popular unpopular malformed opinions

I loveee music. I have a bad habit of delving into too many different hobbies, but music has always been a staple through it all. Playing and recording music, listening to music, watching live performance videos, learning songs, all of it. For a long time, however, I wasn't really able to invest much in it, at least financially speaking. I didn't have enough money to buy the “nice” stuff, but I was getting by with what I could afford at the time.

Then a time came when I could. And very quickly, my collection of instruments and gear grew, and there was no stopping me. It took me a few years of endlessly buying new things to realize that music stopped being a hobby for me, instead my hobby became... buying music gear. I barely played music anymore, instead got caught up watching YouTube videos of gear, shopping, watching: an endless cycle that produced nothing of real value or growth.

The thing that didn't click to me immediately starts with the fact that all of these people I was watching are doing this for a living. They don't necessarily have malicious intent of appeasing sponsors and get people to spend money, but they are making money of the craft, most doing it full-time. They have a lot of time on their hands when music (or YouTubing or both) is their career. When they justify the value of a gear that's \$\$\$\$, they are taking into consideration how much time they themselves are going to invest using that piece of gear. Me as a hobbyist who can barely make time is not gonna get the same use out of it.

Sure, the financial investment aspect of it sounds obvious, it always has been for me as well. But that wasn't the kicker, it was time. Spending so much time in the cycle of watching and shopping, I barely spent time actually playing or creating or learning music. Shopping was my hobby now, not music.

I fell into the same trap again in recent weeks. This time it was with productivity YouTube. After binging some of the biggest and respected names in the space, I noticed that they pose a similar trap. They jump straight into how to optimize your life so you can ascend, maybe even create content for other people. Most of us are trying to organize life in significantly smaller steps. We don't need to use 10 different (paid!) apps to create a second brain. What we need, to start off at the very least, is learn how to use a calendar, a todo list, and notes in a streamlined workflow. And then, for most if not all laymen, maybe you can invest in a zettelkasten system, and further streamline existing tools. Many of us don't have the mental capacity to handle all these tools and processes at the end of our work day to organize our personal life. Many of us don't have the luxury of attaching our personal life growth and organization directly with our career on YouTube.

Ultimately, I realize now that if I am looking for “expert” advice on anything, and learn from others, in most cases it can't be from (full-time) influencers. I'd compare it to the educational system. You learn a lot of whats in school, largely in topics that may not be useful. And without the correct guidance for a kid, you don't really know what you need to learn. You barely know what you are trying to let alone need to achieve. It's a similar story with full-time educational influencers. I keep seeing this trend across topics that they have lost touch with what would actually help the layman, instead focusing too much on what people are gonna be engaged on, without getting real value out of. When I have only a few hours to spare on music, I'm much better off learning songs and recording them, but the content is made for the three people that work with music for a living, who have a lot more time to spare.

In my opinion, we need more hobbyist content creators to help out other hobbyists, not influencers. But live long enough, you might too become the villain.

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I have failed at sticking with enough new year's resolutions to know that tracking longer term goals don't really work for me for habits :(. However, I do know that a reset from time to time is something that benefits me a lot. So for this year, as I reflect at the end of the first work week of the year, I decided that I'm going to try sitting down and recording my accomplishments over all aspects of life, work and personal growth each week, either Friday or Sunday night.

It's something that might not amount to anything, or I might not even stick to it, but it feels like a small enough time investment that if it helps me build a new habit or two it will be very worth it. I have yet to figure out what would be a good medium to record my weeks, as I have been flipping between digital and physical journals. That sounds like a good thing to figure out this weekend as I explore options in both realms :'D.

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Over the past year, the way I keep up with news, blogs, information in general has changed quite a bit. Due to more recent epiphanies on how siloed even platforms like reddit and hacker news can be, I started venturing out a bit getting subscriptions for news sites and other forums that I thought would add value to the repertoire of information I rely on.

For some time, I did rely on RSS but that kind of fell off, I don't quite remember how. The reason must have been due to never building a proper habit of reading it. I recent discovered dashy, a self-hosted customizable landing page, and got the idea that perhaps I can transform that as a place where I can spend several minutes at the start of my day catching up on what's going on. My thoughts on this are still very very rough but here are some ideas I wanted to throw to see what sticks:

  1. Dashy: it can contain multiple RSS feeds based on filters, like news, tech blogs, subreddits, etc. Moreover it gives me the opportunity to build embedded dashboards on information on markets (stocks and real-estate), my Garmin activities, tasks and calendar, etc. These are just a couple quick ideas.
  2. Instapaper + Kindle: Having to look at the screen for 8 hours or more in a day for work, I invested in getting both a kindle and a remarkable tablet last year. Any long-form articles I may want to read, I send it to instapaper with a browser extension and have them delivered at certain intervals to my kindle.

There is certainly a lot more potential, and I suspect as I start building some of these workflows out for me, more ideas would inevitably come.

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Appendix (at the top, what?): I often use the distinction between public and private information, since I believe it is highly significant in deciding what social media platform should be used for either. e.g. if I want to become a musician, I want maximum public reach and am not as worried about privacy, so (ignoring ethical dilemmas of using Zuck's products) Instagram is a great option. While, if I wanted to share information and my life with friends and family, I'd much rather be using privacy-friendly and perhaps decentralized open-source tools.

Now that that's out of the way, one of the issues I encountered when I was on twitter was that people have a lot of views on different topics, and as a follower I may be interested in certain topics and their views on it, and not so much in others. As an example, let's say I am really interested in the book recommendations from Elon Musk. But do I care about his BS with Tesla or cryptocurrency and him exploiting his fanboys? Nopeeee. Or another one could be is that someone is interested in my music-related or CS career-related tweets, but not my political or religious views. The issue with not having that distinction imo is:

I am a I don't agree with Experience
Creator I don't tweet topical views my followers wouldn't be interested in I am taking away from people who would benefit from those views or information
Creator I tweet topical views my followers wouldn't be interested in I add noise to and might lose audience
Consumer I stop following someone who tweets topical views I am not interested in I lose the value their other tweets provided me
Consumer I keep following someone who tweets topical views I am not interested in I have noise in my feed

My very draft thoughts on a possible solution is that creators should have the option to post to channels. Currently the process for a creator is to have multiple accounts, which is pretty bad. The concept of channels should be an evolved form of hashtags, where creators can post to multiple channels (at the same time), and consumers can follow one or more channels from any creators.

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After settling into my professional life, moving to a new city, starting life as an adult, I went through a period of complacency. So more recently, after coming across a fantastic article about how the young director of product engineering at Shopify makes sure to retain and manage what he learns, I became interested in building a system for myself.

Even though my habit of reading books I will admit I did not read the article with much attention initially when I came across it over a year ago. Complacency struck again. I focused on learning more about Zettleskasten instead, and how I could use those principles to build up my own system. I started off by using Roam Research, and it went great for a week or so. That was followed by trying out different tools (mostly open source ones) on and off for months till I realized that complacency struck yet again. As I was reading books and articles, I often stopped at information I wanted to note down for the future me, only to get disheartened by the fact that I still hadn't established a good note taking system. The latest of my triumphs was to re-read the Shopify director's article and employ his terminal-based tool. However, the task of learning both the tool and Zettletskasten principles, whilst still trying to figure out how I can build a system that works for me proved to be too daunting.

Well, for now, I am going to stop using lack of proper tooling as an excuse, and just use what I have available till I understand my needs better. I ended up going back to Roam to have a system that I can later export my data from into a system I build that works for me.

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2020 what a year it has been. A year, which I initially felt that my life was held at stand-still, upon reflection, I have realized that it has been one of the years that have changed and helped me grow the most.

It was the year I finally stopped focusing a majority of my efforts in my career. I changed my mindset to “live to work” instead of “work to live”. That's not to say I lost my ambitions, I still chased down my career growth, but only “during work”.

live to work

There was a lot of movement in my life outside of just work, I moved into a place of my own and started living just by myself. I was finally able to indulge in my home decor obsession. That ultimately lead to learning a lot about what I like, what I care about and what makes me happy. But throughout more than half of the year, my focus and life still mostly revolved around work as I was chasing down a promotion. I felt burnt out, and started thinking a lot about what I even want to do career wise. The run was great, don't get me wrong. I was able to pick up a lot of skills, and learned a lot about what engineering in the real world actually is (spoiler alert: it's not algorithms or what they tend to teach at school). I greatly improved (imho) my document writing skills, being an active participant of a team with largely people more senior than me, as well as how to approach (and find solutions to) ambiguous software engineering problems. It was a fantastic year in terms of learning. But even a better year for realizations for what makes me happy.

work to live

I didn't know a lot of people in this city I moved into the year a priori before the pandemic hit. So social distancing resulted in me looking for entertainment in solidarity. I rediscovered my interest in my (non-technical) hobbies long forgotten, like reading books and playing music. The amount of satisfaction I got indulging in these made me realize that my priority in working hard was misplaced. I even put my technical hobbies on the back-burner since I figured throughout college they have gotten enough attention. To be completely honest, dissociating work for the sake of work and instead seeing work as a way to fund my life has been pretty good. I used to be worried that if I was not super passionate about my work I would not be feel the drive to excel in my work. But I have pleasantly discovered that making the distinction between living life and working has not affected my drive for career growth. I have started to feel that investing in my hobbies provides me with perspectives that give me unique insights into solving problems at work, especially reading (non-technical books included).

looking forward

Balance is key in making a content life. Too much time in leisure is just as harmful as spending too much time at work. I do feel a bit overwhelmed at times with the amount of ongoing life projects and hobbies I want to indulge in. Certain hobbies has certainly suffered during the pandemic, like fitness routines, and being more healthy in general. And there are yet even more hobbies I want to invest more time in, such as writing, reading books (most of my reading has been articles), photography, cooking, plants! ughh...

I think it's essential for me to build better habits around life come 2021 (tbh, at the time of writing this part we are nearing the end of 2021...) to make room for more in life, have more structure, lose less of life to meta-time.

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Obligatory disclaimer: I cannot speak for other fields, but it does seem that a lot of these aspects are common among them. But this is just a snippet of what I have observed in big tech, sample size of me and a lot of my friends, peers and colleagues.

I take pride in having career goals and working towards them. Anything from: I want to be a senior in X years, I want to be a principal in Y years to I want to have achieved some measurable impact within my Z months/years on the team. Goals can be big, ideally objective, but they can be subjective, chase what you want, we are not talking about “good” or “bad” goals here, goals are goals.

For me, they are milestones in life. I track them not only for my career, but my life in general, my hobbies, my side hustles: everything. They inspire me, so I chase them. This is a wild tangent, so let's get back to the topic of my passion of career growth.

As I have been building habits, targeting smaller deliverables, in order I meet the next milestone in my career progression, I discovered something: career growth has very, very little to do with you or your capability, it has way more to do with opportunities you get.

Let's start with a simple example: imagine you are at a startup. Everything moves fast, new components need to be built every week! You are a junior on the team, you have been on the team only for a few months but your product scope is quite small. Things need to be built, they are complicated, but with your coding expertise and context of the system, your team trusts you to build a new component. You deliver, you get a point. You gather enough of these points you graduate to the next level in your career. You have built both big and small solutions due to the rate at which these opportunities come to the team. It doesn't matter if they weren't built right, or if it might do more damage due to an oversight in the design. You already have the points and a couple of years down the line no one will remember it was your faults things are broken.

Now imagine working on a bigger company. You work on an established system that is used by customers, a lot of them. There isn't much bandwidth to build more things as you are constantly focused on improving your service operationally. These changes are not as sexy, they can take weeks of investigation trying to gather context around your own service because of its complexity; and result in three lines of code or config change. They may be more technically complicated but they don't seem that way, because at the end the presentation of your contribution is those three lines of change, which sometimes don't have direct metrics with them since them being part of a bigger change. Before you know it, you have been on the team for a couple of years and you haven't written a single design doc. When asked about your contribution, you know that you objectively improved the quality of service you provide to your customers, but these are small changes here and there that are not easily presentable. You may be asked, “Have you designed a complicated system or component?” and your answer being “No but I have operationally improved our system through blah blah” does not sound that sexy. A manager whose team is relatively new starts bragging about their recent report's promotion, talking about how so and so wrote this new system that does something big for their service of a few thousands of lines. Upper management is impressed. Working on a newer team/product is similar to working on a startup. You get to work on “exciting” and “sexy” features that are presentable. It doesn't matter how much talent is required, it matters how presentable the end result is.

I have seen a culture in these places: everything is opportunity driven. How good you are does not matter at all after a certain point. If you find yourself on a team that builds products for large number of customers, you may find yourself in a similar situation. Opportunities for presentable contributions will not show up often, and when they do you have to compete against your peers who are also trying to get promoted. Here are some things I have learned the hard way I wish someone told me before:

  1. Record and document everything you do. No matter how small. Don't get trapped by thinking your contribution is small, think about the big picture that your solution contributes to and frame your document in a way to capture and present that eloquently.
  2. Be aggressive in taking credits. In the past I have been personally hurt by this, when I was too shy to present my work and one of my peers who I worked with presented it to get the recognition instead of me
  3. Proactively seek out opportunities. Don't wait for your manager to say you are ready, if you think you are ready, ask for it. If a manager/team fails to meet your timeline, consider finding a different job/team/manager.
  4. Understand the criteria for the next level of your career growth, in your organization/department or the larger company. You will encounter managers who don't understand these differences and think your contributions are not enough, not every manager has worked on a real customer facing product. Make sure your manager recognizes the work that you did and fights against these other managers who only consider “sexy” changes as next-level.

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This is a very old rant I wrote in 2016. Before the Cambridge anaylitica scandal became public. Long before today, when people are more aware of the dire state of the world than ever, and Facebook's public image has fallen out of favor.

There are two possibilities here. Either we have been caught in an information bubble so restrictive that it appears that some types of news are being censored from us. The other possibility here, the scary one, is that these companies are specifically censoring the news. The latter one is particularly interesting to look at now that Facebook explicitly blocks entire pages of organizations that support a specific political platform. Or when you could not upload that one anti-DNC photo to Facebook.

I mean I totally understand why we don't think it's that big of a deal, even if it's true. One could argue (you probably will) that people who care about news should just go to a news site and catch up on world events. But what about the people who don't? The people who don't know that there is something to care for? It's one thing to drive your platform to make sure Hillary Clinton gets the presidency over Donald Trump, it's another thing to actively censor out one of the biggest humanitarian crisis of our generation just because. I know everyone has their priorities: some people have to focus on their careers so that they can make the world a better place, some people would rather watch funny 9GAG videos than look at things that may displease or discomfort them, etc.; sadly, some people actively just dismisses that something this cruel might be happening. Again it is understandable why we are so quick to dismiss that people are being tortured, imprisoned, killed, and their lives destroyed when our most trustworthy and credible “friend” censors them, damaging the credibility of those reports to the general public.

I have a problem with Hillary Clinton, but I don't care that much when sites like Facebook and Google bends the support toward her. But I do have a problem when they get caught promoting pro-occupation and blocking media sites that cover the other side of the wall. These are lives of people we are talking about. This is about children with no childhoods or a promise of a better future. This is about people who know that the world has forsaken them, and they are totally right. Their story needs to be told. But it's all good because it was just a small mistake, oops.

Not even surprised anymore that so many people I know think that we are living in the most peaceful of times just because we are not stuck behind walls or being bombed every other day.

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Recently, I got flak for making a comment on a subject I had little formal education on. It was mostly well deserved I would say, but the way I retained that piece of information in my head is how I have survived in my career, as well as my life in general.

I have been developing myself to have the famous T shaped knowledge: expert in very few topics, shallow knowledge in a broad range of topics. For the second part, I bias towards learning things that are practically applicable. I also don't find it productive or efficient to retain every little detail, so instead I take a layered approach to what's important and what isn't . Often that looks like not knowing the why, but a lot of whats and sometimes hows. It also sometimes look like going from “A results in B doing C, which releases D” straight to just “A causes D”. Sometimes a generalization, sometimes an oversimplification. Sometimes a misrepresentation.

On the other end of the spectrum, I believe that being a good teacher is an intrinsic part of being knowledgeable. If you can't explain what you know properly, you have an unstructured understanding of the subject. When a person comes to you with a lot less knowledge than you, assume they have no context and infinite knowledge. Not everyone has the same context, and not everyone needs to know the details of what they know for what doesn't apply to their purpose of learning.

For both ends of the spectrum, it is essential to be kind and humble in the way we speak, the way we teach, the way we present. Because sometimes we will make mistakes, and sometimes we will find holes in our own knowledge. And we would want the other party to listen to and treat us in the same way, with patience, respect and kindness.

This is also a reminder to myself.

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Recently, for my personal growth, I have been trying to pick up writing as a habit. The writings don't have to be novel blog posts or articles, rather the idea was to make note taking and writing down my thoughts as I read and learn from others a habit. I did have a blog (and still do), as well as my own set of notes captured on a variety of topics, work, ideas, etc. designed to be private that are captured in a note-taking application. The issue I have found is the invisible requirement for the formality and standards for blog posts result in me never really publishing my countless drafts. This leads to a feeling of just having unfinished thoughts. Lots of them.

This, pages, is an attempt to try fixing that. A way for me to help structure in my thoughts by putting them into writing. Not for anyone else to read, but for my own reflection.

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