You may have noticed that I haven’t written much in the past few months. For a long time, it was simply too painful to talk about what happened; it was easier to deny it, to detach myself from my own reality and lose myself in someone else’s. For months, I worked through pangs of regret and fleeting stretches of anxiety and despair.* When I’d experience yet another heart-quickening sensation, I would close my eyes and let the feeling wash over me, then dry away.Read More
The silicon-studded city has been flooded with high-tech money and lucrative jobs, which has made it a lot harder to find a great place at a sensible price point.
Be ready for some all-out warfare, folks. I've heard that owners have been getting so many applicants, they've started hosting auction-style competitions during open houses to see how much people would be willing to pay! People are even offering to pay an entire year's worth of rent to claim their tenancy! Hogwash I say!Read More
I graduated three years ago exhilarated by Jeffrey Sachs' seminal course on sustainable development. I've always had a deep, abiding sense of hurt when I sensed pain in others, which has been both a blessing and a distraction in my life. This unflagging empathy for others has always driven me to seek out ways to help impoverished societies prosper, similar to the way that America was for my immigrant parents in the 1970's. From Sachs, I had learned that the major factor in any community's economic development was technological innovation. Though innovation is a wonder to behold on its own, it was the indisputable link between technology and opportunity that most held sway over me. I was entranced by the variety of innovation that enabled the kind of wealth that brought my own mother out of poverty. Wealth, I've come to learn, isn't exactly money, though money is a form. Wealth can include social goods too, encompassing business values, political capital, and equal opportunity. I wanted to build wealth -- a new wealth that didn't exist before.
I took my passion for opportunity-empowering technology to Apple, which had a legendary reputation for bringing technology to the masses. It did this in a different way than its competition, which often competed on price point to capture capital-poor market segments or advanced features that only the technorati could love. Apple, instead, focused on an alternate kind of poverty, that of widespread technological illiteracy, and pioneered innovations that ignited the imagination of toddlers and seniors alike. It was this intense dedication to simplicity and user-friendliness, ranging from product development to customer lifecycle management, that opened personal computing to worlds of new users and to existing users of new worlds. Apple worked on the fringes, the exact kind of place I liked to be. In the Apple Store Leader Program, I experienced firsthand with customers the type of opportunities that Apple worked day and night to forge.
After two years of working with a colossal and global team, I long realized that my dedicated efforts were mostly put to use in maintaining a world-class engine. Though the experience was formative and penetrating, and the leadership some of the best I'd ever had, I perceived that my talents and passion for disruptive innovation could only thrive elsewhere. Creativity was still valued in our retail microcosms, but true innovation often felt beyond my reach in a corporation the size of a small city. I longed for the opportunity to make a meaningful and irreplaceable difference, and succeed and fail with my own ideas -- even at the risk of an unstable lifestyle.
I was deeply influenced by the work of Jacqueline Novogratz, the conservative values of my upbringing, and the downpour of new information about the current economy, in splintered shards of unemployment and disability. As I surveyed the transcendence of social entrepreneurship in a world that used to be neatly bifurcated into for-profit, pro-capital and non-profit, pro-social ventures, I recognized the power that came from a synergistic blend of the two frameworks. (The next era of corporations, I believe, will be as pro-social as much as they are for-profit, as consumers start to self-actualize their consumption patterns to fulfill more than just their more basic Maslow needs, and rally around those companies that strike a human, moral chord with them.)
But another, more piercing reason came into cognizance as to why entrepreneurship became a captivating profession: the Great Recession. Jobs were slaughtered everywhere, and recent grads and middle-aged alike were dumbfounded at the precipitous downward turn of events. All the world turned to the government, as if it were the government's role to generate jobs like a shoe factory manufactures footwear. With role models like Novogratz and Graham, I deduced that most any of us can create jobs when we start to make products or services that people want. (And I don't mean artificially-engineered products like subprime mortgages, but products that are genuinely, enduringly enriching.) Generally throughout economic history, the greater the innovation surrounding a product or service, the greater the job creation output. I realized then that the only thing that would inhibit our society from becoming a social-vocational paradise is if the able-minded, entrepreneurially-capable of us are too entrenched in the siren songs of stability to faithfully take to the streets of entrepreneurship. Could I count myself among them?
I contemplated this philosophical sociology behind our collective career and consumption patterns as I listened to hundreds of mind-expanding TED talks on the daily commute. While I oscillated between staying at Apple and trading a secure income for creative flexibility, Nicole and I came across a woman late in her years with a remarkable life story. It moved and transformed me. The alluring prospect of capturing her story before her death for others to appreciate, however, seemed horribly overwhelming. Then an idea struck, precipitating a week-long spiritual awakening. I had trouble eating and sleeping, and the world looked irresistibly beautiful, beyond all I had ever experienced before. Its intensity never left me, and I knew forthwith that I had to pursue that vision. As the leadership program ended, I took the leap into the rebellious Silicon Valley economy, one powered by entrepreneurship and transformed by software.
The vision that held me captive was to build a dedicated space for families to assemble and discover their family narratives. Its culture would be a blend between the aesthetic sensibility of a museum and the warm ambience of a crowded dinner table. I wanted everyone in their families to more deeply and delightfully connect with the most meaningful aspects of their collective past. I envisioned that the product could give its users a compelling form of identity and a greater sense of belonging, not to mention a storied appreciation for their elders.
I've always wanted to work on the intersection of entrepreneurship and philanthropy, where free-market capitalism experiments with solving the needs and problems of impoverished communities. Families, I posit, may be one of the most underserved (yet most deserving to be served) communities in the world. Just as wealth is not only about money, neither really is poverty. I have come to realize that this next stage of my life is to tackle the poverty of family. This form of poverty is pivotal in that it affects the lives of every level of world there is, from first to third and every situation in between. It spills over into a host of other social ills, spawning or exacerbating them. By creating a dedicated space for family stories, I am hoping to help plug the gaps and heal the wounds that separate families from one another, and in the process forge the bonds that set us free. By assisting in the passage of wisdom, experience, and moral values from one generation to the next, I dream of inspiring greater intergenerational progress in the human race. It is stories that move us along, give us shape, and spark our future. In a world sometimes impoverished with meaning, I am hoping to build my wealth here, in families, in significances, and in the narratives that wrap us all together as one.
When Nicole and I got married, we realized that we had the opportunity of a lifetime to establish habits that will set our trajectory above and beyond our lowest common denominator. We could start traditions now and maintain living patterns today that stay with us our entire married lives. That we could, in fact, set ourselves apart from the norm, united in common causes, allowing us -- or, rather, enabling us -- to progress to our fullest potential in life and make a true difference in the world around us.
It was empowering to be part of such a marital partnership.
Three weeks before we got married in March, Nicole's dad discovered he had a rare, malignant form of cancer. Nicole comes from a family of eight children, but in every sprawling family portrait that I can remember, she was always right at her Dad's side, holding his hand. They had a particularly special father-daughter bond, developed over years of daddy-daughter outings, and the news was heartbreaking. A few months before, I had started reading the book The China Study (a.k.a the Vegan Bible), and it postulated some fascinating and worldview-shattering theories on the possible causes of the first world's most common diseases, including that of cancer. My birth father was also afflicted with the "disease of love" (so-called for cancer's all-too-willing capacity to leave its patient at his last legs of life fully conscious and emotionally capable of love, if nothing else), and he succumbed to its power when I was little over a year old.
Knowing fully well that society has painted a picture of cancer as something mysteriously unavoidable, we wondered whether society was, in fact, wrong. And if society was wrong, and if cancer was avoidable, how do we avoid it, and do we not then have a moral obligation to our children, to ourselves, and to each other, to avoid it if possible? While pondering these thoughts, we looked outside of ourselves for inspiration and guidance. I've always been a proponent of Hippocrates' axiom to "let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food." In The China Study, we read how a comprehensive nutritional study across all the provinces of China showed that a marked increase in the consumption of animal protein was highly correlative to the development of cancers (not to mention heart disease, autoimmune diseases, and diabetes). The scientist-author of The China Study advocated for the adoption of a vegan diet wherever possible.
There were many responses to and criticisms of this controversial study, and both sides seem to point out faults or ulterior motives of the other. It's difficult to delineate truth from falsehoods, even in a democratic nation like America. Nevertheless, studies from reputed sources such as the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition and Science Magazine, and summarized in a how-to guide by the Mayo Clinic, point to a restricted-calorie diet for cancer prevention. One of the simplest ways of doing just that is making vegetables a substantial part of your meals, which we know to be much more filling and lower-calorie than your typical meat product. From all the preventative literature we've read, there seems to be an overwhelming consensus than an overall reduced-calorie diet made primarily of fruits, vegetables, and grains, increases longevity and delays cancer growth.
At the same time, ideas about weekday vegetarianism (as an alternative to the austere 100% vegetarianism, pescatarianism, or veganism) floated around in the circles of TED (our secular, tour-de-force source of inspiration). There was a flexibility to it that was so much more refreshing than the restrictive and somewhat-antisocial, "There is virtually nothing I can eat here" 100%-vegan approach to party attendance. And what a staggering burden it can be on a dinner party host, who already caters to a growing list of allergies and preferences.
We also consulted our foremost authority, our lifelong religion of Mormonism, on this subject. Back in 1833 (plainly prophetic), Joseph Smith received revelation that "flesh of the beasts and of the fowls of the air…are to be used sparingly," going as much to say that "these hath God made for the use of man only in times of famine and excess of hunger" (see D&C 89:10-16). In the same chapter of counsel, it is written that "all grain" is "to be the staff of life" and "every herb…and every fruit in the season thereof…to be used with prudence and thanksgiving."
I do have to say, though, that I rarely enter a Mormon household that primarily eats a plant-based diet. And the reasons are plenty. Our church leaders don't preach it, and there are plenty of other priorities that go above and beyond that of our food. Love, forgiveness, mercy, duty, service, and sacrifice to name a few. I do consent that we all have only so much willpower in life, and we should apportion it hierarchically to our various priorities. Mormons tend to follow the counsel of Christ when he said, "Not that which goeth into the mouth defileth a man; but that which cometh out of the mouth, this defileth a man." (see Matthew 15:11) And so you'll find many more unhealthy Mormons, who have consciously (or subconsciously) prioritized faith, friendship, and fellowship over food.
Certainly I have much to improve upon in the things that "cometh out of the mouth," but I have found it to be easier for myself to say the right things when I feel healthful. It reminds me of a quote by Oscar Wilde: “After a good dinner one can forgive anybody, even one's own relations.” I think to an extent that holds true in my own life. A feast, especially a healthy one (with no aftertastes of regret), is a powerful and inspiring influence for happiness. But beyond just the immediate gratification of an incredible meal, there is something larger I want to accomplish. One of the grandest expressions of love I can communicate to my wife is to, simply, do my best to be there. I will not be there when I die prematurely from heart disease or cancer. I will not be around for my children or my grandchildren if I let my body waste away unnecessarily. There will be no more forgiveness to give, no more love to express, no more hope to spark, when I have left this world with a tombstone.
And so Nicole and I decided that we would try our best. Our best for now is a weekday vegetarian diet, bordering on vegan oftentimes (which means Nicole has had to give up a little on her favorite food of all: cheese). We're not totalitarians on this; for example, if we have meat leftovers from the weekend, we refrain from waste and eat it. But since beginning in March, we carry on the philosophy about 85% of our weekday meals. And the effect has been transformational. Time and time again, I noticed myself realizing things, recognizing things, acting on things in a wholly unprecedented way. I trusted my own potential, I challenged my own insecurities, and tore down walls that encaged my self-esteem. Perhaps it was because in some ways it validated a belief that I had a limitless, functional reservoir of self-control that I could deploy anyway I wanted. But regardless of why, I started living my life instead of letting others live it for me (and me live vicariously through them).
And its from this admittedly spiritual foundation that Nicole and I started our newest venture Antho*.
*For the full back story on this, stay tuned for future blog posts.
Last Friday, my wife Nicole and I released the first prototype of our web app. It was only made available for Nicole's family, but it will soon be made public for everyone (for which we literally could not be more thrilled). We dreamed of this web app all the way back in May. We envisioned, outlined, calendared, strategized, pitched, campaigned, and then eventually programmed the app into existence. Yes, we math-deserting, humanities-driven pair of bohemians actually learned how to code.
And we did it mostly for free, saving us upwards of $25,000 that's often advertised as tuition for web development bootcamps (for two).
After the somewhat grueling but incredibly rewarding and ultimately empowering process of coding an app for the first time, I have a few thoughts to share.
I am a firm believer that everyone should learn to code. I had my first inklings of this belief while attending a college class at Columbia, when Jeffrey Sachs, Sustainable Development ambassador and extraordinaire, taught that technology is the crucial variable that pushes human societies forward. Even though technology is comprised of many fields, of which computer science is just one, software engineering has one of the flattest learning curves (and by flattest, all I mean is just less steep than, you know, rocket science, curing cancer, and genetic engineering). It's relatively doable. In fact, computer languages have evolved to higher levels of readability and simplicity, and Ruby on Rails even boasts a famous video where someone throws together a blog in fifteen minutes. Furthermore, I've spoken with numerous individuals who have learned it without technical backgrounds over a period of months. They weren't amazing at it, but they had built fully functional applications that were on the cusp of solving major problems in the world around them.
I even think that it is the layman's responsibility to learn to code, that it's everyone's opportunity to leverage science as a way to push the human race further, together. We can't all contribute to the progress of scientific studies in the world around us (or maybe we can -- or maybe we will, when someone programs an app for that!), but we can all program a simple app. I say this with confidence because I just programmed my first app (with some amazing help from a few online resources (and a few human)) in two months. And if I can do it, anyone can.
Two months ago Nicole and I sat down and told ourselves we would learn to program. I had spent most of my life avoiding the whole profession, since I determined early on that I would take the road less traveled, and study humanities (a rare major for a Chinese male). At the time, practically all of my childhood guy friends were studying some type of engineering. [Alas, my predominantly-Asian-high-school worldview has since changed, having recognized that, clearly, too many of us romantic millennials opted for the humanities over the sciences.] With this I-would-rather-eat-dirt-than-do-math attitude, we planned for months of finding someone else. We originally wanted a technical cofounder to code it all for us, but none of our prospects seemed to pan out, and we weren't interested in "settling" for just anyone (at least not someone you'd spend half of everyday with!). This cofounder's personality, ambition, stage in life, work ethic, and lifestyle needed to spark some chemistry with ours, and after some deep combing of our personal contact lists, we came up empty.
Two conversations with friends of ours (Kimball Bighorse and Logan Deans), convinced us that we can try to throw something together ourselves. Logan gave us two weeks, which actually was insane but somewhat advantageous; it made us speedily endure through the often tedious and frustrating beginnings of learning how to code. After three months of mountains and valleys of joy and pain, we somehow, someway, through divine fortune and miraculous happenstance, built our web app. And we couldn't have done it without some incredible help from friends like Will Chou, Trent Hazy, and David Rockwood.
The two hardest aspects of programming were 1.) learning to think in its problem-solving mindset and vernacular and 2.) understanding all the components and resources at your disposal. But it's not impossible, and in fact, it's absolutely within your reach.
If you've decided to take the plunge, read on!
Instead of spending $12,000 per person at a development bootcamp to learn how to code, I encourage you to teach yourself. Dream of a world changed by an application you would build, and build it. Learn how in a few months. See below for the ten resources Nicole and I used on our quest to programming zen.
1.) Watch this video from General Assembly (free). It changed my attitude from "I don't know about this" to "I can do this, yes, this is awesome!" Some NYU philosophy major talks in very human terms how he did it and you can too. Enlightenment leads to empowerment.
2.) Codecademy (free) is a great website to get your feet wet. Simple, digestible lessons that take you step by step into different annals of computer linguistics (HTML, Python, Ruby). Although I loved dabbling in it, and it was fun to get badges and score points, I didn't find it as useful in the long run. I resigned from my job because I wanted to actually create a project of my own that I can keep, iterate, and put online, and Codecademy does nothing of that sort (yet). I thirsted for some organic, exploratory experimentation (a vital component of self-taught learning), and got it elsewhere.
3.) I got it here: the infamous Rails tutorial. The free web-only Ruby on Rails Tutorial by Michael Hartl was a godsend to say nothing of the to-pay-for screencast tutorials for the ever lost amateur programmer. This tutorial will take you from knowing practically nothing to building Twitter (or, at least, the beginnings of Twitter, which is impressive and confidence-building).
4.) Why's Poignant Guide to Ruby (free) was by far the most entertaining (and most bizarre) read of all the guides out there. It's simply a static website (which means it's not interactive, with no "projects" to complete, but it's a great, elucidating resource nonetheless). This guide made me fall in love with the idea of self-teaching through online content. This guide made me realize that there are people all over the world who care more to impart their knowledge than to make money. I was thoroughly infatuated with the pay-it-forward mentality of the programming community; and since everyone practically lived on the Internet, there is even a more thriving community of sorts online than there is in person. It's almost as if I didn't even miss a beat staying in, eating leftovers, and hacking away.
5.) Rails for Zombies was a fun, (mostly) free introduction to the Rails application infrastructure. It leans on its sense of humor to keep you enthralled, and it does a decent job at that. Again, similar to codecademy, it doesn't let you bring anything home with you, so it wasn't as helpful in my book. Tryruby.org is another website with a similar setup and style, but they're great as an orientation.
6.) Learn Python the Hard Way (free) is a great resource too, as it infuses its instruction with brass personality. It feels like you're actually with a passionate professor who cares just as much about you (and your success) as he does the subject matter. It is so famous that there are translations in practically every (computer) language (e.g. Learn Ruby the Hard Way). The reason it's called "the hard way" is that it preaches to its students to type everything they learn character by character (and not just copy and paste the code). Not exactly that hard; it can just be tedious at times (but oh, so worth it!).
7.) When I first met Stackoverflow (free), it was overwhelming. I understood nothing and everything was a mystery, and it took many a Google search for software bugs to get truly acquainted with the site. It's basically the grand master Q & A site of the hacking world. Practically every question I've ever had is listed on this site, and someone has an answer. And even when the questions don't exactly match up with yours, the answers often clarify a principle relevant to your undertaking. Bona fide life saver five times over, every single day.
8.) Railscasts (free to $7/mo)! Practically anything you ever want to implement into a Rails app, Ryan Bates of Railscasts fame has made a screencast for it. Step by step, Bates articulates exactly why and how to build anything. Some days, because of Railscasts, it takes me fifteen minutes to implement a new feature I've never done before. Yes, sometimes, the race is to the swift.
9.) Github (free) is the open online depository of open-source code on the web. This is a great place to browse (and even download and run) well-written code, so that you can get more ideas on how people solve certain problems. Essentially, problems can be solved in numerous ways, but there's often better, more efficient, and more powerful ways of solving a single problem. If the Internet is your university, this is your university library.
10.) Team Treehouse ($25/mo) is a web portal chock full of videos on how to code front-end and back-end. I personally didn't touch this site, but Nicole used it quite a lot to get a handle on HTML and CSS. Her only furor with the site was that you can't watch just any video you want; you have to advance levels before being able to watch certain videos. Not the best for someone interested in exact solutions for a real website, but perfect for someone who is just expanding her skills repertoire for future implementation. She also used macProVideo (also $25/mo), but can't stand how both this and Team Treehouse are as corny as Ohio.
May the world be with you on your technological pursuit to push the human race further.
Families of all cultures and castings (including my own) tend to hire professional photographers to capture them in traditional garb in traditional poses with traditional perspectives. But how often do we, in real life, wear matching outfits, stand next to each other, smile, and look in one unilateral direction?Read More