A Photo Timelapse: Month 3 at Upgrow, Inc.

I cannot believe it has been three whole months out of my six-month apprenticeship at Upgrow. It’s so cliche to say this, but I have honestly learned so much, grown so much, and become (it feels like) a totally different person.

Because, as the adage goes, a picture is worth a thousand words, I’m posting pictures of this ridiculous journey, in honor of this halfway point.

On top of living in an absolutely gorgeous city and taking pictures with my phone that could go on postcards, I have published nearly ten blog posts to clients’ blogs and edited hundreds of web pages to optimize their SEO. I’ve learned more about marketing within three months than years of college classes could teach me. And I live in the universal locus for technology, where everyone is smart in the very specific way that means they will be excellent connections for my career path.

I can only hope my life continues to be awesome going forward – for the next three months of my apprenticeship as well as in the more distant future.

Working Overtime and a Pesach Away from Home: Week 6 at Upgrow, Inc.

I think my perception of time may be getting out of whack. The weeks go by so quickly, I feel like I write one of these updates every day. I wonder what makes time seem like it goes by so quickly—if I had to venture a guess, it would involve the percentage of time that we spend fully conscious of our surroundings. Childhood is spent in this state in perpetuity, adolescence sees it notably less, and adulthood allows it rarely if at all. If that’s the case, is this a necessary evil that comes along with becoming an adult? Or—and I admit this search for an alternative is motivated by a desire to believe this is a possibility—is there a method to slow time back down again?

I’m not sure. If the root cause is indeed a lack of awareness of grounded reality (as opposed to the abstractions which so often fill modern adulthood), a possible solution would be to systematically cultivate this awareness. But while I’ve done this by accident while intoxicated, the idea of doing it deliberately while not under any external influence is heretofore untested by me. I’ll have to update you on that next week.

I bring this up because of what I mentioned previously – about overcoming akrasia. The issue is that when I was in school, I would sit about, actively procrastinating on an assignment and knowing I was doing so. This was the form of akrasia that I thought I might be dealing with again, perhaps unknowingly. But not so; this new akrasia comes as thinking “I’d like to do this thing tonight” while standing on the train home, then coming home and eating dinner and then suddenly four hours have passed and where on earth did that darkness outside the window come from, oh I guess it’s bedtime now well maybe I’ll get to do the thing tomorrow.

So the problem of overcoming akrasia as a college student was solved by getting so overwhelmingly angry with myself that I had to either get my work done or go crazy, but the problem of overcoming it as a working professional seems to necessitate slowing down the perceived passage of time, or if that’s impossible, learning to get more done faster. (Ideally, it would involve doing both.)

Besides my difficulties with getting extra work done in my downtime, I’m doing very well at my actual job. Last week I worked a few hours overtime getting important projects done on very short notice, and my bosses seem to be very happy with me. I’m assisting in the management transition and taking on as much work as I can, which extends beyond my job description into some agency marketing work, including proofreading blog posts for the company blog.

My old boss had a few odd aspects to his workflow: for example, he always had way more projects than he could feasibly finish, he never assigned due dates or deadlines to anything, he rarely specified goals or provided scope specifications, and he was basically never completely transparent with the rest of the company. My new boss is exactly the opposite of all these things, which seems to be working out a lot better. I hope that, whatever company my old boss decided to work for, that it’s a better culture fit for him. He did say it paid a lot better.

The biggest thing I think I need to do at work is not get complacent with my current success. Life has demonstrated numerous times that it can turn on a dime and I need to be prepared for that possibility; and also, mere adequacy has never really been my style anyway. I need to keep taking on more responsibilities and getting even better at the ones I already have.

We have a contract writer who works on the SEO team with me, and I think I just got about as good as he is at writing articles. Now I think it’s time for me to start blowing his stuff out of the water. There’s not much better you can get for SEO than an A++ grade on Clearscope, but there’s plenty of room to improve in terms of rhetorical quality and speed. In every area, I need to make these sorts of improvements.

Outside of everything work-related, Passover (Pesach) was this past weekend, and this was the first time I had one away from home. I had my birthday away from home as well, but I was in the middle of moving in then, and I’d had very little time for any kind of real ceremony. I ate some cupcakes with friends in the community center and my fiancé bought me a stuffed rabbit. But Pesach… that’s a pretty big deal, the kind of thing my parents typically make a big fancy dinner and bring the extended family over for.

Really, Pesach is more “Jewish Christmas” than Chanukah is, despite the fact that the latter happens around Christmastime. (Other cultures have no obligation to stick their major religious holidays around Christmas, y’know.) So if you’d like, you can say this was sorta like my first Christmas away from home.

I didn’t sit around and mope, don’t worry, I’m not that much of an introvert. In fact, I went to a ceremony that was in fact much larger than my family’s—and I have a big family. There were perhaps thirty people there, a good ten percent of which weren’t even Jewish; they just decided to “come in and make Passover”, as the Haggadah says. And speaking of that, we used a rewritten “rationalist’s Haggadah”, which was equal parts tear-jerking and hilarious. After we ate a nice meal, we told a bunch of stories, sung bad parodies of songs from Hamilton and Portal (which were in fact a part of the rewritten Haggadah), and then hung around in a cuddle pile on beanbags in the living room, telling stupid jokes well into the night. I have a few drawings of this night that I think I’ll post here whenever I get around to finishing them.

The next morning I opened some care packages my parents had sent my fiancé and I, which included a lot of candy and chocolate, pancake and hot cocoa mix. (Why hot cocoa in the late spring? Why not? It’s California, it never gets below 50ºF here. Now’s as good a time as ever.) And I hung around being mostly out of it for most of the day, for some combination of the alcohol, the weed, and the staying up five hours past my normal bedtime, eating chocolate in my PJs. The only problem was that I fell off a motor scooter later that day while running an errand. Still, all in all, a pretty good first-Pesach-as-a-grownup.

Farewells and Changes: Week 5 at Upgrow, Inc.

At the beginning of this week, I found out my boss is leaving by the end of this week. Initially, I didn’t know what that was going to mean. After all, despite our previous difficulties, he taught me almost everything I know about SEO. The only way I know how to do most things is the way he taught me. Further, beyond the cursory interactions of office smalltalk and the occasional question about some techie thing, I’d had almost no interaction with anyone else at Upgrow until this week. (Well, except Yitzchak. I suppose I should be saying “anyone more experienced than me”.) The exclusive focus had been becoming a better assistant to my boss, and now that he’s leaving, I didn’t know what to do.

Up to this point, the entire SEO team of our company has been three people: my boss, a part-time contractor, and me. So I realized, with my boss leaving, I was going to have to step up. How was that going to happen? The first obvious thing is that we’re in the process of onboarding two new clients, which is a big front-loaded process involving an SEO audit for their entire website. I’d want to prioritize that in addition to my other projects, and further, get to know the rest of my team better.

With that plan in mind, I got started working on Monday. By Wednesday, I’d met the person who might end up becoming my new boss – a fun guy with an intense smile. He’s part-time for now, and he has other clients, but he may come on full-time later on. (Or maybe not: nothing is static in the realm of business.) I got on very well with him, and it turns out he has a background in tech as well. We talked over lunch about programming, career paths, and other such things.

Over the course of the week, I worked with my soon-to-be-ex-boss to transition all my projects as best as I could, and I got the go-ahead to start sitting in on client meetings (one of my main goals for this week, since it seems like a long time coming). I started deliberately talking more with the co-founders in order to take on more projects, and I’m happy that I click much better with everyone else at the office than I did with my boss. I’m usually a very sociable person, and clicking badly with someone like that threw me off a little. I’m glad it was just that relationship, but I’m also glad I found someone like that so early in my career: it taught me a ton of valuable lessons about the corporate environment which I’m sure to use from here on out.

Overall, everyone, especially the co-founders, have been doing their best to make the transition smooth. Still, there’s always that period where almost nothing actually needs to get done and things can just coast on momentum for a bit, and I think this week was that period. If things are going to go downhill, I anticipate that they’re going to start doing so next week.

As such, for next week, on top of continuing what I started this week, I’m planning on overcoming a bit of akrasia. I keep saying I’m going to get stuff done on the weekends and after my workdays, and yet I keep not doing it. I recall something Eliezer Yudkowsky wrote, about the three types of hard work necessary to accomplish difficult things. First, you have to not run away, which takes seconds; second, you need to sit down and work, which takes hours; and third, you need to stick at it, which takes years. The first and third come naturally to me at this point, but the second one has always been hard.

It could theoretically be comforting, to think that one of my favorite writers has the same issues I do with working long hours, and I could leave it there. But then I think, that’s no excuse. In Eliezer’s own words, reality is not graded on a curve. If I’m trying to do something really difficult, I need to get a lot better at this. I’m not putting in a desperate effort as if my life were at stake, though of course, it is. That’s about to change.

Priorities, Talks, and an Entirely-Un-Asked-For T-Shirt: Week 4 at Upgrow, Inc.

This week, as I promised I would do last week, I made a priority-ordered list of what needs to get done outside of work. Or, more properly, I decided on the One Thing that I’m going to do as much as possible for the next month, then laid out a rough timeline of the priorities for the rest of my apprenticeship.

In short, for the next month, I’m going to continue focusing on improving my Adulting On My Own skills, both in and outside the workplace. That means making sure I’m financially stable for the long haul, cultivating good relationships with my housemates as well as my coworkers, working on improving my marketing skills, and—this is the hard part—maintaining connections I made while I was staying at Reach.

I also got done a handful of other things which I didn’t plan to do in the last update but which are nonetheless very important. First off, I’ve started having weekly meetings on Friday evenings with Yitzchak, my Praxis pal who finally arrived in SF to work at the office in person about two weeks ago. This past meeting, we discussed humanism, religion, morality, and all other kinds of very fun deep topics.

That’s not all, and this last one surprised me too. After work on Tuesday, I was researching one of our clients in the hopes of understanding their industry better, and I ran across an industry talk the next day that the client was hosting at their office! I could not believe my luck and signed up for the talk right away, telling my advisors at Praxis that I couldn’t make the weekly Wednesday call. After work, I took a leisurely walk down to the office, had a nice dinner at a nearby burger place, and went to the talk. There were all kinds of cool people there, and the actual talk itself was about all sorts of cutting-edge time series database related stuff. I got to see a dashboard for a software that won’t exist until September! (No, I can’t show it to you, you perv. Wait till September like the rest of the public.)

After the talk, I chatted with a bunch of different people with the express intent of getting LinkedIn connections, because I’d eat a burrito with a fork before I’d walk away from a social event without making online connections. Turns out, one of the people I ended up talking to was the person on the client staff who hired our company in the first place! We had a super nice chat, discussed tech and marketing, and at the end she not only told me to help myself to the company-branded stickers they were handing out, she also grabbed me an entirely exclusive t-shirt and branded socks! I was literally so stoked. Nobody else got a t-shirt or socks! What did I do to deserve this privilege?? They’re really nice socks and I actually haven’t even taken them out of the packaging yet because they’re so awesome, although I did wear the t-shirt to work on Friday.

Anyway. It has officially been a month at this new job! Month 1 of 6 complete, and honestly it’s going pretty well. I’ve got a cheap and small but nice room in a group house with a signed lease and a security deposit, a relationship with my boss that’s moving in the direction of amicable, weekly discussions with a coworker that I’m becoming very good friends with, and some sweet company swag (and an open offer from my boss to maybe go to other client events to gather intel? what?). Next week, I’m going to work on doing a little bit more of all my stated goals, since I didn’t actually get around to making them in the first place till Wednesday and so I only had half a week to start implementing them. We’ll have to see how that goes; stay tuned!

Too Much To Do, Not Enough Time: Week 3 at Upgrow, Inc.

I was sick half of this week, which makes it a bit difficult to pass any significant judgement, but it seems to me that I’ve done pretty well at doing what I wanted to do last week, both in and out of work. I feel like I’m steadily reconciling with my boss, figuring out how he wants me to work for him and working that way. I’m still working on it, but it seems he dislikes me less now, and our weekly 1:1 exclusively contained discussions of projects, instead of its previous status quo of being mostly about the behaviors of mine that he disliked.

I’m also improving at my proper job description. I’m learning how to do a number of things, including link building and SEO article writing, with decent efficiency and correctness of technique. The biggest thing I’ve learned about SEO is that you always have way more data than you can or should try to make sense of, so you absolutely need to winnow it down before trying to work with it, since otherwise you end up going down time-consuming rabbit holes doing things which are not optimally efficient.

The most notable out-of-work things I’ve done this week are completing the move into my permanent residence, signing an Official Adult Lease™, and purchasing a bed, which isn’t that big a deal in the scheme of things but just feels like an Adult thing to do. Staying in a community center for a month was incredibly fun, but it also made me feel a bit like I didn’t have a home. Now, I feel more like I live in California.

My biggest current problem is optimization of time. Now that I’m no longer spending most of my non-working time hyper-analyzing past interactions with my boss to figure out what I’m doing wrong, I have time to do other stuff, but I need to understand what that other stuff should be. Possible candidates for top priority slots include, but are not limited to, resuming work on my tech projects, updating the websites I’ve made using what I now know about SEO, documenting some of the cool and important stuff I’ve learned about SEO from the standpoint of a beginner getting started, doing research on our current clients and learning tons of stuff about especially the tech-focused ones so I open avenues to potentially transition into working for them after I’m done working here, continuing to work on marketing certifications, re-starting work on tech certifications, reading books on business, and going to the community center I used to live at for purposes of networking.

Still, I’m optimistic. It’s very nice that we’ve made good enough financial choices that we don’t have to worry too much about money, even though we’re effectively paying twice the usual rent because we needed to put down a security deposit. I forgot to eat breakfast before I left this morning and I was able to buy myself pancakes at a cafe near work. It’s nice to have a place to call home, though I’m still working on thinking of it that way. (A definition of “home” that’s heretofore been static for thirteen years kinda does that.) And as with every week here, I’ve been meeting and hanging out with tons of interesting people.

The Importance of Perseverance and Umbrellas: Week 2 at Upgrow, Inc.

This job is getting very difficult, but not for the reasons you might expect. Yes, marketing is itself hard, but it’s actually been harder acclimating to the work environment. Not just the startup environment, though that definitely contributes, but my interactions with the people there. I made a few stupid social mistakes early on, and I have a few personality clashes with my direct supervisor which I need to work on.

Some of the most important things I’ve learned from this job so far, then, have actually been about how to work through such problems. I am learning a ton about marketing, because my supervisor is ridiculously good at what he does. But I could have learned marketing from any expert marketer: having an expert marketer that I don’t naturally get along with very well is an additional level of challenge, and I’m learning a lot about the social rules of the white-collar workplace as a result.

I would be lying to say it’s all sunshine and roses: actually, I seem to have brought a rare rainstorm to sunny San Francisco. But like the umbrella that snapped in half on the first day after I moved here and left me to walk soaking wet for miles, these difficulties are teaching me perseverance, as well as the importance of having a good umbrella.

As to the actual marketing work, it’s incredibly interesting. I never realized SEO could be so complicated: the last time I checked, keyword stuffing and cloaking were frequently-used tactics. Now, it’s all about knowing your audience and getting voluntary backlinks from reputable sites.

One of my recent projects I’ve been working on for a handful of clients is that latter, we call it “link building”. This encompasses many things, from posting useful answers on forums to giving helpful information to reporters, but what I’m currently working on is getting links from individual peoples’ blogs. Basically, the process is that I figure out some people who blog about the thing our client does, and I see if there’s a place on their blog where they’d improve their content by linking to our client. Then, I send an outreach email, asking for the link.

Outside of work, my life is less difficult and more surreal. Living with rationalists, I keep having very interesting conversations. Interesting, both in the sense of intriguing and strange. People here regularly use phrases like “terminal value”, “cached thought”, “operational definition”, and “cognitive dissonance”. Everyone knows the ANI/AGI/ASI distinction. I have only met one other person who is not currently working as a programmer. And yet, we have these discussions laying about on couches, playing stupid card games, and drinking wine out of boxes. I went for cheap Chinese with some dude who works for Google.

Since I’m living in a community center until I can move into my permanent residence, there are all sorts of people and events which come through here. I’ve learned about the YIMBY movement, about animal rights activism and the clinically proven benefits of meditation. It’s so interesting learning about so many different points of view and political movements that I’d never heard of in any great detail before.

California has, in general, been a healing force for me, mostly due to one of the first friends I made here. No later than two hours after landing in CA, I met an absolute ray of sunshine who helped me through the rain, and continues to do so. He’s made awesome, healthy food that I’ve been able to take in for lunch sometimes, led some of the best meditation sessions I’ve ever attended, and generically made the whole environment and experience very positive. We’re both moving out of the community center soon, but I very much hope we can stay in touch after we’re no longer housemates. This friend, along with my fiancé and my mom, have been my umbrella.

I dearly hope this metaphor made sense.

Where Did I Disappear To? Week 1 at Upgrow, Inc.

To anyone who doesn’t follow me on social media, it may seem like I’ve just up and abandoned this blog. In truth, what was happening was a very frantic cross-country move, and my first week at a brand-new job at a digital marketing startup in San Francisco, California. It’s a trusim that one can either explore or exploit: that is, one can find new opportunities, or utilize the ones one already has. There is a third option, though: explain. So in all, you can either find new opportunities, utilize the ones you’ve got, or write about what you’ve learned from it all. At present, I’ve done my exploring and am exploiting as best I can, but that doesn’t leave a lot of time to explain.

So from here on out, since I do like documenting stuff, I’ll be writing a series of blog posts about what I’m doing at my job, how I’m living in California on a crazy low budget, and as always, general stuff about life, the universe, and everything. Y’know, this blog’s usual content.

Today, I’d like to explain what I’ve been doing in my first week at Upgrow, that marketing startup I mentioned. I’ll talk about my finances in a later post, write about a really interesting guest speaker we had on our weekly Praxis Wednesday call this past week, and maybe I’ll also write about the process of moving cross-country in ten days.

Our office is in a co-working space in downtown San Francisco. The room only has seven desks in it, two of which are presently empty. (One of these will be filled by my Praxis pal Yitzchak, who decided to move on a longer timeline and work remotely in the interim.) This small office means that there’s no complicated structure of meetings that needs to happen: to communicate something company-wide, all we need to do is say it, or post it to the general Slack channel.

The biggest thing I’ve learned this week is how hectic startups can be. Last week—my first week—I took on projects for three of our SEO clients; this week, I’m adding the other three. I’m running as fast as I can just to keep up. As I was just starting Praxis, an alum talked about how starting his apprenticeship felt like drinking from a fire hose. Now that I’m here, I understand the sentiment.

On top of working, I’ve been completing some marketing certifications, reading up on the industry software, and generally making myself a more valuable employee. My direct supervisor is big on trying to make sure that we don’t have to take work home, but I enjoy watching marketing videos as I get ready in the morning. I’ve never much liked the idea of “work-life balance” anyways: if you care enough about either one, you’ll figure out how to fit them in. My mom worked rigorously at multiple startups while pregnant with me; ’nuff said.

The project I’m most proud of from this week is the one I did started on my very first day. One of Upgrow’s founders, Ryder, asked me to take over the LinkedIn marketing for one of our clients, a lock and security company called ASSA ABLOY. I created all the posts for this week for both of their campaigns (which works out to one post per day), and on Friday I made the ones for the next week. Turns out, I don’t even need those till the week after (that is, starting next Monday, 3/25 instead of 3/18), so I’m ahead of schedule.

This week, I’m continuing the projects I’ve already been assigned (they include suggestions for blog categories, keyword research, and local marketing with Google MyBusiness) and adding several new ones, for clients including Seal Software, InfluxData, and Mercer Advisors.

As a final note: after I get settled in this role, I’ll be resuming my study of machine learning and add more PDP updates, but I want to make sure I’m doing well at this new job first.