An Artist’s Statement

I was helping my daughter apply to an art pre-college program for the summer when I realized sometime very important. My daughter, a budding artist, has a well-defined artist’s statement.

Me? Not so much.

That made me step back and think. I always joked that I was a photographic artist but I never gave it any deeper thought. Why? Because I was always trying to make the best photos I could technically that tried to convey a moment.

I focused on the what, the where, and the when, but never about the why.

That “why” hit me like a ton of bricks. I had no why.

After I helped her with her application I went out with my camera and down to the lake. I snapped a few photos of a Great Blue Heron. It wasn’t my best photo but I felt like I had to go out and work some things out of my head.

I had to go shoot. I had to hear the familiar click of the shutter.

(c) Thomas Ott

After I shot some photos I started to feel better. My mind turned to the thoughts about how I spent all those years on Flickr making new friends and competing in photo contests. I remember how much better my photos got after that.

Then I remember how I drifted away from all that, how I got angry and lost all my interest to pick up a camera. For years my camera gathered dust as life passed me by. Sure I snapped images with my iPhone but I haven’t made anything that made my heart sing.

I realized that I’m just a technical photo snapper. I can make decent photographs but I never have anything to say with them.

I wondered, do I even want to say anything with my art? Is it really art? Do I really want to be an artist, like my daughter?

I’m so jealous of her, she knows exactly what message or idea she wants to convey with her work. All her digital work has a theme that’s evolved over time, and her message is clear as day.


I spent the next few days thinking deeply about this. I stepped back and looked at my motivations. What are my motivations to create? Why write and why photograph at all?

I started writing in earnest last year. It was a departure from my technical writings and I focused on topics that called to me. I started to write about love, relationships, parenting, living a better life and becoming a holistic person. I’m interested in understanding what it means to be a man, a true man, not one that marketing and the movies want to sell to us.

Over the course of they year I had found my writing voice and now I’m on a journey to find my photographic voice. I wanted to speak out the words of my truth in my photos. I just don’t want to make pretty pictures anymore.

I want to make photos of substance, photos that act as the visual part of my storytelling. The storytelling of all the good and bad of a life, stories where all my brothers and sisters can commiserate together and we feel it together.

I took this photo after my father passed away and it was a way for me to work through my grief. Here is a fat, balding, naked old man in a corner crying. I didn’t expect to cry when I set up the shot but then I did, knocked over by the waves of mourning for my father.

Whatever voice I was looking to speak came out in this photo, at least for me.

(c) Thomas Ott

I want to do more that, not just photos of myself but in this vain. This is the journey I’m on to find my photographic voice.

This is the next chapter of my life. To be a Maker, Writer, and Visual Storyteller.

Make a Big Impact in Your Life

I owe all my success in life to effective communication. This includes my professional life, my love life, and my social life.

In this article, I’d like to share two tips for effective communication in your professional life.

It’s just three small tips with huge payoffs! Read on…


In my professional life, I work as a sales engineer, data scientist, and master of duct tape. I stick things together to make them work in a high technology field. It’s one of the most affirming and exciting things I’ve ever done in my life and I look forward to going to work every day.

How did I go from “zero” to “hero?”

I didn’t go to school for computer science or data science, I have a degree in Civil Engineering. I worked as a Professional Engineer for over 20 years. So how did I get here?

I got into this field by luck, curiosity, hard work, and communication. I had started a blog on data mining that turned into a full-blown career in the startup world and data science, and I couldn’t have done it without communicating complex ideas simply and effectively.

It appears that recruiters are searching for those communication skills as well:

However, the difference between a good Data Scientist and a GREAT Data Scientist is often not found in their technical ability or their amazing mathematical genius. Data Science exists to provide a service to business and business is run by people. If Data Scientists cannot comfortably communicate with their non-expert colleagues and bosses, then their effectiveness is greatly reduced. They need to communicate easily with people, to understand, to interpret, to translate.

How did I go from “zero” to “hero?” By learning public speaking, writing with style, and making pretty pictures.

Take a Toastmaster’s class

One of the best things I ever did for my career was to take public speaking classes. Before those classes, I used to only speak to other engineers. When I typically started a conversation with them I would say, “I used a c value of 0.95 for that section of impervious cover.

They’d nod their heads and understand what I said perfectly. A non-technical person would be scratching their heads wondering if I was speaking in a strange language.

…I seem to make people cry a lot…

Over time I learned that it’s the non-technical person that was in charge of budgets and/or making business decisions. If they have no idea what you’re doing or you can’t persuade them that your project is critical, they’ll allocate time and resources elsewhere.

You must communicate effectively to non-technical people to persuade them for that important win, budget, monies, or decision.

So what’s the solution here? Is it making pretty images or large displays? Is it writing at a level for non-technical readers, or is it being able to speak clearly? The answer is all three.

Achieving proficiency in all three is completely feasible but it does require some time on your part.

How do you do it? How do you start? You enroll in Toastmasters.

Yes, you get your ass up in front of people and work toward becoming a certified Toastmaster. To achieve that status you need to give 10 speeches, each one with a specific focus.

The first one is the hardest, it’s the icebreaker. You have to get up in front of people and introduce yourself for 3 to 5 minutes.

Then you progress into speeches to inform, to persuade, or to evoke an emotional response (I seem to make people cry a lot).

My current career relies heavily on the skills I learned being a Toastmaster, as does my partner’s career too.

The best part about joining Toastmasters is that it doesn’t break the bank. Yes, there’s a membership fee but it’s nominal and you have clubs in churches, libraries, and schools. Just visit Find A Club link and enter your zip code. Done!

Joining Toastmasters all those years ago was the best thing I ever did, it yielded the highest professional return in my life for the smallest investment of time.

Elements of style

I met Robert in graduate school. He was a Canadian man in his late 60’s, retired, and living in the States with his wife. He woke up one morning and enrolled in business school where I was.

“Tom, this book made a big difference in my writing and I hope it does the same for you.”

We hit it off and worked on many class projects together. Over the semesters he started to share his life with me. I was impressed and inspired by the life he had led up till then.

As a son of Chinese immigrants, he settled in Canada, worked in a dry cleaner, then owned a pizza parlor, started and sold a newspaper, and became a writer.

He was the most interesting man I’ve ever known up till that point and he remains a good friend to this day.

As our graduate life came to an end, we went down to the local pub for a celebratory drink. We had spent a good 3 years together, writing, learning, and presenting. We reminisced about all the good times and commiserated on the bad times.

You’ll never remember all the Macbook versions out there but you will remember the Apple logo.

After the second drink, he reached into this bag and handed me a small sliver-looking book.

He looked squarely in my eyes and said, “Tom, this book made a big difference in my writing and I hope it does the same for you.”

Robert handed me a book titled “Elements of Style” by William Strunk, Jr. and E.B. White.

It’s a tiny book that packed — and I mean packed — elements of writing compositions, style, and grammar.

Over the years that gift has made a big impact on my writing and I refer to it when I need to edit a lengthy text or just need some inspiration.

Thank you, Robert, you have no idea how your thoughtfulness has impacted my life.

Visuals, it’s about the visuals

The last item that made a big impact on my life is understanding that the majority of people in this world are visual learners. That means they learn best from pictures and visualizations.

A single photograph can inspire a call to action or change the narrative of war.

I took up photography many years ago as a way to express my creative outlet and have spent countless hours reviewing and analyzing photos.

In that time I’ve learned a few things about images and visualizations.

The most effective and powerful images are the simple ones. I’m not talking simple flowcharts, but the ones that are stripped down to their bare essentials and focus on my key thing, whatever that thing may be.

Every commercial and every advertisement we see seeks to focus your eye on one thing.

You’ll never remember all the Macbook versions out there but you will remember the Apple logo.

How many Nike shoes did you have? You’ll remember the swoosh first.

When you create visuals and images, you have helped the viewer train their eye to the most important part of that image. That’s how you make an impact.

To see a non-commercially inspired set of images, I suggest you visit an art museum. Walk around the halls in the different periods, see what images resonate with you.

I’m partial to the abstractive art and Wabi Sabi types of Art. I like minimalistic art because it makes a powerful statement that leads viewers to read into any way they see fit.

You will need to figure this out for yourself and see what works best in your career!

TL;dr

Sign up for Toastmasters. Learn to write better. Make pretty pictures.

How to Blog Yourself to a New Life

I’m going to start this post with a big helping of gratitude. I’m so grateful to the 1000’s of readers that helped me get into the field of Data Science and Machine Learning. I was a part-time blogger that turned my passion into a full-time gig in the AI Startup world. This post is my way of paying it forward to you. Read below if you want to learn how to make money blogging.

My Journey

I started a blog back in 2006 writing about trading stocks and foreign exchange (Forex). I used my blog like the modern-day twitter/microblog than like a real blog these days. It was that, a weblog of what was going on in my life. I used it like Twitter, writing short updates as blog posts, and ended up amassing 100’s of useless posts. I don’t regret that because that’s what the Internet was like back then.

The sad reality is that work can sometimes paralyze you.

My blog came into being because my work was boring. I was working at a transportation firm as a Civil Engineer and my work life wasn’t very exciting. Don’t get me wrong, Civil Engineering is a great career but over time it turned out that it wasn’t for me.  

I had a hard time getting out of bed every morning and my mood was always sour by the end of the day.  It was starting to affect my family life and that was like a major warning bell for me. I needed to make a change but what?  I felt trapped at work, who would hire this 44-year-old man? I doubted myself and along with it, my confidence fell apart. 

The sad reality is that work can sometimes paralyze you. You end up doubting yourself and your abilities. It’s damn right scary when this happens and I knew I needed to make a change back in 2007. 

I needed to find something that matched my short attention span and was challenging. But what? The ‘what’ was starting a new blog in 2007. What I didn’t know was that this blog would change my life over the next seven years.

I started Neural Market Trends right after my old blog crashed and I lost all my posts. I needed to create a new one and I got bored writing about general stock market stuff. I decided to apply Data Mining (aka Machine Learning) to the stock market and see if I could make market predictions and post about them. If I got them right the majority of the time, I could amass a following like Seeking Alpha or other blogs.

I had found my passion, my true calling.

Of course, I wanted to start trading these models and make a lot of money. I had dreamed of trading my way to freedom where I could start a new career as a stay-at-home day trader. These were all dreams I had while I worked in a constrictive corporate office. I was being smothered and I needed freedom to move around. I like to think, take naps (for creative purposes) and blur my work and personal life. 

I’m not an ordinary guy that can do a 9 to 5! I am not a standard interchangeable ‘labor unit’ and I knew that I was worth more than what I was being paid.  

All these feelings and thoughts help me push ahead with my new blog. I started writing about trading models built with a powerful machine learning suite. I poured countless hours into this software, learning, building, and ultimately teaching. What I didn’t know at the time was that I was learning Data Science. I spent countless hours, days, and weeks writing and sharing with my readers. Then suddenly, my readership exploded! I was being backlinked, cross-posted in other blogs, and ultimately invited to speak at the first RapiMiner conference. 

Everything started to align 3 years after I started my blog.  I knew right then and there that I wanted to get into this field. I had found my passion, my true calling.  Yes, it took 3 years of working and writing to finally uncover my passion. I don’t mind that it took that long because some things need time to ‘gel’ in your mind. Sometimes you have to keep working to push through the obstacles.s

How do find the thing that makes you want to get out of bed every day?

Fast forward another 4 years and I switched my career into Sales Engineering at a Startup. I was offered a position at the Startup because of my blogging and communication skills, so in 2014 I said goodbye to a career that was stable and boring for one that was unstable and exciting. I found something that got me out of bed every morning, excited for the day ahead, and made me feel good when I went to bed at night. My mood changed, I rebuilt my confidence, and I became a better father and husband. I had to pinch myself to see if I was dreaming but life has been pretty awesome since then.

Ok, enough about me. Let’s do you.

Find your Passion and Work at It

It took me 3 years to find my passion and another 4 years to execute on it. You could make the argument that once I found my passion I should’ve found a new job right away! Well, the job I had paralyzed me and I had serious doubts. These were the thoughts running through my head:

“I’m not good enough” or “No one will hire me, I’m too old” and even “What if I fail?”  

I will not deny that those thoughts are real and YOU will face them but in the end, they are nothing to worry about. I’ll write about these thoughts later, for now, let’s talk about YOUR passion.

Some people have summarized Ikigai into four questions, which is pretty helpful.

I found my passion by scouring the Internet for Machine Learning papers, reading some early blogs on the subject, and devoured anything I could find. I learned about Regular Expressions, taught myself Python, and followed every crazy whim I had. 

What if you’re not as lucky as I was? What if you’re paralyzed in a crappy job or an oppressive career? How do find the thing that makes you want to get out of bed every day?

I’ve given this a LONG HARD Thought over the years and it comes down to a simple Japanese principle called Ikigai. 

Ikigai is a Japanese concept that means “a reason for being”. You can read more about in the link but the gist of it is, what gets you out of bed in the morning? It’s your reason for being alive, your meaning of life, and that is what makes your life worth living. 

There are 100’s of bloggers that post Venn diagrams of Ikigai and their methods of how to make it all work. You should search for it but you’ll find that it’s become too commoditized. They miss the point of the entire meaning in my humble opinion.

Some people have summarized Ikigai into four questions, which is pretty helpful.  The four general questions you should ask yourself are:

1. What are you good at

2. What you love to do

3. What the world needs

4. What you can be paid for

You’ll realize that these 4 questions are part of a greater whole. That whole is your being for existence, your Magnum Opus, your life’s work. When you answer these questions, honestly, and when all work together in harmony, you’ll be the happiest person in the world. There’s nothing that can describe the feeling when all four of those questions align for you, you will just know it.

Still, you have to figure it out. So how do even start?

Getting Started

Getting started is the first step and it’s the hardest step. Getting started means thinking about what you want and then making a plan to achieve it. The sad thing is that this is the biggest hurdle you have to overcome and the probability of failing is very high.

How do you NOT fail?

I found out a long time again that people fall into three main groups for learning. These groups are visual, auditory, and kinetic.

Mind map drawings are the perfect way for you to ‘download’ all the stuff that’s been floating around in your head.  

Visual learners learn best through pictures, drawings, and slides. The majority of us are visual learners. Auditory learners learn best by reading or listening. The last group is Kinetic learners who learn by doing. They work at it in a physical sense. 

My proposition to you is to either write your new life down (auditory), draw it out (visual), or go for a walk (kinetic). This will make sense below. 

Write it down (auditory)

I’m starting with auditory learners because it’s my second method of learning. If it wasn’t then I wouldn’t be writing blog posts! The key thing to note is that Auditory learners love story-telling and reading. It’s their main way of learning. So let’s get started. 

First, get a blank piece of paper and a pencil. You’ll write down some questions that you’ll ask yourself. These questions will be very personal and may take some time to think about. 

If you don’t have any idea about what kind of questions to ask yourself, the following are a good start. Write them down and answer them.

“In my free time, I like to do”

“My hobbies are”

“If I had a chance, I would like to do this for a living”

“If I had more time to dedicate to this, I could be great at it”

“What will people remember me for?”

“If I could change the world, what would I do?”

Then I read them aloud and listen to them. I’ll even put the paper down and think about what I heard myself speak. Then I’ll read them aloud again. 

If something doesn’t feel right, I’ll change my answer or ask a different question. 

After a while, you’ll hear some interesting patterns in your answers. You’ll hear what your passion is. When you do, write it down and circle it. Put stars around it. Paste it to the wall and look at it every day. 

Mind Map Drawings (visual)

The next method is a visual way. This is my primary learning method and although I’m a terrible artist, I like to make mind map drawings. 

Mind map drawings are the perfect way for you to ‘download’ all the stuff that’s been floating around in your head. 

Here’s one I did a few years ago.

To get started with a mind map, get a piece of paper and a pencil. Then put a stick figure of yourself in the middle of the paper and draw circles around you. I usually do about 5 and then start filling up the bubbles.

What do you fill the bubbles with? 

The Big Rock items.

Fill them with what’s important to you. Things like family, your life, relationships, and work. Fill them with what you like to do and want to do. Think about what you love to do, what the world needs. 

Starting writing down anything that comes into your mind, it’s ok to edit and restart. Mind maps capture very fluid thoughts and subtle patterns. Some of these patterns are weak and others will be strong. 

This exercise will take a long time and you might have to start over a few times but stick with it. You can even use the writing prompts from the Write it Down section. If you get stuck, I recommend you do that. 

Go for a Walk (kinetic)

Going for a walk is a rather strange way to find your passion but it touches on the concept of ‘no-mind.’ 

No mind is a state of being where your body does something without thinking about it. It’s like the martial artist that practices the same moves every day, over and over again. On the day of the fight, he/she executes the moves without thinking. 

Your mind becomes calm and all the daily chatter goes quiet. Going for a walk helps clear your mind and allows you to be open to receiving your passion. It will happen in a flash. It will seem magical but it’s not, it’s been inside you the entire time. 

Once your walk is over, take a piece of a blank piece of paper and write down any flashes of inspiration you had. If there was no inspiration today, then go for a walk tomorrow or try a more vigorous form of exercise. Keep repeating this method until inspiration hits.  If it doesn’t, then try adding the writing prompts or mind mapping exercises above. 

Summary

By the time you’ve run through this section, you should be able to find something that excites you. A ‘seed’ of passion at the very least. If you don’t, then keep working at these exercises till you do. This step is the hardest and fraught with a high failure rate, don’t stop. 

I touched on the concept of Ikigai, a great starting point to help you frame your existing and future life. Remember those four questions from above?

1. What are you good at

2. What you love to do

3. What the world needs

4. What you can be paid for

Want to know what my answers were? After mind mapping, lots of walks, and writing every down I came up with these answers and key points.

What am I good at? Public speaking, writing and communicating.

What do I love to do? Solve problems and communicate.

What does the world need? AI Transformation, automating processes.

What can I be paid for? Being a Sales Engineer.

What are my hobbies: Blogging, photography, reading.

What are my Big Rocks: Family, writing, personal growth.

You Found Your Passion! Now What?

I’m so happy you found your passion, what do you do now? You will waste all your effort now if you don’t make a plan and execute it.

I didn’t have a plan in the beginning and that’s why it took me 7 years to change careers! I’m not sure if I could’ve done it sooner but in hindsight, I shouldn’t have let this slip. 

Take the time to think about a great domain name, register it, and then host it with  Bluehost or Dreamhost.

A plan is a set of measurable smaller goals that keep moving in the right direction. Your passion is what will drive you on.

The weird thing is that as you make your plan execute it, your passion might change. That’s ok, you might evolve and what got you excited in the beginning might not be the thing that you end up with!

The reality is that can’t go cold turkey overnight. I’m a big fan of easing yourself out of your old life into your new one. 

It all starts with a blog and we’ll focus on that. 

Start at the beginning – Set up a blog

Now, let’s get to the blogging part of this post. You’re going to need a blog if you want to “blog your way to a new life.” The good news is that setting up a blog has never been easier. There are so many ways to do it, you can sign up for a Blogger or Tumblr account or you have to host it yourself.

The best way is to host the blog yourself. If you use a 3rd party blog provider like Tumblr or Blogger, you can be removed at any time for the smallest thing! This has happened when malicious readers decide to ‘mess with you’ and it can cause weeks of headaches. YOU should be the Master of Your Domain!

Take the time to think about a great domain name, register it, and then host it with  Bluehost or Dreamhost.

DreamHost

Once your blog is ready, you’ll have to start writing about your passion. Now comes another problem, understanding the difference between writing and making content.

Anyone can write content but making great content is hard. If my passion was to make a sourdough bread baking blog, I could write about a recipe and post a few photos. That would be writing content and if I did that, I wouldn’t get very far with my blog.

There are 1000’s or even 100,000’s of bloggers that do that. They write some words, sprinkle some images, and call it done. Then they wonder why they have a very mediocre site in the end.

Making Content

Making content is HARD and it will consume a lot of your time. Do not skimp on this. If you ever think “Let me skip this step so I can post faster,” stop what you’re doing and take a step back. Don’t skip because the difference to your readers is in the details. 

Readers can discern a half-assed post over a quality post in the first few minutes of reading the post. They’ll bounce on your videos in seconds if it’s too kitschy or passes over your link in the search results.

Your blog will become your online resume and your brand. You need to protect and cultivate this from the very first day you launch your blog.

Let’s take the Sourdough Bread Baking Blog idea from above. 

Making content would look like this to me:

1. Well lit photos of different parts in the sourdough making process

2. A video or two of you kneading the dough and a timelapse of the bread rising as you’re baking it

3. A short video for Instagram on you cutting through the bread so people can hear the crunch and see the crumb

4. An infographic of your recipe

5. A detailed post of the recipe with a link to another post on how you made your sourdough starter

6. Sharing the infographic on Pinterest

That’s a lot of work and it will slow the frequency of your posting down, but it will be worth it in the end. 

Go To Market Strategy

I touched on this in my Sourdough Bread Baking Blog idea but it’s worth expanding on. When you’re making content you need to think about how it will be consumed. 

This ties into how people learn (auditory, visual, kinetic) and what channels you’ll use.

At the beginning of this post, I wrote about Finding Your Passion and how people learn in different ways. The same is true for those types of people when they consume information. If you want to reach a lot of auditory learning people, consider adding a podcast version of your post. If you want to reach visual learners, consider making an infographic. If you want to reach kinetic learners, consider making a video of you doing whatever it is you do. 

This extra content is what I call companion content and is important in your Go To Market strategy. This is about finding the right group of people to consume your content and build your brand. You need to always think about what the easiest way your readers will consume your content.

The last thing you should do is add a companion video for your blog post. This way can highlight key things in your blog post and the video for people to pay attention too. 

By creating a video you’re also increasing your consumption channels. Your blog post will only show up in one consumption channel, search! If you make a companion video with your blog post, your post will show up in search AND YouTube. You’ve doubled the chance that someone will see your content!

The same goes for other social media channels like Instagram, Twitter, and Pinterest. Not every channel will be best for your niche but you should consider each on its merit. 

Time is all you need

I wrote that it took me seven years to turn my passion into my new life and I suspect it will take some time for you as well. I don’t know how long it will take but you need to stick with it. There will be highs and there will be lows. It’s NOT easy. 

Many bloggers will say “stick to a posting schedule” and that has some merit if you’re only writing content. When making content you should always focus on details and great content. It will take all the time it needs but in the end, it will make a deeper impact. 

Don’t worry about posting frequency and instead focus on quality. 

Over time you’ll notice that your blog will start gaining traction on the search results. People may start sharing your posts on Twitter or Facebook. You’ll get comments on your posts or likes on Instagram. Once that happens, KEEP GOING!

This will be hard to but keep making content. It will feel like a second job and it will drain your energy but that means your life is starting to change. You’ll start to be known as the “Bread Gal” or “Mr. Fix It Dad.”

Monetization Strategy

Let’s face it, if your passion project, your blog, starts to feel like a second job, you should start earning income. I turned my passion into a full-time job offer with a big raise to my salary at the time. It was a no-brainer for me to take the offer and the rest is history for me. 

Your experiences will be different. You might get offers to join startups or something else. Consider those offers if they make sense to you. If not, then consider monetizing your blog.

There are several ways to monetize your blog and I’ll touch on the big ones here.

1. Google Ads

2. YouTube

3. Affiliate Links

Google was once a sure-fire way to make a lot of money if you had the traffic. Then there were the ‘me too’ clones that promised more CPC and revenue than Google Ad competitors. This was all fine and dandy until one day the ad killers came. The Ad killers were either browser addons or built into the browser itself that strip the ads out of your posts. The reason why was that ads clutter up your content and people like reading clean content. 

You can still make money from Google Ads but I wouldn’t rely on it as the main source of your income. People will use browser add-ons to cancel out your ads. 

YouTube

YouTube has a way to monetize your videos if you have enough subscribers and view time over a year. This is not an instant money maker but if you grow your subscriber base and have high view time, you can make a lot of money.

YouTube is great for people who make things. Bakers, Cooks, Travelers, and many more can make great video content and post it. In time you’ll notice which topics in your given passion are popular and you can tailor your content to it. 

I like Affiliate Links because they’re unobtrusive and they’re reader-friendly. Amazon has affiliate links, Dreamhost and Bluehost do as well. These links cost nothing for the readers. When the reader buys a product or service from the Affiliate, the blogger gets a cut of the ‘commissions.’

This is a win-win situation but abusing affiliate links is very common. Many ‘Sploggers’ will write some crazy content so they can rank on Google and then try to get you to click on the link. This isn’t very cool, period. 

Affiliate links only work well if you become a trusted blogger and content creator. You use the products you recommend or have used in the past. For example, I’ve used Dreamhost in the past and still use it for managing my Domains. It’s a great hosting platform for starting new blogs. If people click on my affiliate link and start a hosting plan, I earn revenue. 

Putting it all together

In the end, blogging yourself into a new life is hard work. Nothing worthwhile will ever be easy BUT it’s so rewarding. Imagine waking up every morning and doing the thing you love and making money at it? You’ll never be unhappy again!

I hope that this post stirs you to action because I’m living proof that it can happen. I never thought that my passion would’ve led me to a new life. It’s been the best ride of my life and I know you can do it too.

Helpful Infographic

Please feel free to share this infographic if it’s helpful to you!


Disclosure: Some of the links below are affiliate links and at no additional cost to you, I’ll earn a commission. When you purchase a product or service using one of my affiliate links, the company compensates me, which helps me run this blog and keep my content free of charge to you.

The Big Rocks

I’m was in Silicon Valley in 2019 for a few days to attend our yearly Sales Engineering (SE) training. It’s a great way for the growing SE team to get together and talk shop. I find these yearly meetings very useful but they’re hectic. Fun but hectic.

I love being in California. It’s such a wonderful place for the outdoors and ‘chilling’ in cities like San Francisco. I’m a big fan of the SoCal desert areas and Joshua Tree is one of my favorite destinations. Ever since I lived in Albuquerque, I’ve had a pull toward the mountains and deserts. Yet it seems that I won’t get away this time for much-needed fun out in those mountains.

There’s always time for work, but never enough time for yourself or loved ones.

I pondered this as I was flying 36,000 feet over the United States and it reminded me of Franklin Covey. I’ve learned that YOU have to take the time for yourself. You have to make it point to go work out, hike, and have fun. It’s those “Big Rocks” that Franklin Covey once wrote about. The Big Rocks are those important things in your life. Family, love, personal care/growth, etc/ Put those in a jar and you’ll see that space is still there. Then you add sand, and the sand fills everything up. The sand is your work life. There’s always time for work, but never enough time for yourself or loved ones. 

…noise robs you of your precious time.

It’s easy to lose track of this habit and I’ve been guilty of this for sure. Still, it’s not a bad thing to lose your way from time to time, the real bad thing is not to course correct. 

To achieve this I plan on digging out my old 7 Habits for Highly Effective People and giving it another read-through. I’m going to focus on all the habits but I’ll spend time revamping my Google Tasks to accommodate something called “quadrants.”Covey broke down tasks into four subcategories and when you do that you identify the tasks that are noise.  This is important because noise robs you of your precious time. Spend more time on important tasks and don’t do the unimportant ones.

What legacy am I leaving behind?

Once you do that you can free up your time to focus on those Big Rocks, and that becomes your legacy, and I ask myself what legacy am I leaving behind?

What legacy are YOU leaving behind?


Disclosure: Some of the links below are affiliate links and at no additional cost to you, I’ll earn a commission. When you purchase a product or service using one of my affiliate links, the company compensates me, which helps me run this blog and keep my content free of charge to you.

Managing Your Time with Stoicism

And you run, and you run to catch up with the sun, but it’s sinking

Lately, I’ve been reading Seneca as part of my exploration of Stoicism. As I get older and weepier, I’m drawn to philosophical things. I’m going to be freaking 50 years old in just over a year. If I were to die today, I would not want to go gently into that good night, but I would die satisfied. My life is awesome and I have a wonderful family and children. We live a life of adventure and I have a deeply meaningful career. Still, I want more! MORE!

I watched the video below and it made me pause a bit. I realized that I could squeeze more out of life if I paid attention to where I was wasting my time, so I wrote down in my journal a few big items that I need to work on. I recommend you journal AND watch the video below. I’ve added my keynotes for your reference below:

To live well we must be constant students of life

  • Seneca’s essay “On the shortness of life” reminds us that time is a non-renewable resource
  • Treat time as a commodity, people guard their property but squander time
  • The amount of time we get is uncertain, you could die at 20 or 100 years old
  • Death creeps up on time wasters
  • Make the most of time, it is an amplifier when used properly

Don’t invest your time preparing for life

  • Seneca pushes us to live right now and not to delay happiness
  • Your typical life is work till 60 years old, retire, and then be happy. Why wait for happiness?
  • What usually happens is you are too old to enjoy life when you retire and regret not making the most of life
  • Plan the big things in life but don’t delay living your life

Live life for YouR own self

  • Being busy with things we don’t like is the greatest distraction of your life
  • We waste time at jobs we don’t like, relationships we’re not happy in, etc
  • Invest your time into making a life worth living

Practice Premeditatio Malorum

  • While you waste your time by procrastinating, life goes on
  • Researchers call the dissonance of “short-term gratification vs long-term commitments” as time inconsistency
  • To fight this, use Premeditatio Malorum which is a form of negative visualization
  • Think of what could go wrong with your long-term task and then make plans to achieve it. This will offset the distractions

Make Long Term Rewards Immediate

  • The need to procrastinate is the most powerful RIGHT at the start of work
  • When rewards are years away (i.e. diploma, career, et), you tend to procrastinate
  • To overcome, you must bundle a reward at the start of the task
  • You can eat a piece of cheesecake when you lost 10lbs or give yourself time to browse the web once you finished those pesky spreadsheet tasks

Make the Most of your Free Time

  • Too often we waste our free time with stupid stuff. Gossiping, drinking at the bar, etc
  • There’s plenty of time to do everything we want if we just stop wasting our free time
  • We work hard to earn money and free time, so why waste that precious free time
  • Use your lunch hour to explore the city, write in a journal, play an instrument, read, etc
  • To beat mediocrity and start living your life, make the most of your free time

Spend time reflecting on your past

  • Present time is transitory (it’s moving), the Future is uncertain, and the past is unalterable
  • Seneca says to pay attention to the past, so you can be effective today
  • Personal note: Journaling is a wonderful way of capturing the past

Stop Wasting Time in Life’s Trivialities

  • We are all guilty of wasting our time on trivialities (Social Media)
  • Social Media sucks your time away
  • When you’re happy, you fill your time with activities that are valuable and meaningful to the vision you want for your life

Invest your time creating new memories

  • While you preoccupy your time with trivialities, death approaches that you can’t escape
  • Invest your time into creating new memories and philosophies
  • Memory is more enduring than grief (Ed. Very true. I call it Adventuring)
  • Memories may be fleeting but they deliver more happiness than anything else
  • Do yourself a favor and take on challenges and adventures, learn to play music, travel, etc

Invest your time in Philosophies

  • The Study of Philosophy is the most invaluable teacher
  • Study as much philosophy (current, past, etc) as you can because it will help you in your life
  • Your life will expand and your wisdom will grow
  • A Philosopher is a lover of wisdom: truth, virtue, life, and death

Work From Home is Here to Stay

Work from home (WFH) is here to stay if you’re lucky and fight for it. I keep hearing from my customers that more and more companies are starting to reopen and call back employees to the office, except many are not coming back!

That’s music to my ears!

After dealing with the sudden pandemic shutdowns, juggling work-home duties, and dealing with the isolation, the majority of American workers powered through this hell. We did it. We kept our companies afloat and not just survived, but thrived. I don’t know about your work environment, but we accelerated our productivity over the last year.

As companies open up, they’re making demands for workers to come back to the office. They’re asking employees to prove to them why they should keep the privilege of work from home.

Say what?

We kept your asses afloat during the pandemic and you want US to prove to you that we should be able to continue WFH?

SLAM! That was the door closing on the employee exodus. Workers are not tolerating this bullshit and it’s leading to a massive talent shuffle.

Boomers Love Control

I recently shared a Bloomberg article on my LinkedIn wall and added some commentary.

I wrote:

Seven years ago I left the Civil Engineering industry where Work From Home (WFH) was frowned on. The people in charge of the companies assumed that you’d be goofing off if you did WFH. Then the Covid19 pandemic hit and those Engineering companies HAD TO ADAPT and allow WFH, after all, there was always a deadline to meet.

This Bloomberg article really nails the feeling of many professionals that are forced to come into work when a WFH scenario is in everyone’s best interest.

“…there’s also the notion that some bosses, particularly those of a generation less familiar to remote work, are eager to regain tight control of their minions.”

“They feel like we’re not working if they can’t see us,” she said. “It’s a boomer power-play.”

This article is a shot across the bow to all industries. WFH is here to stay and if you want to attract and keep key talent you’re going to have to evolve AND fast. #careers #engineering #workfromhome

Technology has allowed a massive swath of workers to WFH, except those in charge refused to let us do it. Because they were afraid we’d be sleeping on the couch.

Do you know what we did with WFH instead? We saved at least 2 hours of commuting every day. We were able to pick up our kids at school without rushing out the door of the office. We got to spend more time with our families or friends. We had a life in that fucked up work-life balance platitude we keep hearing.

And we were more productive than we ever.

Fight for Work From Home

The Boomer tyrants are going to work hard to get you to come back to the office, fight for your right to have a flexible arrangement.

I get it, some people like the office interaction and seeing their colleagues – I do too – but do you need to go to the office 5 days a week? Why not do a 2 day in the office / 3 day WFH, or so another arrangement that makes sense for you.

Whatever is the optimal arrangement is for you, the main premise is this: a flexible work schedule makes a lot of sense from cultivating happy workers AND productivity.

Hell, you might not need so much office space anymore and cut back on leasing costs. This might lead to less development of commercial real estate, which is OK in my book.

Seeking Bodhisattva

My posting activity has started to drop off again. This is partly due to a large workload and traveling schedule. I’m enjoying my work immensely but my blog is neglected as a result. A few weeks ago I even considered shutting this blog down because I feel like I’m like an “old man shouting at clouds.”

I’ve come to realize that my skills are not in coding but in communication.

I know that many people find value in my old RapidMiner tutorials and videos but my heart isn’t in making any new ones. My YouTube channel is also neglected partly because I work for H2O.ai now and because there’s so much free content on Machine Learning and Data Science out there now. I think that’s awesome.

There’s never been a greater time to get into Data Science and Machine Learning than ever before. There are so many ‘rock star’ programmers, Kagglers, and technologists out there now. You can’t NOT be amazed how fast the ‘AI’ space is changing, for better or for worse. I consider myself lucky to have joined near ground zero and love the fact that I’m a part of it now.

BUT.

I’ve come to realize that my skills are not in coding but in communication. Sure I code stuff, mostly to make my life easier and automating the boring stuff (great book BTW), but my expertise is best used elsewhere. Sometimes I don’t even know what this means but I feel alive when I talk to prospects or customers and help them go from a ‘zero level AI person’ to applying ‘AI’ to their problems and helping solve them. I seem to be good at connecting the dots and using tactics and strategies to solve problems. I think that’s the Engineer in me.

Someone scrawled on a wall “Be the Bodhisattva you seek.”

I’ve also become more politically aware and active over the past few years. The reason? Trump. I won’t devolve into right vs left discussions here as I find them useless BUT I’ve always been an environmentalist. This current administration has attacked so many people and groups because of their color of skin, who they love or identify as, and religion. There are so many fights to fight and mine is the environment.

Our entire planet is under assault from climate change, habitat loss, extinction, and pollution. All in name of money. Yet I’ve blogged about trading and investing. I’ve blogged about making money. Am I as complicit as credit card companies that approve gun transactions to a future school shooter?

While technically I’m not cutting down trees or killing baby seals, my recommendations, actions, and investments might support doing just that.

Am I part of the problem? Yes, I believe so.

Many years ago I took a course in world religions. I was most enamored with Buddhism, not in the classical sense but more of the Zen version. I learned about Bodhisattvas and how they chose to “out of compassion, forgo[sic] nirvana in order to save others.” Granted, I’m an atheist but I found Bodhisattvas interesting. Then I read a piece of graffiti that made me question everything. Someone scrawled on a wall “Be the Bodhisattva you seek.”

I can spend hours in flame wars with people on Facebook or Twitter about climate change and not change anyone’s position. I’ve realized that relating and compassion are much more powerful than attacking someone’s position.

I think I can help shape the dialogue in a healthy and sustainable way.

Everyone wants to drink clean water, breathe fresh air, and eat healthy food. It doesn’t matter what your political leanings are, I think this is a universal fact. However, if you tie this to work and jobs, then things get interesting. Let me give you an example:

“I don’t care about some endangered animal, I have my family to feed”

“Climate change is fake news because China wants us to be less competitive and you’ll lose jobs”

“The wind isn’t blowing tonight, so you can’t watch TV”

“There are so many job-killing regulations”

Take your pick or make your own, there are hundreds of these divisive messages out there. Why? Because of money.

As a former Civil Engineer, I can design water and wastewater plants. I’ve designed groundwater recharge systems and wetlands. I fully understand how humans impact the land, sea, and air AND I think I can help stop this onslaught. Armed with Data Science and AI, I think I can make an impact. I think I can help shape the dialogue in a healthy and sustainable way.

What does this mean for the blog? I don’t know yet but I want to become the Bodhisattva I’m seeking.

How Blogging Led to My Personal Growth

It’s hard to believe that I’ve been blogging now for over 15 years. I’ve written 100’s of posts, some short and some long. I’ve had my shares of ups and downs here but in the end, I’m glad I stuck with it. It’s made me realize that blogging has led to my personal growth. Blogging has become a career!

What’s happened is that I’ve been reposting and repopulating old posts from my archive. I took these posts down a few years ago thinking they were of no use, but now I realize I was wrong. Sure there was some cringe-worthy type of posts back then, but I look at them now and smile. I’m so far removed from them now and I realize I am so different now.

As I repopulate these posts I can’t help but remember where I was in my personal and professional life. I also notice how busy I was. My posting frequency is proportional to how crazy my work and personal life are. Yet still, I wrote at least a few posts a year. 

Year 2007 to 2009

Back in the early 2007-2009 era, I spent a lot of time blogging about Forex, Stocks, and using AI to trade the markets. It was during this time that I first wrote my RapidMiner tutorials. They brought me a lot of traffic and I adored the attention. I market timed and moved money in and out of my accounts, thinking I can beat the market. Lo and behold I was wrong. 

I made a sharp career change. I couldn’t believe how fast things could change, but they did for the better.

I also held onto some crazy ideas back then about Objectivism and Libertarianism. As I grow older I realize that this selfish way of living is a folly. Life does not have to be a zero-sum game. Yes, invest in your future but also invest in deep relationships, love, health, and Nature. Cultivate those and you’ll find balance and true wealth. 

Year 2010-2014

In the 2010 to 2014 era I saw some big changes to this blog. I ramped up my blog posts around Machine Learning and what was to become Data Science. I created a lot of YouTube videos on how to use RapidMiner and it generated even more traffic for me. I was still working full time as a Civil Engineer but I began to dream of moving into the Machine Learning space. As luck would have it, RapidMiner moved to Boston and got VC funding. 

In 2014, RapidMiner offered me a job as a Sales Engineer and I accepted. I made a sharp career change. I couldn’t believe how fast things could change, but they did for the better. 

I learned that passion, learning, and dedication can change your life. If you want something bad enough, you must chase it. You must work hard and learn, face the obstacles and work through or around them. After some time, you’ll see how far you’ve grown and how successful you can be. 

Year 2015-2017

From 2015 to 2017 I cut my teeth as a Data Scientist. I learned so much about Data Science, Marketing, and especially Sales. I’ve come to realize that I LOVE working in Sales. No matter how crazy and stressful it can be sometimes, it matches my personality. It’s who I am. The stars have aligned!

I’ve always loved public speaking and presenting and now I was presenting to CTO’s and CIO’s all over the USA. Yes, the travel burned me out but I learned how to compensate for that (now). I did make A LOT of bad decisions for my health. I ate too much, drank too much, and sat in my chair. While at RapidMiner I gained about 40 lbs, something I’m working off now. 

It’s been a wild and rewarding ride ever since!

I left RapidMiner in 2017 to start my own Data Science and Engineering consultancy. I built up a client base in both fields but left after a serendipitous phone call in July of next year, more on this next.

In the end, those years were tough working years. I loved every minute of it. The startup life was and IS for me. I looked back and kicked myself for not making the leap sooner. I learned that you can’t hide who you are, you must BE who you are. The longer you hide from that, the more miserable you will become. I know it’s scary and I’ll admit that I was scared, but there comes a time when it’s now or never. I chose now. 

Year 2018 – present

I worked in my own consultancy for over a year before I got a phone call from my now colleague J. We had met back in 2014 when she was a new hire at H2O.ai. She reached out to me because she had an extra ticket for H2O World in New York and offered it to me. I declined because I had some client meetings but I did tell her that I left RapidMiner last year. 

That call set up a chain reaction where two weeks later, I had an offer to join the Sales team at H2O.ai. I made preparations to close down my consultancy in September 2018 and joined the team. It’s been a wild and rewarding ride ever since!

I owe it all to Blogging

I owe everything to Blogging. I do. I took my passion for AI and turned it into a career. Along the way, I’ve met so many awesome people and now I’m surrounded by so many awesome people. I’m part of the Maker culture where you “make stuff” happen and I’m humbled to be there. It’s crazy, wild, stressful, adventurous, hard, enlightening, and plain awesome. 

I would’ve never been here if I resigned myself to my fate back in 2007. Do what scares you, do what you love. Make your world sing.

Do it!

If you’ve ever wondered if you could blog yourself to a new life, you can. I share some tips on how to do it in my How to Blog Yourself to a New Life post.

Humility and Equanimity in Sales

Dear Friend,

I’ve been meaning to write about the importance of humility and equanimity in sales. From my personal past observations, it seems these are attributes only a few salespeople have.

What are humility and equanimity?

Humility is defined as:

“a modest or low view of one’s own importance; humbleness.”

Equanimity is defined as:

“mental calmness, composure, and evenness of temper, especially in a difficult situation.”

The Monkey Brain

Recently I was enlightened by a sales colleague about the concept of the Monkey brain. It was from a book he read.

The Monkey brain is hubris, fight, flight, any emotion or reaction that ties us back to the days when we started walking upright.

Our reaction must be the same, always.

When you give a presentation, it’s the Monkey that says “you’re going say stupid things” or “you don’t look pretty enough.” When you sign a great sales deal, it’s the Monkey that says “YAH! I’m the King/Queen, nothing can touch me!”

The Monkey Brain is not enlightened. It is the attachment to this world, it is that prevents you from achieving moksha. It is what causes the downfall of many a Salesperson.

Leave the Monkey Behind

When you are in Sales, you are essentially asking someone to trade resources (money) for something you have to offer. Your offer must be more of a perceived value to that person that they are willing to part with their money.

This offer. It can be anything. It can be a product or service.

You must sell it so that your organization can survive.

It is the Monkey that goes out hunting for the tribe.

The Monkey gets scared if the potential sale appears to be falling through.

The Monkey parties when the sale goes through, just like if he killed food to bring back to the tribe.

The Monkey falls into the same trap every time because it is the Monkey Brain.

You must leave the Monkey behind.

Humility and Equanimity

Humility is not of the Monkey, it is an understanding that you do not understand everything. Humility is looking inward to oneself and finding that Monkey, hiding in your emotional trees and quieting him. Humility means that you will try your best and do your best, but not let the Monkey control your fears.

Equanimity is not of the Monkey as well. When the Monkey wins, he is elated and thumps his chest. When the Monkey loses, he gets angry and depressed. In life, we will win and we will lose. We will learn and we will make mistakes. It is how we react to the good and bad that is equanimity. Our reaction must be the same, always.

We are doing our job when we win and we are doing our job when we lose.

Be Humble.

Be Equanimous.

The Joys of Tidying Up

I bought Marie Kondo’s book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing at the end of 2018. Since then, I’ve been reading it on and off and find it to be quite good. I’ve taken some of her techniques and put them to use in my house, not because it’s overly cluttered but to help bring more harmony to my house.

Our house is not overly cluttered but it does have some pockets of disorganization and clutter. This is mostly in our office. Both my wife and I work from home 90% of the time and the office tends to be the magnet for papers, letters, books, laptops, chargers, cameras, etc.

Another spot of clutter is the coffee table in the living room. It becomes a magnet for magazines and books. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that ‘books’ and paper products appear to be the big things in our house.

The next big thing is laundry. We have two kids and it seems that every time I look around, there’s another load to wash and fold. Usually, we do 4 loads at a time and then have 4 loads of laundry to fold. This turns into a large pile of terror to look at and we tend to leave folding for the last minute. Everyone in our house folds completely differently and clothes get jammed into weird places in our respective dressers and closets.

Joys of Tidying Up

After watching some Kondo videos and reading her book, I decided to take charge of the laundry problem while I think about the book and paper problem. I cleared the tops of the washing machine and dryer and now the laundry right as soon as it comes out. I do it using her ‘stand up method’ and folding it in thirds. Then I put it away, wait for the next load to finish washing, then dry it, and repeat.

I even got my wife to do this and we’ve found that the dread of folding a mountain of clothes has completely gone away. The kids help too and we’ve reduced our stress completely, so score a point for Marie.

Book Clutter

Worse than the paper clutter (and I start recycling them), is my book clutter. We have 100’s of books that haven’t been read and are just jammed into our bookshelves, coffee tables, and nightstands. I love books and love reading but I came to a realization that 85% of these books are never read, 10% is used (recipe books, reference, etc), and 5% are books I’ve read several times over the years.

What was it about 5% of the books I’ve re-read over the years? It’s because I love them and I always learn something new from them. So I completely get Marie’s point on touching the book and if I get an emotional reaction to it, then I keep it.

What are those books? They’re my books on Haiku and History. Some are on Self Improvement and Personal Growth. Others are Hiking, Adventure, and Cooking. The rest of them I feel zero emotion to them and realize I can probably donate over 50% of them to the local library book sale.

I will be commencing with a book decluttering shortly after I talk my better half into decluttering her books too.

The Joy of the Library

The book decluttering process has taught me, or shall I say reinforced another lesson. Learn to Love Thy Local Library. Instead of buying books from Amazon, I can borrow the books I want to read and then return them. I can return them if I don’t like them or if I loved them. I can re-read the ones I loved and never read again the ones I don’t. I can return them and never have them clutter up my house for years.

Yes, that’s the power of your local library. Get books for free, read them for free, and return them. It’s a super win-win. You save money, support your local library, and have a clean house. Why didn’t think of this before? Score another point for decluttering books Marie, and get a bonus point for reminding me how awesome libraries are.

Sparking Joy

One of the big themes in Marie’s book is the concept of Sparking Joy. We all have a short life to live and it’ll be filled with problems and stress. Yet, we are meant to live our lives in happiness and joy, so we try to surround ourselves with loved ones, a good job, friends, and things that make us happy.

Marie’s point is that your space, your house, your ‘castle’ is a primary point for creating (sparking) joy. If your home is not in balance and you’re not feeling happy, then there’s something wrong and your entire life can get out of whack.

I completely get this as all these things are ultimately in your control. You can pick good friends, you can find people to love, you can search for a job you love, and you can create your living space in a joyful environment.

Thanks, Marie. I’m going to doing to do a load of laundry right now.