Monthly Archives: June 2012

Resurfaced

Sometimes, it can be fun to pull for the underdog, which is why a sole Windows computer (mine) lies amidst the sea of MacBook Pros in Dogpatch Labs. (For all those concerned, Rails development on Windows is not a joke  – I didn’t even need a Linux partition.) And yesterday, Microsoft’s new Surface tablet gave some hope that Internet Explorer will not go the way of Netscape.

Microsoft’s latest product launch demonstrated that it was willing to be flexible with its strategy and adapt with the times: Spontaneous meeting, spontaneous location, demo by Steve Ballmer, wholly designed in-house, aiming to be the raise the bar for hardware makers building off of the Windows 8 for their tablets.

Only time will tell whether Microsoft’s latest showing will create the tech euphoria that its friend in Cupertino, but the Microsoft story shows how quickly the tech industry moves – the PC was once the standard for home computing, Steve Jobs was once fired from Apple. And for startup entrepreneurs, perhaps one of the greatest challenges is thinking out far enough to protect the products we’re building today from obsolescence.

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I’m basically on a Wednesday to Tuesday schedule right now with these weekly blogs, so I’m going to stick with it. I left off last blog with a pretty major life decision- the decision to switch from a sales/marketing role to a programming role. I’m not really sure whether it was a great career decision or not. I’ll get into that a bit more later. But it was definitely a decision that I’m enjoying right now.

But first, on to more important things. I ATTENDED A PERFECT GAME! A little bit of context for why that means so much to me. I’ve been a huge baseball fan my whole life. I started playing competitively when I was 8. I discovered eBay because I wanted to buy Mark McGuire cards (poor investment as it turns out). And I’ve read at least a double digit number of early teen geared books consisting of dramatically told historic games. Willy May’s over the shoulder catch, Jim Bunting’s perfect game, Roger Maris’ 61 homer season. Although my interest in the game itself has faded a bit over the years, as sports with a little bit more action have appealed to my ADHD nature, my interest in the history has not. And I’m being completely serious when I say that the sports related event I most wanted to see was a perfect game.
I just never really thought I would. I was at Duke’s championship victory over Butler, and obviously the result was a lot meaningful to me than a perfect game for a pitcher on a team I don’t care much about. But one of the luxuries of being a Duke basketball fan is that I KNEW I was going to see a national championship in person. I knew we were going to win a championship at some point, and I knew I was going to attend any championship game we were participating in, so I knew I was going to see one eventually. And I also knew I was never going to attend a perfect game. The odds were just phenomenally against me. Hell, up until Wednesday, there had only been 21 EVER in the major leagues. The odds were phenomenally against lifetime season ticket holders who attended every one of their team’s home games to attend a perfect game. And I’d lived my whole life in Durham and Hawaii. The nearest MLB team to me for most of my life was the Atlanta Braves. So even though I took every opportunity I had to see a baseball game, I’ve probably only been to ten MLB games. And one of them was perfect. There’s not even a perfect game every five years. Just unbelievable.
And not only was it a perfect game, it may well have been the best game ever pitched. It is, by any metric, one of the top three. If you believe that the best game ever pitched had to have been a perfect game, then by virtue of Matt Cain’s 14 strikeouts, he has pitched a tie for the best game ever, with Sandy Koufax, who also pitched a 14 K perfect game. The only non-perfect competitor would be Kerry Wood’s unreal 20 K 1 hit 0 walk game. It’s still difficult for me to process that I may have seen the best game ever pitched, much less articulate how I feel about it.
Anyways, down to business. I’ve spent the last week trying to make up for years of programming experience. Initially the plan was to crush an online Stanford course on Objective C/iOS development, then do a simple app for skill evaluation purposes, and then start working. I was pretty concerned about the feasibility of that plan. Luckily, I never had to find out. Another intern, who had lots of web development experience, but no object oriented programming experience, was struggling with iOS development, so it was decided that the two of us should go back to basics, start learning fundamentals with C, then progress to Java to learn to program with a team, before finally progressing to Objective C and iOS development.
So over the last couple of days, I’ve been frantically trying to complete interview question puzzles involving arrays, strings, pointers, linked lists, and so on, in C. It’s definitely interesting, and definitely fun, if occasionally frustrating. That said, I’m trying to get this out of the way as quickly as possible, because I want to start being productive. I feel like I’m doubly wasting company resources right now. Firstly because I’m not providing anything of value as I learn, and secondly because I’m taking up the time of people who have very important jobs to do, most notably the iPad app developer who has two weeks to complete the iPad app. So I’m very anxious to get out of this phase and start providing value.
And as I promised before, a discussion about why I think I may have made a poor career choice. Unlike any of the other interns in the DEC program, I have graduated. I need to get a job. For someone in college, an internship in sales/marketing would not mean nearly as much as one as a programmer, especially provided they followed up on that with more classes. But I need to be hired by some company as soon as possible following this internship. And unless I’m much better at this stuff than I think I am, its not going to be as a programmer.
Would it be as a salesman? Or a marketer? Probably not. But, had I excelled at those roles, Cube may have hired me in a “better” product related role. I’ll never know, so its not worth worrying about, but it would be nice to have a clear path to employment. In the meantime, I’m going to be working hard to become the best programmer I possibly can.

Week 2

Looking back at the “Work Summaries” I sent Alex each day, I can piece together what I did this past week. Some parts were stressful and outside my comfort zone. Our part-time remote programmer was busy with another client. For some fleeting days I was trying to do what a programmer would normally do. I spent a lot of time familiarizing myself with software and development environments. I made a feeble attempt at system administration. I’d dip my toes in and get stuck. And then I’d retreat to the relatively comfortable world of marketing, advertising and PR. My recently acquired books on such topics as Git, Javascript, PHP, R, AdWords, Facebook Ads, PR, Vi & Vim and Ubuntu give a glimpse of the wide range of topics I’m learning about. I’m working on a master task  list and use whatever tools seem to suit each job best. To use a Silicon Valley buzzword, I’m a “growth hacker.”

The Giants game was an obvious highlight of this past week and just not because it was an extended time to bond with Xiaoyang and other DSVIP guys. Bill Schlough’s enthusiasm for baseball his job was infectious. And there was no better night to see him or the Giants. I spent another Saturday strolling up and down Valencia. The hipsters there are so friendly! On Saturday night I ate Mexican food in the Mission with my old friend Roxana. On Sunday I met a friend for a  picnic in Dolores Park, a popular place to hangout in the Mission neighborhood.

Overall this past week was exciting though filled with growing pains. I’m looking forward to Pride this weekend!

The Dream, Pt. 2

I still remember a passage from this article on workplace productivity. If there is one thing I got from that article, it’s that you can never underestimate the power of giving an employee (or intern) work in which they can invest him or herself. There’s something almost ineffably invigorating about contributing to a team — not a corporation, sector, nor division — but something you can call a TEAM. What is it about working with only a handful of others that makes one’s job life that much more enjoyable? I think it’s partly in having an email with just your first name. Some in feeling less like an observer in a meeting and more a fellow curator of great ideas. And a LOT in getting the chance to embrace the culture of instigating change, perfecting projects, and honing skills that make you a better person. Damn, I could get used to this.

I’m probably not allowed to share anything too specific, but I can say I have thoroughly enjoyed participating, and at times even merely observing, what goes on a a growing startup. Weekly meetings don’t consist of merely logistics, but big ideas about which fellow coworkers get excited. Everyone wants to work overtime, not because it matters for short term salary, but because they are making visible contributions to something they believe in. I’ve been given a fun independent project, along with some work I do with various team members, and it’s been great so far.

Have you downloaded Pocket yet? ;)

getpocket.com

Till next week!

Gary

128 Years

The story for this post was basically handed to me on a silver platter. On Wednesday I went to the SF Giants game against the Houston Astros, where Matt Cain threw the first perfect game in the Giants’ 128 year history. [Insert obligatory “first time for everything” here]. The stadium was electric, an absolutely incredible experience. 

But it doesn’t end there. Bill Schlough, the CIO of the Giants and a Duke alum, met our group after the game to discuss the technology in AT&T Park. Although there were some interesting tech questions, my focus was on somehow getting on the field.

Watching a perfect game – awesome. Walking on the field after a perfect game – unforgettable memory. I watched a journalist put dirt from the mound into a cup, and I considered putting some in my pocket. (I may or may not have)

So how does this amazing experience fit into the greater context of my technology excursion? That the stars have aligned in my favor in Silicon Valley and everything I touch will be perfect – 27 up, 27 down perfect? Quite the opposite.

Success is about execution. I’m sure Matt Cain had the idea of pitching a perfect game, but clearly that idea is worthless without execution. This was difficult for me to understand at first; if I have a good idea I should be rewarded. But the greatest businessmen, technologists, and visionaries express their ideas in simple, elegant ways to be consumed by the masses. If Rudolf Diesel explained how small explosions in an engine would one day transport the masses, you would struggle to believe. But when he shows you, it’s revolutionary. Execution is revolutionary, ideas are seeds.

So far this summer, my execution has been awful, nonexistent really. To fix this, here before my thousands of daily readers, I promise that by the end of this week I will launch a product. Friday, 5:00PM come back here and test it. I have no clue what it will be, but it will be something. 

————–

Don’t forget to follow me directly at firstimeforeverything.wordpress.com or on Twitter @KFishner

What’s with the Rain? (Week 1)

Since the moment I landed in SFO, this has been a nonstop thrill ride of excitement. I ended up subletting  a place in Mountain View, so I get to experience even more of the start-up culture. I like Mountain View especially because of the awesome trails I keep finding around the area. One thing every one tells me though is that it NEVER rains, and 24 hours into being here, it happens!

Work has been a blast from the get-go. I keep getting all sort of advice for our start up, and slowly but surely every step we take Tivly becomes  more and more concrete. Not only have I already gotten advice from several VC, but there are plenty of start-ups upstairs that have given us a wealth of information, not just with the start up but the social scene here in general, which is pretty awesome.

Speaking of which, I’m the technical lead for Tivly, so I get the pleasure of doing fornt-end as well as backend programming, which has given me a pretty thorough view of how a website is ran. More updates soon to come!

Ahh! Fire!

“I’m an ADULT!” (I’m not part of the system!)

-An angry young Bay Area man to a middle-aged woman managing the shuttle bus to San Francisco

For those who didn’t get that reference, the man’s frustration reminded me of The Lonely Island’s music video “Threw It On The Ground”. His quote was taken out of context, but was said in the exact same tone as one of the lyrics from the song.

So a little more context, today there was a fire on the tracks of the BART train tracks at West Oakland, rendering the major transit system incapable of bringing anyone from the East Bay to San Francisco. The BART did offer a shuttle bus, however, the line for the shuttle bus wrapped all the way around the block. This man was at the end of the line, definitely in a bad mood. I think he was trying to hop on cars who were offering rides to San Francisco for money, but was causing a ruckus.

For those who are curious, the woman replied with a:

“Sure, you’re an adult…wait till you get robbed and then we’ll see who’s an adult…”

This situation may have been an inconvenience to many everyone who was trying to get to work, but I was actually quite happy that it had happened. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t that I hated the Dev team and didn’t want come in to work, (I love you guys! Is that a code yellow?) I just found that it revealed more of the personalities of people in the Bay Area. Of course, I shouldn’t generalize. I know I was only seeing a small slice of the demographic of the Bay Area (these were people who lived in the Dublin/Pleasanton, Richmond, Freemont and the Pittsburgh/Bay Point areas who had jobs in San Francisco), but it was interesting interacting with people in times of inconvenience.

In the middle of the line, I found a talented artist who specialized in drawing profiles and portraits and black woman. He also turned out to be an exceptional rapper as I listened to him test out a few lines to entertain everyone on the line.

A little later, I decided to make the attempt to get to San Francisco while I tried to get wifi in order to let the Dev team know that I wasn’t going to get there on time. As I was searching, two other men joined me on the back of the line and we engaged in a friendly conversation. One of the men worked for a contractor and had to call his boss, but didn’t have a cell phone to do so. I lent him mine and later found out more about the extremity of what had happened on the tracks.

“So I heard it was so hot where the tracks caught fire that the power cords and nearby street lamps started to melt. Kinda like those Salvador Dali paintings, except for real this time!”

As the line moved along, an ACtransit worker who was also monitoring the line asked us how we were all doing. We responded with thumbs up, but wondered how long it would take the shuttle bus to get to the city. The woman had sense of humor.

“Eh, you’ll get there about 4:3o, sit there for half an hour, eat lunch and leave at 5. Sound good?”

We gaped at her.

“Guys. Relax. I’m kidding.”

We all heave a sigh of relief. Shortly afterwards, I finally got wifi and quickly e-mail Larry that I was going to be extremely late. He quickly replied that I could work from home today. I retrieved my cell phone from the man who had just managed to reach his boss and bid him good luck in getting to work.

“Enjoy your day off! Wish I could skip out, but I need the money!”

Ah!, culture shock! But wait, I love this culture

When I say I couldn’t ask for more from this experience, I mean it. For me, even at an elite university like Duke, breaking into the startup world was far from something that seemed feasible until well after I graduated. Seemingly entrenched in the world that was either investment banking or sales and trading on Wall Street, two fields that failed to clinch my imagination, I feel that being given this opportunity to work in Silicon Valley is nothing short of a dream. As high of expectations I held for myself this summer, never did I imagine that I could be contributing to an established, tech startup – especially one like Pocket!
I am still getting used to everything, but the Pocket team has made me feel at home, been supportive in my learning, and given me a lot of responsibility – which has been rewarding. Matt, my mentor and the CTO of Pocket, and a leader of DEC and DSVIP, has been nothing short of awesome to me and my fellow interns at other startups.
I have begun work on database management and analytics (working with MySQL), managing customer feedback, and product design. I won’t get too much into what Pocket is, because you can find out at getpocket.com, but I think it is a wonderful product that is and has huge potential to benefit millions of people.

More about the Rain.

As I walked to my car on Monday morning, my first day working in the office space at Dogpatch, I could not believe that I was witnessing a miracle.  I was in Palo Alto and it was raining….in June.

Being from New Mexico, I love the rain because I don’t get to see it much so this was a great way to start my summer experience.  I’m working on FlightPin.com, a social travel startup that allows users to connect with Facebook, name their travel budget and travel dates, then see which of their friends they can afford to visit.

Already in the first week, I’ve changed FlightPin’s concept a bit, bought at least 5 more possible domain names, done some A/B testing using a great resource called pickfu.com (check them out!) and completely redesigned the front end of the soon to be released minimally viable product.

On top of regular work on my company, I was also able to attend the Duke GEN Angel Pitch event in San Francisco, which was filled with cool companies and cooler people and was part of a discussion session our group had with three prominent Silicon Valley Dukies about their companies, experiences, and suggestions for our time out here.

I’m really excited for the current week, as I’m finally over a cold that I caught as soon as I got to Palo Alto.  On top of feeling better, tonight we’re going to the Giants game and meeting the CIO, another Dukie.

I hope to have an MVP of the newly designed and conceptualized FlightPin (name subject to change) up for public use within the next few weeks.  Until then, it will be lots of hours in the office for me!

-CRV

Launch Pad: First Week at Jellyfishart

Working with Alex and the team at jellyfish art has been a revelation. The unique nature of the company ensures that I have the opportunity to cultivate a varied skill set and break out of my comfort zone. I have done everything from packing boxes of jellyfish to learning about their complicated life cycles. It has been an incredible experience thus far.

Alex is a great boss. He has a tremendous eye for detail, and possesses the coveted ability to motivate his team. He is approachable and understanding, and is always open to radical new ideas. He gives his employees the freedom to execute their tasks in their own unique styles, and is always willing to lend a helping hand. Although he takes a keen interest in all aspects of his business, he refrains from micromanaging his employees. He has been a valuable resource, and it is a pleasure to work along side him.

Veronica, my fellow Duke intern at jellyfish art has also been great to work with. She is chirpy and fun, and is always willing to give me feedback on my (sometimes ludicrous) start up ideas. She has made working at jellyfish art infinitely more enjoyable than it would have been in her absence.

My current job profile includes performing various kinds of experiments on jellyfish to measure their responses to different kinds of external stimuli. I have also been assigned the task of contacting suppliers and negotiating new deals. Although these two tasks may seem incompatible at first glance, I thoroughly enjoy the challenge of executing them simultaneously. My goal at jellyfish art is to establish a production line for breeding jellyfish. This sounds deceptively simple, but I can assure you it isn’t. However, it is definitely not an ordeal. I love being given the freedom to try new things and hammer together a unique plan of action. All in all, my work is stimulating and educational, and allows me to tread the fine line between experimentation and execution.

I have also had the good fortune of accompanying Alex to an informal get together with some other entrepreneurs. I was privy to some absolutely fascinating conversations that covered a wide array of entrepreneurial topics. We discussed everything from technological singularity to freelancing for the FBI. These conversations helped me to better understand how entrepreneurs think, and I am certain that this understanding will hold me in good stead as I continue my entrepreneurial journey.

Listening to proven entrepreneurs speak about their companies at Dogpatch Labs was also very informative. We were exposed to a variety of entrepreneurial viewpoints, some of which were in direct conflict with each other. However, all the speakers encouraged us to chart out an individual course of action, taking our own circumstances into account. They spoke about the general character traits that successful entrepreneurs often possess, and it was interesting to note the overlap in many of their criteria.

The angel pitch event held in San Francisco was an exceptional networking event. I am sure that the connections I made there will prove to be immensely valuable somewhere along the road.

I am very grateful to the team from DEC for giving me the opportunity to experience Silicon Valley’s unique entrepreneurial culture. I hope that the remainder of the program will continue to exceed expectations in a similar fashion.