How Tech Workers are Finding Their Footing in a Pandemic

After a spike in burnout indicators, the industry is experiencing an uneven recovery

This piece first appeared in Fast Company

The start of 2020 should have been an energizing time for me, personally and professionally. I had just returned from a long-awaited holiday honeymoon and closed a new round of funding for my startup. But I found myself lethargic, dreading my inbox, and procrastinating on important tasks—telltale signs of burnout.

In fits and starts, the tech industry has finally begun to talk openly about burnout, mental health, and workplace culture, including toxic leadership and unhealthy work hours.

Recently digital strategist Ella Dawson spoke openly in a personal essay of feeling “a boiling … Read the rest

What’s Going to Change

It’s April 4, 2020. I stopped going to the office on March 13, and according my Captain’s Log, we’re on Day 24 of this self-isolation. I don’t have any symptoms, but I’m assuming I have it and wear a mask whenever I go to grocery shopping (about 1x a week). This either is your reality now and or will be soon.

Coronavirus is the biggest global crisis we’ve had since at least WWII. Possibly ever. 

The natural question is “when are things going to get back to normal?”

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How ClearBrain’s CEO Used These 7 Lessons to Create a New Product Category

Bilal Mahmood is cofounder and CEO of ClearBrain, a Y Combinator backed predictive analytics company that’s used by firms like Chime Bank. He’s also a good friend of mine and someone I greatly admire for his resourcefulness and resilience (important traits for any founder!)

Bilal’s company recently launched a product called Casual Analytics that uses a new algorithm that can automatically distinguish causation vs correlation, without running an experiment. I thought it would be a good opportunity to ask him about how they identified the need for this product, what problems they faced building it, and what they’ve … Read the rest

Long hours are BS

Squaring tech’s penchant for long hours with elite athletic training

Lots of people in tech are obsessed with putting in long hours. Elon Musk once said that “nobody ever changed the world on 40 hours a week” and suggested that the correct number was between 80-100 hours. Freelance marketplace Fiverr, with venture funding to the tune of $111 million, came under fire for an ad campaign that described an aspirational lifestyle where lunch is coffee and sleep deprivation is “your drug of choice.”

Or there was the time when the cofounder of Coursera launched a machine learning company called DeepLearning.ai and in a job post suggested that the team … Read the rest

Book Notes on the Fuzzy and the Techie

A rebuttal to tech’s “STEM or die” mentality

I just finished Scott Hartley’s new book The Fuzzy and the Techie: Why the Liberal Arts Will Rule the Digital World. It is an inspiring read full of compelling stories and ideas about the rapidly evolving world around us.

The central thesis of the book is that instead pushing every last student to major in a STEM field, we need to recognize that the liberal arts provide a crucial human perspective in a world increasingly governed by machine algorithms.

As a venture capitalist who has served as a Presidential Innovation Fellow (we were part of the same round) and … Read the rest

Ridejoy: Lessons Learned

On April 24th, 2011, I sat down with my friends Kalvin and Randy for an intense 10 minute interview with Paul Graham, Sam Altman, Jessica Livingston and several other partners at Y Combinator (YC). We were hoping to convince the world’s most powerful startup accelerator to accept our Reloveit, our idea for “a Mint.com for photo books”, into their Summer 2011 batch of startups.

YC prides itself on making a day-of decision about whether to accept a startup, so that evening, I found myself pacing back and forth at an outside patio by Kalvin’s childhood home. I was 24 years … Read the rest

Beyond the 10,000 Hour Rule

What Anders Ericsson has to say about developing mastery

We’re all familiar with the 10,000 hour rule, which was made famous by Malcolm Gladwell in his 2010 bestseller Outliers: The Story of Success. In it, Gladwell makes the argument that 10,000 hours of practice is a critical number that separates the great from the truly extraordinary. One of the bodies of work Gladwell relied on to support his thesis were from research by Florida State University Psychology Professor K. Anders Ericsson, the granddaddy of research on how people developing expertise.

Ericsson studied violinists from the West Berlin Music Academy: the highest performing students did not differ significantly from average … Read the rest

The New Napster

How Sci-Hub is Blowing Up the Academic Publishing Industry

There has been an explosive new development in how scientific research is read and distributed. It’s name is Sci-Hub.

Founded in 2011 by Alexandra Elbakyan (who was, at the time, a 22 year-old graduate student based in Kazakhstan), the site has seen a major uptick in the last year. In February 2016, 6M+ scientific papers were downloaded from Sci-Hub, including articles from major journals like Nature and Science, to more niche titles across many fields, by hundreds of thousands of researchers all across the globe [1]. Simply by punching in a paper title or a DOI (document object … Read the rest

Learning from Volkswagen

Takeaways for Engineers, Product Managers, and Executives from a Massive Cheating Scandal

Volkswagen has been eviscerated after the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced in September that VW had installed “defeat devices” to cheat on their emissions testing.

It turns out least 500,000 diesel cars made by VW were rigged with software that would reduce engine emissions to meet standards, but then turn off to achieve higher fuel mileage. When not in testing mode, the engines released nitrous oxide chemicals at levels up to 38x times greater than allowed by the Clean Air Act.

How It Was Discovered

In an ironic turn of events, the cheating was discovered by an environmental group working with West Virginia University to prove … Read the rest

Naming Your Company

Choosing a name for your startup or product is a crucial task because it defines the initial expectations and preconceived notions people will have about your thing. It’s easy to pick a bland name, but really try hard to think up a lot of name options and pick something weird, differentiated, and memorable. I’ve turned back to this book again and again for inspiration and reminders on how to develop good names.

About the Author: Eli Altman is the Creative Director of a naming company called A Hundred Monkeys (good name right?) which has worked with startups and Fortune 50 … Read the rest