July 15, 2018

On Cuba

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One reason I like to travel is to regain perspective on what matters back home. Our visit to Cuba in May did just that and reminded me that traveling to countries that are culturally, economically and socially, different than America is good for the soul.

I recommend you visit Cuba. If not to refresh your perspective, go to support the Cuban people. When we arrived we took a local taxi to our AirBnB in Havana, ate at private Cuban-owned (not the Government) restaurants, and experienced Cuba through the lens of everyday people.

During our visit, we compiled a list of advice we’d come back with to make the trip a tad more relaxing. After visiting four different cities with no internet and a fixed amount of cash, we learned that the embargo makes visiting Cuba difficult. For example, you can’t withdraw money from an ATM or get money from a bank without having cash on hand before arriving. However, less so after Obama administration relaxed restrictions to visit Cuba. So, I thought I’d share advice you can take before going to Cuba. If you want to get details on our itinerary throughout the trip, feel free to DM me on Twitter or comment below and I’ll tell you all about it.

Here’s my advice in summary:

  1. Learn Spanish
  2. Bring 100 euros per day per person
  3. Lodge at AirBnB spots
  4. Download Google Trips
  5. Bring snacks

Learn Spanish

Spanish is the primary language and you’d do yourself a favor by speaking the native language. Tamara and I were fortunate to have a friend (Lindsey) who spoke fluent Spanish, but we were hugely handicapped by not spending more time beefing up our Spanish.

Bring $100 euros per day per person

I read somewhere that $100 per day per person is a good amount if you do not plan to purchase a bunch of merchandise to bring back. After spending 12 days in Cuba, this number sounds about right. We brought $1,500 total for two people and barely got by. However, our trip included long tax commutes to other cities in Cuba. You may be asking how come we didn’t just stop by an ATM and get more money. Well, the embargo doesn’t allow us to do that simply. So, your stuck with the money you bring.

That said, you should bring Euros before you arrive in Cuba if your traveling from America. You get more CUC for your euro that way.

Lodge at AirBnB spots

AirBnB powered our Cuba trip. A big part of our trip was planned around the service we got from our hosts. For example, we booked taxis to other cities through our host, got directions when we weren’t close by public internet, and had breakfast and dinner prepared by our hosts. The advice here is to take advantage of the host’s hospitality and concierge service.

Download Google Trips

The internet is sparse in Cuba. However, we realized how true this was when we got there. Our first AirBnB had a router but the internet didn’t work and it wouldn’t have worked without an Internet card. You buy Internet cards from Etecsa and they have a time limit to how long you can be on the Internet. Your best bet is to pick up a 5-hour Internet Card. However, one problem we found is that your session doesn’t close when you disconnect from the internet, so you end up wasting time. It’s really sucky, so that is why you should download Google Trips.

Google Trips stores your itinerary on your phone so you can reference it offline. It also is able to triangulate your location without a network connection, suggest places to see and eat, and provide a map with info of places around you. We used this quite a bit to discover the city beyond the research we did before visiting.

So, download Google Trips and set it up before your trip.

Bring Snacks

Cuba food is great, but sometimes you want a snack. Snacks are a huge industry in America but its virtually non-existent in Cuba. So, my advice here is to pack snacks that you can have on foot or when your next meal is a few hours out.

March 26, 2018

You Belong in Tech

Once a year, tech companies from all over come together to hire black engineers. This year the event took place last week in Pittsburgh, PA. Companies from different industries set up booths and the students come by the booths learning about what it is like to work in a tech company. College and Universities that offer graduate programs also set up booths to recruit these students to attend their schools and major in engineering, not limited to computer science.

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This event is called the National Society of Black Engineers Conference. I had the opportunity of helping recruit high potential candidates to Twitter and enjoyed every bit of it. If you’re not familiar with NSBE, here’s their mission:

NSBE’s mission is to increase the number of culturally responsible Black Engineers who excel academically, succeed professionally and positively impact the community.

I spoke to about ~30 engineers during my time at the booth. There were 3,700 black engineers in attendance and about 12% were computer science/engineering majors. Having been a former NSBE member and CS student, there were far more companies represented at this conference than 10+ years ago. So, I was happy to see that companies are taking diversity serious.

Twitter’s message was short and simple: You Belong in Tech. It was short enough to put on a t-shirt and we wore them the first day of the conference. This message resonated with me because I remember being one of two African Americans in my schools Computer Science program. Everyone needs the opportunity to learn new ways of learning, creating, and earning a living in America. And that’s why it’s important for tech companies both small and large to show up and let black engineers know they belong.

So if your company is serious about building a diverse pipeline, you should attend NSBE conference next year and hire black engineers. Twitter will meet you there.

November 07, 2017

When Gmail Goes Away

My first email account was with AOL back in 1998. I was in middleschool. I can’t remember for the life of me any important email sent to that account, but I remember always logging in and hearing the “You’ve got mail” sound byte. A couple years back, I tried accessing my AOL email and was unsuccessful.

At some point I left AOL for hotmail and eventually MSN messenger. Hotmail was much better than AOL email because you didn’t have to connect to the AOL portal and instead, you could access only your email. I made that switch as a freshman in highschool. It was the first time I heavily depended on email for things like computer parts, games, and keeping track of eBay auctions. Similar to my AOL email inbox, I couldn’t access my hotmail account.

In 2004, I signed up for Gmail beta and it changed the game. Gmail became my primary email account during college, as well as my calendar, word processor, pretty much my everything. It was and continues to be central to everything I do.

If history is telling, something better than Gmail will cause me to change just like I did with @aol.com and @hotmail.com. And just like my @aol.com and @hotmail.com account, its possibly that I will lose a piece of my identity and online presence.

If you care about your digital footprint, spend time thinking about what would happen when Gmail goes away and be proactive in saving your data on services core to your open web experience.

November 06, 2017

The Fifth Season

I’ve never read a sci-fi book until last weekend. I cracked open The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin before going to bed and got 3 hours of rest that night. How I came to learn about the book was through a good friend, who raved enough about it that I decided to borrow the first two books in the series to catch up with him.

The previous book I read was far from science fantasy. It was about de facto and de jure segregation and how housing policy in the early 1920s shaped American neighborhoods. The name of the book is The Color of Law if your interested. Great historical knowledge, but equally enlightening and depressing. Unless your into an extra dose of distributing reality before bed, I wouldn’t recommend it as a night time read. I’d 100% recommend you read it, though.

This is my first sci-fi book and it goes without saying that I was tipped a good intro into science fantansy. The thing I like about this particular series is the state that it puts my brain in before going to bed. I’ve gone to bed tired as I don’t know what yet wondering what’s going to happen next. After I clock out, my brain dreams the rest of the book before I start again the following night. It's a pleasant feeling.

Anyway, check out the Broken Earth series by N.K. Jemisin and tell me what you think.

April 17, 2017

Productivity Metric

How did last week go?

Every Sunday I have a scheduled ritual where I reflect on last week, review my calendar, put together a game plan for the week, and write in my diary or post a blog post. This has worked fairly well for years, but one of the areas that i’ve treated pretty loosely is measuring how well my last week went.

Instead of measuring my completion rate, I typically ponder this question without really measuring at all. This pondering happens while walking my dog or sometimes while i’m in the shower. The question had became very feel-based in that I really was gauging how I felt about my productivity last week. A bad week would make the next week more stressful even though it was a self-inflicting pressure. And yet, I didn’t truly have a sense of how well the past week had actually went. It could have been good, but it felt bad in my head. Instead of this feel-based answer to this question, it felt necessary to track how well I was really doing or not.

So yesterday I spent time actually reviewing the tasks I wanted to get done for the past 3 months (~12 weeks) and started to track my completion rate. It was semi-depressing and not as bad as I had thought. What I learned is that I rarely complete extracurricular or personal tasks I set out for myself, but I do a fairly good job of staying on top of professional tasks (i.e., work related action items). However, things like fixing the leaky pipe under our kitchen sink or organizing our garage have been neglected even though they have been put on the todo list since forever. They are things that need done, but I generally neglect anything that can’t be done on my computer. Not cool.

After realizing that I was slacking in personal and extracurricular tasks, I wanted to track my completion rate and make a conscious effort to increase it over time.

A Better Way to Measure

There’s a quote I read awhile back that stuck with me and it basically said that the difference between being busy and productive is completing things. I’ve been so busy that I haven’t completed anything in the personal and extracurricular department. The good (and maybe bad) news is my completion rate for the past 3 months is hovering at roughly 81%. I don’t know how good or bad that is, but I do know I can do better especially on personal (22%) and extracurricular stuff (8%).

My rules are simple:

  • Each week, I’ll have minimum 3 tasks to complete each day one for each facet of my life – professional, personal, and extracurricular. Excluding Sunday, this gives me 6 days to complete a min and max of 18 tasks.

  • Every day, I’ll prioritize those three over anything else until they’re complete. If completed, I’ll begin working on other tasks for the week to get ahead.

  • Every Sunday, I’ll do the math and determine my my completion rate ( num of completed tasks divided by num of attempted tasks) and then reflect on ways I can improve or continue the same productivity the following week.

  • The goal for each week is a 95% completion rate. The occasional 5% will be things that have external dependencies and I’ll be conscious of that when planning what I plan to complete for the week.

  • The other goal is to get better at breaking down tasks into bite size work and going deep on them (if applicable) in a short amount of time. For example, there could be tasks for work that can be accomplished in a day with deep focus vs spreading over a couple days.

How I feel emotionally after a productive week is an amazing feeling, and I’d like to feel that every week. It not only makes me feel good, but energizes me for next week and allows me to move the needle on all aspects of life. This completion rate setup should at least highlight how I’m doing and make my reflect sessions strategic.