Journal: Thursday, April 30, 2020

In Personal

Quarantine Day 44. The last day of April. The last day of the first full month of self-quarantine.

There’s been a lot of talk about how the world will be forever changed by this pandemic. But, for the most part, I feel like I’ve been fortunate, and privileged, enough to be insulated from its most insidious effects: I don’t have any friends or family whose health has been adversely affected, and my personal finances haven’t been totally destroyed.

During my call yesterday, Tiffany called this out explicitly: we’re all in a bubble. Everyone in our group, and almost everyone in our friend circles are well-educated, gainfully employed in relatively stable, well-paying jobs, and know how to handle stress, adapt, and be resilient. So for the most part, it’s hard for me to really imagine just what and how much change there will be.

The most obvious indicator that I see is the call for rent strikes. Apparently some 11% of Americans didn’t (or couldn’t) pay rent/mortgage in April (with another 13% paying partial rent/mortgage), with an estimated 33% who didn’t pay in time. This is compared to the an average of 4% during “normal times.” The delinquency estimates range, but they all point to a pretty bad picture that’s expected to get worse (since lockdowns didn’t happen en masse until the second half of March).

Now I literally see “Rent Strike” graffiti almost everywhere, and a whole lot more flyers encouraging tenants to raise up. If there’s any change, it’s going to result from a fight between tenant advocacy groups and landlords very soon, with city, county, and state governments refereeing.

Does this personally affect me? At the moment, it doesn’t. But I’m stuck wondering what I should do. I can pay my rent, and I think people who have the means should fulfill financial obligations that they’re contractually bound to. But I also feel for people who don’t have the same means. I’ve already received at least one direct message asking me to participate in a May rent strike (it came after my scheduled payment had already gone through). If this continues through June, I wonder what I’ll do?

Specifically — “What will happen May 1?” addresses the situation in Berkeley, and incidentally quotes the owner of my apartment’s property management company. To encourage people to pay on time, the company’s giving everyone a 5% discount on rent. Personally, I think it’s having the effect that they want; in the article, they mention that 95% of people paid on time in April (well above the national average). I wonder what that stat will be in May…

There were four other events of note today.

First, I had another 1-1 with my manager today. I wanted to review my V2MOM (basically my goals for the next year) in more detail, ask more questions about the direction of the team (and especially around recent reorgs), and get more detailed feedback.

As with Monday’s 1-1, we were aligned on how I could make the most impact on the team. I’ll be

  • continuing all the production-grade research and engineering work that I’ve been delivering on this past year.
  • helping colleagues and other teams get to that same level by managing a lot more cross-team knowledge-sharing and individual mentoring.
  • spearheading a more robust and coordinated internal machine learning ecosystem, while improving our agile implementation. All things that I want to do!

The most controversial piece was how involved I’ll be in research. I’ll probably talk about that at greater length in the future. But for now, as one of very few machine learning engineers on the team, I was told that I’m needed to continuing contributing effectively as an engineer. I’ve done some work on the research and algorithmic development side, but do I want to do more of it? Do I have the bandwidth? Questions to answer in a future post…

Second, I synced up again with Fadi, from Venture2Impact (we last talked one month ago). Long story short, the volunteer trip to Romania was cancelled. Disappointing, but not surprising.

The next opportunity would be in Vietnam. I’d be a good fit! But the more I learned about the opportunity, the less I was interested in it. I would be on a 10-person team developing a website for a local Vietnamese non-profit. The site would connect local skilled volunteers to other local non-profits.

I asked Fadi why this needed to be on-site, since, after all, the project is digital. He had good answers, like needing to be on the ground to better understand needs and to better communicate across timezones. But in the end, I effectively declined: I wanted a volunteer experience where I’d be working a community member directly. This meant that Uganda, Senegal, Indonesia, Ecuador, and Rwanda were on the table. Since I preferred a more established on-the-ground operation, Rwanda seems like my best bet. I’ll be hearing back in August…

Third, I attended an Insight small group session. I almost thought I missed this last Thursday. I have so few things on my personal calendar that I rarely have it open anymore. So I made sure that I was actually at home for this event.

As it turned out, though Amber, the AI program director, was there, I was actually expected to answer most of the perspective Fellows’ questions. There were 4 fellows there, 3 coming from other industry jobs, and 1 directly from academia. The questions were pretty standard, like “what should I do to prepare?”, “what are interviews like?”, and “how many companies will be engaged with Fellows?”

I might write a post on such questions, and my take on them, in the future.

After the call, what I realized I should’ve mentioned was that the fact that the job market is very wonky right now, and that they should prepare for the worst. I know at least a handful of scientists and engineers — who would easily get jobs in normal times — have trouble even getting interest now…

And finally, fourth, I finally went out for a run. Since my semi-failed attempt to run to Diablo this past Sunday, I haven’t gone out to run or bike at all. I was definitely pretty sore on Monday, but by Tuesday I didn’t really have any excuse. I think there’s a little bit of quarantine laziness setting in. Or burnout? It’s weird to think that with less to do, the less motivated I seem to feel.

But in any case, I wanted to get my blood pumping and I knew I wanted to go back on the hills and get some vert. Hill repeats have been on my to-do list for the past couple weeks, and the best hill to do that nearby was Claremont Canyon. So out I went.

The original plan was to do 6. By the time I finished 4, though, I was pretty beat. That said, 6 is a good number cuz by the time I get to 4, Numbers 5 and 6 don’t seem too far away. Surprisingly, I was still feeling OK after Number 6 so I went back up for Number 7. Next week, I might go back for 8.

Marking it on my calendar now…

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