I regularly blogged at this address from May 2013 to September 2016 which became one of the more fulfilling projects that I’ve done in my life. Initially I was terrified at the vulnerability, but for some reason I felt compelled to continue to write in public. Perhaps because no one knew it existed for a long time it felt ok, and more like a personal journal. With virtually no exposure my blog slowly gained a steady following chronicling whatever was going on in my life. As my writing skills and narrative voice began to take shape it morphed into something I loved: a place to share ideas with family, friends, and strangers that I found impactful.
If this was something that a small audience and myself enjoyed why did I stop for nearly ¾ of a year suddenly without warning? For the first time in nearly a decade after living as an entrepreneur I decided to explore getting a traditional job, and was advised by a career expert that having a personal blog (especially where I occasionally explored controversial topics with complete honesty) could be a detriment to that. It made sense to me, and without warning I made my blog private (essentially shutting it down) and quit posting.
As the months went on I really missed posting, and considered a host of different possible “professional” blog ideas. On a daily basis I typically study math, programming, general machine learning, and in particular “AI”/deep learning/neural networks (all different names currently used in the media for a particular variation of machine learning algorithms called Neural Networks). I considered doing a specialized blog showing off and explaining deep learning projects that I build, but that would mean that all of the philosophy/life altering ideas would remain internal, and just as important the audience that I primarily write for (my family and friends) would be left out.
It’s been a nagging thought in my mind: do I stop ignoring this group of people who tell me that my blog helped them on a regular basis, or do I want to minimize any potential damage that a radically honest blog could do to my career? After recently spending a weekend visiting Los Angeles and getting asked what books I’m reading, how I taught myself the most current Deep Learning frameworks, podcasts I enjoyed, if I meditate, a simple investing plan, my favorite cologne/candles/coffee, etc. I realized there was a pent-up demand for this information to be distributed in a more scaled manner.
During the 6-hour drive back north to Mountain View I had a reflective experience about what am I trying to optimize my life for (spoiler: happiness), and what really matters to me. It hit me that I’m not willing to compromise on writing something that impacts a group of people I care about as well as myself, and to begin publishing my writing on a regular basis again. 95% of the previous incarnation of my blog was safe for any audience, and if I just passed on writing some of the random potentially controversial posts (religion, sexuality, etc.) I think anyone scrutinizing my online presence could benefit as well by learning far more about me than a resume could offer.
With that out of the way I’d like to give you a very abbreviated high-level summary of what I’ve done in my professional life, what I’m up to presently, and why.
Looking back at the through-line that connects my career (and even since I was child) I’ve been involved in competitive games that involve applied statistics, psychology, and game theory. A key component of everything that I’ve done is using it as a tool for learning, particularly about reality.
When I was a pre-teenager I played a nerdy card game called Magic The Gathering, but unlike my friends who would play me (but not for long as it became one-sided) hoping to get lucky, I learned probability & statistics (use the smallest deck of cards within the rules that made the probability of drawing the slightly better cards higher), studied early internet forums regarding the game, ran hours of simulations playing against myself in my room, and traveled the country playing in professional tournaments against the best (adult) players in the world.
In high school I suddenly realized that this game could be perceived as uncool (not knowing that everyone could care less and were occupied with thinking of themselves), and promptly acted as if I barely heard of the game. My attention shifted to something that I had a side interest in since childhood: the stock market.
I graduated college from the University of Michigan with a degree in Economics, and started a dream job in Chicago as an assistant at a proprietary equity options market making firm called Third Millennium Trading. At Third Millennium I had highs and lows just like any stretch in life, but I ended up rising the ranks co-running a small department and making a lot of money trading stock options.
I hit a ceiling though when I wanted to extend my stock options trading experience to other markets in the world as the company I worked for was understandably content just trading in the US. It didn’t make sense to me, and flush with money combined with the kind of overconfidence that comes from a 25-year old suddenly moving from a Section 8 studio to buying a condo with an Aston Martin to decorate the parking spot (it’s a hassle to drive in Chicago) I started my own company.
Pretty huge downs and ups again, including me literally contemplating my imminent life post bankruptcy, to everything coming back and more. Eventually after banks were regulated in 2009 to stop trading as well as the subsequent market crash the business had completely died off. I decided to try some new things. Throughout all of this I got to learn by experience what it was like to start a business, make/lose/spend large amounts of money, travel the world, and many other things that has taken me a long time to understand.
Over the next several years I went immersively into several different entrepreneurial careers in Los Angeles including film producing, a movie camera rental business, and opening what grew into a small chain of CrossFit gyms. I also got pretty good at playing poker on the side during this, but it always remained a hobby in the background even when the stakes became pretty serious.
Eventually the CrossFit gyms, the film camera business, and in particular my carefree LA lifestyle that I loved/hated became stagnant, and I slowly sold them, and quickly sold almost everything else I owned in my life. I took off for an indefinite travel sabbatical living nomadically around the world.
After months in Boulder, Bangkok, New Zealand, and Stockholm I realized I needed to do something outside of my writing hobby. I recognized the money and hedonistic fueled ambitions of my 20’s had faded, but I still had the energy to reinvent myself into something new. I consulted with my brother and others, read a ton, and finally committed to the field that I had recommended to so many others over the years while being scared/lazy to take my own advice: technology.
I wanted something that would grow and change with me for as long as I wanted. I didn’t want to master one niche and sit there optimizing the last 1%; the learning should be continuous and nearly infinite so I wouldn’t have to career hop and reinvent myself again if I didn’t want to.
For me the only way to really do this was to actually becoming technically proficient. I had several start and stop attempts to learn programming in the past, but this time something changed and I was able to get over the hours of daily failure, and finally taste the morsels of success that come when things finally start to work. Over the months I knew I didn’t just want to get hired as a mechanic to fix/build other people’s websites, and I discovered Data Science & Machine Learning.
This field (ML is a subset of Artificial Intelligence) combined my previous education of applied statistics and games to using computer programs to solve problems for you. The inertia and work to get to a beginner level at the moment is tremendous, but you’re rewarded with an understanding of how the world, and in particular the future works. It’s renewed my interest in learning the basic Math that slipped through my educational cracks, as well as science, and the deep life philosophical questions.
My plans are to get a job in the field (and I just stuck my toe in the water with two prestigious institutions making it to the final round with each), and it will be interesting to see where I end up.
That was a long-winded way to discuss my past and what’s going on right now, but there are many practical things that I’m thinking about, reading, consuming, etc. that I look forward to sharing with this blog. I’ve also created separate sections that I’ll be slowly populating regarding books and other things I like for reference.
Thank you for taking the time to read this, and I would like to leave you with a quote from a spiritual guy I’ve been reading some of lately nicknamed Osho:
“When you are different the whole world is different. It is not a question of creating a different world. It is only a question of creating a different you.”
3 Replies to “ALLOW ME TO REINTRODUCE MYSELF”
love the read, mostly because I’ve had a similar change of course trajectory over the past year. i graduated with a degree in philosophy and literature but felt like those two could do litttle to create any impact in a rising technocentric world. and so i changed paths, especially given my desire to better understand the human condition in the 21st century, and have steadily gotten myself into neuroscience as well as artificial intelligence.
only over the last month have i taken to coding seriously tho, and i’m still at beginner level with python. I have a similar ambition to work my way up to making my own small tech learning company, and getting a lot of work experience before then of course. funnily enough i just started getting back to high school math as well so i can get up towards calculus understanding.
I was wondering if you could elaborate or give me a short summary of your learning curve, especially any books or sites that really helped you get to a comfortable enough place to begin your own tech centred company. thanks
Glad you could relate!
I think the best way to learn, especially when it’s something difficult or new is to learn the basics several times over from different sources. The old model of learning, taking a test in the subject, and assuming you know it forever doesn’t work. I got an A- in Multi-Variable Calculus, Linear Algebra, etc. in university and I couldn’t pass the first test in either class anymore. I also realized I was focused on pattern matching tests to get good grades, and not actually understanding the importance or the intellectual curiosity that math can fulfill. Part of the reason I’m relearning everything from the ground up with Khan Academy now.
Learning a programming language, Machine Learning, etc. I think it’s best to do several tutorials even knowing that some will be better than others because you’ll slowly see the underlying structure, and learn things from each one. It will also make it less daunting and build confidence vs. using one resource and having shaky legs.
It’s taken me about a year of immersion before I felt technically comfortable to start something, but that’s more of a function of not having an idea too. I also semi-wasted a lot of time trying many different not very good courses, but I’ve gotten better at quitting them if they don’t work for me.
I also live in Silicon Valley and have smart friends to ask questions from, but tech is so global now I know there’s good Meetups and smart people everywhere.
i think your idea of working in the field gaining experience, contacts, knowledge, and coming up with ideas is very smart.
With that said here’s my current best of the best that I’ve found in several areas:
I like Python the Hard Way because you actually use the terminal and text editor to build simple things vs. in browser which didn’t translate to me getting out of it initially.
Treehouse is the most comprehensive Django Web Framework course I found. It can be done during the 7-day free trial if you can drop everything and focus on it. I ended up paying the $25 for a month so I could walk through it at a slower pace and try and internalize things.
I’m literally learning things in Algebra 1 that I never learned getting through advanced math at my university. It’s great to re-build the base of my math that was apparently incomplete. Bill Gates uses KA to teach his kids math as well.
3) Machine Learning:
Machine Learning/Data Science is a rapidly changing field, and this is the most recent and best resource I’ve come across by a large margin. It combines the practical with the theory.
4) Tech Entrepreneurship:
These are all Y Combinator resources. I find that they are very concise and to the point. They also have some links to more practical resources. The book about Founders shows you how little people were prepared/had planned out before they started building some of the most successful tech companies of today.
Thank you so much for the detailed response and resources.
You’re absolutely right about the re-learning of math from the ground up as well as getting different coding sites to learn from. I’ve recently been using datacamp’s courses on python for data science and even put down my first monthly payment for it because I’ve found it very context and case study based, which basically lets me see my python coding get immediately put to pracical use.
and you’re also right about the use of the python editor standalone vs the web-based because the standalone is not only stricter when it comes to syntax, but it also gives you detailed feedback on errors so you can see exactly what’s wrong. but this was also the case in the datacamp editor in contrast to the codeacademy editor that i had been using for the past four weeks.
the jump from codeacademy to datacamp has increased my understanding of what the potential for coding looks like in the real world, so I’m glad i found it within about a month of my entry to coding. and as for the math side, i’ve managed to download textbooks that I had been using in high school, and as you said, it was like i had basically never done any algebra before because even the first chapter took me a while a to get through!
the last two months of reading about and now getting coding done, has indeed shown that this path will take a lot of my time but the fact that I’m enjoying it makes every hour of commitment worth it.
wish you the best and thanks again!