“But what if it turns out that relying on algorithms doesn’t make dating less chaotic, but more so, in a whole new way? What if, instead of finding our way to a partner, following certain algorithms leads us only further away?”—Playing the Numbers in Digital Dating
“Imagine, for a moment, that you must quit using Facebook forever, starting right now. No more posting to Facebook or checking Facebook for the rest of your life. But don’t worry, you can still e-mail all those friends. Does that make you feel panicky? If you’re panicky, it’s a clue. Maybe you’ve been on Facebook for most of your life, so this kind-of-addicted feeling seems normal to you. It’s not normal. I was talking with a woman in her 50s this weekend, who said to me, “I wish I could quit Facebook but it’s so addictive: ‘Oh, this person said this, that person said that, and oh, this person is taking boating lessons, let’s look at all the pictures of the boat,’ and then before I know it two hours have passed and I don’t even KNOW the person taking boating lessons!” This is what it feels like when your connections with a platform are being strengthened, as opposed to the connections with the people you love: you can spend two hours on Facebook looking at the boating lessons of people you don’t even know. This is very convenient for Facebook.”—I Left Facebook, And You Can Too
“People silently struggle from all kinds of terrible things. They suffer from depression, ambition, substance abuse, and pretension. They suffer from family tragedy, Ivy-League educations, and self-loathing. They suffer from failing marriages, physical pain, and publishing. The good thing about politeness is that you can treat these people exactly the same. And then wait to see what happens. You don’t have to have an opinion. You don’t need to make a judgment. I know that doesn’t sound like liberation, because we live and work in an opinion-based economy. But it is. Not having an opinion means not having an obligation. And not being obligated is one of the sweetest of life’s riches.”—How to Be Polite — The Message — Medium
I switched to Android about 6 months ago, initially against my will as part of my job doing product at Aviary. The whole product team switched, actually (most of us to a Nexus 5) - we were all 100% iOS besides our two Android developers, and it showed in the quality of our product (and in the arguments we would all have in Android product meetings). It was a horrible transition. Three of us were unable to figure out how our text messages worked. We didn’t understand any of the customization options and so we kept accidentally destroying our phones. We consistently missed notifications (I missed tons of meetings because I was so used to relying on my iPhone to blatantly remind me). The camera was so bad that we were all still carrying around our iPhones to take photos. A couple months later, I officially took over iOS product management at Aviary and very gratefully switched back to my iPhone 5 and taunted everyone else on the product team who were still stuck on Android.
Then the HTC One M8 came out. Three or four people on our team bought it, and I became obsessed. The screen was huge and beautiful. The camera was amazing. And most importantly, it had an infrared sensor that could control any tv. Almost completely for that last feature, I decided to bite the bullet and get one myself. I wasn’t up for an upgrade, but AT&T offers a plan where you can just pay extra every month to bypass that. So I’m now essentially paying a billion dollars a month so I can have both an iPhone and an Android. But it’s worth it (especially as a product person), because I get to test both as they release updates and as new apps come out, and form a lot of opinions about each platform that I can loudly share with everyone around me. With iOS 8 and the iPhone 6 coming out next month, this seems like a good time to broadcast those opinions to the internet. Especially since I keep seeing tweets like this:
If the iPhone 6 is anything less than mindblowingly spectacular I think I might actually crack and get an Android…
When I got my M8, I thought of the transition as temporary. I really just wanted to control my tv with my phone because I am a crazy person. But I switched back to my iPhone for a week when I went out to WWDC (didn’t want anyone to bully me) and found myself desperately missing my Android the entire time. For me, it comes down to the fact that my phone is now a productivity tool, more than it’s a device for trendy group communication or for fun. Yes, Android apps are generally uglier than iPhone apps. Yes, a lot of cool new apps and games are only available for iOS. But what really matters to me is that my phone helps me get through busy days and stressful travel, and in my experience Android is just better at that because the OS gets out of the way and lets me do what I need quickly.
THAT SAID! I am not a crazed Android fanatic. There are things I like on both platforms. But I think both have room for a lot of improvement, and that’s what I want to cover here.
STUFF THAT’S BETTER ON ANDROID (AS OF IOS 7)
Google Now. Today I had a flight and my phone gave me my car pickup confirmation number, alerted me when I had a gate change, and helpfully displayed all my up-to-date flight info until I arrived. In general, it also tells me when there’s new updates on websites I visit frequently, displays tickets when I get to a show, and tells me when it’s time to leave for my next meeting (including current traffic/transit info and taking into account my current location). I love it. It is perfect.
Notifications. I’m excited to see what iOS 8 does for iOS notifications, but it’s not just about making them actionable. With iOS, I usually scan the latest notifications on my lock screen but for the most part rely on reminders from badges on individual app icons while I’m using my phone. I love that Android displays app icons in the status bar to remind me that I have an unread text or email. (This drove me nuts initially, but now I hate going without it on iOS.) Android also makes it super easy to disable notifications from individual apps right from the notification screen, so at this point I very rarely receive one I don’t care about. The LED light that blinks while my screen is off is a nice touch, too (you can customize it so it only blinks for certain apps, and you can change the colors for various apps so you know what it’s notifying you about).
Typing. I think this’ll get better in iOS 8, but as of right now I much prefer the predictive text, swipe typing, and correction suggestions of my keyboard (I use the third party SwiftKey) to typing on iOS. I also love that the case of the letters changes based on whether I have caps lock selected or not. Oh, and I can tap and hold to type numbers and punctuation instead of having to switch to a secondary keyboard. Pretty handy.
This is an obvious (and controversial) one: the bigger, brighter, more beautiful screen. Photos look so good on here. I can see evvverything. My iPhone 5 seems tiny and silly now. I’m excited to see what a giant iPhone 6 looks and feels like.
Customizable default options. I use a third party keyboard and a third party alarm clock (this one by DoubleTwist, which wakes me up at the right time in the morning based on sleep cycles). They’re my defaults at the system level - no app will ever open the wrong keyboard or set an alarm in the wrong app. If I wanted to, I could use a different default camera or app for subway directions. I use a third party lock screen (Start) that I’ve customized heavily to enable me to quickly launch all my favorite apps and a third party texting app (Hello, which is beautiful and made me actually enjoy texting on an Android).
Quicker access to system settings. I can pull down with two fingers to access everything I need (wifi, brightness, sound, etc). Unlike on iOS, I can actually tap through to each option to change them (find a different wifi network, adjust sound profiles, etc). Speaking of smart gestures, my phone has a ton of em. I can double tap the screen to wake it up, so I don’t have to use a button! Oh man, and I can see at a glance which apps are taking up the most storage and using the most battery, and delete or quit them with one tap.
Sharing between apps. I know this is coming to iOS in some capacity, but it seems unlikely that it will be much more powerful than the existing sharing options (like, right now you can share a photo from one app to another, but only using the iOS share dialog in the prescribed way). On Android, actions are completely customizable for every app you have installed. If I share a website to Instapaper, it knows to save the URL to read later. If I share a reddit photo by texting a friend, it knows to include the caption. Etc etc. No more copying to clipboard and pasting. No more app switching. You can just share stuff the way you want to.
The real killer feature for me: my M8 battery lasts. all. day. Even if I listen to Spotify on the way to work, read for an hour over my lunch hour, text people and check social media all day, and make phone calls throughout the afternoon. I usually still have 50% battery by the time I head out from work. (One note here: this has gotten a little bit less good in the 6 months or so that I’ve had the phone. Curious to see how bad it is within a year.) When I was using my iPhone, it would consistently get down to 25% by 11 am. If there is one thing I hope the iPhone 6 does better, it’s battery life. I don’t know anyone with an iPhone who doesn’t panic constantly about their phone dying. I’ve had to worry about that with my Android maybe twice since I got it, and that’s after I’d been actively using it for 12 hours.
All that said, there definitely are some things I miss about my iPhone. If the updates this year or next can address the majority of my concerns above, I’d consider switching back because of these things.
STUFF THAT’S BETTER ON IOS
High quality apps. Oh man, do I miss Tweetbot 3. I pretty much never use Twitter on my phone anymore because there are no good clients. A lot of the “best” developers and designers out there still refuse to work on Android apps because they like the pixel perfection of building for iOS. And even the great apps from iOS that are brought to Android tend to be ported poorly (Mailbox sucks, Evernote is slow, Threes doesn’t feel as magical). So that’s really annoying, and I blame the open nature of Android. If you don’t give people strict guidelines and pre-packaged SDKs, it’s going to be tougher to create a perfect experience.
Similarly, because of Apple’s strict review process, most apps work better on iOS. Android has come a long way but I still experience some crashing, occasionally have to restart my phone when something weird happens, have to google how something works, etc. I miss taking it for granted that things will work consistently, and how I expect them to.
Oh my god I miss emoji. Ugh ugh ugh. A lot of Android apps at this point package in the standard iOS emoji (like whatsapp and hello, the two apps I use most for typing), but if I want to use emoji elsewhere I’m at the mercy of the weird Android emoji at the system level. I had gotten really used to communicating with emoji, and it still frequently trips me up that I can’t just reply to an instagram photo with the 😳 face.
Discoverability in the App Store. I used to spend so much time browsing the App Store and finding new games and cool new productivity apps and random things I didn’t even know I wanted. Google Play is TERRIBLE. You can’t find anything. I can live with this because for now I feel like I have all the apps I need (if anything the lack of a good app store helps me from becoming distracted and spending a ton of time browsing) - and if there is something I end up wanting, I just google it instead of searching in Google Play.
Text expansion. Keyboard shortcuts are built into iOS and they’re extremely helpful. Ohmygodgoogle why won’t you just build this into Android. I sorely miss being able to quickly type my email address (I had a shortcut for “mmf” > “email@example.com”) and being able to insert emoticon art like shrug; > ¯_(ツ)_/¯ . For some reason there are no third party apps that can do this. Can someone please make this for Android? [Edit: apparently this is just a limitation on my device. The very smart Jon Chin pointed out that you can do this on most Android devices with the personal dictionary in your settings. Sigh.]
Touch ID. I think some Androids might have this but mine doesn’t. I never bought a 5S so it’s not like I was relying on it, but I’ve heard other iOS people raving about it and had been looking forward to having it on my next iOS device. I’m hoping this’ll come to high end Android devices soon, though.
Better peripherals and cases. Android device fragmentation is a very real problem. It’s really hard to get decent accessories and cases because there are so many devices that most companies don’t bother supporting Android at all. I just got this sweet iPhone case from Giphy and am seriously considering switching back to my iPhone so I can show that off. You don’t get that kind of hardware personalization with Android - there aren’t a ton of cool options. (Although the M8 does have one awesome case, which can show you the time and weather through the front of the case.)
Tablets. I will never give up my iPad. Ever ever ever. All the benefits of Android (better for productivity, notifications, typing, etc) go out the window because all I use my iPad for is games and media, and I don’t think Google will ever catch up to Apple in those categories. (By the way: if you are or end up being a person who has all three devices like I do, you need this charger. Life changing.)
Little-to-no OS fragmentation. Android development is hard. It’s really hard. App quality is not going to get better until developers don’t have to worry about supporting 10 different operating systems on 1,000 different devices. This problem is minimized if you have a high end device (basically any new HTC, Samsung, or Google phone) and if you are a person who understands the importance of updating to the newest OS… but that’s not realistic for 90% of smartphone users. I think this is the biggest hurdle Google faces. Trying to reach all markets and support all kinds of people (both those who want something fancy that works right out of the box, and hackers who want a completely customized device) is a trade off for quality. Apple has an exceptional adoption rate for new versions of iOS because users at this point don’t have much of a choice - it’s designed to work one way, and that’s the experience iOS users sign up for.
Sorry for all the words. I think both platforms have come a long way, and I think both have their clear strengths. If stability and high quality apps are important to you, there’s no question that an iPhone is right for you. But if you’re feeling frustrated by Apple’s slow pace at adopting new technologies or giving you access to customize your own phone, I really think this is a great time to give Android a chance. I’ve had an iPhone since the day they launched and never thought I’d jump ship, but my Android has made me happier than my iPhone ever did because it feels like it’s my phone, not one that millions of other people are using too.
And if you’re still not convinced, MAYBE THIS WILL CHANGE YOUR MIND
The catalyst for my own plans to write about this mostly came from our current search for a receptionist. We don’t often hire for non-technical roles (the nature of what we do - building beta products - inherently means that the vast majority of people who work here are engineers and designers), so this particular job post has resulted in a very different kind of application.
Namely, to massively generalize for a sec: engineers and designers mostly seem to understand their worth and how sought after they are in the market right now. They are not afraid to be themselves, and if they do include cover letters (which is pretty rare), they’re short and to the point. As in: “Hey, the stuff you guys are working on looks pretty interesting. Let me know if you want to grab a coffee and chat.”
In contrast, the receptionist applications we’ve been receiving include cover letters 100% of the time, usually a full page long. And these tend to be cover letters that completely dehumanize the person applying. I’m seeing a lot of:
Dear sir or madam
"the résumé enclosed herein"
I feel confident that my skills will be an asset to your firm
Please don’t hesitate to set up a time to discuss this further
…omg I can’t. Basically, we’re receiving dozens of copy/paste jobs of what cover letters are “supposed” to sound like. The thing is though, at betaworks (and most startups) personality is a huge part of what we’re looking for. Especially in a non-technical position where your preexisting experience and skills really aren’t as important to your success in the role.
I don’t mean personality as in your hobbies and sense of humor; I mean just showing that you have one. Specifically, to us, what matters in every hire we make is that you are smart, motivated, passionate, and creative. Everything else is secondary. In Jan’s case, no one cared about the great things listed on his resume until he set himself apart from the competition by doing something silly. In most cases, I don’t even look closely at a resume unless the cover letter shows some real signs of life.
To summarize, some quick tips if you’re thinking of applying to betaworks or any other similar startups:
Yes, you do need to include a resume. But focus more on simplifying it and stripping it down to what matters. I would rather see a half page resume that just lists relevant facts than a three page resume full of buzz words.
Speaking of buzz words: kill them. Kill them all. In both your resume and your cover letter. This is not high school; we are not judging you on your ability to follow directions. We want to see creativity and understand what sets you apart from everyone else applying.
Include a link to your twitter. If you’re not on twitter, get on twitter. If you really hate twitter, have some other web presence, even if it’s just an about.me page (which you can make in two seconds). It’s a good sign that you understand the internet and are excited about it. Kind of mandatory.
In your cover letter, yes you should explain why you are a good fit for the company and/or the role, but that should be like two sentences tops. What I really want to hear is why you’re excited about us. (And with a company like betaworks, there is a ton to get excited about. Surely you love digg, instapaper, poncho, dots, giphy, or one of our bazillion other companies or projects. If you don’t, there is undoubtedly always someone else who does and I’d much rather hire them!)
Think: WWJD (what would Jan do)? Include a funny photo or gif. Tell a joke. Tell a funny story about yourself. Don’t be super weird right off the bat, obviously - but humanize yourself. We’re funny people. We want to surround ourselves with funny people. Be yourself!
Hope this is helpful. And if you love betaworks and want to join our operations team, the receptionist job is a great way to get your foot in the door. Email me and practice your new cover writing skillz!
But I think Impostor Syndrome is valuable. The people with Impostor Syndrome are the people who aren’t sure that a logical proof of their smartness is sufficient. They’re looking around them and finding something wrong, an intuitive sense that around here, logic does not always agree with reality, and the obviously right solution does not lead to obviously happy customers, and it’s unsettling because maybe smartness isn’t enough, and maybe if we don’t feel like we know what we’re doing, it’s because we don’t.
Impostor Syndrome is that voice inside you saying that not everything is as it seems, and it could all be lost in a moment. The people with the problem are the people who can’t hear that voice.
“Lord of the Rings had a very medieval philosophy: that if the king was a good man, the land would prosper. We look at real history and it’s not that simple. Tolkien can say that Aragorn became king and reigned for a hundred years, and he was wise and good. But Tolkien doesn’t ask the question: What was Aragorn’s tax policy? Did he maintain a standing army? What did he do in times of flood and famine? And what about all these orcs? By the end of the war, Sauron is gone but all of the orcs aren’t gone – they’re in the mountains. Did Aragorn pursue a policy of systematic genocide and kill them? Even the little baby orcs, in their little orc cradles?”—George R.R. Martin: The Rolling Stone Interview
2) There is no question that being around peers comfortable with spending $5,000-6,000 a month on an apartment has a warping effect on your perspective. There is no way that it cannot.
12) Oh, you need to run over to Home Depot or head across town to pick something up at Office Max or some other perfectly minor errand? OK, see you in four hours.
18) Is there anything worse and more jarring than walking down the street and getting hit with the sound of a shrieking siren or a taxi laying on its horn five feet away?
25) It is not relaxing to come “home” to New York. Because again, New York is busy and buzzing and always on. Normally that is a good thing, just not when you’re coming off a couple weeks on the road.
26) I’m not sure if New York really deserves its reputation as a haven for creative people or as a creative, inspiring place. It is very clearly a “reptilian environment” which research shows to make being creative very difficult. As someone who wrote a book while living there, I don’t think it’s a stretch to say you have to work harder to feel safe, be vulnerable and produce creatively in New York than you do in other cities.
I’d respect it more if I felt the benefits were clearer. I’d respect it if it was necessary. If it wasn’t-in too many cases-endured simply because of cognitive dissonance and a stubborn refusal to consider alternatives.
New York is not an easy place to live. No one is pretending it is. And I’m sorry that it didn’t go well for this person. I imagine a lot of that has to do with him being an entitled artist who thinks his life should be carefree and that anyone who enjoys a challenge is just dumber than he is.
Before I moved to NYC, I never wanted to live here. I always swore I never would. And my first few months here, I hated it. I was broke, I had no friends, everything was scary, everything was expensive, everyone seemed richer and meaner and busier than me. But, as time went on, I started noticing things. Really unique, beautiful, special things that don’t exist anywhere except New York. Like…
Coming out of a building at night in my first New York winter, and seeing snowflakes gently falling from the sky. Onto all the buildings around me, onto the quiet streets and cars, reflecting light from all directions and sparkling like a painting. Winter in New York is an amazing thing. Everything feels lighter, and quieter, and calmer.
New Yorkers get frustrated with tourists because they walk slowly, they’re always lost, they ask silly questions, they don’t listen when you tell them which way to go, etc. But New Yorkers are so kind to each other. There’s a special kind of bond that forms here with other humans who are crazy enough to live in this city.
I learned that streets go east-west, and avenues go north-south. And now I can find any intersection in the city, and I always know exactly which direction I’m facing and which way to walk. It feels like I have a superpower.
It’s never boring. Ever, ever, ever. This is why we live here. We meet someone new every day. We go to a new restaurant every week. We discover a nice little park we’ve never seen before. We appreciate these things. We love finding them and sharing them. New Yorkers are endlessly curious and excitable.
Every kind of person in the world is here. It’s not a tech bubble. It’s not a religious community. It’s not a city of artists. We have everyone. And we all support each other and get along.
I love coming home to this city. I love the constant noise (it helps me sleep). I love that the guy at the corner deli knows me, because he doesn’t know everyone. I love walking from the crazy outside world into my calm tiny apartment where I can watch everything from my window and feel happy and safe. I love that no day is ever the same.
Once you learn the tricks, it’s a great place to live. Home Depot?! No one goes to Home Depot. We have no need for home improvements because we’re all renting tiny shitty apartments. We know when to walk, when to take a cab, and when to take the subway. We know there is a ferry. We know all the quiet spots where you can get a cheap drink on a Friday night. We know how to get tickets to all the events. We know which events to avoid. We know how to sneak margaritas into any park in the city.
Everyone knows everyone. I have met incredibly interesting artists, chefs, writers, actors, makeup artists, CEOs, homeless people, horse carriage drivers, poets, engineers, inventors, and celebrities - all through friends. People are friendly here. They make real connections. They introduce each other. They help each other. We all have this big, huge, crazy thing in common, and it feels like a big supportive family.
People here are not insane. They get apartments they can afford. Almost no one I know lives in Manhattan. We live in New Jersey, and Brooklyn, and deeper Brooklyn. We commute from Westchester and Long Island. Also, the salaries here match the ridiculous housing prices, so it really isn’t as scary as it sounds.
You can succeed in New York - anyone can - if you just accept it for what it is. If you want suburb living, you should stay in the suburbs. If you want consistent air conditioning and cheap restaurant chains and a big backyard, it’s not for you. But you’ll be ok if you can learn to laugh off the inevitable ridiculous situations (everyone has a story where they got stuck on a subway for 4 hours in the middle of the summer with no AC and a dead phone battery and thought they’d never make it out alive). You learn to appreciate the good and easy moments because you’ve been through so many difficult ones. You learn to love the guy singing karaoke on your street corner every day because he’s just trying to have a good time. You find your favorite subway performer, who makes you cry happy tears every time he sings Sam Cooke. You find your friends who you can complain to, and commiserate with, and then laugh it off and go back out to do it all again.
I don’t want to be here forever. I think everyone has an expiration on their time in NYC. But I will never, ever regret living here - and I think everyone should try it. It’s difficult, yes, but it’s magical. It’s still New York. It’s still the most fascinating place on earth. It’s still a place where anyone can do anything they want, if they just try hard enough (and ok, maybe find a few rich friends to supplement their costs). It changed my life. it has changed all of our lives.
And if you’re gonna talk shit about New York, we’re not gonna like it.
“Yes, you can use punctuation in incorrect ways, but that does not mean there is only one way to use it. A friend recently told me publishers don’t care whether you use an oxford comma or not, as long as you pick one and stick with it. This is stupid. If punctuation obscures or distorts the meaning of a sentence in an unintended way, it is wrong, but apart from that, punctuation is about rhythm. An Oxford comma is not a flip switch in an author’s voice, it’s a decision made in the moment to maintain the flow of the idea. Momentum, syncopation, rhythm and pattern make a sentence flow, because writers are trying to transfer the voices in their heads into yours. You can hear punctuation in speech: politicians talk in periods, Morgan Freeman is liberal with the commas, and Jon Stewart is a master of parentheses. Lewis Black made a career out of the exclamation point while Dennis Leary barely uses any punctuation at all. If you told Dennis Leary he needed more Oxford commas, I can only hope he’d put a cigarette out in your eye, but I heard he quit smoking.”—Nobody. Understands. Punctuation.
It’s official: my friend Mike and I are starting our own meetup. I know what you’re thinking: another meetup is exactly what the world needs! We don’t have enough of them! Yeah, yeah.
We started ours because we want it to be different. Three things we think we can do better by running one ourselves:
A conversation about the full product process
Mike and I are both product people. We’ve gone to meetups for PMs, meetups for designers, meetups for engineers. At each one, the conversation is limited, because the topic is built for one demographic and then is discussed by people who all have the same frustrations and suggestions and resources. We think one meetup group targeted to people who are involved in the full cycle of product development will be more interesting, more valuable, and more effective. (Plus, as you might have guessed from the name, every speaker will reveal an industry secret that they haven’t shared publicly. So that’s cool!)
A focus on networking
I know, networking is a dirty word. But it doesn’t have to be! We want to provide a place where every person you meet is relevant, interesting, and probably has something in common with you. We hope to achieve that by really getting to know our attendees and being able to introduce people who should meet. Plus, easy things like nametags, letting people stand up after the speaker to announce things they need or can offer, and, most importantly…
We want to be very clear that this event is for product managers, engineers, and designers. If you are not explicitly involved in building a product, we still think you’re great but this is not the right meetup for you. Recruiters who show up will be banned from future events. We are very serious.
Basically, we’re developing the meetup we always wanted. We’re looking forward to sharing knowledge and learning, meeting other great people in the industry, and making sure everyone feels happy and welcome. You should join us!
I’m not a person who generally talks about the “women in tech” issue. I’ve always said it’s never affected me personally. I feel awful when I see bad things happen to women in our industry, but have never felt the need to get involved in the conversation.
I think I was confused about what the issue is. I’m at AltConf this week (which - to their credit - have been incredibly welcoming to women and vocal about the inclusive nature of the event), and Brianna Wu got up on stage today to give a talk called “Nine ways to stop hurting and start helping women in tech.” The room was packed. She gave a lot of concrete advice on things men should be doing differently. You should watch it. But what really struck me was the conversation that happened with the audience after the talk. As soon as Brianna finished, a man raised his hand and said (I’m paraphrasing, but this is all true):
"This was a really aggressive way to approach this issue. You gave us a lot of stick and not a lot of carrot. Why do you have to attack us and make us feel like bad people? Why not phrase it positively and constructively - like, our businesses are at a disadvantage because we’re missing out on female candidates? I think people would respond a lot better if you did. I’m not saying this from a place of privilege or anything."
It illustrated her point so perfectly that I wondered for a second if he was a plant in the audience. First of all, hello tone argument. Secondly, he did it. He did exactly what every man does when they hear a woman talk about these issues. He made it about himself. He chastised her for “being negative.” He got defensive. He separated himself from the issue by saying that he’s not sexist or privileged; he’s just a normal nice guy trying to help her out. (For the record: he did actually seem like a nice guy trying to help. I don’t at all mean to imply he’s a bad guy or not supportive of women in tech.)
Part of Brianna’s talk was about how it’s not enough to be a nice guy. (This echoed a lot of the concepts in Mike Lee’s incredible talk, as well.) In fact, that mentality is part of the problem. It keeps you from changing anything. It prevents you from taking accountability. We get it; none of you do this on purpose; you still do it. You really need to acknowledge that you are doing it and stop doing it, instead of relying on us to get used to it.
So, for the first time, I got really, really angry. I felt personally offended. I finally saw the thing other women have been experiencing. I realized I am one of them.
Brianna kicked off her talk by saying that no women like talking about this issue. Female developers want to talk about, you know, development. And some of them have gone so far as to say they no longer want to be responsible for speaking to this issue; they just want to get back to what matters to them. But we have to talk about this issue. We have to talk about it until it stops being an issue. That’s going to take all of us (all of us women, and a lot of you men).
So let’s talk about this. I don’t think of myself as a victim of sexism in tech. I’ve always had respectful coworkers, and I’ve been lucky enough to always feel safe at work. But this conversation happened to me last night at AltBeardBash (which was, otherwise, a lovely party):
Guy: “Hey, we’re thinking a lot about how to make WWDC and AltConf more appealing to women. Do you think it would help if we offered childcare?”
Me: “Oh, I think it’s great that you guys are making that a priority, but I don’t think it’s that easy. It goes so much deeper than that. You guys should do some outreach to schools; you should have more female speakers; you should make sure female developers feel welcome and important here-“
Guy: “Oh, I wasn’t serious. I just wanted an excuse to come talk to you.”
And you know what? Last night, I brushed this off as a drunk guy attempting to make conversation - I didn’t take it personally - but let’s be honest. I didn’t like that someone talking to me in the context of the conference wasn’t interested in my ideas, or my thoughts on diversity in tech, or even what I do for a living. I was one of a handful of token girls at that event and that’s all he saw. And that is (unintentional) sexism in tech. And those moments add up to - I think mostly unconsciously - why some women don’t want to be in this industry. And it’s a terrible feeling to realize that I’ve been helping this happen by not saying anything. By not even realizing these kinds of interactions were anything but normal.
Brianna talked about how sexism in tech isn’t the Mad Men world that men picture when they think of that word. Men (and women!) don’t notice sexism is happening because they don’t see men groping women, or kicking them out of meetings, or saying outright derogatory slurs, or the other bullshit they see in clearly misogynistic fiction. But it’s there. It’s sometimes subtle, and often unintentional, but it’s constant, and it’s really, really not okay. I no longer want to be a person who says it is okay.
So I want to start talking about this. I want to join Brianna and so many other amazing smart women in fixing this. I don’t want to have to worry about men hitting on me at tech conferences.* I don’t want to have to wonder if I’ll be able to get a job in 10 years, when my greatest perceived asset is not being young or pretty. I don’t want to be interrupted by men every time I talk. I don’t want men to keep making stupid insulting jokes and telling me that I’m the problem if I don’t think they’re funny. I don’t want people to gossip that I got a promotion by flirting. I want my hypothetical future daughter to join a work force that is 50% female, and that is totally happy to make her the boss.
I encourage you all to watch Brianna’s talk, pick up a book, follow some tech women on twitter, include them in your events and your conversations, and think about how you personally can help. Speak up if you see something happen. I know we can do this.
Whether you’re a man or a woman, if you’d like to continue this conversation and talk about what we can do to work on this together (particularly in NYC), feel free to email me.
*EDIT: A (male) friend of mine read this and asked if it’s ever ok to hit on women at tech conferences. I hope this doesn’t come off as a diatribe against flirting at conference-related parties. To be clear, my issue was with the insulting (and, frankly, ironic) nature of the conversation: the implication that diversity in tech is a joke, that I don’t have any important opinions to share, etc. I certainly don’t think I can prevent people from falling in love at tech conferences. Everyone here is great! I hope some people do fall in love! Why not!
EDIT #2: For the record, a representative from AltConf reached out to me after reading this post to apologize for that conversation happening. I didn’t really need an apology, but it was a really nice gesture. They are super serious about including women and have zero tolerance for these kinds of situations. Which is great.
“When you really think about it, process is just what happens when people realize there’s a problem, put together a checklist to solve it, and then immediately forget about it. Soon, it’s not relevant anymore,” Deng says. “Most companies are full of processes designed to solve problems from a long time ago.”—Process Is Being Told What to Do by Someone Who Has Less Information than You
“For instance, the same sound, sie, means you, and it means she, and it means her, and it means it, and it means they, and it means them. Think of the ragged poverty of a language which has to make one word do the work of six — and a poor little weak thing of only three letters at that. But mainly, think of the exasperation of never knowing which of these meanings the speaker is trying to convey. This explains why, whenever a person says sie to me, I generally try to kill him, if a stranger.”—"The Awful German Language" by Mark Twain
I’ve had the idea for this blog post floating around in my head for a while now. Ever since I hit around the 2 year mark of my career at Aviary, I’ve been getting increasing pressure from the people around me to go do something else. “Wow, 2 years - that’s a crazy long time in the startup world.” “Don’t you want to try something else?” “You’re wasting your time; no one learns anything after 2 years at one company.”
And I kept wishing that someone, somewhere, would tell me that it was okay to stay. Because for me, staying felt right.
I knew I wasn’t ready to leave when talking to any other company just made me appreciate Aviary more.
I knew I wasn’t ready to leave when I noticed I was learning something new every single day.
I knew I wasn’t ready to leave when I was balancing 4 jobs and lots of customers and partners very literally depended on me.
I knew I wasn’t ready to leave when I laughed my ass off for an hour straight at lunch with my best friends.
But then? One day, I was. I woke up and I realized that it now suddenly felt okay to go. Aviary is doing great and getting better every day. The team is stronger than ever, and has perfected a bunch of smart processes to automate various things and make sure nothing goes wrong. And - while I still felt like I was contributing - I no longer felt like I was the only person in the world who could do my job. For the first time, I felt like I could leave and both I and Aviary would be okay.
So: I just wanted to put the word out there that it is okay to stay. Stay as long as you’re happy. Stay as long as you’re learning. Stay as long as your company needs you and you need them. And the moment will come when you know in your heart that it’s time to do something new (and that your company will still be able to thrive without you).
On that note: while I’m very sad to be leaving the incredible team at Aviary, I’m thrilled to say that I’ll be starting at Betaworks on Monday. I truly believe in their mission, have an insane amount of respect for everyone working there, and can’t wait to help them change the world.
“You will lose everything. Your money, your power, your fame, your success, perhaps even your memories. Your looks will go. Loved ones will die. Your body will fall apart. Everything that seems permanent is impermanent and will be smashed. Experience will gradually, or not so gradually, strip away everything that it can strip away. Waking up means facing this reality with open eyes and no longer turning away. But right now, we stand on sacred and holy ground, for that which will be lost has not yet been lost, and realising this is the key to unspeakable joy. Whoever or whatever is in your life right now has not yet been taken away from you. This may sound trivial, obvious, like nothing, but really it is the key to everything, the why and how and wherefore of existence. Impermanence has already rendered everything and everyone around you so deeply holy and significant and worthy of your heartbreaking gratitude. Loss has already transfigured your life into an altar.”—
Bat bombs were an experimental World War II weapon developed by the United States. The bomb consisted of a bomb-shaped casing with numerous compartments, each containing a Mexican Free-tailed Bat with a small timed incendiary bomb attached. Dropped from a bomber at dawn, the casings would deploy a parachute in mid-flight and open to release the bats which would then roost in eaves and attics. The incendiaries would start fires in inaccessible places in the largely wood and paper construction of the Japanese cities that were the weapon’s intended target.
(FYI: I’ve been desperately unemployed, so I’ve made a lot of these mistakes myself. And now I’m one of the people responsible for hiring at Aviary, so I see a lot of these mistakes every day.)
Startups are certainly becoming more common - especially in Silicon Valley, Silicon Alley, Silicon Prairie (I didn’t make that one up), and Silicon… Swamp (oh my god I made that one up but it’s real) - but that doesn’t mean they’ve lost what made them so magical in the first place. These companies have a ton of flexibility, and that changes the rules.
These companies don’t have an HR department, so there’s not a person in a suit reading your resume. Most of them probably don’t even have a dedicated hiring manager, so it’s likely that the person reading your resume isn’t looking for the traditional things you’ve been taught to say. And almost definitely, everyone in the company is (happily!) exhausted, swamped with terrible job applications, and looking for someone who stands out. That’s where you come in!
Step one: searching for the right job
I may not know you, but if you’re anything like every single one of my friends who have been looking for a job for the last 10 years, you are probably doing the following:
Searching job boards like Monster and Indeed (I hope you are not still attempting to use Craigslist) for general titles like “project manager” or “junior developer.”
Sending out a resume you haven’t really looked at in a year.
Sending out a cover letter which, the first time you wrote it, was really really genuine and passionate! But now is… not so much.
Feeling really bored and sorry for yourself, and complaining to everyone around you that the economy sucks and there are no jobs.
Feeling better? Cool. So here’s what you should be doing. First, please never search a generic job aggregation website ever again. You might get lucky enough to find some legit corporate job on there, but startups just don’t use them.
So if you can’t use those garbage websites, what option does that leave you? Well, the hard one. The one where you need to sit the hell down, with no distractions, and think about what you want to do. Wanting to work at a startup isn’t enough (and is too general to help point you in any one direction). Assume a startup’s a given. What problem do you want to solve? Which companies do you really respect? Which industry do you want to be in, long term?
Hopefully you can answer one or more of these questions and that’ll get you on the right track. If not, a website like Made in NYC (or your town’s equivalent) is a great place to get some inspiration. If that’s not an option - if you’re not lucky enough to live in Silicon Swamp - try thinking about which products you use on a daily basis that you love. And think about moving.
(Note: don’t be scared to reach out to your dream job. I know it seems like they’ll just say no, but you seriously have nothing to lose. And if they DO say no, ask what you can do to get there in a year. Ask if you can take the person who rejected you out for a coffee. If they’re unresponsive, find someone else in the industry - or me! - and ask them where you went wrong. Don’t give up!)
Step two: updating your resume
Ok, so I’m going to assume at this point you’ve found something (or multiple somethings!) you think you might someday be able to be passionate about. Now you have to do some actual work, but the good news is that you can make other people do most of it for you.
That’s right: show your resume to everyone you know. Show it to your mom and your sister and your best friend and that guy you went on a date with last year. If you’re too embarrassed to show it to them, think about why. This is the trick: if you can’t show your resume to the people who care about you, don’t you dare send it to a stranger.
Send it to all these people, and really listen to their feedback. Don’t get defensive. If they say it’s boring, jazz it up. If they say it looks ugly, use a template in Word (or ask a designer friend to spruce it up for you). If they say it seems like you’ve never done anything, or that they can’t tell what you’ve done, think about why and fix it.
Step three: choosing a job
You might think you already did this in step one. But this is exactly why people often get stuck at step one and give up. You’d love to work at Barkbox, but they don’t have any non-technical positions listed? Or worse, they have non-technical positions listed, but you’re not qualified for them? This is not where you sigh and give up. THIS IS WHERE YOU REMEMBER HOW AWESOME YOU ARE.
You just spent days or weeks revamping your resume to make yourself sound as incredible as possible. Even YOU should be completely convinced at this point. Yes, it’s good to research what positions are officially available at your dream company, but honestly? Don’t even worry about it, because:
No startup will pass up someone perfect.
This should be your mantra every day while you’re applying to jobs. Get it tattooed on your hand Memento-style if you have to. If you are smart, passionate, awesome, and in love with a startup, you can convince them to hire you. They will create a position for you. That’s one of the great things about startups!
So even if they don’t have your ideal job listed, write to them and tell them what your ideal job is. Convince them (in a charming, reasonable way, of course) that they just didn’t realize they needed you. Which brings me to…
Step four: writing your cover letter
I know what you’re thinking. I know that you want to just whip up a generic cover letter so you can send it out to as many companies as possible in the least amount of time. Great idea. How are you at math, hotshot? Because I’d love for you to tell me which of these is better:
Emailing 100 people and getting 0 jobs.
Emailing 1 person and getting 1 job.
We good? Okay. So cover letters seem daunting, but they’re actually the easiest part, because all you have to do is be yourself. Show your personality, and your passion. Explain why THIS ONE COMPANY is the one for you (because, remember, you’ve hand-picked it and you actually want to work there). Make a joke or use a silly pun. Nerd out and tell them that you love the dinosaur on their 404 page or whatever.
The goal of your cover letter is to prove that you can fit in.
Do not, under any circumstances, do the following:
Attach your cover letter as a document. Write it in the email like a normal person. (Similarly, send your resume as a PDF. Not a Word doc. A PDF. No exceptions.)
Start your cover letter with something formal. If I see “Dear Sir/Madam,” “Dear Hiring Manager,” “To Whom it May Concern,” or any of their relatives, I will not read further.
Bypass the application process outlined on the company’s website. If they tell you to email firstname.lastname@example.org, don’t email their CEO or designer directly. The ONLY exception to that rule is if you have a direct connection to that person. Otherwise you just look like you can’t follow directions.
List everything on your resume in your cover letter. It’s obviously good to give a quick overview, but remember that the point is to explain (show, don’t tell!) WHY you are a good fit. (Protip: prove that you are smart and get things done.) They’ll get the details from your resume if they want them.
Fill your cover letter with all the things you think you could do better than the company itself. It might seem like a good idea to point out flaws in the company’s website (typos, broken links, etc) but I promise you - the company knows about them. The company hates them as much as you. The company will project this hatred onto you.
TL;DR: you need to remember two things.
You have ONE chance to impress this company. Try your hardest, and mean it, and you’ll do well.
You are great, and you can be an important asset to their team. Convince yourself, and you’ll be able to convince them.
There’s a ton more material here, but this post is already dangerously long, so we’ll leave it at that for now. I hope this is a good start for you to help you get moving in the right direction.
And if you need a second pair of eyes on your resume or are paralyzed with fear, email me and I’ll remind you how awesome you are.
Rather than tell prospects how happy and amazing Amazon is, Jeff Bezos would tell them that “it’s not easy to work here.” Even in 1997, during the dot-com boom, Bezos’s anti-pitch was stark and to the point: “You can work long, hard, or smart, but at Amazon.com you can’t choose two out of three.”
Finding your value as a non-"skilled" startup employee
I’ve been working at Aviary for 3 years now. One of the things I’ve always struggled with, and keep hearing my friends fight through, is the vast discrepancy in perceived self-worth and “value” between different groups of startup employees.
GROUP 1: The highly “skilled.” (I’m sorry for all these quotations, but I can’t help it - these are the right words but also so silly and wrong that I can’t take them seriously.) This includes engineers and designers, who either have gone to school for years to learn a professional trade or who have spent their lives teaching themselves because they are talented geniuses.
GROUP 2: The highly experienced. This includes employees who join the company at Director-level and above. They could be in any department, but come at a higher default price and with some built-in respect because they’ve been doing their job, clearly successfully, at other companies for a while.
GROUP 3: The rest of us. An employee from group 3 might commonly be referred to as a “people person” or a “jack of all trades.” These titles are meant to give us some sort of imaginary soft skill to cling on to when we consider (and try to prove) our worth, but mostly just make us feel bad about ourselves because people in the first two groups don’t have to prove anything.
It’s a given that groups 1 and 2 have higher starting salaries - they bring more obvious contributions to the table initially - but no one ever talks about the other implications of this rift. (Well, more accurately, they talk about it, but only in frustrated whispers among members of group 3.)
When I first started at Aviary, I was brought in to do customer support and office management. These are (arguably) two of the “easiest” jobs to do in that they don’t require any specific skillset or previous experience; an employee in these roles just needs to be a “people person” who can “wear a lot of hats” and be generally nice and considerate. The reality, though, is that most people would (and do!) suck at these jobs.
Being good at customer support can make or break a company’s relationship with the people providing its revenue. Being a good office manager can mean the difference between employees staying or leaving. These are CRAZY IMPORTANT THINGS. Startups literally cannot function without these roles, which is why (sometimes confusingly) an office manager is often one of the first hires in any new, small company. The “skilled” employees can’t do their jobs if they’re answering support emails or building furniture all day.
Anyway, I was so excited when I started at Aviary (it was a fun place to work! all my coworkers were so smart! we were building things that people loved!) that I spent most of my time feeling incredibly humbled and grateful for the opportunity. This is definitely part of what made me so effective at my job, but I think it was also my first Big Mistake, which has stayed with me for the past few years. At times, it kept me from being happy, it kept me from pursuing new opportunities, and it made me way less productive than I could have been.
Not understanding your own value is a terrible problem, both for you and for your company.
I’ve come a long way in my career at Aviary. I’ve held more job titles and responsibilities than I can count, and by now I understand my value at the company and the fact that the “soft skills” I have to offer are JUST as important as the ones provided by my coworkers. But it took way too long. I spent a lot of time feeling resentful and, well, confused. Sometimes I struggled with feeling like I was the only one not “contributing” anything or building anything directly (for a long time I was the only non-“skilled” long-term employee we had on the team), which made me feel like I didn’t belong. I spent a lot of time (on weekends, of course) teaching myself a bit about programming, trying to learn Photoshop (miserable failure), reading books about startups - trying to find some way to convert myself into a “skilled” employee.
What I want to tell you (and I’m getting quite near the end, now) is that this doesn’t help. I mean it’s great if you actually want to do those things, but what I learned is that I *like* the things I do. I’m really good at the things I do (thank you to my coworkers for lecturing me about this endlessly until I believed it). There are very few people who could do the things I do, just as I can’t realistically do all the things my super talented team does. It does not help to try to turn yourself into a different kind of person.
So, here’s what can help:
1. Read everything you can find about successful people in your own specific line of work. For me, the biggest turning point was discovering Joel Spolsky and devouring every single thing he’s ever written. This was maybe 2011, and my title at the time was Program Manager. Joel was at one point a PM at Microsoft and wrote this amazing article about why PM’s are basically the best people in the world and no one can function without them. I’m paraphrasing (just barely), but it was the first thing that made me feel like what I was doing was an important contribution to the company. Other good examples:
Customer support: read the Uservoice blog. They will make you feel so awesome about your work. Remember that you’re not just answering bullshit repetitive questions; you have the ability to make someone’s day. That is a big deal.
HR: Um, hi, building a good team is the ONLY thing that matters. If you don’t have a team, you have nothing. Plus, hiring (and retaining) good technical people is pretty much becoming impossible these days because of all the competition, so you are some kind of unicorn if you can actually pull it off. This has never been my full-time job so I haven’t read a ton of stuff on it, but Lori Dorn is a great place to start.
QA: Read this killer piece by Spolsky. Oh man. That guy REALLY loves good QA people. (I can relate on this; ever since we hired our QA lead last year, the quality of all of our lives has improved exponentially.) (See what I did there?)
Office management: I don’t know of any good reading material, but I’m sure it’s out there. I could tell you some stories about office managers who’ve dramatically contributed to the success of their companies. Also, ours is a member of the Office Heroes League. You should join it.
Account management: This is my current job, so I feel you. Look, being super organized and keeping your paying clients happy is an incredibly important job. And no one else wants to do it! And it’s hard! I don’t know of any influential account managers off the top of my head, but I’ll talk you through it if you want.
Etc. Seriously, do some googling and find people who you can really identify with, and who can reassure you that you are awesome and important and valuable.
2. Be honest with your boss. It took me a while to open up about how I was feeling, but ever since I did I’ve been getting a pretty much constant stream of positive reinforcement from our executive team. And sometimes that’s what you need in this kind of gig - someone to acknowledge that you are building something important, too, even if it can’t be distributed through Testflight.
3. Find. A. Mentor. Just find one. Go to relevant meetups and ask people you respect to teach you. Ask your boss if she knows anyone. Send an email to someone you respect on the internet. Ask my OG mentor to help you out; he lists his services right on his tumblr. Speaking to someone who’s been through what you’ve been through is so invaluable. Having someone outside of your team (that part’s important) to talk to will make all the difference in your life. A bunch of us at team Aviary have stayed in touch with our former COO, who has talked us each through many panic attacks over the years.
Here’s a quick list of some of the skills that commonly go unmentioned, but are incredibly valuable at a startup and will totally get you a job, even if you don’t think you’re “qualified” to get one. It’s important to remember that these so-called “soft skills” are just as difficult to master and are crucial to the success of any business.
Empathy (seriously, this is a big one)
Awesome communication skills (both out loud and in writing)
Brevity (your awesome communication skills mean nothing if you’re sending 10-page emails) (I realize the irony of saying this in a crazy long blog post)
Willingness to help with anything
Eagerness to learn everything (often called “hunger” but I can’t bring myself to say that)
Confidence and humility (you need both)
Ability to talk to anyone, and ideally to make them smile
Basic understanding of the internet, social media, etc (you really can’t get out of this one)
I’ve always told people that getting my dream job at Aviary was a fluke. “I had zero skills,” I confide when they ask. “I only got the job because I already knew the founder. I just got lucky. It was just good timing.” I have a million excuses. But honestly? Recently I’ve come to terms with the fact that I got this job because I deserved it. My boss hired me because I had already proven to him that I had all of the above, and that outweighed the fact that I had no startup experience or technical skillz. And building that trust with him, becoming the kind of person who was a no-brainer to hire, THAT - not spending my time trying to morph into someone else - was exactly the right use of my time before my startup career began.
Don’t beat yourself up for not fitting into a cookie-cutter “skilled” job description. Make your own job description (more on this later). Go get your dream job because you deserve it.
I wanna say something special to you
I’ve been known to lie but this is all true
Just let me know if I’m being a creep
But I wanna take you in my arms and kiss you real deep
It ain’t poetic and it ain’t profound
If it doesn’t freak you out I hope you’ll stick around
For maybe another, and another after that
And hopefully you’ll be thinking “No one’s ever kissed me like that”
(In a good way)
You can tell people who’ve been around suicide before from those who haven’t.
Here’s some, well, not explanation, but context. Depression• is a top-five killer of pretty much every demographic from tweens to the very elderly. It’s especially common among people who are marginalized and lack social support, for example LGBT youth. After car accidents, it’s the leading killer of young men – above murder, above falls taken after saying “hold my beer a minute”, above testicular cancer, above congenital heart defects that no one knew about and he just keeled over, above accidentaly taking pills from the wrong bottle, above fire, above electrocution, above anything else people are scared of.
Aaron Swartz is gone now, and nothing we do can find him. One of the barbs of a suicide is that it takes away the one person we most want to explain it. We can only make guesses how to catch the next one like him.
Here’s a guess: don’t romanticize suicide.
Here’s a guess: don’t talk as if it comes from a person’s true self, because (1) it’s factually incorrect and (2) it teaches that it can’t be treated without losing identity.
Here’s a guess: don’t talk as if you know exactly what was in the mind of a victim. At least put disclaimers on your speculations about influences.
Here’s a guess: don’t suppose that because someone is very smart, they can think their way out of depression, or that because they are very kind, they can be kind enough to themselves.
Here’s a guess: don’t use suicide as a punchline, and put trigger warnings on things that might be unusually dangerous for a person dealing with it.
Here’s a guess: watch out for your friends and yourself.
My dad was a difficult person. No one would ever argue that fact. But that’s one of the things that I loved so much about him; I felt special because he loved me even though he had such a hard time connecting with anyone. Other important facts: he was brilliant, he was handsome, he was a proud Israeli, he laughed at almost everything, and he died this weekend.
I am writing something here because I want some humans to know who he was and to think about him for a few seconds. He was a real person who lived. He was hard for some people to understand, but I looked up to him, and I loved him so much, and I don’t want him to be remembered just for the way he died.
My dad never taught me Hebrew (his first language, and one of seven that he spoke), but I picked up some from a very young age just from being around him. I knew that “Motek” meant sweetheart, “Yalla” meant let’s go (that’s actually Arabic, but I just thought of it as a thing my dad said), “Zuz” meant get out of my way. He also taught me “the worst thing you can say to an enemy in Arabic”, but I won’t repeat that here. He told me it would get my tongue cut out if I said it to the wrong person. His middle name was אריה (“Arieh”), which means Lion. We always joked about that because he wasn’t much of a lion.
He had a strong Hebrew accent but didn’t know it (he really didn’t understand why we made fun of him). Our favorite dad-isms were “oranjuice” - why repeat syllables - and “gloves” (rhymes with stoves). When he and my mom bought me a cat when I was little, there’s a classic story about how the one we wanted came with its sibling and I heard my dad say to my mom “If we bought both it would be doubly expensive” and I said “Dobu Spensive?” and so those became the cats’ names.
When my parents got divorced (I was four), my dad finished packing up his stuff, carried me outside, sat me on the roof of his car, and said “Maya, I may never see you again.”
I did see him again, and he used to take me hiking. He always wanted sons (he never got any), and liked to pretend I was a son; he always said he was training me for the army (that being the Israeli Army). He would take me out for the day and say I couldn’t bring any food or water because that’s how the army really was. I was probably seven or eight; my mom would get so mad.
My dad was a sniper in the army, but he didn’t want to tell my sister that when she was little, so he told her he was a bagel slicer. My sister told people for years, proudly, that her dad was a bagel slicer in the army. She just found out what he really did a couple years ago (she’s 17 now).
When I was little, my dad and I would always listen to Achinoam Nini in the car. I loved her. Most of her songs were in hebrew so I didn’t understand what she was saying, but I memorized them just by sound and listened to her constantly. Once he even took me to a concert. It was amazing; she does all the percussion on her body with her hands. I just remember being so impressed by her and thinking she was the most beautiful person I’d ever seen.
More recently, on a trip to Israel a few years ago, my dad bought an Arik Einstein/Shalom Chanoch cd and we played it as we drove around the country. It’s so good (it’s called Shablool); it’s like the Beatles of the Middle East. I already knew about Arik Einstein but had only ever heard one of his songs. It’s called “Maya” and it’s the reason my dad chose my name (but he didn’t tell me that until I was a teenager). He explained to me what the song is about since I couldn’t understand it; it’s the song Arik wrote after his first daughter was born, and how much he loves her as soon as he meets her. One time my dad sang it to me when it came on in the car and I cried. He had a silly singing voice - very deep and scratchy - but I always loved when he sang.
In high school, my dad got me an internship at Mt Sinai Hospital in NYC (he was a research scientist there), and he was so proud to show me around and to introduce me to all the doctors there. While I was there, I got to sit in on a lecture he was giving to some med students and doctors (something about the brain; I couldn’t tell you). He didn’t know I was coming and he blushed bright red, mid sentence, when I walked in, and told everyone that his daughter was here and that he was nervous. He did a great job (I did fall asleep, though).
After I turned 18, my dad finally agreed to take me to Israel to meet his family. (He’d always been weird about it because my mom wasn’t Jewish; long story.) I will never forget the first time I experienced my dad in Israel. He was a totally different person. He seemed about 20 years younger the moment he stepped off the plane. He wanted to take us everywhere and show us everything. He pointed out landmarks and told us stories about the history that had happened there. He opened up about his childhood and his time in the army. He laughed like a hyena while he was joking around with his old friends. He introduced me to everyone and made me feel like I belonged.
When I was in college, my dad came to visit me at UC Santa Cruz. He loved it there so much. He said it smelled like Israel (he’s always missed home; he’s never liked living in New York), and we went on all kinds of adventures exploring the forests and the beach. I gave him a “UCSC Dad” shirt which he’s worn religiously to all important events since.
My dad loved - LOVED - my dog Oliver. He called him his grandson. He showed pictures of him to his coworkers. He emailed stories about Oliver to our relatives. We always joked that he and Oliver got along so well because Oliver thought he was another puppy. That’s really how he was - just a puppy. He just wanted to run around in the dirt and dig up trouble.
A year or two ago, my dad ran for the school board in my sister’s school district. He’s always been passionate about education and finally decided to try to do something about it. To everyone’s surprise, this weird foreign intellectual in a tiny Long Island town won against the years-long incumbent. He got to ride in a parade (in a convertible, driven by a blonde, which he couldn’t get over) and he looked so happy. He hit a lot of dead ends in politics - I think he was surprised by the bureaucracy, this straight-talking man who saw everything in black and white and felt like all the answers to the budget crisis were so obvious - but we were so proud of him for trying to do the right thing.
My dad and I were always close, even if we didn’t always get along (the teenage years were hard, like they are for anybody). We shared a passion for animals (dogs in particular; we watched Beethoven together probably 20 times), technology, linguistics, action movies (Bruce Willis was his god), and weapons. The first time I visited my dad’s apartment after he moved out of our house, he showed me a drawer full of knives and said “This is for when you get your first boyfriend”; I thought that was the coolest thing ever. He was so tough! He would defend me! I wasn’t scared of anything when I was around him.
Once in preschool, this kid named PJ shoved me or something and made me cry. My dad told him that if he ever touched me again he would break both his legs.
This weekend, my dad found himself facing his third divorce and didn’t want to go through it again. Family’s always been the most important thing to him and I know he was always ashamed of not being able to make the first two marriages work. This time, he had two grown daughters who he thought didn’t need him anymore.
I just want to use this space to say, in case he has internet access wherever he is (God, that would make him so happy, to be able to read ha’aretz in the afterlife), that I did need him. He’s been my rock, my whole life. My smart brave handsome dad, who had an answer to everything. My demanding dad, who thought I could be the best and asked me “Why not an A+?” when I called him to tell him I got an A-. My funny dad, who made me laugh with his stupid laugh. My super-weird dad, who introduced me to anchovies and avocado sandwiches and blueberry coffee and marlboros. My anti-religious dad, who would grudgingly sit through Jewish holidays but joke to me quietly while everyone else was praying. My anti-social dad, who would bring me to corporate parties with him so we could hang out together in the corner and make fun of everyone else there. My protective dad, who told me I could get married when I was 45, but who supported every terrible life decision I ever made.
I love him so much. I miss him so much. I am so mad that he died. He could have done so much more for the world, and for me. He was a brilliant scientist who has been trying his whole life to do something about degenerative brain diseases. He didn’t want anyone to have to stop being themselves. He was terrified of old age.
Anyway. Stop complaining about your stupid problems. Tell your parents you love them. Do the best you can. And please never forget that people need you.