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.

What is a Feature Flag?

As a digital marketer, I wind up writing a decent number of articles for clients’ blogs. And as always happens when writing about a topic, I’ve learned a decent amount about these clients’ products. Our current biggest writing-focused client is Split, which is a B2B SaaS company selling feature flags as a service. But hold up, what on earth are feature flags? Well, I’m about to tell you.

A feature flag is a piece of conditional code that you wrap around any new feature, which links that feature to a dashboard. From this dashboard you can turn off the feature, release it to only a subset of your userbase, and generally manage all your features so you can see which ones are in use.

Now, how exactly is this useful? To start with, imagine a pre-existing codebase for a currently-working app. You don’t always start with this—one of the ways to implement continuous deployment is to start with a blank canvas—but this is usually how it works and is one of the most common feature flag use cases. Now, imagine a dev team working on a new feature to add to that app.

Without feature flags, this looks like a number of things, all of which are sub-optimal. You end up releasing only a few times a year because you need to do endless testing to make sure things aren’t broken before you push to production. You get crazy long-lived feature branches that take forever to merge back to trunk (“master” in Github terminology) and make a huge mess when they finally do. Or, worst, you accidentally break something but don’t realize until after you’ve already pushed to production, and you have to do a painful rollback to the previous version to fix the bugs, then re-release afterwards, and deal with the fallout from

With feature flags, the scenario looks much better. Instead of testing with your staff before pushing to production, just test in production on your real users—starting with just a select few of them, who have perhaps opted in to be guinea pigs. Instead of making branches which may or may not outlive their welcome and/or create a merge hell when you try to get them back to trunk, you can do everything straight in trunk. And if you break something anywhere in this process, you can just turn the feature off, no rollback required.

Beyond simply making development less of a headache overall, there are some specific things you can do with feature flags that are much harder otherwise. Some notable examples include continuous integration/delivery/deployment, canary releases and phased rollouts, and dark launches.

Continuous integration is the process of constantly and deliberately merging every code change to trunk (/master). Continuous delivery is constantly pushing each change to a production-like environment where there’s only one step of manual testing before it goes to end users. Continuous deployment is similar to continuous delivery, but without the manual testing: automated testing is the only step between the code deployment and the end users.

Canary releases and phased rollouts are similar in that they both involve releasing new features to only a subset of the userbase at first. With a canary release, the userbase subset is chosen and targeted to be test subjects, and they act like a canary in a coal mine, letting developers know whether the feature is safe to release to the broader public. With a phased rollout, you begin with a subset, which you then slowly ramp up until you’ve released to your entire userbase.

Dark launching is, literally, the process of launching a feature while keeping your users in the dark. Specifically, you use all the portions of your real infrastructure that would ordinarily be used in serving the feature, but you don’t actually show it to users. Feature flags can make this happen by letting you restrict access to only internal users, which lets the developers activate the feature in absence of a real code deployment.

There are a bunch more uses for feature flags – some of which are detailed on Split’s or FeatureFlags’s use cases pages, others can be found on Martin Fowler’s blog.

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!

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.