Conversations with Jason Ong

By Rachel Lim and Sherry Tan

Jason Ong is currently a Product Trainer at HubSpot and previously specialised in customer support within the same organisation. He graduated from the National University of Singapore (NUS) with a Bachelor’s Degree in Business Administration (Marketing). In this article, he shares his experience working at HubSpot and his passion for coaching and people development. 

As a Product Trainer, I primarily onboard and teach new hires. I will be guiding and teaching them for the first five days teaching them more about the company, our values, our mission and how our products help our customers. Outside of training sessions, I will spend my time finding new ways to further improve the onboarding program. In addition, I will spend my time working on other Learning & Development (L&D) related projects.

Interestingly, I did not start my career as an L&D specialist. In fact, I started at the Customer Support function. I have a keen interest in the technology industry and companies right from the start of my career. Hence, upon my graduation from NUS, I wanted to join a tech company. Leveraging and aligning that to my interests and strengths, I believed that customer support would be a field that I would be interested in. I was in customer support for approximately three years at HubSpot. Towards the end of 2020, I received the opportunity for this current role in the L&D team. I felt that it would be a good chance for me to learn more about another function and about what L&D entails.

I would say it is a very different role as compared to other roles that require interacting with customers. When I was a Customer Support Specialist, I worked a lot with external customers but when I moved to my current role as a Product Trainer in the L&D team, my “customers” became the employees in the company. It is now my job to make sure that their learning in the company runs smoothly. 

My team helps to develop employees professionally and as a Product Trainer, one of my vital responsibilities is to equip the new hires with the right knowledge about the company and our products. This is to allow them to bring the knowledge forward to perform their job well. It is about human resource management. Crucially, you are learning to create programs and to work with internal stakeholders, so the role is very insightful.

The biggest change about moving into a ‘people operations’ role is the people that you are working with. When you are working with people internally, there are different considerations that you have to take into account. For example, you have to take into account the business goals and direction when interacting with internal stakeholders. Everything I communicate would weave into the experience that the internal stakeholders receive.  

Be it a positive or negative experience, these people will end up becoming your colleagues moving forward so it is important to sustain a good relationship. It is a very interesting experience for me as it is the first time I am working in such an internal-facing role. This made the learning experience quite refreshing.

In terms of advice, not much. What is more important is learning along the way and picking things up while keeping an open mind. If you are someone like myself moving from an external-facing to a more internal-facing role, there will be changes. There might even be things that you have to consider a little more – for example, relationship management with other employees. I would say I had some level of awareness of these elements but putting it into practice is another story. Hence, learning how to navigate through this process is important. 

Inside the ‘people operations’ function in the company, there are teams that focus a lot more on preventing and mitigating such issues. The team plans and conducts activities for employees to manage their stress level.

For L&D, our key role would revolve more around helping the employees grow professionally. We understand that everyone will be busy with their roles so as an L&D team, we are constantly thinking of ways to come up with resources and suitable programs for employees to take on at their convenience and pace. As a team, we work to ensure employees have the right materials to help them grow professionally. 

For many working adults, if they can find reasons to continue learning and growing professionally, it will often translate to motivation to work. Hence, we continuously find ways for people to learn new things that are beyond their job scope, to help them grow professionally.

HubSpot has a great culture. If anyone were to do a search online, they can see that the ratings HubSpot receives are quite high, which is fairly uncommon. Having been in the company for three and a half years now, I would say there is a reason why that is the case. 

The founders and leadership team place a lot of emphasis in building up this culture that we have. We want this concept to be understood and practised by everyone in the company. Everyone has a part to play in this company’s culture. HubSpot has a Culture Code and one of the key values is ‘H.E.A.R.T.’ which stands for humble, empathetic, adaptable, remarkable, and transparent. 

From the perspective of the L&D team, it is reinforcing this message when new hires join us. This could include sharing practical examples of how ‘H.E.A.R.T.’ looks like in the organisation. 

In addition, I would say the idea of building a company culture takes a village, or in this case, a whole company to cultivate. It is not just something that the managers or leaders think is good to have, but also how we enforce and run it as a company. In my opinion, this application aspect is what makes HubSpot unique. 

The key that I like about HubSpot’s culture is transparency and the feedback culture. Internally, be it amongst the team or from the leaders to the whole company, everyone is quite transparent about any company information and decision. For any major global/company events, our executive leaders will find time to write an internal article or an email to let the company know their thoughts and any actions the company might take. I appreciate the transparency and I believe that with the top leader having that mindset, it naturally flows throughout the whole organisation. 

Between my manager and me, transparency also makes it much easier to talk about performance management and expectations setting. Likewise, if I feel that the team needs to improve on certain aspects, I can share them with my manager candidly. 

Needless to say, the interactions are done in a tactful manner which brings me to the point of the feedback culture. Everyone in the company is empowered with the knowledge and skills on how to give feedback. Feedback is the best way for someone to grow. However, it has to be carried out in a proper manner such that people can accept it and find it easy to digest. This takes practice and skills. Hence, HubSpot places emphasis on that by offering internal courses and workshops about giving and receiving feedback. To sum it up, those two key aspects of transparency and feedback are what I appreciate most about the work culture and they truly bring a lot of benefits to the company.

In HubSpot, we adopted this acronym called ‘U.G.J’ which stands for ‘Use Good Judgment’. We believe that everyone in HubSpot has the maturity and professionalism to know what is right for the company and customers. 

Tying it to the idea about transparency, for instance, you may disagree with someone’s idea but it is not wise to jump in and categorically devalue their idea. That is being very transparent about one’s view but not exactly translating to anything constructive. Hence, it is crucial to think about how we can practice ‘use good judgment’ to surface such feedback properly and to work towards a better solution together.

Before I became a Product Trainer, I was Team Lead in the support team. As Team Lead, I was training and onboarding any new Support Specialist that joined the team. I work closely with them during their first three months. Through this experience, I discovered my passion for coaching and people/team development because I really like the idea of helping someone grow professionally and working together to achieve what they have in mind for the job. When I see them eventually obtain their end goals that sense of satisfaction is very hard to replicate in many other roles. 

In my opinion, Financial Technology (FinTech) is up-and-coming. In Singapore, you can see the government giving licenses for digital banking. Around the world there is an uprising of blockchain technology, with the example of cryptocurrency. With FinTech, there is a lot more room for technology to get better, there is also an opportunity for the general population to get to know this industry more. 

For anyone interested, getting some basic understanding about FinTech will be helpful. I do not think one needs to know how the technology works in great detail but at least knowing the purpose it serves is a good first step. 

Two things: One, keep an open mind. The unique thing about the technology sector and especially in the startup sector is that things can change so quickly. Technology will keep changing and evolving, so keeping an open mind is very important. 

This brings me to my second point – learn to be adaptable, be comfortable with the concept of change. Technology might change, there might be a new trend coming, in, etc, you would not want to be stuck in the old ways of doing things. Learn to grow, adapt to the trend, and pick up new skills and knowledge relevant to the job. Things can get replaced so quickly in the digital world, so one has to be comfortable with it. 

That being said, any changes would bring along a certain degree of discomfort. If an individual finds it hard to adapt, it would also be perfectly okay to just admit that perhaps the technology sector is not a suitable sector for them. Nevertheless, especially for the technology and startup sector, things can change quickly, thus we need to anticipate change and be ready for it. Therefore, being open-minded, adaptable, and having a growth mindset are very important.

To be able to help people. If I know I can help to leave a positive impact on someone’s growth. For example, as a Support Specialist previously, those customers who I helped might be able to use our software better and this could help them grow their business better. This tangible aspect kept me motivated. 

When I moved to a Team Lead role, I woke up every day excited to see what new progress or improvement my new hires will make. 

Right now, in my role as a Product Trainer, the opportunity to share with the new hires about our company and our product excites me. Knowing that I have played a preliminary part in their learning puts an additional meaning to my job.

When I have a new class of hires and all the sessions run smoothly. Currently, all the sessions are done virtually. If I do not face too many technical glitches and my learners are able to pick up key ideas about the company and the product, that would be considered a good day. 

On days when I do not have any new class of hires, it would be based more on my productivity — am I able to get through projects, how much progress I am making for my to-dos, etc. If I can be productive, clear a lot of my to-do list, that would also be a good day for me.

A hard day would be when there are issues or hiccups are coming up throughout the day. This could be technical, program wise, or people wise.

How I cope with that is to first find someone in the team or someone who understands to talk it out. Some people might refrain from sharing their negative emotions but I feel like it is not healthy in the longer run. Having a listening ear or finding someone just to bounce ideas can be very helpful. I am very appreciative of the HubSpot culture where everyone is so helpful and transparent, so I feel comfortable in sharing my emotions. However, for anyone who is not able to find similar support right now, they can leverage on their friends and loved ones.

After that, I may take a five minutes break, have a little chocolate, and drink some water to calm down a little. I will also give myself a hard stop. For example, if I need to get back to getting things done, I will give myself a 5-minute break until a certain time. After that, I will try to get back in the groove and see how I can approach the situation.

For more complex situations, I would usually deal with them one step at a time. The whole idea is not to overwhelm me, but to break it down into smaller parts, and to deal with one part at a time. Before I knew it, I would have gotten through all the parts. That is generally how I deal with a bad day.

Lastly, have an early sleep that night – sleep it off, and start the day again tomorrow with a fresh mind.

I would say that communication is important, especially positive communication. There are always many ways to say something. Positive communication is, therefore, taking on a more positive phrasing and direction in terms of words that we choose to use. 

For example, a new hire might come to me and say, “This is very difficult to learn”. One way I could reply is, “You’re right, this is very difficult”. However, a more positive approach could be me saying, “Yes, you could be facing a roadblock right now, but I am sure you can do it. Tell me more about the difficulty.” 

Often, negative energy can be extremely contagious.If we can help to break out of that negative energy and to reinforce positive messaging, the conversation can be carried forward more productively. Hence, one key soft skill for my role is positive communication.

For my role as a Product Trainer, relevant experience is definitely preferred but there are no particular professional qualifications required. Thus, in terms of professional qualifications, I would say it depends on the role and the industry. 

Most importantly, see whether you are even passionate and interested in taking up such certifications? If you are simply taking the certification for a role, the process might end up being a chore. Depending on the role and what career prospect you would like to have for yourself, the whole idea about needing a qualification will differ too.

To be very honest, I do not see myself in any specific position in the next five years. What I hope is to continue being in the line of work that allows me to practise coaching and to play a part in people development because that is something that I enjoy doing. This might eventually lead me down to a people manager role or lead me to other paths out there in the world. I am not exactly sure yet.

One thing I would like to say to graduating students is to not be too overly fixated or too overly mindful of how you would like your career to be. Many people only discover what they like and dislike along the way after working for a period of time. This will then further shape their career path. 

Many people upon graduation would want to increase their chance of getting into a specific industry or company by doing their best to strengthen their resumes, get into the right internships, etc. That is a method but I would say, keep an open mind. There are many different companies in this world, be it in the technology/start-up world or manufacturing/engineering industry. More and more companies are also changing the way that they are operating, many opportunities can be coming up. 

So focus more on the soft skills that you would like to build, such as communication, project management, consulting, etc. Build up these skills and then find a role or job that fits these skills. I am sure that if you can do a role very well, things like money or status will eventually come along. You might just have to be extra patient with yourself as it might take a few years to get there, so don’t feel rushed or pressured by people around you. Just do what is right and suitable for you, and you will get there eventually.