Tuesday December 31st

The Decade of Taking Risks (It was)


  • People have spent a lot of time talking about what they plan to do in the coming year, or decade. For some, it’s a decade of reflection. Instead, I feel incredible gratitude for this past decade of having taken risks, and eventually coming to a place where it’s finally begun to pay off. It feels great.

The Beginning

  • Risk-taking is in my blood. My dad often told me he didn’t know where I got that from, because I always seemed to have no problem throwing everything away and starting all over again, if I thought that it was worth it. Throw away everything but a suitcase and move. Chase the courage of your conviction. That’s me. Move from a comfortable, tropical island to snowy upstate New York, to a school with a minority population of less than 5%. Do it again in 2019.
  • A decade ago, I had moved from Upstate New York, to Los Angeles, knowing only one person who would be my roommate for three years, who was at the time crashing on the couch of another person who was our mutual friend. I knew no one there, but I determined that I would make friends and set up a network there. In ten days of having moved there, I started my first job at 9.25 dollars an hour, as a camera technician for film and video cameras, on a student visa (I also doubled it within a year). I was hired because I was the only one they said who knew how to thread a specific film camera, the one of 14.5 frame specificity.
  • A camera guy once told me what a Physics professor in high school once told me; sometimes you need to take a step back to take a step forward. My Physics professor explained kinetic energy and the Law of Thermodynamics to us this way. Don’t disregard the step you need to take backwards, because you’re walking backwards; sometimes it’s what you need to be projected forward.
  • Years later, after friends have moved, and I just moved (in mid-August) to Vermont, I think about the many adventures and risks I took out there. I worked on a bunch of films (close to 200), plays, worked on light art installations, made art, was in an Art show put on the by Art Directors’ Guild, took classes in sculpture, 3D modelling, concept design, figure drawing, painting, welding, machining, soldering and electronics, studied architecture and made models out of wood and acrylic, joined a bunch of hackerspaces, learned how to sail, made friends with a bunch of NASA scientists, taught robotics classes with an astrophysicist, did some software internships, got my green card and somehow ended up deciding I wanted to become a computer scientist, because it was the way I thought I could make an impact on the world and grow in a selfless way over these next few years. It was a fun, wild ride and I don’t regret anything. Man, it’s been fun.
  • I have friends today all over the world who are filmmakers, artists, animators, writers, musicians, sculptors, photographers, computer scientists, mathematicians, engineers, architects, hackers, actors, designers, freelancers and owners of businesses who hire lots of people; you name it. I’ve lost count of them, and I still run into them, and it’s like the first day we met. We run into each other at unusual places; most recently, it was at a large company where I was interning. Some are famous, and others I have helped in some way or other at some point because I believe in them, but they’re all passionate and incredible human beings who like myself, took risks (or are still doing so). The way they see the world continues to inspire me.
  • A year ago, I was at a Programming Languages conference I was given a scholarship to attend, and the group of my peers quite enjoyed my charisma. Someone noticed my badge, and subtly mentioned it to the group. I believe it might have been their goal to embarrass me or knock me down a few. At the time, anyone who had read it might want to know how I fit there, and what would be my path to grad school. It got back to the group and they looked at me in shock and asked me “what are you going to do? We’re here because the next logical step for all of us is grad school. How will you do that? What will you do?”. I looked at them and said calmly “I am going to apply to grad school, of course. Let the school decide, but I want to attend”. In my mind, we were all there for that, including myself. I know that I didn’t take the straight-forward path, so some of my work will involve beefing up some of my technical skills, and that’s also why I’m there, but not why I was chosen; they can teach anyone technical skills, but value me for something more. I resolved to do this. But part of that resolve came from the other parts of my experience before I wanted to attend grad school. It’s the part of me that is a trouble-maker, who will pry just to see if something is possible, even if you tell me it can’t be done. Who knew it would be an asset for research?

A friend of mine passed

  • A friend of mine passed away this weekend. He was loved by millions of people. I thought about one of the last posts he made; he was always creating things; and how many people responded to the thing he had just made that he decided to share with us on his personal social media account. He was able to bring so much joy to people. I thought about a comment someone made about his work; he wasn’t called a designer, but a “world builder”. It brought me back to a class I once took with another famous designer and friend who instructed us to be “world builders”. That’s always stuck with me. Whatever you make, however you see the future, think about the different things that intersect that make up that world, because nothing exists in isolation; there is an eco-system that is affected by everything we design, everything we make, everything we do.
  • I think about this a lot today, as someone who plans to spend the rest of my career in computer science, as a
    computer scientist. A social computer scientist, who wants to make the world better, with other people, and not for other people (or rather, not with the assumption that I come knowing everything, bearing all the knowledge).

Be Bold

  • I spent this Christmas season back in New York (in true full-circle), and a designer/professor friend of mine told me “I’m so proud of you…I have always thought you belong to everyone..you are not to belong in one group”. Throughout all of these experiences, I’ve been an outcast, or rather, someone who has floated from group to group, not quite fitting in, and taking the roads a lot my peers didn’t take. They were puzzled. Why aren’t you doing… what everyone else is doing?
  • I thought about my friend who passed, and how I thought of him this way; he too belonged to no one; he was like the wind. He touched everyone he met, energized them with his ideas and vision of the possibility of what technology would be like in the future, but he never limited himself to being an artist. In fact, he quit his first job at a large company to start his own consultancy.
  • I took a lighting design class in Undergrad in which one of my professors told us “whatever choice you make, be bold about it”. I always remember those words, but in reality, it’s hard. It’s difficult to swim against the tide. For years, it’s been a struggle. The first few years, I perpetually felt like everything was hanging by a thread, and I in fact used to joke about this. These days, the tide has been turning, and I find that each day, I’m in a position where I can help people, the way a lot of people helped me when I was first starting out. I have more choices, more opportunities, and people see talent and potential in me more easily than when I first started. But the journey has changed me. I remember how difficult it was, and how I fought to be heard. I think about bringing opportunities for access to people who are where I was, since I can have a little bit of that affordance right now. I have a little more credibility, which will continue to increase as I build a research career.
  • I’ve been swimming against the tide for this past decade. Will the water and the tide I swim against disappear one day? I try not to think about those things. But when you’ve survived winters, you know that you can find it within yourself to do it again if you must.
  • It’s been finally a few years into feeling like it’s finally been paying off, and it feels really great. I’m pretty excited about 2020 and beyond.

Another upcoming Decade

  • A lot of my friends tell me they don’t understand any of the things I talk about these days. We have a history of being misunderstood… until the future catches up with us. But that’s okay. We have an understanding whereby all of us take risks, and are misunderstood, but we don’t knock each other about it. To take risks is to be misunderstood. All of a sudden, my choice of grad school doesn’t seem so strange after all. It’s the next logical step in a lifetime of being misunderstood and of taking risks. And that’s okay.

Happy New Year to all of you

  • I have a list of goals, but I guess I’ll keep that to myself. They mostly involve things I’d like to focus on making and doing this year, particularly as they pertain to becoming a computer scientist and researcher. But I’d like to focus on the Happy part of the New Year. May you be Happy. May you share that happiness with others and encourage them to take risks, and find their happiness, and to share that with others.

And that’s it

Written on December 31, 2019