take a break, and be mindful. I find I lead a much more balanced, happier, and (perhaps most surprisingly) more productive life.
What’s different about this experience compared to other work experiences you’ve had?
Being able to work with many different cultures has been the best part of this experience. I am so grateful to learn about different points of view and different ideas.
I think having a diverse team makes Piktochart a better product and company, and I am thrilled to be part of it. Any cultural challenges we face with things like communication and social norms pale in comparison to the benefits we see from bringing different views to the table daily.
How has this experience influenced you as a person?
I sometimes say that Jobbatical has really spoiled me! Working alongside an international team and being able to experience a different side of the world for an entire month has really raised the bar for what I think a workplace should provide.
I am grateful that I was able to try something new and jump in with open arms. Life challenges I face today are met with a proud, strong, independent, adventure-seeking, and positive mind. Getting out of my comfort zone to join the team at Piktochart was the greatest risk I ever took.
What advice would you give to someone considering a jobbatical?
I’d recommend asking yourself seriously what you have to lose. I had thoughts running through my head telling me the job might not work out, I might not like Penang, and the cultural differences might just be too much to overcome.
But, in the end, I realized the worst that could happen is coming back to the United States and finding a job domestically because it didn’t work out. I am also grateful and fortunate to have had a supportive group of family and friends cheering me on — albeit I think they might have thought I had lost my mind taking this kind of risk!
What was the key takeaway from your time in Penang?
I took away many things from Malaysia, but I think the one that makes me smile most is the new friendships I have with my coworkers. I am grateful we are able to see each other at our international retreat each year. In September, we met in Melbourne and spent a week together.
Although I am a remote team member, I still feel very close to them and grateful each of them is in my life. I can’t wait to see them again at this year’s retreat in August — and just as excited to hear where we’ll be headed when it’s announced to our team!