A few things I have never talked about before

I recently got interviewed. I spoke about a fairly wide range of topics. Here are some excerpts :

Tell us about yourself. What do you do? What are you excited about lately?

Short description is I am a guy who has lots to say on twitter. I mention that because you wouldn’t know me otherwise. I am not getting interviewed because I have accomplished anything exceptional yet.

Appreciate you thinking I am someone you should interview. Hopefully, your readers will find something interesting.

A longer profile is that I grew up in India with a very conservative view of life. I moved to the US five years ago. I studied, explored and worked in New York for four years, and currently live in California. My childhood obsessions with painting and photography somehow translated to a mix of pursuit of investment banking and exploration of startups, tech studios and venture capital while studying computer science and economics during my college years. Now that I have graduated, I do neither banking nor programming for a living but I am still very interested in both and that interest has manifested itself in a variety of ways while working in what’s commonly referred to as “tech” over past 3 and half years. Currently, I am unemployed. I recently left my job. In a very funnily contrarian fashion, I am not taking time off for a vacation or spending time with family which is what most do during their transition periods if tech twitter is our guide. After spending first few days of my unemployment on aggressively figuring out what’s next, I now spend my time reading and writing for the most part. I will announce what’s next soon. Please note that everything I say about my career and life is a carefully worded narrative of what I say when asked to summarize it. It appears to be more intentional and linearly descriptive than it actually is but is likely a bit more intentional than stories of my peers and friends. As always, there is a tremendous amount of randomness and luck involved in every step I took to get to where I am today (which is being unemployed!). I hope a major takeaway from this interview is not to listen to anyone pontificating confidently on pretty much anything.

I am not the kind of person who gets excited about things easily in the traditional sense of the word. But, I am enjoying a bunch of shows like Designated Survivor, House of Cards (new season) and Bodyguard right now. I am a TV show buff. I have seen more shows than I would like to admit. I spent last ten to twelve months diving very deep into the multifaceted and bizarre world of “crypto” that has a lot of potential in some ways and is very sad and delusional in many ways. I have too many intellectual interests and I go down many rabbit holes every month. I think my twitter feed and writing online gives a good glimpse of what I am thinking about. I am very much looking forward to what my next step is career wise if things work out the way I hope they would. Until then, I will continue spending time outdoors in sunshine, going on long walks and doing some photography.

You then studied at the University of Rochester. What did you think of college? How was it valuable for you?

My view of college has evolved over past 5–6 years. I was the kind of kid who let his test scores define him. So you can imagine how much I must value credentials growing up. You can also sense some hints of that deep seated appreciation for prestige in my pursuit of investment banking during first one and half years of my college life. I wasn’t someone who grew up programming as something a lot of folks in tech tend to. College was a good forcing function for me to pick up those skills and the technical knowledge that I likely otherwise wouldn’t have aquired. That was partly why I chose not to study some version of finance even though investment banking was my primary goal. Based on my research on how to stand out as someone who does not go to a target or top tier school (from a Wall Street perspective) and the earning potential of computer science, I decided against picking a conventional major for someone with aspirations of making it in top tier banking. In hindsight, that was a fantastic decision. A plot twist here is that my diploma does not say computer science but I go around saying I studied it which is technically true and no one has been able to call me out on CS not technically being my major of study so far. That should tell you a lot about how our education system and job markets work.

College was valuable to me but not in the sense of what it taught me directly. I quickly lost faith in the story of scoring a high GPA in college fixing all our life’s troubles. It was pretty clear to me that scoring a good GPA at a second tier school won’t amount to anything in the real world and that I didn’t have the luxury of name dropping my college everywhere I go to build some instant credibility. I visited my college career center just once in four years. It was during the fall semester of my freshmen year. I quickly learned it was pointless. If I had the motivation and discipline to study applied computer science by myself, there is hardly much I couldn’t have picked up by myself. I picked up on finance because I had set my mind to figuring it out by myself. Going to a second tier school in the middle of nowhere taught me how to become self-sufficient and how to struggle and figure things out by myself when I couldn’t rely on brand name and connections to open doors for me. It was a frustrating process that taught me things I can’t imagine I would otherwise have in that timespan. I learned how to not take anything for granted, how to not rely on shortcuts, how to learn to project signals that are actually valued in a market, how to put in the work to beat others with better traditional signals etc. Turns out that the most rigorous way to become resourceful is to not be in an environment where resources are readily available for a prolonged period of time!

Overall, college was a good time where I grew and matured a lot. The social upside of it far outweighed everything else and I think the fact that I realized that during my sophomore year is ironically the greatest thing college did for me.

You are very active on Twitter and have garnered an influential following. Do you have a strategy for this? How would you recommend people get started?

I get this question a lot. More often than not, people are looking for tactics. If I had a strategy, I think I am a very unqualified person to ask this question to because I am clearly failing at executing on that strategy given how small my following is. So the best thing to do is not listen to what I have to say! If someone is looking to grow their following very rapidly, it seems like sharing platitudes all day is a good tactic. Turns out people retweet those like crazy!

That being said, while it might sound trite, it is very true that I don’t optimize for my followers count. In fact, I am not accomplished or popular enough to garner the kind of following influencers do. The kind of things I talk about on twitter will likely always have a small audience unless I become a tech celebrity of sorts or get associated with some venture that garners attention. I don’t see that happening anytime soon. Nor am I aspiring for that. I am happy with the kind of people who have chosen to follow me and engage with me. I’m grateful.

From a mindset perspective, I think newcomers should think of Twitter as a public group texting app where you are talking with people you do not know in real life but would love to at some point. Or, think of it as a free conference where you get to pick both speakers and attendees. No one likes the person who keeps shouting into the void. A third way of thinking about twitter is that it is a way of creating filter bubbles (or knowledge networks) for yourself by hooking your phone to minds of what others are reading, sharing and talking about. I happen to be in the very small camp that believe online filter bubbles are net positives. A fourth way of looking at twitter is how Jack Dorsey sees it. It is a public square or a town hall.

What are the most useful meta skills people can learnnowadays?

I don’t feel qualified enough to answer that. I tend to dismiss people who are overly prescriptive in counselling others. Most advice given to others would be incredible useful if humans were linear functions with inputs and outputs in a very static world!

That being said, I can tell you what I am trying to pick up on.

I, by no means, have come close to mastering these but here’s some on my list currently :

  • Taking an epistemic and probabilistic view of things

  • Thinking for yourself

  • Figuring out what’s descriptive, prescriptive and normative

  • Being comfortable with uncertainty

  • Knowing how to make compounding, randomness and optionality work in your favor in various aspects of life and career

  • Harnessing curiosity

  • Knowing when to want to be right versus liked

  • Pursuing intellectual rigor

  • Understanding trade offs in everything

  • Knowing when to focus on inputs versus outputs

  • Best way to process neatly crafted narratives is with tremendous skepticism