A Foreshadowing

It’s hard in real life to tell when a character foreshadows an event. It doesn’t happen when you’re expecting it nor is it scripted. Maybe hindsight is lending itself to confirmation bias, or maybe it’s wisdom is speaking to the folly.

The old man in Slab City told me in no uncertain words: “You guys seem like you’re in such a hurry! It’s when you slow down, move without expectations, that you find what you’re looking for.”

The old man in Yuma told me: “I went to war in Korea, I got cold and never got warm again. I’m here now, I’ve been here 3 years. I like the heat. It’s never the same, every time a wind storm rolls by, it changes the place.”

Here I am, 5 hours later, sitting in the back of a 20 year old van, wiping the soft, light, yellow sand of the sand dunes out of my eye. Late in the night on an open field, 5 miles past a No Trespassing sign, 10 feet from a smoldering fire pit. Sweat, dirt, and sand caking my body, as I write into my computer. Why am I here? what am I looking for? Why am I smiling?

The old man in Yuma turned out to be right. After we got down the dunes and finished flying a kite, the damned wind picked up and kicked up tornadoes of fluffy, light, champagne sand. Every crevice of my body, my van, my beer, and my bike was covered. We decided to leave and look for another campground. This perfect camping spot turned out to not be so perfect.

Damn. The van is full of flies. On our way to the dunes, we had transported about 60 flies with us from the Salton Sea to Yuma. Unwelcome, annoying little fuckers. They knew what would happen if they left the van, they could tell a wind storm was around. They were happy just hanging out in the van. We had no choice. We couldn’t stay in the van because of the flies, we couldn’t leave the van because of the storm. 

On the road we went. Looking back, our footsteps had disappeared from the sand, washed out by time and nature moving in fast forward, like a foreshadowing in and of itself. The old man was right.

I drove out here to embrace the happenstance of life and through it learn something about myself and those around me, to round out the story of my life, to have something to tell my grandkids. Today I got a whiff of it, the whiff of a hungry poor boy in a dark alley behind a restaurant. I can smell it, I just let it get to me. The old man in the Slabs was right. It’s when you don’t have expectations that you find what you’re looking for.

At the Tip of my Brain

You know the feeling of having a word at the tip of your tongue? You know it’s there, you know that you know it, you know that as soon as you hear it you would recognize it. Yet it sits there, like a cat with its hind legs coiled, ready to spring up, but it doesn’t move.

There are thoughts like that too. The collation of thoughts, experiences, and conversations that are converging on a single realization, a eureka moment. But it sits there waiting. It’s waiting for you to organize these disparate elements, put them together in an order that gives them meaning, causes and effects, and clarity, a result that is greater than the sum of its parts.

Along with this anxiety is the unrelenting feeling that these near-realizations are fleeting. A sense that if I don’t put the pieces of the puzzle together now, the pieces will flow through me and get lost. 

Yet I understand that this is part of the process. The journey is the reward, it’s the place of learning where the combination of the disparate pieces requires analysis and contemplation. The analysis is what gives the final realization its strength and resilience. It’s what gives me the ability to adapt the realization to various context into which it may not immediately seem applicable. 

When the pieces do come in together at the end, it creates an awakening of sorts. The ability to look outside my physical body and look back at my past and my surroundings in a new light. It’s like unplugging from the matrix. It’s a new piece of insight through which subsequent thoughts and experiences will be filtered, and through which mental models will be developed. I think this is what people call intuition, or wisdom.

And so, I sit here, thinking about how heroes helping people who fell into the subway tracks fit in with first-generation immigrants and cognitive inertia. I know they’re connected, I can tell you why they’re connected in my head, I just haven’t combined these thoughts and pieces into a coherent thesis. But it’s there, at the tip of my brain, waiting for me to realize something I haven’t realized yet.

Reflexions on my 26th Year

Here I am again. This time I’m trying to make a pre-emptive attempt at getting this blog post done in time after last year’s snafu. This is the forth annual birthday-related blog posts where I reflect on how the year went, what I got out of it, and what my hopes are for the next year. I don’t think I’ve ever done anything voluntarily for this long, so it’s pretty awesome to see how this has evolved over the years. I mentioned last year that I had spent a few months thinking about what I would eventually write in the next reflective post, and this year was no different. I think the first time I brought it up was 3 months ago. That’s how big of a deal these posts have become for me. There’s still no defined structure for these, they’re more stream-of-consciousness than anything else. Hopefully a structure would evolve naturally over time. I don’t know. Maybe. Anyway, enough blabbering, onto it.

So. How did the year go? Pretty damn well! I remember last year wondering how 2013 could possibly be better than 2012. I had thought about it in the context of work, since work was going really well, and I entered 2013 with quite a bit of anxiety toward it. But you can’t really predict what’ll happen, what’ll matter, who you’ll meet, and what you’ll do.

A Fulfilled Resolution

I can’t quite believe that I actually followed through on a resolution! Last year, I wrote about my resolution to spend more time, energy, and money on experiences rather than possessions, and what will follow will hopefully demonstrate that. Whereas the years following my college graduation centered around work and my career, 2013 was a focus on enjoying my newfound health, my youth, my geography, and my friends.

When I think back to 2013, I see a blur of moments spent with friends traveling eastward to the Sierras, up to Marin, down to LA, on bikes, motorcycle, in cars and plains, on surfboards and photo walks. All the accomplishments of the year professionally pale in the comparison when put through the lens of hindsight. 


My first skiing trip ever! My new year resolution to spend money on experiences was off to a good start. I’d go back to Tahoe for 4 more trips that year, having found out that I both loved skiing for its thrill and the mountain, and loathe it for the vertigo it gives me high up on the steep slopes. Skiing was a really big deal for me though, it fit into a narrative that would play out through the whole year, one of discovering the outdoors and increasingly identifying myself with them.

Meanwhile, as all this is happening, I ask Maddie if she wants to have Dim Sum one day, she says yes, and just like that, 2013 went from good to greatest.


At this point, cycling is an integral part of my life. Last year I wrote about how much cycling I did in 2012, and I did twice that in 2013. It was awesome. I was hitting performance levels I never dreamed of a year before. The Summer of 2013 will long be remembered not just because of what I did or rode, but also for the amazing community that Facebook Cycling fostered around it. 

We rode down to work, up to Marin, down to LA, over in Yosemite, Tahoe, Santa Rosa, Montana, Wyoming, around LA. Through it all, I’ve come to see California as a home more than I’ve ever seen any other place I’ve lived. Every time I leave, I feel the draw of California tugging me back into the mountains.

What was a place of vistas became a place of peace. Where I once hid away from nature, I began to find myself seeking it. Every friday night, when we would go on a trip to the mountains, I would physically feel my stress, thoughts, concerns, and anxiety melt away with every mile crossed.  A mountain top now represents all the challenges I’ve gone through in life and eventually overcoming them.

I’d always hear athletes talk about the effects of their sports on their personal lives, and I always dismissed it. Over the past couple of years, I’ve come to understand what they’re talking about. I remember two rides more clearly than any other rides. The first one represented a disappointment. A disappointment that I would remember whenever I was facing a challenge, on the saddle or not. I was trying to from Muir Beach to Stinson Beach and back to SF. I’d never done that ride before, and didn’t know what was ahead of me. At some point, I gave up, turned around, and headed back home. When I got home, I looked at the map, and realized I had covered most of the way and I would’ve been able to finish the ride had I followed through. That disappointment cut deep for me, and I still remember it today. Another was when I almost gave up going up an unexpected hill for the first time. I tried convincing myself to quite multiple times, and I almost did, until I made it to the top. I’d never felt better about anything before. It sealed in my head the high of accomplishment. Up until then, I would get close to finishing something, just far enough to convince myself that I can finish it if I wanted to, not knowing that that last 2% is what really matter, it’s what separates the dreamers from the doers.


The diet continued into its 3rd year. Now the goals are a bit different though: I want to get to 170lbs and stay there. I want to find a lifestyle that can help me maintain and not feel like I’m in a constant struggle trying to hold on to a number. This is how I did:

 A graph of my weight over the past year
A graph of my weight over the past year
 A graph of my cycling activity over the year
A graph of my cycling activity over the year

Here’s what’s interesting about these two graphs: Since they cover the same span, they mostly line up. You can see the correlation between my activity level between january and June, and my weight. I think part of what happened there was that I was riding very actively, and some of the weight gain is most definitely related to a gain of muscle. However, I think my body got very efficient at the form of exercise I was putting it through and I was using all this exercising as a way to justify eating whatever I want. I tried fixing that after Aids/LifeCycle (The peak of the graph), and it mostly worked. You’ll also notice around July a drop. That’s when I went low-carb. I cut out rice, bread, and pasta. I cut down on processed foods, and my diet started looking a lot like this: 

 My typical day of food since July: 1 cup of Steel-cut oatmeal with granola, some fruit (sometimes), a salad for lunch, a mid-afternoon snack, and protein/grains for dinner.
My typical day of food since July: 1 cup of Steel-cut oatmeal with granola, some fruit (sometimes), a salad for lunch, a mid-afternoon snack, and protein/grains for dinner.

Overall, the diet has been fairly successful at stabilizing my weight. I’ve actually never been this stable. However, it’s stabilizing about 8 pounds above where I want it to stabilize. Hoping that as I re-introduce exercise into the diet, it’ll stabilize in a better place.


I discovered what a vacation was this year. Up until AIDS/LifeCycle in June, I hadn’t taken a real vacation…ever. Since that one, I’ve gone on 2 others, and I haven’t spent 3 weekends in a row in San Francisco. These vacations have kept me grounded and stable, have widened the range of my experiences, and are my most cherished memories from this year.

 I went camping for the first time
I went camping for the first time
 I woke up to Yellowstone National Park
I woke up to Yellowstone National Park
 We made dinner in the woods
We made dinner in the woods
 I tried surfing and realized it wasn't really my thing
I tried surfing and realized it wasn’t really my thing
 I learned how to pack a bag properly
I learned how to pack a bag properly
 My bike came with me
My bike came with me
 I paddle-boarded in Wyoming
I paddle-boarded in Wyoming
 I rafted in Montana
I rafted in Montana
 I rode my bike from SF to LA
I rode my bike from SF to LA
 I got a motorcycle (And sold it 6 months later)
I got a motorcycle (And sold it 6 months later)

 I bought a car to go on more vacations
I bought a car to go on more vacations
 And I used it to take a lot of photographs
And I used it to take a lot of photographs
 I finally went to Europe with Maddie. It confirmed I wanted to spend a lot more time in Europe.
I finally went to Europe with Maddie. It confirmed I wanted to spend a lot more time in Europe.


I guess if you want to draw any conclusions about how this year went, consider that every “Reflexions on my..” post has been almost only about work, and in this one, I decided to put it last. I got to launch some awesome products this year, which was cool. I got to increase my internal multiplier, which was also cool since that’s what my goal had been. I transitioned to Instagram half-way through the year and have found the team to be profoundly brilliant. Love these guys.

I don’t know what to say about work. I’ve had about 15 epiphanies when it comes to product development, cultural development, how to ship software, how to run meetings, how to sell my ideas, how to plan ahead, etc etc. Each of those topics deserves its own blog post.

I think back now, half-way through December, to who I was at the end of last year, who I am now, and I can see the profound way that my experience at Facebook and later Instagram has helped me grow. That’s my leading and trailing indicator of the worth of the place I’m working, and it’s all thanks to the people I’m working with, the collection of people Facebook draws to it, and the open culture that allows for the free-flowing of ideas across such a diverse and smart employee-base.

I have some hard questions to answer to myself about the trajectory of where I’m going and the things I want to do. I’m not ready to talk about it now since these thoughts are still unformed in my head. They’ll get their own posts when their time comes.

2013 has been a great year. I’ve lived life like I haven’t lived ever before. I’m thankful for all the people who are a part of my life, I love each and every one of you guys.

A Journey of a Lifetime


I’d like to share a journey with you. It’s a journey that I’ve been on for three years. One that has transformed my life, touched the people I interact with, altered my perception of the world and most importantly, made me realize my dreams and what it takes to accomplish them.

I’d like to share the journey of losing weight and discovering myself.

The story starts out with a cliché: I was an active kid: Thin and active, until I discovered computers, at which point my weight began its steady climb throughout my teens and my early twenties. I had never been in denial about it, but I never decided to do anything about it. Sure, I had my resolutions: I lost 20 pounds at one point, had sputters of gym attendance, but nothing stuck.

See, a funny thing happens when you’re overweight: You morph your life around it. I didn’t have any active friends, and even if they were, I didn’t partake in that part of their life. The activities I was a part of didn’t require physical fitness, so my weight was never an issue. Plus, it was Michigan – Who wants to go run in the blistering winter cold?

My internship at Apple the summer of my Senior year of college was a wake up call for me. People in the Bay Area if you’re not aware, are all fit and beautiful. They run marathons, ride centuries, swim from Alcatraz on a weekend in the winter. That summer made me realize that I had been missing out on something basic and fundamental in the shared experience of life.

Fast forward a few months, I’m on the couch in Michigan, all packed up from my college apartment, looking for a place in the city to move to start my career. I think the first decision to lose weight came when I decided to rent an apartment on the hill before I even moved to the city. I thought the walk up the hill would help me get started.

May 18th came, I arrived at SFO, and my journey started.

My coworker at the time convinced me to take on a challenge of running 2 miles a day for a month. I thought he was crazy. Not only could I not run for 1 mile a couple of months ago, the simple act of walking to lunch gave me very painful shin splints. I couldn’t hold a run for more than 2-3 blocks, the cramps would be too painful.

Many sweaty mornings later, I successfully hit my goal. I started finding that waking up earlier is refreshing. My legs began feeling stronger, my heart and lungs were working better. Nike+ became my best friend, the atta-boys they play when I performed well became my endorphin hit of the day. Shortly thereafter, I signed up for my first 10K. The weight starts melting off. I lost 20 pounds easily, saw progress, and bought new, smaller clothes. Things began looking up.

My goals got loftier after that. I signed up for a half-marathon and a 10-mile run. I manage to up my distance enough to participate for the 10-mile run, but since I had not built up a strong foundation, IT-band pain kicked in and freaked me out. I sat out the marathon and stopped running.

Meanwhile, Cycling entered my life I discovered the joys of climbing mountains, descending, fooling around with my friends, tracking my progress, and bonding with all my cycling friends.

You have to remember that I grew up in the Middle East. People aren’t “outdoorsy”, spending time in nature isn’t a common thing to do; it certainly wasn’t something my family did. I moved to Michigan after Syria, where it was completely flat and uninteresting. The most average Suburban landscapes surrounded me. When I came to the Bay Area, I was lost in the mountains, the Ocean, the Bay, the Big Trees, The Golden Gate, the Hills. I discovered that I enjoyed, craved to be outside. To smell the trees, feel the wind, watch the rolling fog. Running and cycling for new, foreign activities to me.

I had found Paradise.

How can I not spend my weekends up in Marin? Down by Skyline? Around the city, absorbing the scenery that surrounded me. 12 mile bike rides became 20 miles, 30, 40. I began doing 50 mile bike rides on the weekends. My legs were stronger and stronger, my bike became my best friend, my cycling friends my family.

Fast forward to today, I just shaved my legs. I didn’t really do it because of any of the admittedly unfounded reasons. I did it because it represented something else to me. I did it because to me, it represented something. It represented a buy-in into the life, a sort of ritualistic mental leap. Cycling was no longer something I did on the weekends, cycling was something that defined me, and this was my way of showing it.

I’m thankful for the journey. It’s far from over, but it has already helped me rediscover life. Every day is a gift, every experience is a joy. Our life before adulthood is an accident, a byproduct of our parent’s decisions. Why should I not experience the thrill of skiing, the joy of running, the rush of surfing? I’m incredibly lucky to have the time, money, and physical ability to do all these things, to squander it would be shameful.

I’m thankful for my friends who have expanded my horizon. My friends at Apple who introduced me to running and cycling. My friends at Facebook who turned it into an addiction, who introduced me to Skiing, and all the friends I’m going to meet who will continue to enrich my life.

I was on a ride 2 weeks ago with the Rapha Cycling Club. Three years I have been in San Francisco, and I still stopped, took off my cycling glasses, took a breath of fresh air, and got goosebumps. I live here, this is my home. This is where I belong.


Of course the presence of stubborn egos was going to create personality conflicts. Of course the CEO’s absence was going to increase the rift, which caused a communication breakdown, which lead to a catastrophe.

The waterfall model is bad, your org needs to be agile, product development is iterative. These things go without saying. We all know that effective communication is essential, a sense of purpose and meaning for a team is essential. A sense of ownership and passion is essential.

Hindsight is 20/20. It gives us a handsomely wrapped, concise recollection of what happened and who did it. Who is to blame and who is to thank. Yet reality never feeds us these lessons on a silver platter. Have you ever found yourself blind-sighted by your company’s hard times or failure? Have you ever found yourself wondering how a well-designed photoshop document ended up as a mis-aligned application? Have you ever found yourself in the middle of an employee exodus? None of us intentionally ignore problems, and most of us don’t intentionally sabotage our products. Yet these things happen.

My career, short as it is, has demonstrated a pattern that repeatedly occurs after bad situations: People move on. They psychologically shift to whatever is next on their plate and hope for the best. Taking the time to reflect, understand what happened and the conditions that led to a bad outcome is what leads to professional growth. That’s how intuition is developed: Wit, Wisdom aren’t divinely handed to us on birth, they’re cultivated, formed out of our experiences and the lessons we draw from them.

Foresight – the ability to anticipate and recognize problems and bad behavioral patterns and conditions before they have the chance to sprout and wreck havoc becomes a very powerful force when combined with hindsight. Hindsight helps you deal with issues when they happen, foresight helps you prevent those preconditions from happening in the first place. Whereas hindsight is a defensive mechanism, foresight is an offensive mechanism. Failure is the most effective form of growth. It provides us the experience necessary to develop our foresight.

Where did the Red Bull Go?

Red Bull is to engineers as gasoline is to engines. We’ve had a constant supply of Red Bull for as long as I could remember, yet the Red Bull was mysteriously gone that day. Cutting costs, it turns out. By the time you have to cut costs, you’re probably running out of money. By the time you’re running out of money, you probably missed a big sale, or you mis-calculated some event’s outcome. Whatever the reason, it’s a bad sign when the employees are surprised. Surprises are bad. Surprises mean information was not disseminated and people are not on the same page. Sometimes these things are inevitable, due to some act of (human) nature, but this wasn’t one of those cases.

It was a an early-stage startup, and my first experience at such a small company. Coming in, I had trouble shedding my mentality of waiting to be told what to do and expecting that the higher-ups were taking care of everything. I had gut feelings of badness, but I suppressed them. It struck me as odd that people didn’t feel scrappy. Our office was too nice, our equipment was too nice, we took our survival for granted. I didn’t do anything about it. Our management had interpersonal/communication issues. I thought it would figure it self out, so I didn’t step in. People were starting to get dissatisfied, I didn’t step up.

This is my hindsight. At the time, I was a double-digit employee, so you may say that I’m unfairly blaming myself. But the reality is, an organizations fate is determined by those who work there. I should’ve had the foresight to see how these conditions would combine and play out, to do something about it. I didn’t. Lesson learned.

How Could This Pixel Be So Broken?

Every now and then I come across a page/product/view that is so broken, I can’t help but wonder about the process of its development. Apart from deadline constraints (A topic for another post), shipping a broken UI means a few things: It means somebody signed off on a broken UI, it means an engineer either didn’t consult the designer or the designer didn’t review the engineer’s work. It means the engineer and the designer were working separately. Most importantly, it means the designer designed something, passed it off, and moved on. Sound familiar? It should for two reasons: This is how most software is built, this is the Waterfall model. 

There is nothing so universally derided as the Waterfall model in our industry, and nothing so ironically prevalent. It’s not an obvious thing to notice. For you to pick up on it, you need to be able to notice the UI details, you need to be aware of the root problem, and you need to observe the team dynamics. This isn’t a failure of tools or process, this is a failure of communication.

Often, what happens is that a bug finds its way to the engineer, they fix it, and they move on to the next feature, waiting to repeat the same mistake. The mistake here isn’t the padding on that view, the mistake is that there wasn’t a perpetual, ongoing conversation and review process between the engineer and the designer. It’s far too common for engineers to view designers as  asset-factories, or as Gods of product wisdom. We’re taught in college to treat specs as immutable and final, but in reality, they’re anything but. A designer’s spec is a proposal, to be refined ceaselessly by the designer and the implementor. Designers don’t hand specs to engineers, product teams together hand products to consumers.

Fix the cause, not the symptom.

Final Thoughts

I wanted share an insight that I found has been invaluable: The realization that problems don’t explode, they fester and build up, that there are early rumbling signs that predate the problem, that we all have the ability to influence the sequence of our events is powerful. There are no heroes of product development, there are just people who cared enough and passionate enough to do something about it.

I can’t give you a checklist of early indicators to watch for, there are too many and they’re specific to your situation. Your intuition is your greatest assets, and it’s formed by your experiences. Take a second to think back to a failure. What does hindsight tell you? What was the lesson? What were the early indicators of trouble? How could you have prevented them?

When the Chasm Comes Back And Hits You In the Face

I left Syria in 2003, I was 15 at the time. At that time, the best internet connection you could get was ADSL and it was about 1.5-2mbps in the best of times. For a techie like me, it was a living hell. I remember the first time I came to the US and saw broadband. I would  look away for a moment, then look back and wait not realizing that the page has already loaded. Anyway, I came back in 2005 and people everywhere suddenly had 3G dongles attached to their laptops and they were surfing the web at speeds that match the LTE speeds that we get on our iPhone 5s today.

This was the first time I saw the Chasm perform a proverbial reach-around. In this case, the laggers – Syria – had eclipsed the innovators – The US – in mobile internet connectivity. Nobody needed to ruin all the sidewalks in our ancient country to wire up cables, we got to skip that whole stage of internet development and jump straight to 3G. Add on top of it government support and a lot of foreign investment, and you got yourself a top-of-the-line cell network with cell towers throughout the cities. I’m seeing a “Chasmic reach-around” again these days, only this time, I’m the innovator who’s getting blind-sided by, wait for it, my parents.

In my cocoon of Silicon Valley, people are angry about Apple Maps and are using Google Maps instead. They use Skype to video-chat, Messages.app (or, gasp, SMS) to message, and they use Facebook/Twitter/Instagram to socialize. I arrive at DTW and my Dad picks me up from the airport. I get in the car and the first thing I notice is the cartoony arrow of Waze guiding him through the highways of Southeast Michigan. We get home, my sister shows me a cute photo of my nephew she just got on her phone. She dismisses the photo and I see she’s having a 15-person group conversation with all my cousins around the world on WhatsApp. My Mom gets a phone call, and the distinctive tone of Viber starts up. I was looking around, dumb-founded.

Two, three, years ago, my Dad’s technical expertise did not extend past his email client, his fax app (I know..), and Solitaire. Today’s he’s showing me how he uses these apps to communicate with our extended family throughout the world. The same story applies to all my uncles, aunts, cousins, etc.

None of them are using Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, SMS, or any of the other tools that we’ve built-up and gotten accustomed to over the past 5-6 years. We, the young generation, are Broadband in the US, and the older generation is 3G in Syria.

The obvious questions to ask are: Is this a global trend? What’s the data telling us? What does this mean for established tech companies? I don’t have answers for those yet, unfortunately. However, we are talking about Internet companies competing with other Internet companies here, and being nimble as an internet company is a lot easier than a broadband/hardware company.

The times, they are a’changing.

A Resolution with Resolve

Good evening ladies and gentlemen, Majd here, and it’s time for some new years resolutions. Hope you didn’t end up here looking for creativity and surprise.

I recently wrote a retrospective on the last 12 months, and included some high-level goals. I want to expand on those goals and add some more ones along with some context on why I chose these goals.

Spending Money Where It Counts

You know how you sometimes watch a video on the internet and it plants an idea in your head that you can’t shake? I recently had this experience. The video acted as a spark. I’ve had a ideal form and build up over time and this video gave me the little push I needed to go over the edge.

Here’s another instance where the same idea came up:  

participants who were in the experiential condition said that they were more likely to consider their money well-spent at that time but also that currently that their purchase was still making them happier, and it made others happier. And that was because they had an increased sense of vitality, an increased sense of vigor. And they also had a sense of being connected with their social world.

I’ve previously discussed my philosophy on seeking life experiences that otherwise wouldn’t be afforded to a person like me. Who you are is a happy accident of who your parents were and where your great-great-grandparents decided to move to. Your religion, identity, personality, and locality are decided on your behalf, and that’s something I’m not comfortable with.

So, my resolution for 2013 is to spend money where it counts: On experiences, and on others. I’m not sure what form that will take. Will I set up a budget to travel on a monthly basis? Where will I go? Who will I go with? For how long? I’ll cross that bridge when I get to it.

It Never Gets Easier, You Just Go Faster

Cycling is the next one. I want to take cycling more seriously this year. The past season was my first foray into consistent, frequent bike rides. I’ve met so many people I never would’ve otherwise met, ate like an animal and still lost weight, visited places I never would’ve been to before, and had a lot of fun doing it.

The big ride this year is going to be the AIDS Lifecycle. It’s a 7-day bicycle journey from San Francisco to Los Angeles. Can’t wait. But beyond distance and endurance cycling, I want to achieve a respectable average speed solo. That means a training plan, a structured exercise regiment that will measure not just my ability to perform on the saddle, but also my ability to adhere and maintain a training schedule. We’ll see how it goes. I already know I’ll be signing up for as many organized group rides and centuries as I can.

It’s Easier to ask for Forgiveness than to ask for Permission

I’m not quite sure what form this’ll take. It’s something I learned in the first year of my career and it’s something that’s helped me a lot last year. Another way to phrase this is, if I want something, and nobody’s giving it to me, I’ll take it by my own damn self. This has obvious applications to my job, but I think it also extends to social and emotional situations. It’s something that I’ve had to struggle with a bit traditionally, and I think it’s a skill worth improving. I’ll keep you posted on this one as it fleshes itself out in my head.


Reflexions on my 25th Year

For the past two years, I’ve written a retrospective on my year. I didn’t want to stop the tradition, but I’m also in the process of transitioning my blog and couldn’t write it there, so I’ll share it here and cross-post it when the blog is ready.

2012 was an interesting year. Work-wise, it was a time of great adjustment. After 2 years doing web development, trying to make high-fidelity applications work on mobile platforms, I faced reality and moved back to native iOS development. I’ve already shipped work I’m very proud of, and I’m really excited about the next steps. 

I’ve also managed to get myself into a better fit. Earlier this year, I posted about wanting to be a designer in a couple of years. I’ve since rescinded that comment. I’ve come to realize that I was using that as a proxy to what I really wanted. What I really wanted was product ownership and a voice in product direction, and I realized that I don’t need to put my love of building product and engineering behind to achieve it. I admit that I traditionally always had a foot out the door. To be frank, I had one foot out the door when I came to Facebook. This good wave I’ve been riding and my complete immersion in Facebook’s culture has me both-feet-in and trying to take advantage of my situation.

On that topic, let’s talk about multipliers. This was another one of my big revelations this year. There are two kinds of career multipliers: Internal and external multipliers. Internal multipliers refer to the amount of product development that happens per unit of time. A new engineer has an internal multiplier of 1 – Every unit of time invested into the product, moves the product forward 1 unit of development. As you move up the hierarchy, your internal multiplier increases: A designer spends 1 unit of time designing a product, then hands it off to N engineers who spend N units of time developing it, the designer’s multiplier is N. A PM makes a decision, M number of designers design it, N number of engineers build it on Y number of platforms. The PM’s multiplier is N * M * Y.

External multipliers refer to the amount of time your work affects the world. For example, If I spend 10 hours working on a feature, then over the life time of the product, X number of people will spend Y amount of time using it. Therefore, my external multiplier is X * Y. This is where Facebook shines. The external multiplier of a Facebook employee (And Google, and Apple, and…) is immense. It still gives me goosebumps to think about the sheer amount of man-months the products I’ve built have sucked up from humanity. I hope the return on investment was worth it 🙂

My career goal for 2013 is to increase both multipliers.

Life-wise, 2012 was the year of the bicycle. I rode harder, faster, better, and more often than I ever have. As a result, my legs are huge, I’m healthier, happier, and most importantly, I’ve met and befriended a lot of people I otherwise wouldn’t have ran into. Thank you guys for being a big part of my year. Things weren’t perfect though. I’ve had a dark cloud follow me for the better part of the year. It has proven difficult to shake off, but I believe it has made me a stronger person and it has helped me strengthen my friendships. Without the support of everyone around me, the tough times would’ve been much tougher, and the good times wouldn’t have been as good.

My social makeup has changed a lot and I’ve been blessed to meet the people I met. Whether it’s the insane amount of bicycling (or what seemed insane to me) I did this summer (Thanks FB Cycling!), or the people who have helped me grow professionally and personally, the person I am as 2012 draws to an end is very different than the person I was when 2012 started.

Weight-loss is another recurring theme of these posts. I’m ecstatic to report that I’ve hit my goals. It’s been a two-and-a-half year long journey and without the support of my friends and coworkers I couldn’t have achieved it. I won’t go into details about this journey here, it needs its own space. But I’m there. I still sometimes look in the mirror and stand thinking about what my life was like in 2010 and what it’s like today. Thank you Chuck EdwallJuan Camilo Pinzón and Ken Goto for introducing me to running and cycling.

2013 is going to be a year of Gran Fondos, big bike rides, good times, and new experiences. I look forward to the challenges of 2013.

Special thanks this year to Joel SeligsteinJohn CiancuttiJosh WilliamsJasper Hauser (so many J’s!), Ari GrantFrancis LuuHugo Angelmar. You may not have known it, but our conversations and friendship have had a deep impact on my outlook and perspective, and for that, I’m thankful.

Conquering Defeat

introspection |ˌintrəˈspekSHən|: the examination or observation of one’s own mental and emotional processes.

Sometimes I feel like I need to limit my time interacting with technology to just the times I need to get my job done. I go through this phase every now and then where I realize that my dependency on technology may not be as strictly beneficial for me as I make myself believe.

I’ve long held the belief that any technology is good technology. Technology is inherently good, even if it’s used for bad purposes.

Every now and then though, something happens that triggers a realization that life extends past the computer. It’s almost sad to need to realize that, but such is the reality of dedicating your life to your work and passion. Such is also the blessing and the curse of what we do. It’s kind of an ironic cycle: I am passionate about my work, so I spend a lot of time doing it, which makes me less passionate about it in the long run (burn out). For me to avoid the burn out, which is the worst outcome of passion, I have to remind myself explicitly to step aside and metaphorically (sometimes literally), and smell the roses.

It might be a trip home to see your family, your parents coming to visit you, some personal issues, or some external issues. It can be a combination of those, but the end result is introspection. Introspection can be a scary and frightening thing. A lot of people spend a lot of time running away from introspection. I can relate to this comic and have referenced it a lot since first seeing it (in my work’s bathroom stall):

I think that comic captures something essential about our use of technology. Whenever technology becomes not a tool to get a job done, not a toy to play with, and not a passion to feed, but an excuse to run away from introspection, then it’s time to re-evaluate it. Taking a long walk at night alone, sitting along on the beach, going on a solo bike ride. Solitude does not imply loneliness nor boredom. Solitude can be a time of reflection. Running away from hard decisions and tough problems doesn’t solve them. In fact, it can worsen them.

Part of me wants to turn this into one of my month-long goals: No Twitter or non-work-Facebook for a month. No internet for a month, etc. But I don’t think that’s the problem nor do I think I would get anything from it. The problem isn’t technology, the problem is using technology to run away from thought.

Flow (this is the third time I reference that book now) describes this in the second half of the book. People who conquer solitude, emotion, and thought are the proverbial “Masters of their domain”. I’m only 24, I’m a baby in the grand scheme of things, but I’m old enough now to draw conclusions from my experiences, and one of those conclusions is: The brain can be either your biggest liability or your biggest asset. It can bring you down, and it can lift you up. The difference in my opinion is introspection. Being able to understand that what you’re feeling is not reasonable. that you’re emotion is unjustifiable, that you’re confusion is incomprehensible is actually a really powerful concept.

One of the other conclusions I’ve reached is not to dwell. The instant a negative outcome is irreversible, any mental capacity spent not deconstructing it and learning from it is a wasted brain cycle. Nothing is sadder than a wasted brain cycle. This has been my indispensable tool for dealing with negative outcomes: Not getting into a college I wanted, not getting a job offer I wanted, not getting a raise I wanted, or any other life circumstance.

Once you truly isolate yourself from your reality and can look at it objectively and from a third person perspective, things click and become clearer. Think about all the situations where a friend has been able to help you figure out something hard. The difference is they’re isolated from the incident. Being able to do it on your own means you can do it for all the situations that are too personal to share, and at your own pace.

You obviously can’t control your emotions. You can’t stop yourself from being happy, sad, angry, or bored. What you control is your reaction to that scenario. If you learn to tame and control your emotion, you become in control of your happiness.

A Tale of Ten Hobbies

The Problem

Over the past two years, I’ve been picking up hobbies left and right. I decide I want to “Get into X”, then buy all the gear necessary to exercise that hobby. Six weeks later, I move on and the hobby becomes a memory. Sometimes I cycle back to old hobbies, hoping to pick up a forgotten skill. As of today, the cycle includes: Figure Drawing, Cartooning, Watercoloring, Tailoring, Piano, Writing, Running, Cycling, Reading, Cooking, and Photography.

When I first noticed this tendency to drop hobbies shortly after picking them up, I dismissed it as a natural consequence of my desire to diversify my life’s experiences, and thus wasn’t something worth fixing. The point was to keep my mind sharp and active, not to get good at a certain hobby.

As I’ve matured though, I’ve realized that that line of logic was a cop-out I used to justify giving up. I never started a hobby expecting to drop it soon afterwards. When I do drop it, I usually do it out of boredom or frustration. Why is that? Why can’t I pick something up and stick to it long-term? Is that even feasible? How would I even fit time into my day for all these hobbies? How good do I really want to get?

After mulling those questions over in my head, I decided that the next time a cycle came about naturally, I’ll ride it through, and I’ll try to take note of what was going through my mind.

Soon after, I picked up photography: Bought the camera and a lens, started shooting, and sure enough 6 weeks later, it hasn’t left my desk in a week. I think I’ve figured out why I drop hobbies, and I have a hunch on how to fix it.

The Realization

Given a creative activity where the output is subjective, judging progress is difficult. Compared to a non-creative activity where the result is clear and progress is obvious, it becomes much harder to find motivation to continue investing time and effort when you don’t see that effort rewarded. For example, you either finish a 50 mile bike ride or you don’t, you either win a game of basketball or you don’t. Contrast that with judging a painting: When are you “finished”? How do you judge its quality?

“Beauty is in the eye of the beholder” is another way of saying that creative works are judged against a personal criteria of taste, quality, and style. As your skill and your exposure to a domain grow, your expectations grow and your tastes develop, but your skill may not grow at the same rate. That’s the case with me. Inevitably, I compare myself to the professionals who have had years of practice, and judge my amateur work against theirs.

Therein lies the problem. When I started photography, merely using a high quality camera with a shallow depth-of-field was enough to meet my expectation of a “good photograph”. However, as I interacted with more photographers, read about photo techniques, had my work critiqued, and refined my taste in photography, I realized that my ability to execute had lagged far behind my expectation. Every photograph became a failure, every photo walk a chore.

Every hobby I’ve picked up has a similar story, except for reading, writing and cycling. I think the feedback loop is so tight in those activities, that any input of effort, has a clear and obvious impact on the output.

This concept isn’t new. In fact, the realization came mostly from reading “Flow”, which I already wrote about in A Moment of Clarity in the Pursuit of Happiness.

The question remains though, what can be done to fix it?

The Solution

I don’t think I can reduce my expectations. I can’t unlearn what makes a good photo, painting, garment, or meal. What I can do however, is set quantifiable and achievable goals. I love cycling because I can measure my performance and compare it against my peers. The competitive challenge drives me and the data-tracking gives me feedback on my progress. Feedback is essential since it justifies my investment of time. Without the feedback, frustration and boredom kick in and I move on

I can set personal challenges that let me operate at the limits of my skill for any of my hobbies. For example, instead of trying to “make a good photo”, I can take an existing photo that I like, and reproduce it. I can set myself a goal of reading a certain number of “favorites” on Flickr. I can decide that I want to make some money from my tailoring.

Those are clear goals that I can work towards. Achieving a goal gives me the positive feedback I need, and increasing the challenge as my skill grow will close off the loop. Eventually, the skill will grow enough with practice to close the gap with my expectations. Until then, I need to put my expectations aside and work towards an achievable goal.

If you’ve ever struggled with the same problem, I hope this works for you, it’s certainly working for me.