Something different, I apologize if you were expecting pure product and company analysis from this newsletter.
Some moments linger in my head pulling out certain emotions. I recall a certain online interaction where I replied seemingly earnestly about how a feature reaching 10 million people to be a pretty good moment of success that didn’t justify its deprecation. (Ironically, I wrote an article on how to make that determination when that time should come.) The person who I was responding to was a data scientist: and usually in those roles, the numbers of that profession get refined from mere data points. I understand the mindset of where they were coming from, you have objectives that you need to meet and despite having the ability to intimately know a person’s behavior through a suite of tools. Yet- there is no time to dive deep- the pressure for summarized reports are real. When the sample size is n = 1, its viewed as anecdotal, a mere fish swimming against the stream. Data scientists make the decision to see if that story that the data is telling them if it is significant. If that n = 1, was a customer who brought a certain amount of money- would they care more or less? To much chagrin as I was decidedly “ratioed” in the thread, I still found the removed analytical view of how they thought about the numbers to rub me the wrong way.
For all intents and purposes, I was a bad athlete. Not bad in the way how Skip Bayless might describe an athlete as bad. That charlatan would point to a series of crutch words like lazy, unmotivated, and not intelligent. I was bad from a purely statistical point of view. I didn’t win races. If you were to take the distribution of every single possible and historical performance of all of my cross country races, and track and field events, you would find someone who would land directly on the mean of that curve. My mile time although faster than average wouldn’t mark you someone who would have a future at the Pre Classic. Yet… every race mattered, every PR mattered, the feel of the track spikes striking a bed of rubber particles bound with latex and polyurethane mattered. I would spend the time and look and dig in data at FLRunners sizing up who I would see in my perpetual career of Junior Varsity races. Digging into their data mattered.
The memories made with my high school team, both good and bad, proven to me how compelling an effect of sport can have on one’s life. It’s one of the many frames that people can choose to see the world, and even so it has a certain degree of subjectivity. What does a loss mean to a team when it's a team on the brink of relegation to a lower league? How do people overcome personal challenges to triumph over a hurdle? In my very small world of South Florida Track and Field- it meant sustaining the flame of culture, knowing that hosting a good meet meant only pride for one’s work but what that meant for the schools visiting. There were maybe thousands of unique students who ran on those tracks, hundreds of races, with emotion bleeding from every time a starting gun was fired. From the eyes of an IAAF chairperson, what we held was a mere ant-pile, but for a team of sprinters and distance runners from Allapattah, those events were a place to express competition and their craft.
I have the same sense of idealism which hasn’t been beaten out of me when it comes to any project that I have the honor of picking up. I know that any artifact that I have a hand in helping create can hopefully meet that standard of mattering to someone. It’s why there was tremendous care on cultivating welcoming environments in undergrad, side-projects, and my work and day job. I feel that it's hard to find that sense of care and intentionality in many places nowadays. For one of the people who bemoan modern discourse like I, it feels like there is a lack of charity and intention. The result of it is a zero-sum political environment that is creeping into tech and nearly everything. Engineering resources to be bargained for, votes to win, markets to get share in. Like sport, one can view these spaces from a removed point of view. Points on a scoreboard… a series of Ws and Ls… money to be earned.
For many people, they will exist in spaces that people may not be able to fathom that exist. I remain continuously surprised and delighted by the fandoms, media, and art that comes from left field that I wasn’t purposely looking for. These are like little islands, some are more popular than others, some serve as terminals to other islands, all being these sorts of memory generating machines for people who decide to stay tightly networked into them.
So I remain nonplussed on why folks talk about these results of what other people or what they make in vacuums removed from the context of what matters. Like with the recent buzz about “communities”- its not about the fact that there’s a market to be made from it, its about the fact that people can feel fulfilled and have a sense of belonging in them. When people talk about new developments in tech, as equal to the new systems that are enabled from it, it’s more important in my subjective opinion of what new systems can enable for the people that use it. What people missed about the focus on the names like Mark Cuban, and the other market makers was the continuous neglect of the people on the other side of what the WSB phenomenon enabled.
In soccer, when you are taking a free kick that you hope to convert into a real opportunity to score, you don’t aim for the ball. You think about a point that exists outside of the ball’s position that when you swing your foot- it includes the ball when the path of your foot that hits it. Visualizing a point beyond the ball helps aim your foot to get the power and curvature of a free kick. When done right, it seems to defy reality to observers. The focus on the ball doesn’t matter- the motion does, the technique does, the practice to make that happen does.
I didn’t initially write this to talk about product or tech or media, but its a world I am consumed by. I wonder if my beginnings are my end. A product, end of the day is just something users and hire and fire. An individual contributor can share the same fate. Hopefully, we readjust that goal is to make something that matters, bettering that challenge is how to make something matter longer to someone. The real goal is make someone fondly regard it, to bring benefit. For others, the thrall of a bigger number is their call, what’s 10 million users but to be a rounding error?
I am struggling with a mix of cynicism and optimism, let’s call it a 35/65 balance. People need a safe environment to live in, the ability to pursue their goals- I see both at risk for many people who I know. As a result, I have hit a wall, like most people. My motivation to do things outside of work have diminished- I used to pridefully work on a litany of side projects, chasing the high of maybe 10 or so friends toying around with what was made. Like most 4 year olds, I share with them the penchant of throwing those projects away like they do with a toy that has seen too much attention. Not physically, I don’t bend my computer and toss it, but rather let the code rot as the shaky foundation of open source software that we all stand on which owes us nothing render the project inoperable.
Despite that wall, I still yearn to make something that means something to people, as well as meaning something to myself. Something that takes into account the person using it, something enjoyable, something memorable. Something like the oomph of Sam Burley hollering on the microphone at a track meet documenting a county 100m record. Something like my first pair of Brooks running shoes. Those moments mattered, maybe not to everyone, but to me and maybe them.
I know I am getting closer to my goal. I hope I find solace in that journey.
It’s a rough world out there, let’s remind ourselves to be kind and charitable to one another.