Every time I go to get-togethers and other social events people ask me for my business card. I thought by now we would all be using cool mobile apps for that. But apparently no one came up with a good one yet. Maybe I should write one.
Meanwhile, I thought I should have a biz card that wasn't attached to any job, company or specific line of work. Something that should just say who I am. Succinctly.
I struggled with that one, because I hate having to "define" myself as one thing. And defining myself as too many things is also not a great solution (after all who could possibly be a good movie maker, chess player, wine enthusiast, entrepreneur, manager and coder all at the same time?)
So, last week, I spent a little bit of time trying to design a simple business card: not too fancy, not too boring.
Here's what I came up with after toying with an online card designer tool for an hour:
This card accomplishes two things:
The front has my contact information as well as a photo of me, so people can keep name and face together.
The back has a mini-resume in pictorial format: a list of some of the "institutions" I've attended, worked at, or have been involved with in some way.
I haven't seen any similar cards before, but I'm sure I must not have been the first one to think of doing this mini-resume thing. What do you think?
Can you recognize more than one of the logos there? I was actually surprised to discover the logo of my elementary school is a globe (the first one).
Some lessons I've learned a few times over. Sometimes, when I think I have learned a lesson and am practicing it to its fullest, I can, to my surprise, be caught re-learning it the hard way -- by making a new mistake.
One of the most powerful lessons is applicable to business as well as life. It is pretty simple.
Ready? Here it goes.
You are responsible for everything you do.
Okay, let me explain this with examples.
If you build something and it doesn't work, it's your fault.
If your life is not going the way you wanted it, it's your fault.
If you start a company and it fails, it's your fault.
You see where I'm going...
That's not to say that if you get hit by a bus while happily standing in your front yard, that that's your fault. No, I'm not saying this. Even when I say "if your company fails it's your fault", I'm not saying you're in full control of everything. Sometimes shit happens.
What I'm saying though, is that you're responsible for making sure that the best outcome you envisioned for yourself actually happens. And if it doesn't, there is no point in blaming others for it, because others probably don't care or won't fix it for you.
So, even if you do get hit by a bus, you can choose to be miserable about it or accept it and make the best of it. You're responsible for your own happiness, not others.
Why am I saying this? Why now?
I wanted to write this ever since I produced the first can of my energy drink, Entropy.
Let me go back to that day, in September 2010. It was an exciting day. I had done all the art work for the can with a top-notch graphical designer specialized in cans. I reviewed the art work several times. The design had been sent to an engraver for post-processing -- these things are carved onto metal so they can be spray-painted by a machine that produces the cans.
Once everything was ready, I went directly to the floor of the factory at Ball Corp, in New York, to supervise the production of the first real can. My product was going to take off.
(On the floor of Ball, with the very first empty can of Entropy)
Then, boom, I saw it. It was there staring at me: a spelling error. On the first real can.
Everything was done by professionals. At least four different people had seen the design before it went to production. How could it have happened?
Turns out, everyone, including myself, had missed it. But it was there, printed on the can, in the supplement panel: "daiily value". Double "i".
I actually had caught this error on the very first version of the design, still in time for fixing it. I had told the designer about it. But I failed to verify.Guess whose fault it was? Yep, not the designer's nor the folks at the engraving shop. Nope. Mine.
That day, my heart sunk. It was a terrible feeling. How could I possibly have overlooked this?
Turns out, months later, I would discover that this was not the only mistake I had made in conducting my business. It certainly wasn't the most important error nor one that contributed to Entropy's failure.
In fact, to this day, no one noticed the spelling error. Not a single person has ever mentioned it to me.
But it exemplifies the lesson very well: I'm responsible for everything. After all, everyone else got paid. They didn't have to live with this. I had. Daiily, if you will. So it's my fault.
And that is the end of the lesson. You're responsible for everything you do.
Why Entropy failed
Okay, but people still ask me why I stopped producing Entropy. And if this small typo is not the reason for Entropy's failure, what is it then?
There are many reasons. Reasons that are specific to the beverage industry. But they're all incarnations of this very lesson, one way or another. So, it makes sense to discuss them here.
And here are some of the main reasons. There are probably many others, including also timing and luck, of course.
Flavor and smell. Comments varied from "putrid stench" to "cold, rotten turkey flavor" and "acid pee substance". One of these was said by a Googler who tried it and answered an internal survey. I still get hate email from people who say they hated the taste or smell. Sure, there are the lovers too, and I'm very thankful for them. Many are my personal friends, many are strangers. But, sadly, Entropy didn't please the masses nor any specific niche that would support continuing production.
Can size. Only Red Bull still sells 8.4oz. Monster, Rockstar and everyone else have all given up on this size. The market wants it big (16, 24 or even 32oz) or tiny (2oz shot). I insisted on an 8.4oz can, because that's the perfect size for me.
Energy. No distributor wants to touch energy drinks anymore. Fuze was an energy drink. They removed the word energy and nothing else and now they sell like hot cakes. While Entropy can be an anti-aging or weight loss beverage, the can doesn't say this. And so people don't buy it for that, they buy it for the energy. Niche beverages still work, but the energy market is saturated. These days, it's better to focus on specific segments, like "all natural", "relaxing", "body building energy (protein)", etc. Energy alone is done.
Niche / Theme. Beverages are getting more targeted. A beverage for "latinos" or "women" or "skaters" or "computer geeks" is more likely to succeed than one targeted to everyone.
Price. A small company can't compete on price. And lowering only hurts the brand. Entropy was about the same price as others, but when it came to unknown brands, there were brands selling 32oz can for 99c, while an 8.4oz of Entropy would cost no less than $1.99 in retail.
Middle of the road on caffeine. I didn't want to shove a lot of caffeine into Entropy and I thought people would appreciate the right balance (and natural caffeine also, from guarana, not the synthetic caffeine that is more common). But the typical energy drink customer doesn't appreciate the moderation that much. Most people want either zero caffeine or tons of it.
Technically, not 100% natural. I wanted a healthy beverage and healthy means two things to me: no synthetic ingredients (colors, preservatives) and no sugar. So, I went out of my way to get no preservatives, which meant I needed a specific pasteurization technique, and the expiration date would be only a year, as opposed to 2 or 3 or more that artificial beverages can last. But when it came time to avoid sugar, well, I should have gone with stevia or a low-glycemic sugar substitute like agave. Instead, I used ace-K and sucralose (Splenda-like). That's artificial. So, it meant Entropy wasn't 100% natural. That meant WholeFoods wouldn't take it and so many other places didn't want it. I missed another important niche.
Lack of marketing skills. Enough said.
Lack of market research. This goes back to the flavor and smell above. What pleases me won't necessarily please a lot of people. My customers can't all be people like me, because, I found out, there aren't very many of them out there. But there were other things I could have gathered from more market research: what do people want in their drinks? Or don't want? In what sizes, flavors and shapes? Basic stuff that, in hindsight, I should have done.
I learned a lot with Entropy. A lot of the stuff I learned reinforced the same lesson I had learned a few times before: you're in charge of your life/company/career/happiness/etc. Go make it work. Find a way. Don't blame others. All my mistakes were solely mine, no one else's. (I wrote a convoluted version of this lesson before, as an analogy where people are all floating in this ocean we call "life" and we have to find a way to our islands.)
I recently came back from a 7-day cruise to the Caribbean. It was great. If you've been to one, you know what I'm talking about: lots of fine food, great weather, no worries (other than "where's my sun screen" and "will I have time to participate in all activities today"). This particular cruise started in Miami and went to the Grand Cayman (Cayman Islands), Isla Roatan (Honduras), Belize and Cozumel (Mexico). All these places are unbelievable.
Here are some of the many random things I learned on this cruise.
Sting rays are friendly animals.
The photo above is of me and our dive instructor holding a friendly sting ray, in Sting Ray City, Cayman Islands (by the way, this is in the open ocean, not a pool or any artificial environment). Turns out, sting rays are not aggressive animals. They don't use their stings (or "barbs") to attack. It wouldn't be very efficient, since they take between 6 months to a year to grow back. It's there only as a defense mechanism. And it's a last-resort mechanism, as they need to be under very specific attacks to use it: someone must be trying to eat them from above them, immediately in front of them. They don't go pointing their tails at enemies and following them in reverse. Sadly, Steve Irwin (the "Crocodile Hunter") was one of the only three reported victims in the world to have died due to a sting ray attack. He was unlucky that his heart was perforated when the sting ray attacked him. Why it attacked him is unclear.
Sting rays are generally friendly. These for sure were. They were used to tourists. They swam to us and played with us. In the photo above you can see the contour of another two rays in the water, circling us. They are very soft to the touch on their bottom and a little hard and bumpy at the top. The string is not at the end of their tails, but about half to two-thirds down from the beginning of the tail.
Cruise ships are not very Earth-friendly.
I kind of knew this, but I never stopped to think about it: these things pollute. Sadly.
Big ship. With huge, huge chimney.
For starters, cruise ships dump all your waste in the ocean. Perhaps that's okay, since that's where it would end up anyway if we still lived as cavemen. But maybe that's not the best option anymore. I don't know for sure. It's probably more complicated than a simple black or white choice. People say the ocean can take anything and recycle it. Maybe. What I found out is that all the food we don't eat also gets recycled in the ocean. About 15 miles outside of Miami, the soft food gets shredded and dumped in the ocean. On one hand, this attracts lots of fishes, which attract fishermen who make a living catching these well-fed fishes. On the other hand, a lot of this is poorly absorbed since it contains a lot of non-food items like condiments. There are reports of "clouds" of junk in the ocean outside of Miami, mostly attributable to big cruise ships.
Also, these things have huge diesel engines. I forgot now how many they have (I think, four), and they're constantly on, if not to move the boat forward, to cool it and power everything in this "floating city".
Crew works their tails off.
There are about six thousand people on board. About 1,100 are crew. About 500 of those are related to foodstuff -- waiting tables, cooks, mixing drinks, busing tables. They work for eight months straight with no weekends or holidays. Then they take two months off. The waiters, however, get no salary. We confirmed this by talking to two different waiters. They only get tips. Sure, tips are included in our bill, but it's not a lot: $10 per day per person. And this tip has to be split among three waiters per table -- a head waiter, a team waiter and an assistant -- and two cleaning crew, who clean the guests' rooms. Overall, the tip is split five ways, possibly not evenly (not sure about that).
We met a waiter who told us he still had two months to go for this vacation and this time he was requesting a four-month vacation. Reason? His wife was pregnant and was due exactly at the end of his eight month shift. He said he timed it carefully so he would be present when the baby was born. Maybe that's why they keep you away for eight months instead of nine or more.
Out of two waiters and another service person we talked to, only one of them had been to shore, and the one who did was there just for a little while. No wonder. They get two or three hours break twice during a 7-day cruise. And for the waiters it's always during lunch time, when there are fewer people on board.
Nonetheless, it must be worth their time. The two waiters told us they had been with the company for a long time: eight and eighteen years, each. That's a long time to spend away from your country, your family and solid land under your feet. It's definitely not for everybody.
We also learned how strict the training to become a waiter is. They may start at the bar, mixing drinks and then they go on to serve the crew itself (they must eat too -- and no, they don't eat the same stuff guests do). Two months of serving crew they move on to shadow a waiter and then they become assistants, then team waiter then head waiter. The training must be good, because we found all of them are really good waiters.
We did visit the kitchen too, and there's a whole other blog post I could write about that. Instead, I'll just leave you with the pictures.
Isla Roatan belongs to Honduras, but like Belize it was once part of the UK
Roatan is an island off of the cost of Honduras. It belonged to the UK, but it's now part of Honduras. The main language in the island is English, but there are Spanish-speaking people there, from Honduras.
Belize was once called British Honduras, but it never had anything to do with Honduras other than it was right next to it. It's now an independent country but the queen of England is still on their currency. Locals say she's there to keep it from devaluing. The Belizean dollar is pegged 2-to-1 to the US dollar and it's been like that for years. Belize has the second largest coral reef in the world (second to Australia). Our ship could not dock close to shore because of the reefs, so we had to take smaller boats (called tender) in order to reach shore. The sea life there is incredible (as it is everywhere in the Caribbean).
It's interesting that in Roatan, the locals there told us that the British traded Roatan for Belize with Honduras. But this doesn't seem to match the story told by the Belizeans, who said there was a war for control over Belize and the Africans alongside with the British fought the Spanish invasion. There's some truth to both sides though as there were many wars and British and Spanish occupation of the island as well as the country of Belize. You can read more about it on the "internets", here and here.
It was fun. It was beautiful. It was good to learn about the lives of the people in the countries we visited and the lives of the crew on board of the ship.
Wow! I never thought I'd say these words for real. But it's real.
Why did I leave?
I wanted to pursue other things, on my own. For years I've suppressed my entrepreneurial desires, and it's been too long now, I couldn't control it anymore. I first started thinking of myself as an entrepreneur when I was very very young, probably younger than nine years old. Back then I'd have called it "inventor" or something else, but now I know I was thinking of entrepreneurship. I had dreams of building something from the ground up. And I don't mean software systems. Back then, I didn't think in these terms. It was more like setting up "creative shops" and "labs" for experimentations and all sorts of crazy ideas and businesses. This desire stayed with me throughout high school and college and then it almost died during grad school. It ignited again recently and Entropy was born.
Eduardo by numbers
It's been a great time at Google. Excellent, actually. I met lots of smart and productive folks. What could be better than working productively in great company?
And productive it's been. Here are some numbers over these 5 years 7 months and 2 days:
Lines of code written: 187592 (or so I was told). I'm sure I wrote more outside the main trunk and also I wrote lots of code that got deleted over time. Files authored: 474 (these are files where my name is listed as author in the main development branch. Files that were deprecated and later removed were not counted). Candidates interviewed: 230. Promotions: 3, from Software Engineer III to Senior Software Engineer to Staff Engineer to Senior Staff Engineer. Management: From 0 to 11 direct reports (started with 7 when first becoming a manager). Days biked to work: most. I wish I had tracked these. Free meals eaten: at least 1 a day, but most likely 1.75 on average (for 2+ years it was close to 3 and in the early days just 1). Bugs resolved: 224 (probably undercounting a bit for various reasons). Offices visited: 9 (in 5 countries). Managers had: 4. Teams: 1. Interns mentored: 5 (3 work for Google now). Visiting scholars hosted: 1. Papers written:2. Days sick: Fewer than 3 (officially just one to recover from a minor surgery, but I remember taking an afternoon off due to a bad headache once). Friends made: Lots. Money saved for Google: Lots (confidential).
Leaving money on the table is not what I do best. It was hard to see my 42% raise plus a kick-ass bonus within the next two months disappear before my eyes. But money is not everything in life. And guess what? The table will always be there. With cash on it. These tables are everywhere actually. It's just a matter of getting to them and claiming the prize. My goal is not to go back to grab the pile of cash on it, I'd rather build a bigger table where more money will be deposited. But it's comforting to see it's there. And after all, thinking of what's behind and worrying about it is as useful as a comb is to a fish, as we say in Brazil. So, let's not go there.
General Opinion of Google
On my way out, a friend asked me if I planned to start criticizing Google now that I'm no longer "restricted" by fear of retaliation. First, I never really felt much restricted. I was criticizing what I thought was wrong anyway. And second, how could I not appreciate a company that treated me so well for so long. A company that I respected for its morals and business practices even before I joined it. And, beyond all of that, a company that even bought loads of my energy drink for its employees to appreciate? They didn't just buy my energy drink because the people I dealt with were nice (they are), but because the company itself, the institution Google, allows and encourages these nice things to happen (unlike many other companies in the valley I called to offer some Entropy).
The truth is, I don't have many bad things to say. My experience has been extremely positive there and I continue to respect Google for the great company it is, the great services it offers and the people that still work there.
Any criticism I might have to say here will be in the context of things that could be improved, rather than huge flaws. And many are criticisms of big companies, not particular to Google. As I said, these criticisms are things I was already offering inside Google anyway.
The Actual Goodbye
When I first told people I was leaving, everyone was surprised. They all said they were sad to see me go. But what surprised me the most was that when I offered my rationale for leaving -- pursuing other interests on my own -- no one tried to stop me. Sure, they welcomed me to stay. But no one told me what a dumb thing it was to leave (okay, Luiz Barroso did say that, but I think he was just giving me a hard time :-)). This tells me two things: First, people have way more faith in me than they probably should, and second maybe it's not that bad a plan after all.
Here are the gifts I got from my team and friends:
Thank you guys. Thanks a lot.
Today, the plan is to dedicate more time to Entropy. I will continue to pursue business development opportunities in general and software engineering gigs if something really interesting comes up. I'm currently looking to put together a small engineering team to build a mobile recommendation engine for niche markets. If you're working in this general space or thinking of starting something remotely like it, please contact me.
So that's it. It's a bitter-sweet day for me today. Leaving the best place to work for is not easy. But I intend to work really hard to put Google at a solid second-best place to work for. Wish me luck. I'll need all I can get. :-)
I'd love to work for Google again. But I want to resolve my life now, financially speaking. When I no longer have to worry about money, then working at Google can again be a match for my interests (a great playground for a geek like me). Right now, staying there with raises and all would mean working really hard for another ten years to become financially independent. I'm looking for faster ways. But only if it's fun. Know of anything?
It's been five and half years since I got my degree. Time flies! I've had time to reflect on the pros and cons of a PhD for a while now. I wanted to write about this topic since the day I graduated. But back then I had a very emotional reaction to it and a very cynical opinion. This post wouldn't have been written from a position of detachment and reflection as I can now do. Maybe my future experience will teach me something new. But so far, here's what I've learned about what a PhD is good for and what it is not.
But first, let's dispel some common misconceptions about PhDs.
A PhD doesn't make you smart (or smarter). There are smart people with PhDs and without it. Likewise, there are dumb people with PhD and dumb people without one. The correlation I've seen and experienced is an absolute zero. And even if there was a small positive correlation it wouldn't have been a causation, but a simple self-selection. You're not smarter than anyone because you have a PhD. Get over it.
You don't make more money with a PhD. Most employers treat a PhD for what it is: 5 years of experience. If you have nothing else to show for but a PhD degree, it's roughly equivalent to having worked somewhere for 5 years. I've seen full professors get paid the same as people with two years of experience and a masters or people with just one or two years of experience with great accomplishments. So, if you go for a PhD, make it count and choose a job that can leverage your experience. It won't help much to have a PhD in network routing if you're going to be developing front ends for web applications.
A PhD doesn't make you a theoretical person. Contrary to what some critics of PhDs claim, this is not true. Here again I've seen both types, theoretical people with and without a PhD and vice-versa. There's definitely a small bias, but it's not automatic and not all theoretical types are bad. More on this a little below.
Two Reasons To Get a PhD
Inevitably, every time I try to categorize things in coarse "buckets" I get it wrong or forget the corner cases. So, at the risk of over-generalizing and pissing some people off, here are the only two reasons I can think of why anyone should go for a PhD:
You want to become a professor.
You want to study some topic or acquire some skill that you can't get otherwise.
Number 1 is clear. You can't be an university professor without a PhD, so you need to seek to get one first. The degree will teach you all you need to know about being a professor except for the teaching part, which is kind of surprising and sad, but it's true, knowing how to teach is optional. But if you want to do research and advise students on how to do research, that's the way to go. End of story.
Number 2 is not so obvious. The other reason to get a PhD is to learn something very specific that you can't learn by reading on you own, interacting with others in your job or from jobs leading up to the job you aspire. The truth is that jobs don't really teach you anything, people do (mentors, colleagues and sometimes good managers). And finding people who know and do the stuff you want to know and do sometimes requires going to school for a PhD. If you can find these mentors at jobs, get a job and try to learn from them. If not, the PhD is an option.
Now, I hear you scream: what if I want to become a researcher? Isn't that a reason to get a PhD?
My answer is no. You can get that by doing a masters and focusing on the research process itself instead of focusing on the actual results of the research or the degree. Two years under a good professor will teach you all you need to know to become a good researcher. The rest of the time spent on a PhD is time practicing and re-learning the same lessons.
What PhD Schools Should Do
If you want to change the world, start a company. If you want to deploy your great and revolutionary idea, find a way to make that into a product or service and start a company. Rarely will the results of your research become a great product, great new technology or a company. And that's because most schools and most advisors focus on publishing papers, not on turning great ideas into great businesses. They are focusing on reason number one above, turning you into a professor.
What universities should do is foster an environment where great talent and great ideas and inventions can be turned into usable technology. Some great schools do that. I'm sure there are good companies that were created as a result of great ideas from any university. But it's not consistent. I truly believe most ideas and efforts are wasted during PhDs. Not every idea or research topic can become a business, but I'm sure a lot more could and aren't because professors and universities are not spending enough time and effort into making this happen.
Here are a few simple things universities can do to encourage more businesses to be created out of their PhD programs:
Offer an assortment of entrepreneurial classes. Make at least one required for all PhD programs.
Have incubators. Make it a requirement that every PhD candidate apply for it. Most won't be selected, but if all applied, a lot more good stuff would come out.
Have a business panel read or scan technical reports, papers and research grants being produced by their departments. If professors and students can't recognize a monetizable idea, maybe some business folks could. Pay them to keep an eye on your academic production.
Make it easy for dropouts to get their degrees if they quit to launch companies. Many people fear leaving the PhD program early to start companies because they think their efforts towards their PhD will be wasted. If schools made it a little easier to graduate after proving a research point with a company, maybe more people would try starting companies. I have no doubt Larry Page and Sergey Brin deserve PhDs. Give them their PhDs and maybe other folks like them won't fear taking the same entrepreneurial path 4 years into their research.
What A PhD Is Good For
So far I've made it seem like knowing someone has a PhD doesn't help much. But it can actually help in one specific area: hiring.
A PhD is a great hiring tool. But in some twisted ways.
If I'm hiring a person, I like to use the fact that they have a PhD to quickly categorize them into two broad buckets (and again, I apologize for the generalizations, but I've found this works remarkably well).
Generally speaking, there are two types of PhD people:
The ones who persevere.
The ones who procrastinate.
As I said before, there are smart people and dumb people and one can't separate them by whether they have a PhD or not. But the PhD is still a great filtering tool because at the end of the tunnel, there are only these two types and it's relatively easy to tell them apart. I explain.
In general, getting a PhD is a long and arduous process. Many people decide it's not for them early in the game and go do something else. Some go all the way to the end. At the end, there these two types.
The ones who persevered and surpassed all obstacles. They worked hard because they really wanted to get that PhD. They made a point of finishing, no matter how hard it was. These are the survivors. They persist on almost every situation. You should hire these.
And then there are the ones who simply were not too bothered to quit and liked the lifestyle. I call these the "eternal students". They simply were comfortable being poor, living in dorms or in a closet in someone else's home and didn't see the need to look for a real job or do any work of meaningful substance. Eating cold pizza was enough for these non-ambitious types. They probably didn't care to have a social life or if they did they were happy to renew their friends every couple of years when they graduated. They probably complained about everyone and everything ("they system" they'd say, was against them).They just lingered around long enough until the university or their professors threatened to expel them. They're not necessarily dumb types, they're just comfortable doing close to nothing. And this is the key to avoiding hiring them.
So, how do you tell them apart?
Generally speaking the procrastinators, unambitious types won't have anything practical to show for. They typically haven't accomplished anything of value other than having published a few papers or book chapters (and they typically co-author papers mostly).
They are the ones who point faults in any idea and who claim that project X or concept Y is not worthy because it's not challenging enough. In computer science these are the types who claim that they are too good to code, that they're above and beyond these mundane tasks that "any college freshman could do" (and rest assured they themselves could not).
You'll hear them say that you shouldn't waste their talents and knowledge on trivial tasks such as writing code, debugging or testing. That they're best suited for generating ideas (which they inevitably have none) and working on "challenging projects" (whatever that means).
Ask them questions and they'll probably answer them satisfactorily. Ask them to do stuff and they'll probably come up with excuses. There are the theoretical folks I talked about earlier. Put enough of these together and they'll find creative ways of proving why something can't be done, just as they watch others do it. Or they design solutions so complex and over-engineered that no one can ever implement. They boast about their degree and insist on listing "PhD" after their names and a comma on their resumes and business cards.
So, there you have it: My full discourse on getting a PhD, why and when to do it, what can be made of people who have it and common misconceptions. All of that with the full power of hindsight and experience with having worked with hundreds of people who have it and hundreds who don't.
I hope this was useful in some way or another. Please comment below and let me know if you find it useful, if you disagree, or if you think I missed or overlooked something. Just be nice in case I offended you in anyway.