Lassen 😍, the affluent zoom class, buying a car

Tangential Tuesdays #84

Hi 👋 - Feeling excited to dive into this week.

I spent the weekend backpacking in Lassen. It was pretty much a dream from start to finish. I owe so many good things in my life to taking trips like this. Nature == therapy.

Here’s our route if you’re curious! We had to pivot a bit from our original plan due to campsites closed because of bear sightings…. but with a plethora of alpine lakes to choose from it wasn’t too much of an issue.


Affluent Zoom Class

Talking about this magical trip with pretty pictures transitions well into my next point, inspired by this tweet:

This anecdotally rings true for me and many of my friends, and frankly is pretty disturbing.

There is an idea in business strategy that down turns typically make the strong, stronger, and the weak, weaker, even if the aggregate outcome is that everyone suffers in the short-term.

I worry that COVID-19 is doing this on the scale of not just businesses, but human beings. Over the past few months, I’ve heard friends say things like “I don’t want things to go back to ‘normal’”. And I get that. My life has in many ways improved since this craziness began ~4 months ago.

For people my age, this pandemic will almost certainly be remembered as the event of our generation. The problem however, is that it isn’t a shared experience the same way that 9/11 was for the prior generation.

In the same way that 9/11 brought the country together…. I worry that COVID-19 will divide us. The affluent zoom class vs everyone else.


I love the internet as a time capsule. Jessica Livingston (The coolest Bucknell alum the university somehow ignores!) interviewing Brian Chesky and Joe Gebbia in 2010.



Startup Wisdom from NPR’s Car Talk

Posit the question: Do two people who don’t know what they are talking about know more or less than one person who doesn’t know what he’s talking about? (Pardon the un-PC masculine pronoun, but I have found this to be, most predominately, a male phenomenon.)

So if ultimate reality, or learned ignorance, is achieved by two people, they have twice as much learned ignorance than one person, and Andy’s question is answered. Two people don’t know twice as much as one person doesn’t know. While your combined state of learned ignorance is often quite impressive, it is important to understand that to achieve ultimate reality a great deal of meditation and prayer is required


Personal

  • Assembled is hiring a Front-end engineer, as well as our first Support and Operations hire (!!). If you, or anyone you know might be a fit - email me. I am more excited about the business than ever.

  • I am officially in the market for a used car. Doesn’t have to be in the bay area. My only criteria are decent in snow and decent gas mileage. Let me know if you know someone selling a car or have any used car buying tips!

  • I swear every week someone pitches me on moving to a new place and every single time I fully descend down the rabbit hole of potentially leaving SF. This week? 2 Bed / 2 Bath in Big Sky

  • Nokia 3310 is working out well so far :)

1 month

Tangential Tuesdays #83

Hi 👋 - I hope you all had a wonderful 4th of July weekend.

Although the fireworks in SF were officially cancelled this year, that didn’t stop our neighbors from setting off a massive pile of fireworks until about 1am 🙃.

My celebrations included:

  • A 30 mile bike ride (Finally got around to doing Hawk Hill!) with a swim at ocean beach in the middle


1 month

I almost deleted this mini post… but in the end I decided to keep it. Generally I think the newsletter is meant to be about talking about things that are not work. But this newsletter is also about my life. And work is a huge part of what is happening and is exciting in my life right now.

It’s been 1 month since joining assembled. Here’s what I’m trying to focus on.

1. be slow to criticize

When I started at Assembled, I immediately noticed a ton of things that were different from what I was used to. Here’s a quick list from the top of my head:

  1. We use a bootstrap theme from most of our css

  2. We don’t have a designer

  3. I am my own product manager and copy writer 😳

  4. I don’t have to write PHP 😃

  5. We don’t have a javascript auto formatter or ESLint

  6. We manually run raw SQL on our master database (regularly)

  7. We don’t have an easy way to search our logs (like kibana)

  8. Our directory structure is different

  9. We have ~25 customers (rather than >25k customers)

Some of these things might not mean much to you all, but for me it was like stepping into a whole new world. During my 1st month, I sometimes felt myself tempted to rush to provide value.

I found myself tempted to criticize. I found myself wanting solve the problems I saw with the solutions I had seen at Thumbtack.

99% of the time, I think this is a mistake.

The first thing to note is that “rushing” to provide value is foolish. When you join a startup, you are entering into a multi-year (hopefully 🤞) relationship. The work that you complete in your first few months will be inconsequential to the work you’ll do in your 2nd and 3rd years at the company.

The 2nd point, is that there’s a good chance that the company has a very good reason for not implementing the solution you are thinking about. Now, that reason at many startups might be “we just haven’t gotten around to it”. But don’t assume that’s the real reason! Rushing to provide value in your 1st month means not fully understanding the problem you’re trying to solve.

Lastly, even if you turn out to be right about both the problem, and the solution, it is not worth the social capital you will sacrifice to push your solution forward. I cannot stress how important I think this point is.

In some ways, it is a bit counterintuitive: Assembled literally hired me for my expertise in solving these problems. Shouldn’t they want me to get started on that as soon as possible?

The answer is yes… but humans are still humans. For an outsider to come into a company an immediately start criticizing and changing things is jarring. Imagine if someone you didn’t know very well observed you doing your job for a few days and immediately started telling you everything that you were doing wrong. You probably wouldn’t listen.

Building trust takes time and hard work. I personally found it easy to forget how long it took to reach the level of trust I had at Thumbtack when I left.

Don’t rush, sometimes you have to slow down to speed up.

2. focus on relationships

For me, forming relationships with coworkers is probably the most important thing to focus on in the first few months at a new job.

This is something I didn’t appreciate enough over college, and also something that is unfortunately made much more difficult by remote work.

So far, I’ve met 3 out of the 8 people at assembled in person (1 of which was today, biking up twin peaks!)

So for that reason, I don’t have too much to say here….I am still figuring things out.

One thing I will say, is that having a consistently positive attitude and being ridiculously optimistic at work goes a long way. Everyone else at the company been heads down working for the past few months / years.

They see all the problems that that company has. They will be tired at times. When you join a company - go out of your way to lift them up and bring fresh positivity. They will appreciate it and naturally want to spend more time with you 😃.

3. look for bright orange extension cords

New hires can see a bright orange extension cord in plain sight.

This is an idea Ryan has continuously pushed me on in the past month.

When I joined assembled I knew basically nothing about enterprise software, the problem we were trying to solve, how the product works, how are customers use us, etc.

This means that most of my ideas about how things should work, or what we should focus on will be wrong. But it also means that I will have wildly different ideas from everyone else that has been working at the company longer than be and knows more than me!

There is value in naïveté.

At the end of my first month, I took an hour to dump all of the thoughts and ideas that I had built up either in my brain or in my notes and then shared it with the company. It’s still unclear how much value this will provide to the rest of the company, but just going through the process of writing all of my naive thoughts down on paper has already proved valuable for myself.

4. immerse yourself

This applies less if you already have a lot of domain specific expertise related to the company you are joining.

But as I’ve already mentioned - I had the opposite of that when I joined Assembled.

I’m still very much in the process of understanding the problem, the vocab, how to connect with our customers, and the whole world around customer support (it truly is a whole new world).

It’s hard to build something people if you don’t have a deep understand of the problem you’re trying to solve.

Luckily, there is a ton of great content out there. Here’s what’s been recommended to me:

Customer support

Enterprise SaaS

5. take care of yourself

This one is simple and should be obvious. But that doesn’t mean it is easy. A ton of smart people neglect this.

I strongly believe taking really good care of yourself is one of the most important factors for being good at your job.

This will mean something different for everyone, but I think we all know intuitively when we’re doing this well.


Unequal Growth: The Zero-Sum Games You Don’t See

This is the 1 piece I *highly* recommend this week. It is quite long - so if you don’t want to actually read, here is my incomplete summary.

In the first decade of the 2000s, the top 2 nations “got” 31% of all the Economic Growth. In the next decade, they doubled that share to 60% of Global Economic Growth.

Readers whose preferred economic mental models are Zero-Sum, will implicitly translate the verb “got” to “Captured”. Readers who default to Positive-Sum models will instead translate it to “Created”. They’d both be right.

Tech people love to talk about wealth as a positive sum game. And to a certain extent they are correct! But so are the negative sum people. It depends on the period of time you are looking at.

GDP growth over the last 20 years is unevenly distributed. Even while the global GDP shrinks during certain periods, the growth of China and the U.S has largely continued.

GDP growth compounds. The more the U.S GDP grows compared to Japan or Germany, the bigger out advantage gets.

2015 marks the largest contraction in Global GDP that the World Bank has data for. If you live in the U.S, you probably did not know this. That’s because the U.S economy grew by $700B in 2015.

Read the article here. [Side note: Conrad has a ton of other great essays. I particularly love The Uncharity of College: The Big Business Nobody Understands]


Things I am feeling excited about

Make it glam

Tangential Tuesdays #82

My friend Abhi called me last week for the first time in a while. After we caught up on what we’ve been working on, he asked a great question:

“What else are you excited about?”

I paused.

“Honestly….I’m excited about human connection”

I think that kind of sums up how I’ve been feeling lately. My deep appreciation for connecting with other humans is unlikely to last too far past whenever life does go back to normal, but for now, I’m happy it is here.

Abhi followed up with the only logical response: “Did you…. get a girlfriend?” Unfortunately not… but I digress.


~make it glam~

There’s an idea that’s been rolling around in my head recently. I call it ~make it glam~

It’s the idea that even if you love your work, most work is boring and fairly mundane. To get really good at any craft, you have to do it over and over again.

I absolutely love being a software engineer, but honestly writing code every.single.day can be boring. I have a feeling I’m not the only one who feels this way.

My solution? Find ways to glamorize it for myself. It starts with the strong belief that tasks are only as boring or exciting as I make them. It’s up to me to make my work feel exciting each day, even if the reality is a lot of mundane, detail-oriented work.

For me, this permeates my work in a number of ways. 1 is that I enjoy competing with myself and others by looking at Github stats to see who can rack up the most commits or lines of code this month.

To be clear, this is a pretty ridiculous thing to do. Lines of code and commits are loosely correlated to productivity (at best). For example, about 13k of my lines of code are actually from adding prettier to the project.

But we keep it light-hearted and it helps us get things done… so why not?

People say entrepreneurship has been glamorized. But why do we assume this is a bad thing? All jobs have their mundane parts, any job can be made to sound boring or exciting. So we should try to paint jobs as exciting if we believe that the world needs more of them.

Take this as permission to be a little more grandiose when talking, thinking, and writing about your work. You just might trick yourself into believing it.


Slowly…. and then suddenly

“There are decades where nothing happens, and there are weeks where decades happen.” — Vladimir Lenin

People in tech seem to love this quote, and I am no different 🙃.

There has been a ton happening in my life recently. The 1st is that my phone pretty much completely died this week. Those that know me well would probably agree that I don’t treat my phones very well, so this was not a huge surprise.

For the past few months, I’ve been slowly trying to retreat from the distraction the internet provides via my phone. I uninstalled google chrome + all social media.

But this retreat when from slow to sudden this week. When my phone died I immediately knew it was time to try a “dumb” phone. I ended up going with the Nokia 3310. Unfortunately, it’s not turning on at the moment though…. so I’ll be phoneless until I get that sorted out.

For me, it is a good reminder that your life often changes in instants, rather as a result of deliberate planning. Inspiration does have an expiration date.

There are inflection points: Booking a 1 way flight to Bangkok, Moving to SF, Texting someone you want to become friends with for the 1st time. I have no idea if this will be an inflection with my relationship with technology. But I find even the idea that it could be exciting.


STAYING CLASSY

Shoutout to Trevor Mckendrick for a great list of his favorite Star Slate Codex Essays.

I randomly chose this essay on class to read… and it did not disappoint.

Tl;dr:

  • We talk about economic class (how much money you make) and social class (how respectable you seem, education, what kind of family you come from) not enough.

  • Talking about class is taboo because we like to believe we’re a classless society. We talk about income instead and pretend it’s class.

  • 10% of people are in an underclass consisting of “generationally poor” people who may never have held jobs and who come from similarly poor families.

  • “65% of people are in the labor class. They work jobs where labor is seen as a commodity, ie there’s not as much sense of career capital or reputation. They base virtue and success around Hard Work. Its lower levels are minimum wage McJobs, its middle levels are assembly line work, and its higher levels are things like pilots, plumbers, and small business owners.”

  • 23.5% of people are in the gentry class. They fetishize education and career capital. They engage in all sorts of signaling games around “fair trade” and “organic” and what museums they go to. At the lower level they’re schoolteachers and starving artists, at the mid level they’re “professions” like engineering and law, and at the highest level they’re professors and scientists and entrepreneurs.

  • 1.5% of people are in the elite class. Although you can be borderline-elite by getting a job in finance and making a few million, the real elite are born into money and don’t work unless they want to. Occasionally they’ll sit on a board or found a philanthropic association or something.

This essay changed my world view in a very short period of time. I highly recommend.


My Update

  • Hard to believe it is almost July

  • Haven’t been reading 😞

  • Made some bread and hummus this weekend 😍

  • I got my first CSA pickup from Terra Firma Farm. So far - I absolutely love it. This week we got carrots, zuchinni, tomatoes, peacccchesssss 🍑, and potatoes.

  • Working….


- Taylor

Lessons from My Dad

Tangential Tuesdays #81

Since it was fathers day over the weekend, I thought it would be fun to try to distill a few of the many things I’ve learned (or in some cases…. still trying to learn) over the years from my dad.

I have to admit…it was a lot harder than I expected. As a kid, I was so unaware, so focused on other things that I think many of the lessons I took from my parents are so deeply ingrained in me I forget they are there.

But I think this is also one of the most beautiful parts of parenting. Kids don’t listen to what you say… they only follow what you do. And you can’t fake action.

^ throwback to my favorite family vacation of all time. planned by my lovely mother (sorry mom, saving the lessons from you for another post!)


Exercise daily

For as long as I can remember, I’ve viewed my dad as an athlete. He runs and swims consistently and has for pretty much his entire life. That wore off on me over a long enough time.

Of course, I’d be lying if it didn’t also cause a bit of friction at times 😂. I watched my dad run a ~5:10 mile trial in his 50’s…. which turns out to be about as fast as my fastest mile EVER. My dad was dropping 18 minute 5ks while I was in high school… my fastest 5k is 20:20.

But since accepting that my dad would sometimes beat me at sports despite being almost 40 years older than me, it’s only been a positive.

The idea that exercise is an essential part of a good life is something I learned from my dad. And with enough consistency maybe one day I’ll actually run a sub-20 minute 5k.

Competition is fun

It’s not uncommon for my dad to sign up for a road race with the intention that he is “not going to race it”. But I’m not sure I’ve ever seen or heard of this actually happening.

The truth is my dad loves competition. I remember watching my dad race growing up and being terrified. I wasn’t used to seeing adults push themselves close to their physical limits!

I remember entering into the pinewood derby with my boy scout troop and getting absolutely destroyed the 1st year. But the next year…. my dad and I read everything we could: we polished the axels, we added copper BBs so we could get as close to the weight limit as possible. And although we didn’t win, we did a heck of a lot better than the year before.

Despite the fierce competitive drive that my father showed me, I’ve never once seen him get angry about a competition not going his way. That’s certainly more than I can say.

Process > Outcome

This one is strongly in the “still learning” category for me.

My dad has a Ph.D. in Physics. So it is probably not surprising that my sister and I would go to him for help on our math/physics homework throughout our pre-college years.

The one part that I remember him being absolutely relentless on was “Showing your work”. Getting the answer and having some understanding of how you got there was enough for my sister and I - but it was not enough for our dad.

Our work had to be crystal clear, neat, and following a consistent process. Getting the right answer was an afterthought. A side effect of following the right process.

I remember this being so contentious throughout middle school that we would make bargains with my dad about being able to ask him questions without him being allowed to see (and often) criticize our work.

Years later, this is something I still struggle with, but absolutely see the value from. Set up the right processes for engineering, problem-solving, and your life, and good things will happen.

Anyone can get the answer right once, but if you want to be consistently great you have to follow a consistent process.


^ A classic selfie taken by my father on my first trip to the bay area / Yosemite.


Why Figma Wins + The Most Famous Loop make a really good reading pair for this week. The most famous loop ties together thermodynamics and business strategy. If you are anything like me I think you will really love it.

there are a couple important ideas expressed here. First, it acknowledges that there are two ways you can get work out of a loop. The first is to spend potential energy, no surprise. But the second is to let disorder increase. Not forever; ideally only in the controlled circumstance of your imaginary heat engine. You can get a lot of work done if you freely let disorder run its course. You will have to pay it back later, but it will work.

The second insight in here is that if you allow the ebb and flow of disorder, your loop can pass between high and low potential energy states a lot more efficiently.


My Update


- Taylor

Moving to Idaho

Tangential Tuesdays #80

I spent the past weekend with a few friends in Carmel… and damn, nothing could have felt better.

After a weekend like this, I can’t help but have a little bit of a comedown. Not because I’m not looking forward to the week ahead, but because moments as blissful as a few from this weekend are rare.

And because after feeling so connected to people in a beautiful place - it can be hard to transition back to thinking about code and floating through a daily routine of zoom calls.

So I’m writing this newsletter from the comedown on my high of connecting with the biggest group of humans I’ve been close to since the start of COVID-19.

Enjoy this week’s ramblings :)


One thing we discussed over the weekend, is that COVID-19 happened at literally one of the best possible times that it could have in our lives.

If this had happened in college - I easily could have lost a summer internship or a summer working in the AMC huts. If this had happened a year earlier, there’s a decent chance I would have been laid off @ Thumbtack.

If you’re in your early 20’s right now and you still have a job that lets your work remotely, you’ve pretty much won the lottery.

We have friends that straight up moved to Hawaii for a few months… or Austin, San Diego, Lake Tahoe, the list goes on. As crazy as it may seem, Airbnb is actually seeing a record amount of bookings right now.

At one point we talked somewhat seriously about moving to Chile for a month this summer to work remotely and go skiing. Realistically the chances that this will happen are incredibly low. But just thinking about the fact that there is absolutely nothing stopping us is mind-blowing.

On the one hand, it’s sad to see friends leaving SF - a place I love so much. But on the other hand… it’s exciting to see people live lives that never would have seemed possible only a few months ago.

It’s for this reason I’d like to share a few places/airbnbs I’m dreaming of maybe (probably not) spending a month working from. Although we are dreaming, I kept it somewhat realistic meaning timezone no more than 3 hours different from PST.


Ferellones, Chile [Airbnb]

As a general rule, I try to be interesting to myself. That means that if I think of an idea where if I would be incredibly fascinated if someone else told me about it - I try to do it myself.

Working from the mountains in the Chilean winter would be the epitome of that. It would be a crazy, slightly reckless adventure to say that you sent it to Chile to work remotely for a month with your friends on the tail-end (🤞) of a global pandemic.

But with our IKON pass we could ski for free from Valle Nevado. And I’m sure my Spanish would come back?

^ Taken from my future hot tub in Ferellones.

Part of actually doing this would be “doing it just to do it”. It would be for the shock factor. But I also know it would one of most the unique months of my entire life.

And our ski season in Tahoe got cut short - so really I’m just trying to get the money’s worth out of my IKON pass.

In a world where we do spend such a large part of our lives in the same place, working the same job and keeping a routine, this would be the ultimate break from routine.


Boise, Idaho

I’ve recently been curious about Idaho. It feels to me like one of the most naturally beautiful places in the USA that no one talks about. That probably makes me a hipster traveler / digital nomad / whatever this new normal is - and I’m okay with that.

We would eat a lot of potatoes, and go hiking in the surprisingly large mountains in Idaho. The cost of living is also much lower than SF which is an added building.

And when else would you have an excuse to spend a month living in Idaho?

^Sawtooth range, Idaho. A ~3 hour drive from Boise.

Also… I apologize for the clickbait. I am (probably) not moving to Idaho…. but who knows 🤷‍♂️. There doesn’t appear to be much stopping me at the moment.


… and a few other random places I would love to live for a month: Victoria (Vancouver Island), San Diego, Bend, and Jackson.



My update


A few links


That’s all I got. See you next week.

- Taylor

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