Categories
On Work

Eight months, in an office

10 months ago, I was living what I thought was a dream: working remotely for a decently-buzzed tech startup where I was the lead product guy. I could work in my underwear, start and end whenever I wanted, have free reign to work and travel wherever I pleased.

Then in May, said startup laid me (and pretty much everyone else) off with a week’s notice.

I had seen this coming for almost a year for various reasons I won’t get into — but what did surprise me was the ease of getting back on my financial feet. Those of us who got laid off were offered a new job pretty quickly by Wayfair, an e-commerce giant also based in Boston. So that’s where I ended up.

Eight months later, I find myself finally in my element again. The first three months in this job were total culture shock: I was uncomfortable around so many people, all of them wanting to talk to me all about the work and nothing but the work. I was frustrated with having to commute to an office at all, let alone walking down the street like I would regularly do in New York.

But over the last few months, I figured out a rhythm to make it work for me. It’s certainly not a perfect situation — but then again, what job is, really? — but I’ve had some time to reflect about being in an office again.

(Disclaimer: this is primarily about the experience of working in an office environment, particularly after a stint in startup culture, and is in no way intended to be a reflection of the work I do, or my employer, at all.)


Wayfair employs thousands of people and has an office right next to Copley Square in Boston. When you walk into the office for the first time, it’s hard to not feel like you’re part of something massive, given just how many people are flocking to the Copley Plaza complex between 8 and 9am. You’d think one of the stores in the Copley Plaza Mall was having a blowout — nope, these are just Wayfair employees trudging into work.

After a few weeks, though, the awe of big company size and impact turns into drone-like fatigue…especially as wintertime sets in. Droves of sleepy, freezing employees passing through subway turnstiles, huddling underneath half-broken umbrellas and avoiding puddles of slush (and being forced above ground to avoid MBTA construction), just to stare at a PC screen and talk in corporate-speak.

Simply having to be at the mercy of weather sucks. When I was working from home, if it was snowing out, I could just stay inside. I technically have the facilities to work from home in my current job, too — so it can be frustrating to eschew all this technological capability just to be present in the office culture. Wayfair has offices in several locations around the US and Europe; I can’t tell you how many times I questioned my battling of snowstorms to get into the office, only to sit on calls with my Berlin colleagues all day.

That said, if you’re stuck on calls all day at home, you might never leave the house. Get this: working in an office forces you out into the world. This is something I completely took for granted as a remote worker — I would occasionally run out to a coffee shop for a while to get stuff done, but nothing was more comforting than parking it on my couch for 9 hours straight save bathroom and lunch breaks.

Speaking of which, when you begin to compare home-work and office-work life, tiny subtle details start to surface about your lifestyle. For instance, The cost of your utilities start to become something you scrutinize monthly — I drastically underestimated how much I was spending to run electricity and heat during the ’14-’15 winter while working at home. Finding food to eat in an office is a really hit-or-miss thing, depending on where your office (or home) is located. I have the benefit of being right near Copley Square, where food trucks and solid restaurants abound. My last office job was in an awkward part of East Cambridge, MA, where our best culinary options were in a mall food court. At home, you’re really at the mercy of your grocery list or what (if any) restaurants are nearby; back in NYC, this wasn’t a problem, but in quieter parts of the world, this could certainly be a drawback.

Everyone who Product Manages knows the difficulty of trying to herd cats — oops, I mean colleagues — toward a shared product vision, and this difficulty is only amplified when doing it from afar. Being in the office ensures presence from everyone who matters, including my/yourself. I find myself more productive overall, simply because I had face time with colleagues working on projects with me — and no at-home distractions, like my guitars or my television. I can also use my commute to unwind and/or focus on things I’d never be able to focus on given those distractions. I’ve started writing again simply because I have over an hour of “free time” on the train every day.

Working in an office can be painfully social. To avoid talking only about the work, you need to find common interests with your colleagues: in Boston, it’s generally assumed that this is Boston sports. If you’re not actively following the Bruins/Pats/Sox (or worse yet, following another city’s team) you’re already at a disadvantage. I’ve come to develop a personal brand around music snobbery, pop culture savvy and a more casual tone, which people seem to appreciate outside of my general apathy for sports.

Once you figure your general vibe out, though, working in an office can be delightfully social. You actually start to make friends and engage in social conversations and outings you never would’ve had sitting at home or in a coffee shop all day long. Sure, there’s spontaneity involved with serendipitously meeting new people at your local coffee shop, but there’s something equally spontaneous in the side conversations that happen at work. My aforementioned music snobbery may manifest itself during a discussion of weekend plans, which may lead to a colleague/friend to check out a band with.

And what happens when the work gets to be too much, and you find yourself stuck at the office all day? Isn’t that the beauty of working wherever you choose? What about those giant cultish companies who directly incentivize their employees to spend all waking hours at the office, or even sleep there?

Well, so, you can just leave. If there’s more work to be done, and your company has a VPN, you can catch up on work at home after having a lovely dinner at a reasonable hour with your significant other. I’ve come to realize (again) the importance of balance — not necessarily the lofty, unattainable “work/life balance” construct of 9–5, but finding a personal balance where I’m challenging myself and working hard, but not burning myself out and still finding time to reflect and find fulfillment elsewhere in my life.


Certain parts of the tech/startup industry paint office culture as a thing of the past, rendered unnecessary by new collaboration technology. Fully-distributed organizations are popping up everywhere, promising uber flexibility and balance. I admire these companies’ ability to embrace technology to try and bring more happiness to their employees — though it is certainly not perfect either. Remember that distributed companies (or remote work at all) is a fairly new concept, far from perfected by any one organization — and the larger the company is that you work for, the harder it is to adapt the necessary processes and technology to enable that flexibility.

All in all? I certainly don’t hate everything. My commute is sometimes frustrating, as can be the work, but that’s part of dealing with everyday life. I genuinely like quite a few of my colleagues (both in and outside of work), which after being remote for a while is quite refreshing. And I’ve achieved a balance that, at least for now, I’m happy with.

The question I now find myself asking more frequently is: where does this go? Do I advance up the food chain of a strong brand with its corporate quirks, or do I keep my hand in some things that could result in more personal freedom? What will ultimately make me a better, happier person?

Well, how many licks does it take to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop?

Categories
On Creating

Product Hunt for abcdefghijklmnopqrstuvwxyz

This was originally published on my personal site/blog.

The other day I came across Telescope, a product that lets anyone launch their own community site, Product Hunt-style. Just when you think you’ve seen too many “Product Hunt for X” sites, someone gives you the ability to generate as many of them as humanly possible.

It’s not inherently a bad or stupid idea, I swear. But every time someone develops some sort of platform that “lets you make your very own X”, I get a little terrified at the implications that platform may have on society — or, more specifically, the silly ideas that the platform enables. If the “Uber for X” mentality gave us things like this, I can’t imagine what a well-marketed “Product Hunt for X” solution gives us.

Because I get bored during my commute sometimes, I came up with a few ideas for Telescope sites that I thought might be good1. Yay for rapid brainstorming!

  • Anxiety Hunt: submit what’s making you anxious at any particular moment; others can upvote the things that they’re also anxious about. Let’s all be upfront about our insecurities, k? (Speaking of which, is Post Secret still a thing?)
  • Bitch Hunter Hunt: Upvote the best lines from the amazing, non-existent movie starring Will Ferrell, Bitch Hunter.
  • Crack Overflow: Stack Overflow, but for people who periodically suffer from plumber’s crack. (What do you post on a site like that? I don’t know, I wear skinny jeans.)
  • Duck Duck Hunt Hunt: post and upvote screenshots and videos of your favorite moments from the classic game, Duck Hunt.
  • Ethan Hunt: Product Hunt for all things Mission: Impossible.
  • Fuck Hunt: Basically, Product Hunt for porn. V2: import the top voted porn images into a live web version of Duck Hunt!
  • Grunt Hunt: Inspired by Eugene Mirman’s I’m Sorry, You’re Welcome, this gem lets users upload and vote on the best interpretations of various sound effects performed by their own speaking voice.
  • Helen Hunt: Product Hunt for all people in the world named Helen. Vote which ones you think are the best! Except Helen Hunt, of course.
  • I Hunt Myself: For the ultimate narcissist, this platform allows you to submit virtually anything you care about and upvote them based on your personal ranking of those things. The twist? You’re the only one who can access your list. And every upvote triggers a little “Me me me!” sound effect.
  • Jerk Hunt: Product Hunt for douchebags. You literally post about a shitty person and something shitty they did, and people agree with you. The worst people are highest voted. We’re terrible people, right?
  • Karma Hunt: Post something good you did for somebody, and people upvote the most charitable acts. Do you get any actual good karma from this? Probably not. It’s mostly self-serving.
  • Luck Hunt: Product Hunt, but if you’re the Xth person to upvote something, you win money. THIS IS THE NEXT LEVEL OF FANTASY SPORTS, BABIES.
  • Meta Hunt: Product Hunt for “Product Hunt for X” sites. Product Hunt is sort of already this, but I figure let’s cut out the BS and make a site dedicated to this thing.
  • Nuck Hunt: Same as the aforementioned Fuck Hunt, but for Canadians.
  • Oregon Trail, Telescope Edition: This version of insanity takes the original beloved computer game, The Oregon Trail, and puts every possible scenario in a list. You have a limited number of upvotes and can use them toward rations, game, diseases — literally everything the game has to offer — and the game returns a likeliness of you surviving the Oregon Trail with those decisions. Basically, a way less fun version of the game.
  • Problem Hunt: Upvote actual problems around which people should build products to solve — they can be any problems, large or small. (Disclaimer: this one’s kind of a real idea, and it already existed once as Real Problem Hunt but was shut down — I think this deserves to come back at some point.)
  • Quote Pilot: You know all those sites with huge lists of inspirational quotes? Ever want to make your own soundbyte-y quote? Submit it here and people upvote the most moving ones. Because we need more inspirational quotes every day!
  • Reverse Hunt: Vote for the least cool things. The less votes, the better. Countercultures, unite.
  • Sidetracked: the Game: submit something that distracted you today — anything at all. Other people upvote the things also distracting them. The test: seeing how many of those things you can avoid clicking on. It’s totally a game!
  • Telescope Hunt: Product Hunt for all sites made with the Telescope platform. (No relation to Meta Hunt, of course…)
  • Uber Hunt: Product Hunt for Uber drivers. Or is it Uber for Product Hunt fans? THE WORLD MAY NEVER KNOW!
  • Viral Hunt: Product Hunt, but with auto-sharing upon every upvote. You thought you couldn’t post any more content to your followers? Think again!
  • Witch Hunt: Post people you think are witches, and then others can upvote if they agree with you. Then we burn the highest-voted ones at the stake!
  • X for Product Hunt: Post and upvote features for Product Hunt. (This isn’t actually that bad of an idea for a feature request tool…?)
  • Yerba Hunté: Upvote the best kinds of maté…?
  • Zoo Hunt: Zoo animals. Which ones are the best? I’m done with this list.

Was this amusing, inspirational or otherwise decently good? Let me know — follow me on Twitter or here.

  1. That is, ideas that will probably get made regardless of whether they’re actually good. In fact, most of these are completely ridiculous. But so are people who insist on making their own “hunt” sites for every possible niche they can think of. Yay products! ↩︎
Categories
On Creating

Peak live music, or no more surprises

What do you do when you stop caring about something you used to love?

I moved to Salem, MA and basically stopped actively seeking live music. I still see live music — say, when my girlfriend and I go out to brunch and a jazz band happens to be performing there, or when a once-in-a-lifetime performance in the city happens — but for years I would spend hundreds of dollars almost every month trying to see as many bands as possible. There were so many possibilities, even in “our music scene is dying” Boston — I would frequent Great Scott and Harper’s Ferry/Brighton Music Hall and The Middle East and (begrudgingly) TT the Bear’s (just kidding, RIP).

I don’t think it’s because I’m getting older. I don’t think it’s even because bands aren’t impressing me anymore. I still listen to recorded music constantly and find new bands via blogs and Apple Music and friends’ posts.

I do think saturation has something to do with it. Software is eating the world and the Internet is eating media, and both of these things are eating our ability to be surprised. The barrier to entry for anyone to become a musician is virtually gone, and it’s really easy for anyone with a slight ego to fight for your attention. The barrier to entry to start a blog or generate commentary on said music is also gone, so with every million bands that form, there are 100 million people ready to comment on said bands.

So you have tons of musicians out there, striving to outdo each other with better performances and more inventive production in order to satisfy the even more so-called critics. The caliber of the average musician is so much higher as a result — and every musician is looking to surprise you, the listener-critic, constantly. Every night holds hundreds of amazing shows competing for your time & attention — secret exclusive shows, bizarre live rigs, intense theatrics, warm acoustic sets — all of which are constantly trying to compete for your interest. It’s all amazing…until it’s all the same to you.

And so I’ve become desensitized to the ability to be surprised by live music.

I’ve been meaning to write about being a musician on the North Shore of MA and how live performance here is different than, say, Brooklyn or Cambridge or other major cities with credible music scenes. I wanted to write about the fact that there is a small but lively group of musicians hopping up and down the shore, playing long & extremely entertaining sets in front of small, passionate North Shore crowds at quaint restaurants and bars. I wanted to write about the scene being smaller, thus allowing me to have a shot of regularly performing with a tight-knit group of collaborators.

None of that has actually happened, and that’s on me. But when you struggle to be surprised by anyone else performing, how can you expect to be inspired to surprise others with your own performance?

Goal: by April, have a live acoustic/looper set prepared and book a show. Try it out.

Categories
Getting Better On Technology

On Macs and focus

I own an iPad, but I really only use it to watch Netflix in bed with my fiancée since my iPhone 6s Plus is just too small enough for both of us to watch simultaneously. Outside of this pretty obvious use case, I’ve struggled to find a purpose for the gorgeous device in my life.

Everywhere I turn, though, I read about another person finding the iPad completely invaluable in their daily lives. It now exceeds the processing power of the average PC; its app ecosystem is generally much cheaper than the PC app ecosystem; it’s “more fun” to use than any device before. A lot of people who write about the iPad suggest that it allows for a level of focus beyond what Macs or PCs can allow.

I call bullshit. Anyone who says the Mac is too distracting has not given the Mac a fair shot since, well, 2 or 3 versions ago of OS X. Apple has made a series of beautiful, powerhouse laptops, build for demanding technical work — that also happen to be incredibly pleasant to use and conducive to focus.

I’m not suggesting that the iPad isn’t a great device — it truly is a pleasure to use. However, so are Macs, and some tech pundits seem to forget this. Efficiency on a Mac isn’t even a question worth asking — sure, you eschew a touch screen for a keyboard & multi-touch trackpad, but the sheer ergonomics of having both the keyboard & trackpad within millimeters of each other compared to jumping between keyboard and screen are staggering. Sometimes you want to lay back and relax, but when you need to work, the Mac wins every time.

The question really is about one’s ability to focus on a single task or project while working on a laptop/desktop computer. Tons of people have written about this. Those same people have tried incessantly for years to justify usage of an iPad for as many possible use cases as possible: blogging, note-taking, long-form writing, designing, music producing, analyzing spreadsheets, chatting with many people at once. I keep asking myself: what’s the goal of being able to do all these things on an iPad, other than attempting to justify my impulse purchase of an iPad?

If the goal is focus, I’ve wanted to try and tame the beast and have my Mac work to my advantage. Basically, a means of avoiding this:

Where’d my Messages go?

Hey, guess what? It’s really to avoid the above with really minimal effort and discipline. Between the iterative improvements brought to OS X and its huge app ecosystem, it’s really easy to make a Mac your portable productivity powerhouse. (Alliteration intentional.) And while the Mac app ecosystem is technically smaller than that of iOS, that has its benefits: less crap to weed through.

I have to give Apple props for identifying the key aspects that make iOS so pleasant to use and employing them in some fashion within OS X. For instance:

Launchpad is a solid app launcher and organizer; after a bit of reorganizing, it effectively replicates the iOS home screen. With Spotlight (or the more powerful Alfred) on top of this, finding and opening an app on a Mac is far quicker than anything performed on an iPad.

Full-screen mode and Mission Control in El Capitan is arguably an even more elegant app switcher than iOS 9’s. I can see everything at once, instead of having to swipe through a bunch of apps, some of which I haven’t touched in days.

Split screen mode is actually useful on my MacBook Pro unlike the iPad Air 2, which doesn’t give me quite enough real estate to work with two apps side-by-side.

Automator isn’t new or even quite that extensive without mild technical know-how, but Workflow wouldn’t be the iOS powerhouse it is without Automator coming first.

Love Drafts on iOS for jotting down quick notes, but missing an equivalent on OS X? Try using the fabulous new version of Notes.app with this Alfred workflow. This has become my perfect solution for quickly taking down ideas and then sharing them everywhere — both on my Mac an don the go.

Plus, you can enable Do Not Disturb just like an iOS device.

Still having trouble focusing after trying these wonderful solutions? There’s apps for that, including two literally called Focus (here and here) — some of which also have iOS counterparts but many of which are Mac exclusives such as:

  • Bartender, a great menu bar cleaner-upper
  • Hazel, an automatic file organizer so you don’t have to clean your crap up yourself
  • Alfred, an amazing launcher and workflow tool that allows you to quickly ask a question or start something without pulling yourself away from the task at hand.
  • Ulysses, Byword, ia Writer, or any other number of free/cheap minimal writing apps for writing without distraction

Some of these are real boons to focus, like the first Focus app, which blocks you from accessing distracting websites and replaces them with inspirational quotes. I could argue that this makes the Mac BETTER for focus than the iPad, since you can actually stop Facebook from loading after you impulsively type the “f” into your browser’s address bar. Can’t really make the impulsive tap on the FB app icon on your iPad less compelling than it already is.


Disclaimer: I use a MacBook Pro with Retina Display, which has a solid state drive and 16GB RAM, so I’m not really ever concerned about my laptop exceeding the performance needs I have. Yes, it came at a higher price point than the average iPad and I purchased it primarily with music creation in mind.

But considering the top-of-the-line iPad Pro is virtually the same price as (and comparable in spec to) the ultrathin MacBook, it ultimately comes down to user preference. I’m here to suggest that while tablets are so fun and exciting, many of the reasons why find tablets so fun and exciting are right there in your average Apple laptop.

As with any tech write-up, this is my opinion, but I’d love your thoughts too. Agree? Disagree? Let me know. Like how I write? I’d love for you to share this post and follow my writing, either here or on Twitter. Thanks!


Originally published at brandon lucas green.

Categories
Getting Better On Work

On Maker Overload, or why I’m okay with not solving all the problems

Following up on this, which was dead on. In the words of indie darling Courtney Barnett, sometimes I (want to) sit and think, and sometimes I just (want to) sit.

I’m a product manager, which means I spend virtually every weekday (and some weekends) doing two things: solving problems and making things happen to ship good, need-fulfilling products. Anyone who does product management can obviously break this up into many more buckets of duties, glorify it, debate its role in larger business culture, whatever — but that’s essentially what we do.

Sometimes I think I want to build something on my own — I wouldn’t be surprised if most PMs also get this urge. Thanks to a handful of tools that now exist, virtually anyone with Internet access and some spare time can build anything in a matter of hours or days. There’s a lot of people who create their own products on their own these days, using free or cheap existing tools, then publish them on sites like Product Hunt and write about them on Medium. When I read all these posts about “makers” making “products,” I react in a few ways.

First, curiosity, then a little bit of envy.

I love that we now have technology and platforms available for anyone to turn some idea into a packaged product in a matter of hours. Some of the problems people have solved are incredibly niche — I would never have thought of them. Sometimes I wish I had.

Then, jealousy-fueled anxiety.

Why aren’t I identifying those problems? Why can’t I be making those things? What do those people have that I don’t? What do I need in order to build amazing profitable things myself? WHAT AM I DOING WITH MY LIFE??!!?!!?!!!

Then, a ramble.

Hours and hours on Product Hunt. More things made by more people. Curiosity and anxiety on subsequent repeat.

Then, I’m tired.

I burned myself out worrying about other people’s problems instead of solving my own or those problems which I care about.

Why did I do that?


We used to have information overload. Then people rebranded this as #content in an attempt to legitimize it. Now, if the content wasn’t enough, we’re in maker overload. New startups and new people announcing new products being announced almost every hour on the hour. Call it a lovechild of social media and freelancer culture, both powered by the good ol’ Internet — now everyone can have their own voice, so there’s millions more voices, all yelling incessantly over each other for top placement on your Twitter feed. All so you try the hot new products they each built on their own.

What is the impact of all those new products? Sure, it’s huge in aggregate — if anything this is proven by how much pundits are talking about Product Hunt. But what value does each individual new solution to a problem have in the scheme of things?

Product management is really all about solving (the right) problems and enabling the people around you to solve them. Some of the “products” I come across solve problems that aren’t relevant to me at all, but because everyone is posting and writing and tweeting and retweeting about them I run into them anyway. Some of these products don’t solve any problem at all — they generate a problem of their own and attempt to solve it, even if the average person didn’t even need to recognize that as a problem in the first place. Some of those products are really just repackaging the exact same #content that other products already contain, only presented in a slightly different way. Just this year there were 50 products launched, all featured on Product Hunt, that repackage existing tools and content that already wasn’t too hard to find with a bit of Googling. Some of them are totally redundant with each other.

Tools and resources, for designers and developers, all day errday.

I’m not saying this is inherently a problem —and definitely not the fault of Product Hunt — after all, competition makes the world go ‘round. But is this really what makers want to be known for?

Maybe so, or more likely those makers are just trying to make some money or followers. This isn’t new — companies have been making redundant products for the sake of staying competitive a long time — but now that the Internet has enabled for a product to get noticed and hyped in a matter of hours, there’s too much noise to be continuously making products that don’t matter in the scheme of things. It only adds to the information overload, except under the guise of something meant to solve a problem — so people who read about this product (especially those who religiously follow communities like Product Hunt) are inclined to take them more seriously than your standard clickbait. When they do, the maker gets noticed for a day, then just like clickbait, it usually gets lost in the ether of the Internet. Some makers then keep trying to optimize their offering and market fit until something sticks.

Perhaps “maker culture” in tech has also gone the way of the pop music industry.


But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. I’m not suggesting that people stop building things for my own sake. Eventually you might happen across a brilliant solution to a truly challenging problem. Making things to satisfy urges or curiosities, make money, or to grow a personal brand is not inherently problematic — it does, however, create envy within others who aren’t sure they have those same needs. Especially when some of the most “popular” of those products made are redundant with each other or debated incessantly as to whether or not they’re dead.

I thought building my own things was what I should be doing with my life, but it turns out all the product overload is toxic for me. I get into a vicious cycle of anxiety and regret and forced ideation around problem spaces that really don’t need solutions at that moment. I don’t personally build things constantly to satisfy some inner need, but I also don’t want to build a career out of making things that follow trends.

I solve problems all day, some of which are incredibly rewarding (like those that make my fiancée happy) and some of which are incredibly dull or frustrating (solved typically between the hours of 9am and 5pm, but even those are sometimes challenging and/or rewarding). In a world where an app can launch and die in a matter, and much of the writing about said app is about whether or not it’s actually dead, I don’t want to come home every day and keep doing the same thing — it only stresses me out more. My catharsis is writing songs or posts (like this). Sometimes I want to just watch something mindless or live vicariously through someone else.

And that’s probably why I go on Product Hunt for hours on end. Now I understand the appeal of reality television.

I came into 2016 thinking that I wanted to launch a product, and now that I’m understanding myself better in 2016, the less I feel a need to do that. I have a day job, I better satisfy my curiosities via music and writing, and I don’t have any immediately-obvious solutions to problems I care about. It’s more important to me to be with the people I love and be reflecting and thinking about those problems I do want to solve. If you think you need to be launching products for the sake of launching products, take a minute to think about the merits of doing so. Don’t be a maker just because everyone else is.


Did you enjoy reading this? Feel the same way about maker and product overload? Nice. I’d love a like or share if you do, or you can follow me on Twitter. Thanks!