We dedicate a lot of time at work. Whether it's working for a company or ourselves, we'll spend a large chunk of our lives at a workspace. In this post I'd like to document the various workspaces I've been a part of and some of the lesson I learned while there.
Way Basics (2008 - 2011)
What: Startup company selling eco-friendly storage furniture. I was the first employee.
Responsibility: Operations Manager & Business Development
Workspace:Although I don't have a photo of my workspace, the photo above is from a tradeshow (pseudo workspace) the team attended in Florida. The photo includes (left to right) the CEO, Marketing Manager, and me.
Lessons:This role was my professional MBA. Fresh out of undergrad I was thrust into a fast-paced startup environment where I negotiated contracts, facilitated fulfillment of thousands of orders, and established many of the logistical and operational processes at the company. I shared an office with the founder/CEO who was a great mentor to me. We had many late night product and business discussions that honed my product development and management skills.
What:Quest builds software for IT professionals. It was acquired by Dell in 2012.
Responsibility: Learning Management System Product Owner
Workspace: My workspace evolved over time, but eventually I settled on the two monitor and medicine ball setup. I would swap the ball for a chair every couple hours. I was in the corner of the building so had great natural light throughout the day.
Lessons:My first corporate job. Coming from a startup with less than 10 people to a company with over 1000 employees was a drastic change in work culture. I had my first experience collaborating with engineers in a SCRUM environment here. I collected requirements from stakeholders and wrote my first user stories. During this period I started teaching myself how to code, and was able to apply what I was learning by building some internal web apps for the team. It was here that I also learned that Product Management was a career path I wanted to pursue.
What:Amplify creates software for the K-12 education market. I was part of the literacy assessment team.
Role: Product Owner
Workspace:That was my desk and view during my last two months at Amplify. Can't beat the view of the Manhattan bridge from Dumbo.
Lessons:My first job after relocating from California to New York. This was also my first role that was 100% focused on Product Management through the role of a Product Owner. The team implemented the SCRUM framework and released to production every two weeks. In this role I learned the ins and outs of SCRUM, how to run sprints and manage a backlog. It was a tremendous learning experience that taught me the difference between being Agile and agile.
LightSail Education (2015 - 2017)
What:LightSail is a mobile and web-based application targeted at K-12 students and teachers. It's a digital library where students can discover and read fiction and non-fiction books.
Role: Product Manager
Workspace:My first standing desk workspace. Typically I would stand half the day and sit for the remainder. I used an Ori Stand (unfortunately they closed as of December 15, 2017).
Lessons:This was a challenging yet very rewarding role. I learned a ton and am quite proud of the product that was shipped by the team. The engineering team was all remote which presented communication challenges, but we were able to implement processes that minimized the barrier. I worked on all aspects of building the product. From collecting requirements from users, to creating mockups and writing user stories, to testing the features and writing blog posts about the latest releases. LightSail was well received by our users and an independent study found that students using LightSail experienced 2.5x growth compared to peers not using the product.
Bonus: Current home setup
My current home setup. The minimalist and budget friendly standing desk: Ikea coffee table on top of an Ikea kitchen table. I also use this cushion when I'm standing. The setup is flexible enough where I can easily take the coffee table off and transition to a seated position.
A traditional school curriculum is comprised primarily of topics that teach cognitive skills. Topics like reading comprehension, vocabulary, algebra and biology. These topics are comprised of "blocks" of knowledge such as: "2 + 2", "what is a nucleus", "what caused the US great depression", "what is a verb".
These knowledge blocks can be stacked into a 9 month curriculum with the same standardized answer being taught to all students. Knowledge of each block can be categorized as "pass" or "fail". Students can be ranked by the amount of pass knowledge blocks they've obtained. Obtain enough, move on to the next grade.
A teacher can teach such curriculum with minimum creativity and improvisation. Teach the block, assess knowledge of it, move on to the next. It's a system that allows thousands of teachers to teach millions of students across 50 states. An assembly line model that scales and "works".
A growing movement is to determine how to make noncognitive skills (aka soft/life/character skills) more prevalent in school curriculums. Technological trends and research indicate that a developed set of noncognitive skills will better equip students for 21st century jobs. For it's likely that the jobs that exist in 10 years do not exist today (e.g. the job "podcast booking agent" did not exist 10 years ago). Technology innovation will continue to disrupt industries and shift the landscape of jobs. Likely at an even faster pace than today. Students need to be ready to adapt.
Skills such as grit, empathy and gratitude can have a profound impact on a student entering the job market. I believe a student that displays grit and gratitude can figure out how to succeed in the job market, even in a role that may not be directly aligned to the cognitive skills they learned in school.
As an example, I graduated with a Bachelors of Science in Finance in 2009. One of the worst majors to have after the great financial collapse in 2008. My first job was as Operations Director for a startup online retailer. I was responsible for managing the warehouse and all aspects of logistics. I had no experience in logistics. I did not study it in school. And yet the noncognitive skills I developed throughout school (grit, empathy, confidence) empowered me to obtain and succeed in this role. I knew how to learn, and I had confidence that I could figure it out.
Today few curriculum allocate time for students to acquire knowledge blocks of noncognitive skills. How does a teacher teach topics such as "leadership", "grit" and "curiosity". What is the "2+2" equivalent knowledge block within grit? Often these topics are viewed as byproducts of a traditional curriculum or the responsibility of parents. A student that takes AP Calculus will develop grit as a byproduct of working hard and passing the AP exam. A parent will or should instill gratitude in their child.
And yet unlike all students learning "2+2" in school, not all students will have the opportunity to foster skills like grit and gratitude. A big challenge is establishing a baseline. What does it mean to pass or fail the topic of grit? What is the baseline? How much do we standardize what about grit is taught, versus giving teachers the flexibility to improvise? Is it a problem if what about grit is taught at one school is vastly different from another? Or is the biggest value just to make students aware that these are innate skills they can channel and develop? Just exposing them to these skills may spark their own interest in developing them?
Currently we leave it to chance that students will develop noncognitive skills while at school. Luck is the driving factor that places one student in a classroom with a passionate teacher focused on teaching these skills, versus a classroom where they are never mentioned. In order for all students to be able to develop noncognitive skills we must standardize a set of skills that all students should develop, establish a baseline for measuring them, and make them part of all school curriculums.
In my 2016 post I set a few goals for 2017. Travel more (visited Sweden and Denmark). Launch a project (Bechant). Read (see below). Refine my diet (tried Keto, low-carb, learned a ton about nutrition) and exercise regiment (hello Kettle bells). And explore the great city of New York (done and done!).
Beyond the goals one experience stands out from 2017. The weekend long retreat I took in January with meditation teacher and author Tara Brach. I learned a lot about myself and met a lot of great people during the weekend. It coincided with the release of a new album by my all time favorite musician Mike Oldfield (first link in Albums section). Now every time I listen to the album the wave of emotions from the weekend envelop me. It was during this weekend that I wrote the post "A moment with my future self".
In the last quarter of 2017 I made a big change professionally by switching to part-time work. I spent my free hours diving deep into several industries (school nutrition, social emotional learning) seeking out potential entrepreneurial pursuits. Although I didn't find a concrete problem to solve, I learned a lot about the industries and also about my process for researching and refining a problem. My biggest takeaway? Remain disciplined. Make progress everyday. Read something, brainstorm, do something everyday. And eventually one idea can spark something bigger.
And so in 2018 my priority is discipline (borrowing from the first book in the Books list below). Setting up processes and habits I will follow everyday to make progress in relationships, music, career, personal projects, health and fitness. Did I mention music? I'm excited to say that I'm working on original music again! The last time I put out music was in 2012, so I'm already excited for what's to come in 2018.
And so here is to a disciplined 2018, here are some of my favorites from 2017...
- Discipline Equals Freedom Field Manual by Jocko Willink
- A Confession by Leo Tolstoy
- Modern Romance: An Investigation by Aziz Ansari
- The Great Bridge: The Epic Story of Building of the Brooklyn Bridge by David McCullough
- I, Robot by Isaac Asimov
- The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
- The War Against Boys
- Good and Bad Procrastination
- What You'll Wish You'd Known
- Things You Should Never Do, Part 1
- 100 Blocks a Day
- Devin Townsend's top 5 tips for guitarists
- Return to Ommadawn by Mike Oldfield
- Blade Runner 2049 Soundtrack by Hans Zimmer
- Letters to Myself by Cyhra
- Into the Great Unknown by H.E.A.T
- To The Bone by Steven Wilson
- Under Your Spell by The Birthday Massacre
- The Optimist by Anathema
- The Big Dream by Lonely Robot
- Blackfield V by Blackfield
NYC Places to eat/go
wait just start posts
In May 2000 Christina Sommers published a long-form piece on The Atlantic titled "The War Against Boys". Sommers argued that the "crisis" of schools and society favoring boys and harming (or holding back) girls was built on misleading and erroneous research. And that reality was the opposite was true, girls are thriving and boys are falling behind.
How did we reach the conclusion that American girls are in crisis? Sommers writes:
The answer has much to do with one of the American academy's most celebrated women—Carol Gilligan, Harvard University's first professor of gender studies.
In 1990 Gilligan announced that America's adolescent girls were in crisis.
Gilligan offered little in the way of conventional evidence to support this alarming finding. Indeed, it is hard to imagine what sort of empirical research could establish such a large claim. But she quickly attracted powerful allies.
Popular writers, electrified by Gilligan's discovery, began to see evidence of the crisis everywhere.
To support her point of research misrepresenting the "crisis", Sommer discusses several self-esteem studies commissioned by the American Association of University Women (AAUW).
In 1991 the association announced the disturbing results, in a report titled Shortchanging Girls, Shortchanging America: "Girls aged eight and nine are confident, assertive, and feel authoritative about themselves. Yet most emerge from adolescence with a poor self-image, constrained views of their future and their place in society, and much less confidence about themselves and their abilities."
The AAUW quickly commissioned a second study, How Schools Shortchange Girls.This one, conducted by the Wellesley College Center for Research on Women and released in 1992, focused on the alleged effects of sexism on girls' school performance
The studies received national coverage:
With great fanfare How Schools Shortchange Girls was released to the remarkably uncritical media. A 1992 article for The New York Times by Susan Chira was typical of coverage throughout the country. The headline read "Bias Against Girls is Found Rife in Schools, With Lasting Damage." The piece was later reproduced by the AAUW and sent out as part of a fundraising package. Chira had not interviewed a single critic of the study.
Sommers connected with Susan Chira and asked her why alternative opinions were not sought:
She explained that she (Chira) had been traveling when the AAUW study came out, and was on a short deadline. Yes, perhaps she had relied too much on the AAUW's report. She had tried to reach Diane Ravitch, who had then been the former U.S. assistant secretary of education and was a known critic of women's-advocacy findings, but without success.
Six years later the Times ran another piece on the study:
Six years after the release of How Schools Shortchange Girls, The New York Times ran a story that raised questions about its validity. This time the reporter, Tamar Lewin, did reach Diane Ravitch, who told her, "That  AAUW report was just completely wrong. What was so bizarre is that it came out right at the time that girls had just overtaken boys in almost every area. It might have been the right story twenty years earlier, but coming out when it did, it was like calling a wedding a funeral.... There were all these special programs put in place for girls, and no one paid any attention to boys."
But it was too late, the misleading crisis had become mainstream and drove policy decisions:
Categorizing girls as an "under-served population" on a par with other discriminated-against minorities, Congress passed the Gender Equity in Education Act in 1994. Millions of dollars in grants were awarded to study the plight of girls and to learn how to counter bias against them.
This chain of events is one example of the danger of unquestioningly accepting headlines and studies. Particularly when it comes to sensitive issues such as gender disparities. We should strive to question the studies, question who benefits, validate the journalist did their research prior to accepting the conclusions as irrevocably true.
Yet isn't that the fundamental responsibility of the media? To share facts, to pull in alternative perspectives, to present an unbiased and comprehensive story? Citizens can't be expected to fact check every published news article. Who has time for that?
And yet reality is journalists are people. People on deadline, people with ulterior motives. People who don't hear back from potential sources. Based on the news outlets we choose to read, we trust the judgment of the journalist and editor. We trust that they are presenting the story in the best (unbiased) way they can knowing what they know. But that trust should come with some skepticism.
The media's primary job is summed up succinctly in one sentence by political commentator Ben Shapiro:
The job of the media is to defend the public from untruth.
Unless you have complete trust in your media sources, continue to question. Dig deeper. There can be much more to the story than the headline's conclusions.
The subway in New York City is more than a utility. It's a microcosm of society. An environment where scenarios can symbolize abstract social topics.
So there I was.
Inside a crowded subway train. I stood in front of the doors, ready to exit at the next stop. As the train approached the station I felt someone push in front of me. It was a little girl determined to exit the train first. Her guardian stood by with a disapproving look but said nothing.
The scenario is no big deal. I had no need to exit first and easily took a step back to make room for the girl. And yet what bothered me was that neither I nor the guardian said anything. We let it happen - depriving her of a basic lesson in courtesy.
What if I had said something to the girl? Something like: it's rude to cut in front of people, you should be patient and wait your turn to exit the train.
Through one interpretation it's a favor. I offered basic courtesy advice that she may utilize in the future. I surfaced something she may not be aware of.
Yet through another interpretation I have ventured into "mansplaining" territory. Through my tone and word choice I just "mansplained" to this girl how she should behave. What if the girl actually needed to exit the train first and my condescending advice didn't help her at all?
The latter interpretation is becoming more common in our "politically correct" society. So even a simple comment on common courtesy can become misconstrued. The attention shifts from the comment to the intent.
The mansplaining interpretation makes my feedback personal. It implies that I said this to the girl because I'm a man, she's a girl, and I know better.
Yet what about the fact that she is a child and I am an adult?
Yet what about the fact that if she was a he, I would have said the same exact words in the same tone?
And this is why I have a problem with the word mansplaining. We already have a word for the scenario it describes: patronizing. What additional insight does the word mansplaining bring? Instead of value it brings harm and divide.
If you interpreted my comment to the girl as patronizing, that label is associated with that scenario. Gender stereotypes are not introduced. You acknowledge my intention (to teach a lesson in courtesy) but you disagree with my approach.
To interpret my comment as mansplaining, you now see me as someone that is reaffirming negative gender stereotypes. You don't recognize my intention (to teach a lesson in courtesy) and you fault me for trying because of my gender. You view me as patronizing and discriminatory.
And what can I say to convince you otherwise?
If you call me out in front of a group as mansplaining, that label is attached to me. People now evaluate all of my statements with the mansplaining lens.
I'm guilty without a trial.
And yet if you called me patronizing, the label attaches to the scenario. I was patronizing in that moment. The label doesn't persist. So future scenarios will be interpreted on a case by case basis.
A term like mansplaining is persistent. It attaches to people. It becomes a dark cloud that follows us, tainting everything we do.
So was I right to keep my mouth shut on the subway? I protected myself from being misconstrued. And yet I also deprived the child of a basic lesson in courtesy.