Tuesday, April 10, 2012

How to live better next time

Almost four years ago I started a new career in a new town. Now I'm doing it again. The last one worked out pretty okay, but I can do better this time. Examples:

- In Seattle, I aspired to live minimalistically, in terms of stuff. I would avoid acquiring most things, mostly because I'd have to move them someday. This was usually smart, but led to me not getting some things I'd quite like and be able to use. (also because of white person eco-guilt, which I now realize I carried too far.)

- I looked at time like money. I was a time miser. There was a pretty high bar for me to spend my precious time on something. But time doesn't work like money. Time works like... music. Like a constant stream of music coming out of your mouth. It'll happen no matter what, it's just up to you whether you make it sound good or not.

- I didn't appreciate physical good feelings. I rode my bike because it's the best way to get around. I didn't play any sports or lift weights or anything because they're mentally boring, and because modern society has made the word "exercise" so goddamn depressing. But you know what? Endorphins feel great. If we had a drug that made you feel like you do after a good run or bike, it would be popular/illegal. I didn't appreciate the good side of physical activity; I just avoided it because sometimes it's a little unpleasant.
(interesting side note: what if we could market physical activity as if it were a drug? sure, it's got unpleasant side effects in that you have to work hard, but alcohol has unpleasant side effects in hangovers, and people drink all the time.)

- I tried to minimize my job. I took the Google job in part because of the "great work-life balance." Sure, I never had to work more than maybe a 45-hour week. But I'm not sure anymore that this is a good way to look at your work. Aggressively segregating your work from your life can make you think you don't like your work. Then it becomes a Dilbert job.

Do you see the pattern? In all these cases, I've been defining my life negatively, saying "I don't want to do that" and then cutting it out. Far better to decide what I want to do, and arrange my life so I can do it. And do more: try more stuff for longer and don't quit because of discomfort.

Sunday, April 08, 2012

I'm going to CMU again.

Yes! I wanted to come back to the states and try something new, get into a bigger pond, really get out and expand my life, throw off the shackles of the past, onwards and upwards, and my search has brought me to... Carnegie Mellon University. If you'd asked me a month ago, I would have said that CMU was maybe my #3 choice (out of 4), but after the visits, that's how my gut feeling went*. I feel good about this, meaning I don't think I've been unduly biased by any of the many biases I must have towards these places.

So as of this fall, until 2017 or 2018, I'll be a PhD student in the Human-Computer Interaction Institute at CMU. Looking forward to this!

Now, though, time for me to hop a plane to Sofia, Bulgaria. More details on my travel blog. See you in the States again in July!

*and then here are the reasons that my cold rational brain has come up with to support my gut decision:

Research: is number one. Great profs, great students, lots of cool projects. They and UW seem like the top two places for HCI research, so it's good to be in this crew. Sure, maybe other cities might be bigger ponds in the "city" sense, but CMU is at the top of the game, research-wise. And (importantly) I've found a great potential advisor, as well as talking with other profs doing stuff I like.

The school itself: I want to study HCI, not CS. I like how my classes will be probably 4 CS, 4 HCI, one design, and one behavioral-science, instead of 10 CS. They feel like they've got a big family feel, all the profs care about the students and vice versa. Great atmosphere.

Students: very cool. Coming from CMU CS undergrad, I was not expecting this. They live reasonable lives, probably decorate their houses better than me, hang out a lot, have fun, work hard and play hard, etc.

City: Pittsburgh is smaller than Seattle. I'd wanted to move to a bigger city. So why Pittsburgh again?
- it's got history (which I didn't think mattered, but it means it's got a lot of flavor too, which is subtly important)
- it's still on the up and up. In 50 years I'll be able to say "Pittsburgh is cool now but I liked their earlier stuff better."
- some googling led me not to fear the Aikido problem (if I decide to try some new thing like say Aikido, will there be a studio nearby?)
- sounds like third wave coffeeshops have landed so y'know we're set there
- it's not super far from 90% of the people I know (I have some friends in Seattle and a few others on the West Coast and otherwise from Seattle I am flying 5+ hours to see anybody, which means I am not doing it.)
- it's cheap. never hurts.

Reasons I should have gone to UW instead:
- they have a bunch of cool, enthusiastic professors in the area I'm interested in
- I mean, their students are really cool too
- Microsoft Research is right next door
- skiing, mountains, air that smells nice, etc.