I used to have an “advice” tab on my website. I realized later that I was giving advice to myself which isn’t necessarily relevant to other people in other situations. So instead I’ve kept this page where I list the things that have inspired me in case it’s useful for other people too (without some value judgement about what’s the “best” way to do things).
Happiness, work, and fulfillment
I think a podcast that sums up my own views on happiness more intelligently than I could is Tal Ben-Shahar’s interview with Dax Shepard. I highly recommend it! On work-specific fulfillment, I really like this article from 80,000 hours on dream jobs.
I used to think the only requirement for work was that it was impactful (helping others) but quickly realized how important it was for me to feel that I was the “right person for the job”, meaning I’m applying what I think are the things I’m particularly good at (math, software, talking to people).
How can we do the most good?
I’m pretty focused on trying to have a positive impact with my time spent on Earth. I don’t think this is the right or appropriate focus for everyone, but if you find yourself with a similar desire, I’ve been substantively influenced by the Effective Altruism movement, which mostly boils down to a few key ideas: (1) well-intentioned people can often accidentally make the world worse by not measuring their impact, (2) there are some things we can spend our time on which have much more positive impact than others, and (3) there are ways we can develop our careers and live happy lives while increasing the amount of positive impact we can have.
For a lot more detail, see this Introduction to Effective Altruism (and thanks Christina Machak for introducing me to the introduction!)
The area in which I’ve dedicated most of my career is to companies working on climate change, specifically those focused on clean energy. For some inspiration for fellow data scientists here is an article on tackling climate change with machine learning.
The word productivity sounds a bit sour in my mouth these days. I’ve removed much of what I used to say about productivity here, but I’ll leave up two resources. One overview that resonates with me is this blog post by Cal Newport. Another viewpoint I’ve come to admire is summarized in this post by Oliver Burkeman – the idea that we’ll never actually “get on top of things”, and that’s totally ok.
It’s easy to get lost in the day-to-day of making things incrementally/marginally “better”. But where does all this improvement leave us? What ultimately are we working towards? I’ve resigned myself to accept the idea that humanity always wants to see progress and will not be content with a purely “sustainable” life. I think I’m also ok with this because part of the fun of being human is experiencing and learning new things, exploring. In light of that, I’ve enjoyed reading stories about how this might play out, some of those are:
- The Last Question – Isaac Asimov – thanks Ilias Tagkopoulos
- This is my most frequent recommendation and my favorite short story
- Exhalation, Ted Chiang
- A collection of short stories that I really love, mostly focused on technology and alternate futures
- Sapiens, Yuval Noah Harari
- I know there’s a lot of baggage around liking this book, but I like it anyway, an interesting take on human history
- The story of your life and others, Ted Chiang
- Another collection of short stories by Ted Chiang
- The Foundation Series, Isaac Asimov
- The first book holds most of the interesting ideas in the series in my opinion
- The Three Body Problem, Cixin Liu (Translated by Ken Liu)
- The first book is great
- The first half of the second book is pretty skip-able, really any of the parts about Luo Ji imagining “the perfect woman”… sexist garbage
- The third book is pretty great too
Over the years I’ve picked up a few things on negotiation. I have a lot to say on this subject and have done a decent job of negotiating sales, contracts, job offers, and well-deserved pay increases for myself and others. For what it’s worth, I’m happy to do that for you, too, especially if you’re focusing your career on impact.
Ultimately I feel people should be paid fairly for their work, and I don’t really believe that CEOs and founders contribute 100-1000X more than normal employees. The only book I’ve read on negotiation is “Never split the difference” by Chris Voss. It’s what you’d expect from a former FBI negotiator, but I think the tips are solid and based in science and applied research.