Category Archives: Professional


So much for my wishful thinking.  Losing your boss and his boss is not good for morale.  After many sleepless nights, I have a lot of reflection to do.

Here’s a poem for the moment:

How Did You Die?
By Edmund Vance Cook

Did you tackle that trouble that came your way
With a resolute heart and cheerful?
Or hide your face from the light of day
With a craven soul and fearful?
Oh, a trouble’s a ton, or a trouble’s an ounce,
Or a trouble is what you make it.
And it isn’t the fact that you’re hurt that counts,
But only how did you take it?

You are beaten to earth? Well, well, what’s that?
Come up with a smiling face.
It’s nothing against you to fall down flat,
But to lie there — that’s disgrace.
The harder you’re thrown, why the higher you bounce;
Be proud of your blackened eye!
It isn’t the fact that you’re licked that counts;
It’s how did you fight and why?

And though you be done to death, what then?
If you battled the best you could;
If you played your part in the world of men,
Why, the Critic will call it good.
Death comes with a crawl, or comes with a pounce,
And whether he’s slow or spry,
It isn’t the fact that you’re dead that counts,
But only, how did you die? . .

Silly Goose!

It’s been an interesting couple of months 🙂

The first version of the project I was working on in the Gates Foundation was released a couple months ago.  The feedback so far is almost universal disapproval.  It’s humorous that this response is better than what I expected.

  • The problems that have been identified are fixable
  • The conversations to improve the system have finally taken off
  • Leadership has stayed committed to the goals that were defined

I may have skipped out on an MBA for this opportunity, but there are no classes in the world that could have given me a better business education.  What an incredible experience!

I’m adopting a kitten.  My girlfriend and I named him “Silly Goose” months ago and now we finally have him in our hands.  Well… I will have him in my hands soon.  Megan is on a two month stint as a nurse with Project HOPE in South America.  Silly Goose and I are looking forward to welcoming her home.

In my short time as a pseudo-bachelor, I’ve run through an amazing assortment of gadgets:

  • Sold my 17″ Macbook Pro and got an HP 2140 – I love Apple and its eBay resale value.  Surprisingly, I sold the Macbook Pro for $50 more than what I purchased it for six months ago.  The tiny HP 2140 netbook has proven itself to be a ridiculously cheap and effective replacement.
  • Bought and sold a Viliv S5 – I worked with a tiny OQO machine for over an year and loved it.  However, computers that small are not really for productivity.  The company is now out of business.  I purchased a Viliv S5 from Hong Kong to see what the buzz was about and sold it one day later.  I couldn’t justify keeping it.
  • Bought a Slacker G2 Radio – I’m very impressed with the Slacker Radio Service.  I don’t like purchasing music and I no longer have a regular radio.  Slacker provides customized music stations and artist discovery for a very reasonable price. You either hate or love the music it plays and it customizes the playlist accordingly.
  • Purchased a Advanced Frames Inflatable kayak – I knew I wanted a kayak but I never thought I would get an inflatable.  The Advanced Frames kayak weighs as much as a regular kayak but is infinitely more portable.  I take it down to a launching point on Lake Union and inflate it.  This is a purchase you can’t justify by dividing the cost of a kayak by the number of weekend kayak rental trips.  I simply kayak much more often because I own one.
  • Bought a Kindle 2 eBook Reader – Another purchase that can’t be justified by simple math.  With an eBook reader, I just read a lot more books than I would than at a library or through a brick and mortar book store.  It’s wonderful!

There are a ton of cool gadgets coming out soon.  I’m sure I’ll be checking a few of them out.

  • Palm Pre – I predict that Palm will resurrect itself with this awesome phone and finally give the iPhone some competition.  I don’t I’ll get it because I’m not interested in a two year contract with Sprint
  • New Generation Apple Devices – I know a new iPhone is coming.  What else could Apple pull out this year?  What else will I initially dismiss but eventually buy?
  • Larger Kindle DX – Finally, a full page eBook reader that I can print my work documents to.  Who needs a 6″ screen when you can have 9.7″?
  • Nokia N97 – Unfortunately, I’ve pre-ordered this device despite knowing it won’t be a good fit.  For $200 off the retail price plus a bluetooth headset, I’m sure it will eBay well.

I’ve also caught up on a ridiculous number of TV Shows:

  • First Season of Fringe – This looks like a cross between the X-Files and Alias.  Its one of the best new shows I’ve seen in a while.  With all the good shows ending over the past couple of years – the Wire, Shield, Heroes (I like to pretend that ended after the first season), Sarah Conner Chronicles, Battlestar Galactica – it’s nice to have a new show to enjoy.
  • Seventh Season of 24 – Almost too predictable after 7 seasons.  It’s still fun to watch, but its novelty is gone.  Jack Bauer needs to retire.
  • Dollhouse – It’s been renewed for another season, but I’m not sure if I like this show yet.  I’ll give it time.
  • Season 5 of Lost – This is definitely my favorite show of all time.  The season finale was another game changer.  It’s too bad that there is only one season left.

I’ve had visits from my friends in other states and countries, and I’ve taken a few trips on my own.  Life is good.  I will be launching another workoutrageous competition.  I’m looking into twitter integration…

Polar Bears or the Poor?

“It is interesting how often the impact of climate change is illustrated by talking about the problems the polar bears will face rather than the greater number of poor people who will die unless significant investments are made to help them” – Bill Gates, in his 2009 Annual Letter

Polar bears or people?  Unfortunately, it’s obvious that the impact of climate change on Polar Bears would resonate more with a Western audience than hordes of suffering people in Africa.  Even more unfortunate is that this statement is applicable to almost every world problem.  If underserved populations around the world looked more like sad puppies or disheveled kittens, perhaps we wouldn’t have to market global issues this way.  Kudos Mr. Gates… you’ve used a single concise statement to describe the frustration of millions of social workers.

My work is getting more intense as we approach a major deadline.  I’ve had a chance to reflect on some of my key decisions over the past few months:

  • I did not apply for an MBA.  Given the state of the economy and the fact that I’m already in an organization that I would join post-MBA, I’m happy with the status quo.  I’ve recognized that movement within the Gates Foundation is more difficult than I imagined.  An MBA might not be the right degree to help me get to the positions I want.
  • I’m downsizing my material possessions.  It’s time to go back to the basics… getting rid of the 52″ LCD TV, netflix subscriptions, most of my gadgets, and potentially most of my furniture.  I plan to reinvest this into the community using my 3:1 Gates Foundation match.  My job gives me an option to be a social entrepreneur in my community.   I’m going to take full advantage of it.

Another Workoutrageous competition has started.  This would be the 5th one since I created the site.  For the first time, someone else is the Administrator.  I plan to make updates “in game” based on her feedback.  The code base is stable.  I’m excited about how it will go… maybe my mistake in previous games was being the Admin.  While I’m great at development and solving the technical side of the game, I have definite weaknesses on the social side of it.

Leadership and Feedback

This has been a very interesting week.  Work is getting tougher and tougher as we approach a major deadline but I’m enjoying it tremendously.  However, there are a number of challenges in our project that need to be addressed.

Surprisingly, we had a forum where our executive leadership allowed us to discuss our problems.  I thought it was a great idea.  However, there were two unexpected outcomes:
– I discovered that there were people suffering from the same challenges who had not been vocal about it before.  This was very reassuring.
– The people who had been vocal about problems did not want to speak up.  This was incredibly disconcerting.

I asked my question to leadership and they addressed it as well as they could.  It seemed like they were recording my thoughts for future action.  This made me happy.  However, right after the meeting, I felt worried.  Many of my peers felt like the forum was not the right place to discuss certain problems and that specific questions would be “career limiting moves”.

I feel like I made the right decision in voicing my concerns but I appreciate the challenge that executives face when searching for feedback.  How do you create an environment where concerns can be heard while people do not feel threatened? .

Two More Weeks

It’s been a busy two weeks since my last post!

  • A friend and I met with Mayor Nickels for lunch in his office.  He was incredibly charismatic and charming.  Highlights included his thoughts about his time at the Democratic National Convention and his ideas on the light rail.
  • Texas has won its first four games by ridiculous margins.  Is this the year?  It’s burnt orange Friday for me every week till the end of the season.
  • My work is going well, but I definitely feel more like a consultant than a full time Gates employee.  However, there are occasions when I realize how amazing it is to be part of such an incredible organization.  Two weeks ago we had a going away party for Patti (our current CEO) and I loved the energy.  We’re changing the world here!
  • The financial crisis is insane.  Washington Mutual closing down?  While I’m not a McCain hater or supporter at this point (I admired him so much during his first 25 years as a maverick… not as much now), he mentioned a spending freeze during the debates.  That’s a huge deal… . I’m not sure if I would agree with what he’d freeze though.
  • Watched the entire fourth season of House.  It is a great show.  It seems to follow the same story line formula for each episode, but I really enjoy how they mix it up occasionally.
It’s still sunny in Seattle.  I’m under the weather today so I can’t enjoy it as much, but life is good.

Seattle: The Most Beautiful Place on Earth

I’ve traveled around for most of my life, and I have yet to find a place as beautiful as Seattle is during the few months of the year when the sun goes up at 5AM and sets at 10PM.  The temperature is moderate, the greenery is plentiful, and the people all seem to have a sparkle in their eyes.  Last weekend, I witnessed the July 4th fireworks on Lake Union on a upscale houseboat and had an incredible time.  I did miss Mark and Erin who were my usual July 4th house boat buddies.  They were having their own fireworks with the birth of their son Chance!!

I’ve just finished up my first month at the Gates Foundation.  A couple of days ago, the company had a picnic and I was astounded at how small we are.  As an undergrad at the University of Texas, I had more people in most of my classes than employees at this company picnic.   It was a great experience to meet so many of my coworkers and their families.  The event was set up as a children’s paradise; there was a little train going around the facility, an “iron man” rubber jumping castle, an obstacle course with tons of slides and ropes, and dozens of little flotation devices in the waters near Vasa Park.  The highlight of the day was seeing Bill Gates Snr sing “Tiny Bubbles” in a wig while the executives blew bubbles in the background.  This was a great send-off for CEO Patty Stonsifier who was serenaded with a creative ballad celebrating her accomplishments.  What an amazing human being!

I’m starting to adjust to my project and my new life in Seattle.  Over the past two weeks, I’ve gone hiking and kayaking multiple times.  My workoutrageous competition is going well, and I have little to complain about these days…

3rd Week Struggles

As a consultant, one of my challenges was always rolling onto a project and quickly learning enough to make a huge impact.  I expected to have a more normal pace of learning as a full time employee, but it’s been difficult to get away from the “consultant” mentality especially when surrounded by a group of elite consultants.  Unfortunately, I’m struggling with adjusting to the new job and understanding a complex system that is in the final stages of design.

So far, like the consultants, I’ve been focusing on the current project.  With my new role, that is a huge mistake.  At a consulting company, the overall informational sessions and training are usually optional.  I’m realizing that company meetings at the Foundation (which may have nothing to do with the current project) are a critical building block for my career and for the value I can bring to this team.  They are not optional.  I need to switch from concentrating on short-term deliverables to understanding the big picture by attending these larger Foundation meetings.  The people I meet there are the ones who will ultimately use our work.  Until I can truly understand what they want, I won’t be able to represent their unique perspectives with the consultants on our team.  My unique value-add needs to be my understanding of the Foundation, and my ability to rock the boat when I feel that a design decision conflicts with what our people need.

Our people… it’s interesting that I chose that wording.  Maybe it’s a step in the right direction to realize that I represent a different group now.  However, I cannot forget that everyone is driving towards the same goal and balkanizing the team would be detrimental.

In other news, Workoutrageous has about 8 people signed up right now.  I’m not sure if I was expecting more or less, but I’m disappointed at how “numbers-driven” I am.  Whether there are 8 people or 800 people, my goal for this first competition should be the user experience.  My mentor mentioned I should focus on quality and not quantity.  I may not have a great attitude about this competition yet, but I’m lucky to have a good mentor.

Starting Gates and Hitting the Wall at Camp Muir

Starting GatesHow often can a person say that they started work at a company along with its future CEO?  “Starting Gates” is the official training program for the Gates Foundation.  It is a polished introduction to everything the Foundation works on and what its employees need to be aware of.  Its a lot of material for three days, and it’s admirable that it lives up to its mission.  Our group of 20 people also made pasta together at the Blue Ribbon Cooking School nearby, which was delicious and the event was a great team-building experience.  Highlights of the training were:

  • Bill Gates Snr. spoke to us about how the foundation was formed.  He was so casual about it… I was struck by how vibrant, pragmatic, and friendly he was.
  • Patty Stonesifier, the departing CEO, discussed her background with the Foundation and how she moved it from a focus on libraries to the biggest non-profit organization in the world.  I was moved by her tears during the presentation.  It was obvious that she has given her heart and soul to these efforts and that she fully expected us to continue her legacy.
  • Raj Shah talked about Global Development and I was stunned at both his presentation skills, his passion, and the depth of knowledge that he shared.  It’s the newest program in the Foundation and it has incredible potential. .  I’ve known that I wanted to be part of Global Development since I joined the foundation and I am more convinced than ever that I need to figure out how to get there as a program officer.
  • We had the pleasure of attending the three day training with Jeff Raikes, who is the future CEO, and his executive assistant.  They were asking so many of the questions we hear from our Subject Matter Experts at the foundation.  I’m certain that they will do an amazing job at the Foundation. 
  • Our start group was made up of some of the most remarkable people I have ever met.  They had such diverse backgrounds.  It’s likely I won’t see many of them again because of the broad spectrum of work here, but it’s good to know the Foundation is in good hands.
  • Finally, I learned about the “Boss”.  The Boss is all the disadvantaged people in the world who lack access to the basic building blocks of a good life.  At the Foundation, our mission is to do whatever it takes to ensure that all lives have equal value. It’s am ambitious challenge, but as long as we keep the Boss at the center of our decisions, we’ll move closer to our goals.

I was struck by how different this was from all the other orientations I’ve ever had in my life.  It wasn’t a socially driven experience.  There were no cheesy icebreakers or late-night binge drinking sessions.   You felt that the material was a snapshot of the company at a particular moment in time… that in a few months, the orientation would have different presentation all together as the game changed.   I had a great time!  It wasn’t the high I get from drinking company “kool-aid”, but the feeling that I was part of an amazing mission.

A Champion and a ChickenThe week began and ended with hikes.  I took a trip to Twin Falls with a few friends to reconnect.  I was surprised how much the event tired me out… it was great for socializing but my conditioning was off.  I should have realized it was an omen.  At the end of the sleepless tiring week, I went to Camp Muir with some champion hikers.  I’ve done this hike twice before.  The first time was challenging, but I made it up and down fairly well.  The second time was during my training for the Samsung Melbourne Marathon, and it felt easy.  This time, I hit a brick wall by the time we hit Pebble Creek about a third of the way in.  I was struggling and eventually I had to stop.  It was both painful and embarrassing.  The others were forced to cut the hike short.  I don’t know if the additional snow on the mountain was partially responsible for my breakdown, but its becoming clear that I can’t take my fitness level for granted anymore.

This makes the launch of Workoutrageous this week even more important for me.  I’m going to need a push to get back into shape.  I don’t know if many people will join in, but it’ll be a building block for everyone to build a good habit and support a great cause.

First Week of Saving the World

an awesome annual volunteer event.  This year, I went with with the Gates Foundation so that I could meet up with some folks before I officially started that Monday.  If this experience is a microcosm of my future at the Foundation, I’m truly going to love it here.  

Sometimes people start a new job hoping for a clean slate – a new group of people to work with and tasks that are different from the previous job.  I certainly expected this with my move from consulting to a non-profit.  I was literally shocked when I realized that I would be working with the same consulting company again in a role fairly similar to what I had done when I had first joined THAT company.  The shock wore off when I realized who I’d be working with.  It wasn’t just random people, but many of my favorite colleagues on a short list of folks I could really relate too.  They were familiar faces that I knew had come here for a reason, and might stay here for a while if we could build something special.  A clean slate would have been great, but this is the best transition anyone could ever dream of.

The project we are working on has also allayed my fears of taking a step back with this job.  I may not be a famous scientist or economist, but I’m going to have a chance to make their lives easier and more efficient.  As a consultant, I would have been involved with only a small part of this monumental task.  As an FTE (Full Time Employee), I can truly invest myself in the future of this endeavor.  This may be the opportunity of a lifetime!

In short, I’m excited about my new job.  I’m not sure how long this honeymoon will last, but things are looking good.  I spend next week getting a more extensive look at how the Foundation operates.  This will be great for my new role and for my new career. 

This weekend will focus on launching and hiking.  The weather is finally looking phenomenal here in Seattle.  It’s about time!