2: War Rooms

CrunchBase 2.0 development is well into high gear now. While everyone in the team is accomplishing a ton and working efficiently, we were still running into many blockers and gaps in spite of our best efforts, both from a process and team point-of-view. To address some of these, a few weeks ago we decided that the entire team of 10 engineers and the product lead, will work together in a common, enclosed space and try to mimic a war room, hackathon-style working environment until we relaunch.

While I expected this to benefit our situation, I was initially concerned if it would feel forced. However, the result surprised me — everyone took to it with the right spirit and it felt organic. So far, it has worked wonders for us. We are moving at a much faster pace, identifying potential problems ahead of time, coming up with simple and effective solutions to problems, and unblocking each other quicker. The energy in the room is palpable and there is a buzz akin to a hackathon.

In my previous gig at Qualcomm, we did some war-rooming the closer we got to the software release date and inevitably things moved faster.

While this working model/style may not be appropriate for very long periods of time or large teams, I would say it is probably the best mode of working for groups of 2-3 when they are collaborating on a project. When the project/feature is done, team members rotate to other projects and this continues.

1: Habits

One of the best changes I made to my daily routine this past year was waking up early and clocking in time on my personal projects, doing some thinking, or occasionally just attending to the todos I needed to get done — before I begin my regular, day job. The result was, I almost instantly complained less about not having enough time. My anxiety levels about my projects dropped. I no longer felt that I wasn’t making progress.

For a very long time, I would work when I was “inspired”. I did get some really good work done during those bouts of inspiration. However, I now believe that the net output that I produced was far less than what I could have if I’d instilled and followed the habit of “just showing up”, day in, day out.

Mason Curry’s book, Daily Rituals re-inforced this for me.

In 2014, this is a habit and ritual I hope to continue with. To further capitalize on this habit, I am going to try and wake up an hour earlier than my current wake-up time of around 7am.

2013: Year In Review

HIGHLIGHTS

Building the CrunchBase 2.0 team and product
From the first hire to the eighth. With a strong team of engineers, I led the engineering effort through thought, action, leadership, and example. It has been an incredible experience so far of building a strong team and product from the ground up. I gave it my best and the experience so far has taught me a mountain on how to create and mobilize an energized team of people, the challenges and ways of engineering a complex product towards a robust solution, and the pitfalls and what-not-to-dos in such a mission.

Starting to ride a motorcycle
This was one of the unexpected joys of 2013. I had never pegged myself to be a motorcycle person but riding one to work and around the city is one of those primal, liberating, and enjoyable experiences.

LESSONS

The decisions you don’t make have a cost that is greater than the benefits you reap from even a good decision.

Your attention is finite and the rarest of rare resources. A forty eight hour day will do you no good if your attention is occupied by inconsequential things.

Don’t engage with anything or anyone frivolously, i.e., without respect.

Don’t linger for long without purpose. Corollary: move with purpose.

Your place as the leader is earned. Be a fine example of it.

Get off the computer if you want to do anything original

Being in front of the computer is detrimental to your thinking. I’ll go as far to say that it kills your creativity. It robs you of your ability to have eureka moments of new ideas.

As someone who writes code but also indulges in a fair bit of big-picture thinking, I’ve seen this happen to me repeatedly. I think most people in professions that require creative problem solving work in two modes.

The wired-in mode is where I’ll work on something for hours at end. For me this usually involves writing code, developing a front-end UI, or solving a problem that requires digging in, understanding new concepts, and coming up with solutions. These are phases of being “in the zone”, the most satisfying periods of work for me. I’d imagine for a writer this is when they are on a roll churning out hundreds of words in a stretch. For a painter, this is probably when it’s just them, the canvas and the long night ahead. However, imho, this is not when original thinking happens, at least not often. This is the mode to be productive, to advance your work. For me though, this is not the mode when I develop new insights and ideas.

The second, dormant mode is where the thing at the top of your mind (the problem, project, or idea) is a running thread, albeit in the background. It’s there and your brain is silently working away at it — unraveling the tangled threads, getting rid of extraneous data, surfacing important information. You are almost unaware this is happening. You are likely engaged in a low-effort activity like driving, showering, pacing your living room, or even dreaming. And boom, once in a rare while, if you’ve been at it long enough in this dormant mode, there is a moment of insight. The eureka moment. The aha thing that escaped your best efforts when you were wracking your brain in frustration trying to come up with a new idea or solution. There is of course, a lot of work ahead of you to validate it, to test it, to develop it. But, you now have a new direction, a path worth exploring. The only requirements — patience, relentless thinking, readiness to spend long spells of what appears as inactivity, and the most important, time away from that glowing screen for when that moment finally presents itself.

I like to think of it as an alternate interpretation of the Zen proverb – When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.

Ulysees

Ulysees
- Lord Alfred Tennyson

“We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are,
One equal temper of heroic hearts, Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will.
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.”

Friends

Two of my closest friends left the shores of California today for the east coast. I will have known A for exactly a decade this September and N for at least half that time. They have always been the Chandler and Monica to my carefree joey-ness at times. Along with shady bugger, we formed a group that has shared many, many amazing moments over the years. There were so many times over the years when I flew from san diego to the bay area for the weekend to hang out with them and shady. I’ve crashed AN’s couches, spare rooms, and corners of their living room. I don’t think I can even remember all the road trips, camping trips, chai sessions, vacations, and just everyday moments we’ve shared over the years. We’ve partaken in each other’s joys and difficult times. Eventually when I moved to san francisco, we ended up within three blocks of each other.

As I stood outside my apartment gate watch them take their airport shuttle that would whisk them away, I found it hard to digest that this was really happening. It was a bittersweet feeling — I’m obviously happy that they are starting anew and fresh and beginning the next chapter of their lives but I could not escape the feeling of sadness that inevitably comes when your closest friends leave. You know they aren’t leaving you behind, that they will always be there, at a phone’s call away, a few flying hours away. And yet, your reality has changed.

I read this amazing quote somewhere — “It takes a long time to grow an old friend”. I think I experienced it today.

This is for you guys, for being such good friends over the years. Good luck and happy times as you start the next phase of your life and form new experiences and friendships!

PS – I will continue making last minute trips to your place and crashing your couches :)