Category Archives: purpose

More thoughts on what I want to do with my life

The Labour Day weekend gave me an excellent opportunity to reflect on
what I can do with my life, and I really appreciated being able to
bounce ideas off Simon.

I have a lot of options ahead of me, and I want to think about this
carefully. My first job doesn’t have to be perfect, but it would be
good to understand what my values and priorities are. I want to be
extraordinary. I know, I’m 23 and my direction in life will change as
I discover more about myself and about others. =) But it’s good to
think about it every now and then…

So here’s where I stand, so far:

Technical: Social systems: Improving a social system such as
LinkedIn or
OpenBC would probably be the best fit for
me in terms of technical work. I would enjoy listening to users and
figuring out things that can make the tools easier to use or more
powerful. I’m more interested in systems that help people connect in
real life or in one-to-one relationships than in things like social
bookmarking, where the social aspect is often secondary. I’m also more
interested in facilitating introductions than I am in supporting
groupware, although I can do that as well. I would love to help build
systems that make it easier for people to keep in touch with lots and
lots of people (attention-based aggregators, etc?), introduce people
to others, move online connections into the real world and vice versa,
and so on.

Management: Outsourcing: The Philippines has a lot of talent,
and there are plenty of opportunities to outsource. I want to learn
how to help people set up outsourcing relationships, specify and
manage projects, and manage and train people.

These are the two prospects I feel most passionate about, and I may be
able to pursue them both. I don’t want to be so heads-down in tech
that I serve a narrow audience—only the users of my system—nor do I
want to be so heads-down in management that I lose touch with my
technical side. I think I can make this happen, though.

So, how can I go about doing that?

For social systems, there are all sorts of little things that I would
like to build for myself or suggest to other people. I can learn good
design through exposure and experience. I can write about features and
systems I would like to see. I can even prototype them. I should spend
some time learning how to make better user interfaces (a proper mouse
may help!) and prototyping things on Rails or some other quick
platform. Easy enough for me to get into.

For outsourcing, there might be a good opportunity to help set up a
relationship between Direct Leap and either QSR or Exist. I know a few
people who want to help me learn how to do this. I’m all for it!

My master’s degree can help me with both. My research is related to
the former, and my coursework is related to the latter.

Hmm. Sounds like a good plan. I’ve got other plans, just in case, but
these are the two best plans at the moment.

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A passion for social systems – clues to my next short-term step?

Each day brings an opportunity for me to reaffirm my decision that
connecting with people is important to me and that I want to learn how
to be really good at building and maintaining relationships. I’ve been
spending a fair bit of time thinking about the tools for doing so,
from my extensive customizations of the Emacs Big Brother Database
to why I like OpenBC.

Every time I use Emacs+Gnus+Planner+BBDB, LinkedIn, OpenBC or even my
little black Moleskine notebook and fountain pen, I always find little
things to improve. I’m in that zone again, and I’m having *so* much
fun. Emacs and my Moleskine are nearly infinitely hackable within the
constraints of computer and paper, respectively. As for LinkedIn and OpenBC—that *itch* is making me want to write code for someone else.

The last time I felt like this was when I was in the thick of Planner
development, working with a fantastic community of enthusiastic users
around the world. It was *amazing* being able to make all these little
differences in people’s lives. I stayed with the project until I found
myself too content, and then I turned it over to someone else because
it was something that deserved passion.

Maybe I’ve found my coding passion again, something wider in scope
than the little ways I customize my blog or my e-mail client or my
contact database.

The more I think about it, the more attractive it is. How strange that
low-key services like LinkedIn and OpenBC appeal to me more
than the big names in the industry! I have the feeling that I’ll be
able to make more of a difference there (at least for now) than in
companies like IBM, Google, or Yahoo – although those three are
certainly exciting in terms of the other cool geeks I’d get to work
with…

… but oooh, imagine the opportunity to work directly with really
cool users? I could so totally rock. I’d *love* to be able to bring my
technical *and* social passions to the table. That feels like a good
short-term next step.

Figuring out my options…

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Three questions for success

Via the Business Opportunities Weblog comes this awesome story about Farrah Gray, who made his first million by age 14. Want to be a Millionaire? Ask Yourself Three Questions

“Ask yourself three questions. First, what comes easy to me, but harder to others? The second question is, what would you do for work for years and years and never have to get paid for it? And the third question is, how can you be of service and how can you give back?” Gray advises.

Same questions my parents taught me to always ask myself. =)

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Remembering my purpose; hooray for writing!

I tried to go to sleep earlier than usual last night, and I was hit by
a bout of existential angst. (I’m 22. I’m allowed to have existential
angst. ;) ) I started wondering what on earth I was doing here, etc.

I think I came to those thoughts because of various heavy things Simon
and I had been talking about over the weekend, like the senseless
tragedy of the war in Lebanon.

Looking around at my room, I poked fun at my inability to keep things
as neatly organized as people here have. I said even after a year in
Canada, I still hadn’t gotten used to it, and I’d probably make room
in my professional budget for managed housing or a housekeeping
service.

Reflecting on that further, though, I realized that that weakness of
mine wasn’t a core part of my identity and that it should never be. I
_can_ keep things neat if I take the time to, and if I can’t make the
time for that, then I should scale back my life until I can.

This led me to think about the difficulties people had around me, and
thus the existential angst. With all these problems in the world, what
am _I_ doing to help? Is what I’m doing with my research really worth
it?

Instead of ignoring it or lying awake thinking about it, I pulled out
a flashlight and one of my reflection books. There in brightly-colored
markers were all these diagrams showing how I felt about life and what
I wanted to do. (Thanks, Diane Lazaro, for giving me a creativity
kit!)

In large blue letters, one page read: “I WANT TO TELL STORIES!” With
that reminder, everything clicked into place again. I’m doing my
master’s research in social computing because I want to learn how to
effectively tell stories about technology, not just because I want an
excuse to stick around in Canada for a while. I’m part of Toastmasters
and I’m exploring writing because I want to tell stories.

I want to tell stories because so many people have such interesting
stories that can touch the lives of thousands and thousands of other
people. I want to draw people’s stories out and help them understand
themselves more. I want to tell stories that will help people imagine
what they can do with technology or how they can improve their
relationships with other people.

Maybe that’s how I can change the world. =)

I’m glad I drew those diagrams before. I love writing and drawing and
talking and thinking. I know I’m going to run into similar questions
again and again—I’m human, I forget myself—and having something to
go back to gives me great joy.

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Random Japanese sentence: 虎を大きな猫というなら、同じように猫を小さな虎といってもよい。 You may as well call a cat a small tiger as call a tiger a big cat.

Imagining the future

Wow. Don Marti has career advice for me. Wow.

Sacha, saying that you don’t want to be a programmer in
the 21st century because you don’t want Marketing between you and the
user is like saying you didn’t want to be a programmer in the 20th
century because you didn’t like waiting for the operator who carries
your stack of punch cards to the computer. The way software
development gets organized is always changing. It’s getting lighter
weight all the time.

And he’s right, you know. I enjoy stitching systems together and
thinking of just the right tool(s) to fit people’s needs. I love
working with people to figure out how they can make those tools a part
of their lives. I need more actual practice doing this, I think – the
technology evangelism I’m doing at IBM is barely a taste – but it
seems like a lot of fun.

I want to be a technosocial architect. From Thomas Vander Wal’s description:

Looking at the digital tools we have around us: websites, social computing services and tools (social networking sites, wikis, blogs, mobile interaction, etc.), portals, intranets, mobile information access, search, recommendation services, personals, shopping, commerce, etc. and each of these is a social communication tool that is based on technology. Each of these has uses for the information beyond the digital walls of their service. Each of these has people who are interacting with other people through digital technology mediation. This goes beyond information architecture, user experience design, interaction design, application development, engineering, etc. It has needs that are more holistic (man I have been trying to avoid that word) and broad as well as deep. It is a need for understanding what is central to human social interactions. It is a need for understanding the technical and digital impact our tools and services have in mediating the social interaction between people. It is a need for understanding how to tie all of this together to best serve people and their need for information that matters to them when they want it and need it.

Maybe I can hack code _and_ people. =)

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Random Japanese sentence: 彼女がドアを開けるやいなや猫が走り出た。 No sooner had she opened the door than a cat ran out.

What I want to do with my life: tell stories

In the process of helping a friend get some insights from David
Allen’s book on Getting Things Done, I found myself telling a few
stories about how other people use the thoughts in the book, and how
he could adapt it to his life. Stories!

I’m not a technology evangelist as much as I am a storyteller. I can
tell stories about non-technological things, and in fact I _love_
telling stories about so many different things and so many different
people.

That’s it! I want to tell stories!

Here’s how my grad school research ties into it. My master’s thesis
will be about how to tell newbies stories about a social computing
system so that they can understand the value of the system, so that
they’ll _get_ it.

I’m looking forward to going to work tomorrow. I plan to be on the
first bus out and the last bus back so that I can catch up on all the
stories on the blogosphere. I’m looking forward to writing, to calling
attention to other people’s stories. I’m looking forward to preparing
more talks and articles, polishing stories and facts and ideas into
presentations that might persuade people to try things out. That’s
what my life purpose translates to in terms of my very next action.

Short-term? Let’s talk about one year. My master’s thesis is one of my
top priorities, of course, and I see it as a good reason for me to
find out if stories are useful and what kinds of stories might help
people understand social bookmarking. Orgchart, location, network?
Lots of other ways to take advantage of someone’s context… Anyway,
it’s shaping up to be a really exciting project, and something that
I’d love to see translated into other areas like blogging.

No, I have no idea yet how I can make a living through storytelling. I
want to learn how to write books and speak well. I may need to figure
out what to do in the middle, while I’m still not “respectable”…
<laugh>

I want to listen to people’s. I want to tell people’s stories. I want
to learn about how to do those two things really, really well.

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Random Japanese sentence: 1匹の猫がカーテンの陰から現れた。 A cat appeared from behind the curtain.