My Profoundly Simple Burning Man Takeaway

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I had no idea what to expect going into Burning Man, aside from the knowledge that it was the supposed holy grail of festivals, without being an actual festival. A few moments came as more than mildly shocking- but those happened more along the lines of “I am by choice biking at night in a dust storm with 0 visibility while slightly intoxicated at the same time as 80,000 other people… Let’s again put the emphasis on by choice,” and less along the lines of, “oh look, the 100th naked person I’ve seen today. (Hope they’ve been reapplying sunblock).” The group that I went with has attended countless festivals, camping trips and holiday celebrations together, and venturing into the desert together certainly felt right, however much it may have impeded experiencing full participation in the wider Burning Man community. If I go again I’ll certainly push myself more to do some solo exploring, which, thanks to Burning Man I now feel ready to do. Because my profoundly simple takeaway from my five days in Black Rock City was this: being open to meeting strangers is a choice you can actively make (and they usually are 0% as intimidating as you were anticipating). As an extrovert I’ve never had a problem meeting new acquaintances through friends, but I would not often be the person to instigate interactions with strangers, whether they are waiting next to me in the bike lane at a red light or squished next to me on MUNI. What I saw first hand at Burning Man was just how easy it is to actively decide to be open and friendly to everyone you meet, how easy it is to make the choice to be open and not guarded- but also that is is certainly a choice, and one that is made with each human interaction you encounter.

And all I had to do for this realization was almost die in a dust storm? Totally worth it.

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What’s in a culture?

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I read somewhere recently that the best company culture is still a work in progress. What I’ve come to believe is that company culture, on a fundamental level, is simply about relationships. The relationships that employees have to their jobs and to the mission of the company. Relationships that exist within the organizational structure, between managers and associates, between members of the leadership team. And of course, the bonds and friendships that exist between coworkers. Without those relationships there is only work from 8:30AM to 6PM, Monday through Friday, 261 days a year (give or a take a few evenings and weekends thrown in).

Like any other relationship then, the relationships which make up company culture require continual investment and maintenance. A good (married) friend of mine once told me that the thing about marriage is that every day you wake up and you choose to be in your marriage. Every day you wake up and you choose the person you married to be your partner and your friend. In the same vein, I believe that growing a great company culture means choosing to be the culture you wish to see, so to speak, every day. Fostering community and happiness, trust and positivity, I believe culture is the key to a successful company.

With the requisite amount of Kombucha and yogurt jokes, of course.

The Shuttle Buses Are Not The Problem.

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 Most of what’s being reported about the “class warfare” occurring in San Francisco is happening from afar. I’d like to zoom in for a second and point a few things out. First of all, while calling the recent Google shuttle protests “class warfare” sounds exciting and sort of SF does Les Mis-ish, I think this is taking it WAY too far. Let us not forget that the type of people who are drawn to the Bay Area are passionate individuals who love to take up a cause. For the most part the recent protests have seemed reasonable to me if not downright necessary. Gay marriage? Absolutely. Public nudity rights? Not for me, but hey, whatever floats your boat. But protesting companies like Yahoo and Google for running shuttle buses from SF to the peninsula is not the same as protesting for our rights. In fact, it’s just the opposite. Everyone has a right to live in the city. Riding a shuttle, in fact, keeps more cars off the roads.  For everyone who is enraged at the ruling that companies using Muni stops will pay $1 per stop, you need to understand the fact that the city isn’t allowed to make a profit on this, and that it is just a pilot program. It’s a step in the right direction.

What pisses me off the most is that I might be clumped in with the entitled tech startup stereotype because I work at a tech startup, but I’m still living paycheck to paycheck, and my only form of transportation is my bicycle. Housing rates are ridiculously high, but that’s because SF is an awesome city, a lot of people want to live here, and the amount of housing hasn’t increased at anything like the rate that people have been moving here. The shuttles are nothing more than a symptom of the tech boom.

So let’s not waste any more time talking about them, and instead focus our energy on finding ways to increase housing or make housing more affordable.

Networking For Twenty Somethings

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Networking. Ugh. What an awful word. At this point it seems entirely reminiscent to me of a room full of greedy vultures. However, it must be understood that networking is both important and valuable, and can be fun when carried out with the right technique and motivation.

After having truly lived in SF for one month now, I’ve experienced many sides of the social phenomenon referred to as networking. I’ve attended conferences where individuals whip out business cards before explaining their professions, parties where networking takes place in the form of rounds of shots, and casual, low key, delightful coffee dates. I’m personally a fan of small scale, personal networking, as I find it much less intimidating. Regardless of my preferences for type of networking, here are some tips I’ve garnered and gathered from my experiences networking over the last month (and two years).

1. Make a solid first impression. The most crucial (and difficult) part of networking (or interviewing) is making a solid first impression. A good first impression can make you stand out from 100 other people, or make you stick in the mind of a founder or investor as someone they’d like to employ or invest in. When you’re approaching people you’ve never met keep in mind that they have no idea how shy or nervous you are. Put on a happy face, present a firm handshake, and strike up conversation. You really have nothing to lose! Lead with topics you’re passionate and knowledgable about, and make eye contact.  Bottom line: Demonstrate your strengths as genuinely as possible, and if you aren’t charismatic, fake it! 

2. Demonstrate your ability to listen. Although this goes along with making a solid first impression, it is so important I wanted to stress it separately. Memorable conversations occur when people feel a connection to the person they are talking to. This happens when they feel that their thoughts and words are being valued and respected. Communication is crucial in the workplace, so demonstrating that you are able to communicate will set you apart. Bottom line: Listen to what other people are saying, don’t just wait for your turn to speak. 

3. Seek out the wisdom of successful individuals. Having recently graduated college I’ve been hearing two expressions quite often. The first is, “Find a job that you love, and you’ll never work a day in your life.” The second is, “Ask for a job, and you’ll receive advice. Ask for advice and you’ll receive a job.” My recent project has been seeking out successful professionals working in fields I’m interested in, and asking them how they got to where they are today. More to the point I’ve been asking, “Where were you when you were 22?” I would recommend this to anyone in the process of job hunting, or even looking for a career change. The smartest thing to do is seek out the wisdom of those who have already gone through it. The even smarter thing to do is to try and learn from their mistakes. Bottom line: The most valuable lessons come from experience, and most people are happy to share what they’ve learned. 

4. Utilize social media, to a degree. I find Linkedin requests from individuals I’ve never met to be one of the great tech etiquette faux paus of our day. Sending a connection request to someone you met at a networking event is great. Be sure to include a personalized message, and even better if you can reference something you spoke about at the event. When heading to a meeting with a specific person, following that individual’s Twitter or checking out their blog is a great way to find out what topics they find most important, and what they are most knowledgable about. There is a clear line, however, between finding out someone’s career history versus where they took their last vacation. Also, wait until the end of the conference or coffee date to add someone on Linkedin. The only loophole (in my opinion) for adding someone you’ve never met in person is if there has been extensive email correspondence or some other channel of online communication. Bottom line: Never do something online that you wouldn’t do offline. 

5. Be appreciative. Regardless of whether you’ve managed to snag five minutes of an investor’s time at a conference, or an hour of a professional’s time for a coffee meeting, it is important to understand one thing: time equals money. Those five minutes or hour of time taken to talk with you is an investment in its own right. Recognizing this fact and genuinely thanking the person who gave you their time is both courteous and respectful. Taking care to adequately thank someone also encourages the continuation of the relationship, and ends the conversation on the right note. Bottom line: Gratitude and respect go hand in hand. 

6. Seek out networking opportunities. Finding the right networks to engage with can be difficult. Conferences, events, and meetups are all great ways to network, and they can be a lot of fun. A great way to start is to pick a topic or cause that you are interested in, and find a local meetup group to meet other interested individuals. Finding these groups and events is as easy as using the internet, literallyBottom line: Only you can position yourself to gain from valuable networking situations.

That’s all for now, folks, so go forth and network!

Ps. Thanks to my sister Emmalie for the idea of this blog post.

Life Is Eventful: How Getting Out There Got Me Here

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We’re taught from a very young age that there are certain major life events that will have significant importance and deliver at least a modicum of respect. Being born (though you aren’t quite aware of that one), graduating from college, getting married, having children, buying a house, turning 50, etc. These are the Events with a capital ‘E’.

What no one really tells you, however, is the way the other kind of events will impact your life. These events will present the opportunity for learning, fun, and personal growth. Occasionally they will offer you a few hours of complete anonymity, and with it the extraordinary chance to be whoever you want.

When you scan The Fetch each week, deciding which events you’d like to attend, you never know how they will go. You could meet a new friend, make a new connection that leads to a new job, or find the perfect person with…

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If Marissa Mayer Succeeds…

If Marissa Mayer succeeds in bringing Yahoo! back from the grave will it be attributed to hard work or good advice?

If Marissa Mayer succeeds will she be compared to Steve Jobs (in his 1996 resuscitation of Apple) or will she be heralded as “the female Steve Jobs”?

If Marissa Mayer succeeds will her haters still hate her or will they applaud her with the pretentious false air of having known she would succeed the whole time?

If Marissa Mayer succeeds will I have a better chance of being considered a person working in tech first, and a woman working in tech second?

And most significantly,

If Marissa Mayer succeeds will she go down in history as the person who saved Yahoo! or the woman who saved Yahoo! ?

Facebook Is What You Make Of It

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One of my close friends recently deactivated her Facebook account. When asked for the reason she told me, “This morning I saw a status update from a girl I haven’t spoken to in years. The status was about how bummed out she was about being unable to take her puppy back to school because it hadn’t had it’s shots. That was the moment I felt completely over knowing minute details about the lives of people I barely know.”

Fair enough.

I think it’s a safe bet that most people who have been on Facebook since the early years (ahem 2005) have at one time or another considered deactivating their accounts. Although I have seen a number of friends deactivate, most have reactivated. The most common reason for re-joining the herd is FOMO (fear of missing out) related to all those events, handily posted to Facebook.

Fact: It’s hard to be in the loop and not on Facebook at the same time.

What I want to advocate here is not settling for being bombarded with useless nonsense about people that you barely know.  I want to advocate for curating your Facebook accounts to deliver you relevant information about people you actually care about. (That shouldn’t sound as refreshing as it does.)

Do some spring cleaning.

I regularly go through my “friends” list and try to delete anyone that I can’t remember talking to within the last six months. For those of you worried about cutting out people permanently, Facebook has added a nifty “unfollow” feature that will allow you to remove said “friends” from your news feed. The “review tags” function is also handy, especially with so many employers scouring potential employees’ Facebook accounts for incriminating photos. On the note of employment…

Facebook as a professional tool? Yes you can!

When I started working in the Bay last summer I was unsure how to approach being “friends” with my employers on Facebook. The obvious solution was to make a second, professional account. Before you write this off as too much effort, let me say it was one of the smartest things I’ve done in a while. My professional account is kept on public, and allows me to share blog posts with the family members, teachers and colleagues who don’t necessarily need to know every detail of my personal life. If you search for my name on Facebook you’ll find my professional account, not my personal account. Oh, and the best part? You know every time you’re asked to log-in to a site through Facebook? I use my professional account, with no worries that my private information will be accidentally shared with the world.

The last point I want to make is in relation to a somewhat disconcerting trend I’ve noticed recently. Not only is “Facebook stalking” a real thing, a waste of time, and (very) creepy, it is also proven to affect overall happiness and self-esteem. If you find yourself wasting time on Facebook doing this I’d recommend adding a Google extension like StayFocusd. Another good trick is to not keep your Facebook automatically logged-in.

Now log off your Facebook and go play outside, it’s Spring!