I'm currently in Arkansas, visiting my parents for New Years, and I fell asleep for the big countdown! Unable to sleep, I figured I would finally write the long overdue recap of what's going on in my life.
If there's one defining shift that's occurred over the past two years, it's that I spend less time on introspection and more on running forward. My journal entries have all dried up: there is an inverse relationship between maintaining an ongoing log of thoughts and getting stuff done. If there's two defining shifts, it's that my idealism, while it still exists, ain't quite what it used to be. I sense it's somewhere between that uninhibited and unencumbered child form and the brasstacks, get-shit-done adult form. This is a good place for it to be: not quite hollowed out by disillusionment :-P and a greater focus that comes with age and experience. I'm at the age when many do their best work.
My musical palate has completely morphed. My playlist used to be dominated by carefree 90s hits, twee bluegrass, and the like, but lately it's been dominated by mashups, rap, and similar stuff. But maybe I'll move back in the other direction again.
Basically, life is moving forward, for better or worse! So without further ado, here's what happened the past 2.5 years:
Mid 2012 - Finished school at UT-Austin
In May 2012, I finished studying computer science at the University of Texas. I studied for three semesters after having obtained a BA in Political Science from Washington University in St. Louis. My original motivation for going to UT-Austin was to radically shift the course of my life: I wanted more control over my destiny, and I wanted to write the blueprint for what the world will look like in the future. Mission accomplished: I feel switching fields has given me so much more creative control and meaning.
In Spring of 2011, I took off a semester to work at the Natural Gardener, an organic gardening nursery. A lot of my current branches of thoughts regarding sustainability fermented in that semester off.
If there's anything I regret about my experience, it's: (1) I didn't take initiative to see people I wanted to see. (2) I ended the period by burning a bridge. At the time it felt necessary, but in retrospect......those conflicts seem so utterly pointless. And they mostly are. Life is a transient thing, and keeping connections is (usually) so much more valuable than losing them!
October 2012 - Moved to Portland
I made the trek to Portland in October 2012. The motiviations were mixed, but the main one was looking for a change of scenery. I love it in the Pacific Northwest: it's green, progressive, gorgeous. At times, it can feel like Samelandia, though.
November 2012 - Cofounded a local food system startup, then got kicked out
A mere month after moving to Portland, I was lucky to randomly run into a guy who suggested I attend startup weekend, where I helped form a team to work the on local food systems startup. We won third place, and then we worked on the startup for the following 8 months. I recruited our CEO twice--wooing him back after he backed out after an initial commitment. I was eventually kicked out by said CEO in June 2013. Here's what I wrote of the experience:
I was working on a local food systems-based startup up until June, when I was kicked out. It was upsetting, but in retrospect, it wasn't all that surprising. Background: I had cofounded the company some eight months earlier during Portland Startup Weekend, and I had played a primary role in keeping the team, vision, and passion together when all the wind was out of the sails at various points, including recruiting our CEO (twice!). Fast forward: the company evolved, and I failed to evolve with it. It was party due to waning interest, but largely due to my dearth of business experience compared to the other two cofounders (I was about half a decade younger). As the startup shifted away from my skillets and activist ideals, I less enthusiastically participated in its development, making myself expendable to company. Now that I'm on the other side, I have a clear-eyed view of the difficulty of founding a startup as well as my own deficiencies. I'm 100% certain I want to get back into the startup world, and I'm already working on my business deficiencies. I'm still and activist and an idealist at heart, but one that is chastened/more refined by the market/business world!
The startup shut down a few months later -- partly a victim of a dull vision infused by a bad advisor. The product was one that was great in theory, but didn't work out in the market -- at least how we implemented it.
April 2013 - Cofounded 350PDX
While I was still part of the startup, I cofounded 350PDX, the Portland branch of 350.org. 350 is the largest climate change organization in the world, and it was cofounded by NASA scientists James Hansen and author Bill McKibben. It was shocking that a city as progressive as Portland didn't have a 350 branch. After a 350 house party was hosted in Portland in February, I was half-expecting an official Portland group to form, but nothing happened. So I took the initiative, asking that a Google Group be made with the list of emails from the house party, and posting discussions on starting a 350 PDX group. I got surprisingly few replies initially, but kept plugging emails. I even set up and designed the website--something well within my skill domain--before there was a group! Eventually, I got an email from Adam Brunelle, and together with Adriana, Bonnie, and Kevin, we formed with initial 350PDX steering committee.
I have long since stepped away, but today, 350PDX has hundreds of members and is one of the biggest names in the Portland activist community.
Fall and Winter 2013 - Hacker School and fork in the road
In October 2013, I attended Hacker School by the YCombinator, where I saw Jack Dorsey (Twitter), Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook), the CEO of AirBNB, Balaji Srinavisan, and others speak. Going to Hacker School was great, but I was also struck by the mindlessness and lack of conviction in the culture. SV is a culture filled with tradespersons and bounty hunters and doppelgangers, but relatively few real visionaries. (Alas, like anywhere.) (Edit: to be fair, there are way more visionaries in SV than just about anywhere, but the groupthink is incredibly strong too.)
In winter 2013, I was at a major fork in the road after having been kicked out of the startup. Did I want to move to Silicon Valley and pursue the startup scene hardcore, or did I want to stay in PDX and try to carve out an original path? I chose to stay...
February 2014 - Cofounded the Pale Blue Dot activist house
The reason why I stayed in PDX was to cofound an activist house with Adam Brunelle. The Pale Blue Dot was named after my favorite thing EVAR, the Carl Sagan's Pale Blue Dot: http://econexus.co/content/path-dependence-idea-generation-and-pale-blue.... Rather than move to SV, I stuck to my activist path: my conviction is my defining trait, so I can't realistically give up 10+ hours per day working on software I find meaningless in the scheme of things.
The scale of climate change is such that it requires people of conviction to mobilize in the most effective way possible. We in the PBD don't agree on implementation, but we agree that we should try. So here's our shot.
PBD has been a smash hit: we've hosted meetings and parties and made connections. It's been incredibly fun and rewarding to be around people who give a damn, and it will only get better in 2015 as we start having community activist dinners.
July 2014 - Got a jerb
After freelancing for 2 years, I finally got a real job. It's actually gone pretty well, and I quickly gained responsibility due to the fact that the senior UI developer quit shortly after I joined. It worked out for the better: I got to flex my UX/UI design talent and develop my programming ability. The workplace is only a 10 minute bike ride from where I live, which matters more than you think.
What's going on now
I'm involved with three major projects now: Oregon Climate, Hack Oregon, and VizEarth.
I joined Oregon Climate as a volunteer web designer and interactive storytelling dude in April 2014, after Camila, the Executive Director, found the PBD through an activist friend from Wash U. (Two of my housemates were involved in OC as well but have since moved on.) I'm on the steering committee, and OC is where most of my extra energy is channeled these days. The goal of OC is to put a price on carbon to fight climate change and accelerate the transition to a sustainable future. Economists and scientists agree that the single most effective way to address climate change is to put a price on carbon. We're already paying the cost of climate change in the form of ocean acidity, devastated agricultural patterns, extreme storms, and more. That increased cost of carbon reverberates throughout the market, disincentivizing carbon-intensive industries and incentivizing clean energy. The particular model we're going for is a carbon fee and dividend, where a price is levied per ton CO2, and all resulting revenue goes directly to each Oregonian in a yearly check. It's an excellent, simple model that has real legs to pass and beyond that, be replicated nationwide. I'm stoked to be working on the project.
I joined Hack Oregon in summer 2014, working on front end development and data visualization for the Behind the Curtain project. BTC visualizes public campaign finance data for all candidates, PACs, and Measures in Oregon--from city council level all the way up to senate races and governor races. This tool allows voters to easily see the financials behind various candidates or measures: the breakdown between grassroots donations vs corporate, the largest donations by corporations and individuals, when money was raised and spent, and where those donations came from. We launched the project just a few days before election, so we didn't get as much traction as we would have liked. Now we're in the process of determining what our mission is and what value we bring: whether as a civic-centric digital agency or whether we focus on BTC and possibly replicate it nationwide.
My final project is VizEarth, which will be a data visualization and interactive story blog focusing on the nexus of millenial and ecological issues. Millenials face record unemployment, whole skillsets being phased out by automation and globalization, absurd student loan debt, and a planet on the brink. In my most ideal scenario, I would be founding a world-changing startup, but I've decided to instead focus on mastering expression and storytelling. The project is an attempt take advantage of my natural ability and experience across design, data visualization, and narrative, both written and filmed. Leveraging that ability, I'll later be able to channel that accumulated capital to other initiatives.
Oh right, I run a book club on Meetup, called the Bad Ass Book Club. But I plan on stepping away since I'm way too committed. I also briefly helped with Climate Hawk Votes, a politician accountability initiative with respect to climate change.
Looking forward to 2015, my theme is this: confidence and conviction. The world is shaped by men and women of conviction. I want to be single-minded, make connections, and rise to the challenge.