Dispatches from a Nomad: Recurse Week 02
The week of May 22, 2023
Welcome to Week 2 edition of the Dispatches from a Nomad 🎒: the Recurse collection 💻
In case you missed last week’s edition, you can find it HERE.
Oh yeah, I was interviewed for a podcast before I set out on my adventure. If you’re interested in learning about my transition from academia to industry, check out Educated by Confused.
This week, I’ve featuring a work-in-progress photo album I’m making for my 10-day excursion all around Switzerland that happened at the end of this past April. I’m trying out this app called Polarsteps and both here and below, I list the interview with its CEO as one of my favorite reads of the week; when I was on the fishing boat down in Puerto Escondido going dolphin watching back in March, I met a few Dutch travelers who raved all about this app. I decided to check it out and I kinda like it :)
You do have to allow it to track you in the background so that it can automatically detects the different “steps” in your journey so that’s something to keep in mind but so far, I love the product.
Up until now, I’ve been trying to use Google Photos in a makeshift kinda way to build an experience similar to this app’s intent, but it lacks the same polish that this app offers. It’s pretty rigid around the concept on
Steps and only allow you to put text per step. I intend to print some photobooks from my journeys and I think this would be a great tool to do so (and it’s also their main business model). It’ll allow me to both weave in journaling, the map data, and my photos.
Feel free to follow me on PolarSteps if you would like to get the updated version once I’ve completed it.
This week I continued my daily practice of meditation. Ten minutes. Ten WHOLE minutes. Ten minutes to think or not to think, ten minutes of being alone with just me, my mind, and my thoughts. I think each day of last week, I have had different goals in mind for the meditation: sometimes I began to map out what I was going to do, sometimes I just tried to be still with myself and my breathing, and then sometimes I was just fighting myself to focus on one thing, a singular thing, with varying levels of success.
So far with my meditation, I have tried not to prescribe too much of a goal to it for the time being. It has been good to just sit and reflect on what all my mind is going through in those moments, to better understand the composition of those mental waves of thoughts crashing into me again and again.
On Monday, I went to a weekly intentions meeting where we spent the time writing out what we planned to accomplish this week, and what obstacles we were facing. My goal this week was to get
PyTorch Keras set up on my laptop and to get some basic image segmentation up and running. And one might ask how those plans went, let’s just say these weeks have a way of revealing themselves to you, and you’re just along for the ride 🤪😅
During the week, I had an urge to write down what I wanted to consider doing after my sabbatical ended so I made this note to myself of Post-Sabbatical Options, in no particular order:
Apply for PIF
Work at the startup
Do my own thing
Apply for a Big Tech company
Option 1: PIF
So what is PIF? The Presidential Innovation Fellowship (PIF) is a 12-month engagement where a cohort of fellows are selected and are matched with different departments of the federal government to consult, support, and deliver on a year-long project. It was started during the Obama administration and it strives to bring some of the best of the private sector to work in public sector either temporarily or permanently.
On Tuesday, I attended a PIF information session to learn more about the application process and the agency matching. I’ve been following along with PIF and its offshoots like US Digital Service, for quite some time and I’ve been pretty keen to learn more and perhaps apply. Civic tech or as it’s called in the academic and philanthropic space these days, public-interest technology, has been an interest of mine since the Mozilla fellowship, but I hadn’t quite figured out how to thread the needle on the work I’ve done and the work I would be doing. After all, at that time, I was finishing up my neuroscience studies and was just beginning to dip my toe into data science.
Over the past few years I’ve gotten more and more interested in how I could get involved with government, both big and small. In 2017, I got involved with leading the inaugural March for Science and saw how scientists and technologists could and should play a role in shaping our policies. I channeled some of that energy into some local engagement and I served on the Community Board for two years during the pandemic.
It would present a unique opportunity: applying my skills in the public sector, do work that strives to meet its mission of serving people. I get very hopeful about helping make the US a better place, a more kinder and more supportive place, but then I keep seeing those hopes get eviscerated in legislation and through violence.
Option 2: Very early-stage startup
I’ve been in conversations with a very early-stage startup that I am actually pretty jazzed about. I was connected to them through a mutual friend and the premise and the business model are both in line with my interests and values, respectively. I am a bit skittish about startups, tbh; I guess after being burned once before, the enthusiasm to jump headfirst isn’t quite as high as the last time. But the idea of building something with others does have a strong appeal. I would want to be truly involved, help it grow, and have a vested interest in its success. It would be a bit of a leap of faith but hey, I’m still young-ish.
Option 3: Start my own thing
I have been thinking about this option more and more but it is utterly terrifying and exciting. It’s a complete bet on myself and that’s a radical notion to do your own thing, be your own boss, work-wise. I would be responsible for deciding: what kind of business I would want to run? is it a boutique consulting firm? is it a tech startup? is it a nonprofit? what’s the one thing I will choose to focus on?
As I have been out adventuring on my own this past year, I have learned a lot about myself, what I’m capable of, and it has given me a lot of perspective. I do think I would be capable of solo work, and I do have some promising ideas, but the question would then be: Do I want to do it right now? Do I want to do it alone? Building a team is definitely one way to go but it definitely comes with its own complexities. It’s possible that these feelings are in alignment with the option just mentioned above.
I’ve also looked more into the La French Tech startup scene here and have been learning more about the visa application process, just in case…🤷🏾♂️
Option 4: Recruiting Service with Recurse
After allowing us the first week to get settled into the program and to get our bearings with our work, the staff shared with us the optional recruiting services that is made available to participants of the program. I think their model is pretty nifty, it’s not pushy at all, no one is required to use it, and it works out well for all involved from the team that is out sourcing talent, to the Recursers looking for a job afterwards, to the Recurse team that’s making the connections happen, and it all keeps Recurse’s lights on and doors open.
I will definitely give the job board a look over when my batch is closer toward the end to and see if there are companies I would be interested in working for.
Option 5: Big Tech
Although there has recently been an onslaught of layoffs across the tech sector, especially at some of the larger firms, in general, large tech firms have been generally a safe bet for employment in the past if you can make it through the hiring process there and demonstrate that you can perform the role. Sometimes I consider seeking that comfort of job stability where I could do my particular job and do it well and not need to worry about anything else. However, recent times have taught us that even that isn’t enough sometimes and that we can’t have blind faith in such stability, especially in the US.
Two of the biggest traits that have defined me financially in my adulthood are risk aversion and financial stability. I have consistently been fighting this fear of financial insecurity that I developed during childhood. I grew up working class poor, the youngest of five, and raised by a single mother, which meant that even with everyone in my family working, we just barely had enough to get by, and sometimes not even that. It really left an imprint on me about the use of money or in my case, a lack of usage. I’m a diligent saver and I’ve practiced minimalist living for the past fifteen years. I am notoriously the person who refuses to buy things unless they’re utterly necessary. I’ve worn free tech t-shirts for the past six years almost exclusively and have clothes that have outlasted multiple relationship; sidenote, I’ve now recently retired most of tech shirts, they now live on in the second-hand world.
Working at a big tech firm, I’ll have the opportunity to learn from some of the best in the industry and it would also provide an opportunity to share what I know as well.
How the Week Went
I managed to read through a few of the Keras tutorials and I really liked how the package is laid out and how the examples were constructed. As of this moment, I have no clue what a lot of it means and that has been a humbling experience. This past week experience will lead me to soon crack open the Deep Learning book that I have so far neglected. After I had backed up my things before hitting the road, I had a conversation with a friend and we were discussing the rapid changes in the state of machine learning. I quickly realized from that conversation then I might need to go hunt through my storage unit to find the Deep Learning book I had bought but hadn’t had time to go through yet. The book in question is Deep Learning by Ian Goodfellow, Yoshua Bengio, and Aaron Courville.
On Tuesday, I had lunch with a friend of mine at Meta and we chatted up my project idea a bit. To add to the data hose of information, he also suggested pulling in Google Maps data over this time period, if I have it. In addition to Google Maps data, I am still an avid Foursquare Swarm user so I have a lot of my check-in data from that. It might be interesting to see if I can have all these streams of data intersect with the corresponding events.
I spent some time working on a few things related to my website and I wrote a new blog post about RSS-to-Email. Getting a listserv out from the posts I’ve written has turned out to be a bit more difficult than I expected. I went into more details in the post.
And for the socially ravenous ones of my cohort, we had a second week meet-and-greet session where we had a chance to chat with each other some more during the half-hour block. I chatted up a project idea I had a few years ago, and I’ve decided to give it another go during my batch.
I’ve had this project idea called
half_baked_data, which I envisioned as a way to scratch the itch of a bunch of different data projects I have wanted to tackle but didn’t necessarily want to build out a full web app experience. For this, I’m talking bite-sized data projects, like a day or a weekend-worth of time, using a tool I know well, Python, but done in a web-friendly manner. As luck would have it, the Jupyterlite project has been chugging along and has ironed out a lot of the rough patches I was facing and it’s given me confidence to give my project idea a fighting chance.
For the uninitiated, Jupyterlite is a beautiful marriage of Pyodide, a Python distribution for the browser, and JupyterLab. The site I’m hosting is a Jupyterlite instance that will house a bunch of different mini-data projects and I can quickly demo it there and readers can then tinker with it.
My weekend included a Friday night full of clubbing at a party called Menergy until 7am, a Saturday afternoon long run (10 miles) to Chateau des Vincennes followed by an evening picnic along the Seine with some friends, concluding with a Sunday afternoon in Parc Buttes-Chaumont and an fun-filled evening at Rosa Bonheur.
Nomadic Recurse Runs of the Week
I decided to incorporate sightseeing and running with my run program while here. It’ll be a great way to see other parts of Paris and share them along here.
Nomadic Weekly Roundup
Favorite Reads of the Week