You Are an Engineer at Big Tech Co. During Coronavirus (Humor)

You are an engineer at Big Tech Co.

It is March 2020 and The Company has just sent you to work from home. You live in California with two other engineers. Each of you makes multiple six figures but can’t afford your own apartment.

You wonder if you will survive.

“We’ll be back in two weeks” says your roommate. You have never met him since he is always out of the apartment.

Your other roommate is busy watching anime. You have never met him because he is always in his room.

You do not feel optimistic. You struggle to fall asleep. Maybe things will be better tomorrow.

You log into your first remote meeting. Your manager pretends that everything is fine. No one believes him.

Your roommate interrupts you by taking work meetings in the living room. You had also set up your workspace in the living room. You ask him to do meetings somewhere else. He gives a lame excuse. You sigh and turn up the noise cancellation on your headphones to max. It doesn’t work very well.

You worry about your parents. You worry about your grandparents. This accomplishes nothing and you know it. You continue worrying anyway.

You turn off your work computer. You finally have time to watch Netflix and play video games.

You feel anxious. There’s a lot of work to do, but not for you—your job is not important enough. Your team does not directly generate revenue anyway.

You read the news. Things are happening and you do not know why.

Another online meeting. You discover your co-worker loves remote work. He lives in a large house with his wife, kids and two dogs. You are jealous.

You feel anxious again. You drink some coffee. You feel even more anxious. You know you shouldn’t drink so much caffeine, but you’ve always had a coffee break at the office, and now’s not the time to break routines.

You feel tired. This is strange because you’ve done nothing today. You do not understand.

You worry that you will be laid off. Your manager tries to lift the team’s spirits with a fun online activity. Everyone pretends to have a good time. No one believes it.­

Your friends try hosting some virtual events. They are OK. You miss your friends.

It is 3:00 AM. You hear your weeabo roommate shouting at his monitor. You knock on his door and politely ask him to keep his voice down—he nods and smiles sheepishly. The next night, you repeat the ritual like clockwork.

You hear about some more news. Even more things are happening and you still do not know why. You delete Twitter from your phone. You know even less.

You need a hug. You cannot get one because hugs are illegal right now.

Your director congratulates the team on all the hard work they’ve been doing by giving out $1000 bonuses to everyone. You have written 10 lines of code in the last week. You feel you do not deserve it.

Your weeabo roommate makes ramen for dinner for the fourth time this week. “Maybe we can try a new recipe next time?” You suggest. Your roommate gives a lame excuse. You sigh and eat another bowl of the same ramen.

You hear about protests. You want to help. You try to learn. Still, you do not understand.

You do not sleep well. You wake up and feel more exhausted. Every day feels like a new level of hell. You tell no one. Someone on a work call asks if you’re OK. You say, “I’m fine.” They do not believe you.

You and your non-weeabo roommate have a drink together. He makes cocktails with extra gin. Suddenly, the bottle is empty. You do not remember how this happened.

Your friend cajoles you into playing Among Us. It turns out to be a lot of fun. You log 15 hours in one week.

There are wildfires outside. The sky turns orange. You are not surprised. Nothing can surprise you anymore.

You have a new project at work related to the director’s grand vision. You wish you had a whiteboard.

Your weeabo roommate talks enthusiastically about v-tubers. He tips hundreds of dollars to these virtual anime characters every month. You think this is unhealthy but you say nothing. Somehow, you have not seen your other roommate in weeks.

Suddenly, you feel bored of Netflix and video games.

It is dark outside.

Your eyes are tired. After you do work on a computer, you look at a different computer screen for fun. This is probably why. You realize this but do not change anything.

You do not have a romantic partner. You used to have one. You think about that. That was at the beginning of the pandemic. You try to remember when that was. Time is an illusion now.

At dinner, you suggest doing an activity with your roommates. They both say no. They are too busy, and you do not understand. You nod as if you did. Somehow, you are also incredibly busy despite having infinite time on your hands.

You are promoted. You are unsure how this happened.

“How are you?” Your new manager asks on a video call. “I’m fine,” you say, but you are not fine. She does not believe you but does not say anything.

Somehow, it has been one year since the pandemic started. You are still anxious, but in a different way.

Someone tells you that you will be eligible for a vaccine soon. You are excited to receive it. You check eight different websites every day, looking for appointment slots. The anticipation builds every hour. You cannot wait any longer.

Finally, the magic day arrives and you are eligible to book an appointment! You wait for another 12 days and 7 more hours. When you arrive at the clinic, you are excited and confident, as if ready to meet your destiny, incredibly grateful to all the nurses and scientists that helped get you there. You feel the momentousness of the day with every step. You are charged with power. You will defeat the virus and everything will return to normal.

And then… getting the shot takes mere seconds. You thank the nurse and sit for 15 minutes in the waiting area.

“Coronavirus is over,” you triumphantly declare as you arrive back at your apartment. Though you know this is a lie, you believe it, because you have no intention of living through another unprecedented time like this.

After all, you are still an engineer at Big Tech Co.

Posted in Other | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

CS Internship Guide #18: Five Things CS Professors Won’t Tell You About the Real World

Part of the CS Internship Guide

Professors are smart people. It takes a lot of effort to become a professor, and generally speaking, you should listen to them.

However, there are five things that all CS majors need to know that your professors won’t tell you.

Some of it is ignorance—they don’t know any better. And some of it is, they won’t admit they spent half their life working in the wrong field.

So before you decide on your next destination, read this.

University is often the start of your journey.

Don’t go to grad school

The main purpose of college is to prepare you for your career. With a CS degree, there are tons of jobs where you can do interesting work and make six figures in your first year.

Grad school doesn’t make a difference. If you have an internship, you’re qualified for entry level CS jobs. You can even get a full-time job even without an internship. Practice interviewing and you’ll eventually pass an interview.

Some people use graduate school as a way of “delaying” their entry into the real world. If you’re scared of working in software engineering, try it for a year, and if you don’t like it, find a new company or role. And if you hate programming altogether, I’d ask, “Well, why are you going to study more CS?”

Graduate school costs $40k per year. Expect to spend two years there.

Meanwhile, you can work in the industry, probably have less stress, and earn money.

Which would you rather have: a good life and earn money, or a terrible schedule and pay money? Going into industry is a no-brainer.

If you’re an international student, or didn’t pick CS as your undergraduate major, graduate school might make sense. But for most US-based students, you’ll do just fine without a master’s degree.

“But I want to do research!” You say. That brings me to my next point…

I feel less stressed working in the industry than I did in university.

Work in the industry, not academia

Don’t go into academia. Professors like to say, “We’re pushing the boundaries of science! We’re changing the world!” They’re over-hyping it.

In the industry, you’re creating features for hundreds of millions of users and actually having an impact on people’s lives. The life of a professor is spent writing obscure papers that no one will read in the hopes of impressing a committee.

Meanwhile, real life software development is fun. You’re building things and solving problems. The humble fullstack developer is developing a website that makes scheduling vet appointments easy. It sounds like boring work, but it’s technically satisfying to craft a responsive website, and it’s genuinely making the lives of pet owners and veterinarians a little better. Multiply this humble developer by a million and you have a million little ways that the world is improving.

“Alright,”You say, “What kind of company should I work at?” Well, I’ll tell you one industry to avoid to narrow down your search.

StarCraft: Brood War

Avoid working at in game development

I used to want to be a video game developer. “I like playing video games, so why not make video games for a living?”

It turns out, game developers work longer hours for less pay than other engineers. Oftentimes, when a project is complete, the studio lays off many of their employees.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s really cool to work on video games. But I want to have a good work-life balance. I want stability. My job is a major part of my life, but it’s not the only thing in my life.

I talked to multiple ex-game devs and their sentiment was the same.

If you want to make video games, try out working at a game dev company. Maybe you’ll really like it. Or maybe you’ll decide it’s not for you. Either way, when you’re first getting the job, remember to do this next thing.

Yes, I’m going keep using this image.

You can negotiate your salary

You might wonder, “Can I ask for more money?” The answer is YES!

Salary negotiations are a weird part of your career. They are tiny conversations that have an outsized impact on your compensation.

I would rather spend 2 hours doing a bit of prep up front than spending the next five years with an embarrassingly low salary.

I want to be well prepared for my negotiations. I walk in knowing what I’m worth, knowing that companies want to hire quality people, and they are willing to pay big money for top performers.

I’m not a professional negotiator, but you can learn a fair amount of the negotiation tactics from board games. You can also read books and practice with friends.

Negotiation is just one way you can use communication to your advantage. Which brings me to my last point.

Talking in person is just one way of communicating.

Learn how to communicate well

Communication is a superpower.

You might be the smartest person in the room, but if you can’t communicate your ideas, you haven’t done squat.

Fortunately, communication is a superpower that can be learned. I’m a recovering awkward person, and if I can get better at talking to people, so can you.

There are lots of ways to communicate: Emails, design docs, presentations, and even real life conversations. To get better at communicating, there are a lot of things you could do.

You’ll never be an expert in every domain. But, if you can get smart and talented people on your side, there’s no limit to what you can accomplish together.

And that will truly take your career to new heights.

Posted in CS Internship Guide | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Tetris Zombies: The Craziest and Funnest Way to Move

Moving to a new state is a headache. I spent many hours researching moving companies, calling them, and determining most of them were scams.

One night, I was having dinner with a friend. Both of us are organizers for Silicon Valley Offbeat Fun, an awesome group that put on wacky events like real life Mario kart, a mystery water tasting, One-Hour Bachelorette, and Collaborative NaNoWriMo.

“Moving is such a hassle,” I complained. “I should just post a meetup event and let random people help me move.”

It started out as a joke, but we kept building on it. We started to get serious. What’s the event’s theme? How are you going to attract people to sign up? How is this going to work? Will random people be willing to help carry boxes around? Excited, I ran home, got permission from the group’s senior organizers, and posted an event. (And yes, the event’s description mentioned that this was part of a move.)

I spent the next few days planning the big event. It was called “Escape the Zombies from Tetris Island”. It would be like an escape room with a story and puzzles. I wrote a script about how the inventor of Tetris was trapped on an island where he discovers zombies. Then, I made puzzles and hid clues around the apartment. Each of the clues was a diary entry describing how the inventor was bit by a zombie and descended into madness. It was going to be legit.

After all this preparation, I wondered, “Would anyone actually come?”

When the big day arrived, I was pleasantly surprised by 10 friendly faces. A few were my friends, others were occasional offbeat attendees, and a few were complete strangers. With the crew together, my co-organizer and I started “Escape the Zombies from Tetris Island”.

Sherlock Holmes: Tetris Style

“Team, the inventor of Tetris has gone missing,” I announced. “Your mission is to find what happened to him. Let’s search his base for clues.”

The team started looking throughout the apartment. Eventually, they found all the envelopes and scraps of paper I hid around the place. Then they put together the Tetris puzzle. It alluded to a zombie infestation and rumors of an experimental cure.

The completed tetris puzzle reveals “balcony closet”.

Escort Mission

“Team, it’s too dangerous to stay here,” I announced. “We need to evacuate the base and load of all the cargo into the shipping container.” This is where the fun began.

To make things exciting, we busted out the nerf guns. This was a stage like Humans vs Zombies: the humans have to escort cargo while avoiding getting tagged by the zombies. Some humans picked up boxes while others used the nerf blasters to keep the zombies away1.

“No one has to carry anything, but for the full experience, you should take an item,” I continued. Everyone except my ex-girlfriend carried one box down from the third story apartment to the shipping container in the parking lot. The group carefully carried cargo across the path, dodging dumb zombies along the way. In a short time, all the cargo was safely evacuated!

The Cure

“What’s that?” I asked and pointed to a scrap of paper in the shipping container. Someone picked it up and read it out loud. It was instructions for an experimental anti-zombie cure!

To cap off the event, the players lured a zombie into the shipping container, where he transformed back into a regular human. The grand reveal: it was the inventor of Tetris, and he’s back to normal!

After this silly finale, I bought pizza and drinks for all the attendees. I was worried that it would be a dumb event, but everyone had a blast. Even the founder of Offbeat Fun approved.

Tetris Zombies was the most fun moving I ever had.

The mission was a complete success!

1We had a bunch of safety rules like: no running, no zombies on the stairs, be quiet because the zombies have excellent hearing but terrible eyesight, etc. No one was injured.

Posted in Other | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

6 Ways to Negotiate Like a Pro Board Gamer

I have learned more about negotiation by playing board games than from taking a college course on negotiation.

A lot of people are scared of negotiation. They’re afraid to ask for what they want. To me, this is crazy. Are you just going to stumble through life and let randos give you their trash? You gotta take the initiative!

You want me to clean up your mess again? I guess that’s ok.

A lot of the time, that’s fine. You don’t need to haggle over a muffin at the local cafe. But when there are a lot of zeros–say, your salary or when buying a house–you don’t want the salesman to pull the wool over your eyes.

If you’re nervous, don’t worry. No one taught you how to negotiate and you’re not expected to know everything on your first run. But negotiation is just another stat that can be leveled up. As you go down the different subtrees of Charisma, you see patterns and you develop your skills. And it can be fun, too. You’ll feel excitement when you work out a creative deal that leaves both parties happy.

Without further ado, here are six ways you can negotiate like a pro board gamer.

#1 Understand the other side

Twilight Imperium: The epic game of conquest, politics, and trade. Emphasis on TRADE. From BoardGameGeek.

We’re playing Twilight Imperium (a huge game about space empires) and we’re trying to diffuse a ruinous war. If we can’t come to an agreement this turn, we’re both going to spend a bunch of resources fighting each other, which will let someone else win the long game.

“Can I take this planet* for 3 trade goods?” asks my neighbor.

“No way!” I reply. This particular tile is the linchpin of my defensive network and it’s a system I cannot afford to lose.

The negotiations drag on. Both sides threaten each other with force. Finally, I ask, “Why do you need this planet so badly?”

“Well, I need four industrial planets to score a victory point,” he says. Bingo!

“I have an idea. How about I give you a different industrial planet for 3 trade goods?” My rival thinks about this for a moment and then replies, “Agreed.”

Most people walk into a negotiation thinking only about themselves. A master negotiator figures out what the other side wants.

#2 Get creative

Let’s think about that previous negotiation.

One player wants an industrial planet to score a victory point.

What he really wanted was a victory point, and there are many ways to score points.

For instance, I could have suggested attacking a different rival’s planet, or I could have helped him research to score a victory point via technology. And when I help him in a creative way, he’ll reciprocate by helping me in a later turn.

Sometimes I like to sweeten the pot by throwing in something that is easy for me to do, but would be difficult for the other party. At the very least, you can emphasize that you’ll be a great ally after they help you out.

I’ve seen negotiations where one player puts in a trade good, a second player gives a promissory note to a third, a fourth player makes a specific tactical move, and the fifth activates their strategy card, all part of the same deal in order to undercut the sixth player. This kind of shenanigans wins tournaments. Get creative.

#3 Make the other side happy with honesty

This is an actual line from the movie.

Who would you rather deal with?

Person A is honest and keeps their word.

Person B is known as a backstabber who doesn’t follow through on promises.

I have a friend who always honors his alliances at the table, and guess what? Everyone wants to be his friend too. I feel much more comfortable doing long-term deals with people who have a record of honesty. 

When you make deals, the point is to achieve your objectives, not to crush the other player. You must always offer reasonable deals.

(In board games, you can get away with mild extortion if that’s part of the game. In real life, that’s generally looked down upon.)

#4 Negotiate on value, not cost

Sidereal Confluence needs a LOT of space! From BoardGameGeek.

We’re playing Sidereal Confluence, an asymmetric game all about trading resources with your partners at the table. This round, I have one yellow cube. Yellow cubes are rare and really valuable. Meanwhile, green cubes are very, very plentiful and cheap.**

“Can I give you a green cube for your yellow cube?” another player asks.

“Sorry, I need at least 5 greens for a yellow,” I reply.

“OK, how about 2 greens?” she asks.

“One yellow is definitely worth 5 greens right now. Try asking someone else, and when you come back, my offer still stands,” I suggest. My rival starts going around the table trying to haggle for a yellow cube. A few minutes later, she returns.

“How about 3 greens for your yellow?” she asks. “You produce 2 yellows every round anyways.”

“The price is still five,” I say. “You’re going to get like 8 points out of this, surely that’s worth 5 green cubes. I can’t do much with greens anyways.”

“Ugh!” She knows it’s true and she goes around the table. Again, she comes back.

“OK, how about 4 greens for a yellow?”

“Five greens!” I say.

“Fine!” she hands over 5 greens. Immediately, she converts all her yellows into 8 points, a huge gain.

By knowing the value of my resources and my position, I avoided getting screwed over. It’s not about what my resources are worth to me, it’s about what the other side is receiving.

#5 Have a strong alternative

In another match of Sidereal Confluence, I was the one looking for a yellow cube.

First, I asked my neighbor for her price: I had to pay 3 blues for 1 yellow.

Then I went to another neighbor and said, “Hey, so-and-so is selling each yellow for 3 blues.”

“What? I’ll trade you a yellow for just 2 blues,” he replied.

I then went to the original neighbor and reported, “My best alternative is 2 blues for one of your yellows. Want to lower your price?”

“Sure, 1 yellow for 1 blue?” she suggests.

By having a strong alternative, I was able to negotiate the price down to a reasonable level. Businesspeople call this a BATNA, or Best Alternative To a Negotiated Agreement.

#6 Be willing to walk away

Another real line.

Another time in Sidereal Confluence, I was looking to make a deal with a notoriously good negotiator. We debated for a long time trying to work something out that would be mutually beneficial. Eventually, I decided, “This is too complicated. Let’s not trade this round.”

Sometimes walking away from a deal is the right move. My time was better spent elsewhere, and that was OK. By having the confidence to stop negotiating, we both conserved our resources, avoided a possibly unfavorable deal, and freed up time to find new opportunities. In the following round, we were able to find new deals that made both of us happy.

Because sometimes the only winning move is not to play.

*I know, you can’t technically trade planets in Twilight Imperium, but you can retreat and pull out your ground forces instead of fighting to the death.

**I know, the value of each resource is highly dependent on which factions are in play and what players choose to produce. So yellow cubes are not always valuable.

Posted in Psychology | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

How to be an Interesting Person Even if You don’t have an Exciting life

Have you ever started a new job and wondered how to talk to your new co-workers? Have you ever been on a date and you weren’t sure what to say? You want to be interesting, memorable, and respected. But when people ask you about yourself, you verbally roll up like a rollie-pollie. You spent Saturday afternoon playing League of Legends, not parasailing in Brazil or volunteering at a homeless shelter. It was fun, but it’s not something you can brag about. And even if you tried, normies just wouldn’t understand.

Some people make friends wherever they go. They have the ability to make people like them and trust them, like a sorceress who naturally waves her hand and casts a magic spell. They were born with a natural +5 to their charisma rolls, and you weren’t.

Until your next extended rest, you have +2 to your charisma.

However, being an interesting person is not a feat you’re born with. Anyone can learn how to be interesting. You don’t need to be an adrenaline junkie or as charismatic as a movie star. The secret is actually very simple. It’s something you can do today.

The secret is to be interested in other people.

The most annoying people are like an opera singer warming up–all they talk about is mimimimimimi! In contrast, the most engaging people are the ones who involve other people in their conversations.

How to Ask Good Questions

Almost everyone can talk endlessly about themselves, their adventures, and their opinions. All you have to do is ask them a few good questions and listen closely. When you’re meeting someone for the first time, a few good jumping off points are their family, their job, recreation (what they do for fun), and their dreams (their future).

You can remember this with the acronym FORD:

  • Family
  • Occupation
  • Recreation
  • Dreams

Most people would be happy to talk about one of these things. Of course, you might focus on one or the other based on the context. At work, you wouldn’t pry into someone’s family life immediately, but maybe an acquaintance would be happy to share a great story about how he met his wife at an airport while waiting for a delayed flight.

Now you have a couple ideas to spark a conversation or to feed the flame of a dying fire. What you do next will influence how the other person feels. You want to show interest in others.

What you don’t want to do is ask a bunch of factual questions.

You: Where did you grow up?

Them: Nashville

You: How long did you live there?

Them: 20 years

You: How many people live there?

Them: I don’t know… half a million?
Don’t make your friends, dates, and colleagues feel like this.

Boring! If something can be answered with a definite, factual answer, it probably won’t be interesting.

Instead, ask open-ended questions. You want to hear about their unique perspective. You want to be an explorer. People, including recruiters, get asked the same set of questions over and over. If you can think of something new to talk about, that’s more fun for everyone involved.

Compare these questions. Which do you think will be more fun for your conversation partner to talk about?

  • How long have you lived here? vs How do you think this town has changed since you first moved here?
  • What’s your favorite movie? vs If you were the producer of the Avengers, what would you change?
  • Where do you swim? vs What does it take to be a really good swimmer?

Ask questions that give people opportunities to tell stories and show their personality. Be specific in your questions. Let them talk. Don’t worry about preparing a response when they’re talking. Just listen.

When they do pause, you can add something about your own life. Maybe you can hook into an interesting story of your own. Then ask them more about themselves. Drill down with questions like:

  • What’s the most unusual/funnest thing you’ve done in this town?
  • Why do you think Thanos is such a unique villain? Like, what’s so special about him?
  • Do you remember the first time you went swimming? How did you feel when you were just starting out?

If you find yourself struggling to add something interesting because you don’t have an exciting life, I’ve got some ideas that you can do to fix that.

In the meantime, be interested in other people. Show your interest by asking open-ended questions. Talkative people will like talking to you. Quiet people will think you’re unique for letting them speak for a change. Most people probably won’t even remember what you said, but they will remember how you made them feel.

And soon, you’ll make friends wherever you go.

Posted in Psychology | Tagged , , , , | 3 Comments