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Happy Father's Day

You guys hear me talk about my mom a lot, but maybe not my dad. This can be misleading because I'm close with my father as well. I cannot begin to explain what he has been through in his life, but has always (and continues to be there for me). He is the man who taught me about faith, hope and love...to follow one's dream and not to give up. He doesn't talk about it, but just does it. Some things he's done and has been though.

  • Took 28 credits in one quarter at community college to earn his associates degree while working full time and raising my brother (with my mom).
  • Was in a POW camp for several years when he served in the South Vietnamese Army.
  • Continues to support my family in Vietnam.

Happy Father's Day to all the fathers, but for me, mine in particular.


Remembering the old Twitter

"I don't get it. So it's like a Facebook status update in less than 140 characters?"

That was what I said to my friend Adam, when he showed me this website called Twitter. I signed up for Twitter April 9, 2008 and had three followers: My brother, Adam and Adam's friend Jason (who is also my friend now).

That was then. This is now.

I seem to wake up to tweets from brands (or retweets for brands) and articles about social media. To me, this is like someone calling you on the phone and telling you the amazing power of the telephone.

I use social media. It's not my career, though.

Today I sat and reflected about the old Twitter I used to remember, when a lot more people used it and there was a sense of transparency. Here are a few memories of the old days:

A Tweet Up?
It's funny now, but back in the day, the concept of a tweetup was insane. The idea was proposed by (what I call) the iOS 1.14 crew (which I'll explain a bit more later)—a few of us who had jailbroken iPhones and used an app called Twinkle to search for each other.

The tweetup used to be a few people having some beers together—finally getting to meet each other in real life and talk about life. The new tweetup is full of sharpie pens and nametags with Twitter handles. It's all about networking.

The 1.14 crew
Oh man, the iOS 1.14 crew. These were a group of friends in Seattle who had jailbroken iPhones and used the Twinkle iPhone application. At the time, Twinkle was douchebag-free. The idea of using a Twitter application on the iPhone was unheard of at the time, and I was following people I didn't know! I remember thinking that it was amazing how a group of people could band together, get a glimpse of one another's lives. We really cared for each other, providing support when things weren't' going well for one and being really happy when good things happened.

This sort of thing happens on Twitter, still, but again, there's noise around it.

The conversation now
The conversation turned into trending and branding. I can't pinpoint the time, but for some reason I want to say around the time Shaq started using Twitter. It wasn't his doing at all, but this is when brands started utilizing Twitter and saw its marketing potential.

Here's what changed:

  • Somewhere along the way, it became a numbers game. Before, people followed who they thought were interesting (manually) but now it's about how big your Klout is.
  • There seems to be a lot more ambient noise around actual conversations. It's like when everyone is talking about themselves and no one is actually listening to what each other are saying. There is a big difference between talking and conversing.

That's what a lot of it is now...marketing.

Instead of insightful thoughts and contemplations, it's a lot of contests, updates on current products, etc. Again, I don't mind it, it's just different. Perhaps this is a sign of me getting older, when I wish things were how they used to be versus adapting to now.

I love Twitter, but I want to join the conversation...


Visiting the Amelie Cafe

So this happened a few months ago, but I finally have some time to blog about it. Amelie is one of my favorite movies ever and I am absolutely in love with not just Audrey Tautou, but the character of Amelie Poulain. In the movie, Amelie works at a local cafe in Paris, France. All I knew about it was that it was in Montmartre.

On my last day in Paris before flying to Barcelona, I decided to go find it. It was a bit tough because I had no cellular data in Europe (or at least willing to pay for International Rates) so had to just look quickly on a map of where it was. By the time I arrived to Montmarte, I got distracted with Sacre Coeur and the Salvador Dali musuem.

Crap, I forgot where it was, and time was running out.

I decided to stay the course and find it. How? Oh you know, by walking up and down every street in the neighborhood until I ran into it. At some points I even asked people in French where the "Amelie Poulain cafe" was. I spent about 3 hours walking through the neighborhood to find it. As I was about to give up, I saw this little cafe with a red cover in front of it.

I walked in, and as I was about to ask the waitress where the cafe was...I realized I was standing in it.

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My face had a permanent smile on it. Here I was, finally at the cafe of Amelie Poulain. I'd be lying if part of my brain was hoping for her to appear. It was as beautiful as I remember it.

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I sat down and of course had to have a coffee with the Creme Brulee named after her.

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Seriously, one of the best days of my life.


Living (most of) the dream

At some point today, it dawned on me that I am living a near-perfect life of what I wanted. This morning, I woke up late (not a morning person) and went to the beach with my friend for a few hours. After I was wide awake and satisfied with some outside time, I spent the rest of the day designing, listening to Beastie Boys. This is all while traveling in Europe.

This is what I worked for, and I need to take time to be thankful for it. Sometimes we're so busy with our lives that we don't realize how lucky we are (or can be).

For me, most of the dream has been achieved but must also be continued and improved. There's one big piece missing in my life but I won't bore you with the details. In addition, a dream and aspiration I have always wanted has returned in my life again. It's a rather ambitious one and will take some time to make come true.

The lesson I've learned most is that if you want to reach your goals or make your dreams come true, you have to sacrifice and let things go. One cannot carry the weight of everything. My advice to my friends (and myself) is to prioritize what it is you need in your life, what you want to do, then execute.

In the mean time, I must travel around more of the world, meet all these wonderful people and continue to do the work I love.

Almost living the dream...not quite there yet.

cyberdog


How to travel solo without getting lonely

One of my friends asked me how I don't get lonely since I've been traveling for 3+ months. Well, you do get lonely. I have had a lot of moments where I say "man, I wish someone was here with me." However, that is one of the best learning experiences you can have and a great opportunity to build some character.

The bottom line for myself is that I'm not going to wait for people if they're not going to join me. There is way too much in this world to see and I will see it all by myself if I have to!

If you travel for a while, loneliness will strike you at some point. Here are the moments that it has happened to me:

  • When you go around a park or a romantic place and see other couples.
  • People taking group photos of their friends or loved ones.
  • Having dinner.
  • Not knowing what to go do.

There are a lot of different ways to remedy lonliness when being abroad by yourself. Here are a few things I've done:

Surround yourself around people, even if they are strangers.

When I was in Barcelona in the beginning, I would go to my local cafe and read outside. I was around people, but wasn't really talking to anyone. After a week or so I started sitting at the bar to talk to the baristas. That's another story though. The point is you need to put yourself in a place where people can talk to you. Having your headphones on and reading a book is not going to likely have someone engage in a conversation with you. This last one applies for people back home in Seattle as well.

Find people to interact with

I have had many conversations with people where the intial question was "can you take my photo?" or "how do I get here?" I have to confess that once I did ask a cute girl for directions despite knowing how to get to the place already. You will find along the way that there are a lot of people like you traveling alone and they are possibly looking for someone to have a conversation with as you are.

Have something that you can do everywhere you go

After seeing Amelie for the 7,000th time, I decided to buy a Darth Vader action figure and photograph it all around the world. With Vader Vacation, it gives me a challenge of looking for places to discover while being put at risk of getting laughed at. I've had many good conversations about why I take a Darth Vader action figure around everywhere.

Get out of that comfort zone

One of the best things I have done so far was in Paris, when I asked the cab drive to drive around for 10 minutes and just drop me off somewhere. I made it a point to get lost and find a way back.

Conclusion

Traveling can get lonely, but there is so much you can do on your own to make it an adventure. If you get lonely or homesick, email your friends, share your adventures or call them on Skype. Here are a few benefits of traveling alone:

  • You have absolute control over what you want to see and do.
  • It forces you out of your comfort zone to meet other people and potentially build some confidence.
  • You become better at navigating through cities and public transit.
  • Gives you a lot of time to reflect and think about your life out of the context of being at home.

It's great to travel with friends or loved ones, but there is much to learn when traveling alone. Happy travels!


Hello Spain. Goodbye Seattle?

Pond in Barcelona

I know this is a bit of an obvious statement but, I live in Spain. It amazed me to think that I have been here for more than a month. This isn't a vacation. It wasn't a "Vegas Baby!" kind of trip where you party as much as you can. I moved here to live here for a while, to figure out what I am looking for and to seek it out. It was simple...I wanted to take my life and move it somewhere for a while.

The good news is I might have found it. The bad news is I might have found it and it is thousands of miles away from what I call home—Seattle.

Some of you may know that I have a love/hate relationship with Seattle at the moment. Aside from my friends, I don't know if I like Seattle—doesn't feel like the city for me. When I'm in Europe, I feel at home. I get more work done, am more social and have lost weight since I've been here. I like the lifestyle here a lot, especially in Barcelona. I love the fact that there is time for everything here, the design and art is so inspirational and it is so easy to just hop on a plane or train to go to another city or country.

I would be lying if I said I thought about not coming back. Hey, the girls actually like me here, why wouldn't I think about staying here?!

However, I have my cat back home and I love him too much to just leave him with my parents. Maybe I need to fly back and get him back here—sail the word with a cat—now that's an adventure you can take to the bank.

I have been doing a bit of research on what it would take to work with US clients from here. Right now I'm just flirting with the idea. Typically I don't like to talk about my plans or waste time with saying what I'm going to do, but I am at quite a bit of a loss right now. My friend Alix did make the suggestion of living in Seattle as the "home base" and traveling the rest of the year. I actually like that quite a bit.

To be completely honest, I have some anxiety in returning to Seattle:

  • I'm afraid I'm going to revert back to my bad habits.
  • Really going to miss my friends in Europe.
  • Seattle is a very comfortable city. I'm afraid if I come back, I might just stay there.

I have a lot of thinking to do. There is still plenty of time here and very much to see. My plan was to come back to Seattle as a better person and there is a lot of work to do there.

The truth is I don't even know why I dislike Seattle. Everyone else who lives there seem to love it and think it's the greatest city in the galaxy. Like relationships with people, perhaps there is a compatibility factor with cities. I thought being gone for so long would make me miss the city I once loved.

Maybe it's time for a change...whether it's the city or myself.


How I changed careers, and what it takes

I often get emails or comments from people, saying "Oh, I'm so jealous you get to travel, work on your own projects, etc." Are they really? The reality is it took a lot of work to get there, and there is still a lot of work to be done. This blog post is not professional advice or consulting, but a mere glimpse into the road I took to get to this point.

Changing industry and building a new resume

In 2008 I quit my job as a marketing manager at a local non-profit. This was when President Bush announced we were in a recession. I didn't get laid off, I quit because I did not want to be in this industry anymore. I wanted to build web applications, learn code and design for interactive. Print was dead to me. Like Master Yoda said, I had to unlearn what I had learned.

My degree was in drawing and painting and I had a few years of experience as an administrative assistant and marketing. How the Hell was I going to convince the tech industry that I'm legit? The solution for me was to create a new persona—a true one. I needed to become someone who could design, code and was knowledgeable in the field. Something art taught me was that you could talk and talk all you want, but in the end, people want to see the portfolio of what you have actually done.

I was unemployed with no savings. I remember saying aloud to myself, "Well, time to figure this shit out."

I got some books about HTML, CSS, PHP and Javascript and relied heavily on some of my really good friends who were developers to pick their brain about their craft. Oh man, if @sxtxixtxcxh and @raid5 had a nickel for every time I asked a question, they'd be worth more than LinkedIn by now.

Now I needed to find a place where I could sit with my computer and really study. My neighbor Megan suggested, "You should check out Zoka Coffeee in Green Lake. You could walk or take the bus there and just work."

Unlearned. Now time to learn.

For three months straight (if not longer after I found a job) I went to the gym each morning and walked to Green Lake to go to Zoka. I remember the first day walking in—felt like a black sheep. Everyone seemed to know each other and it was packed! I quietly sat down at one of the comfy chairs in the middle and started reading. I spent 6-10 hours each day reading, writing code based on what I read and sketching. My test site was my personal website, which at the time was static HTML/CSS—finally was converted to PHP, then Wordpress, then PHP and many other iterations.

The more I learned, the more people I met there. It became a community of inspiration for me—a place where I could go and focus on the work. I definitely owe a lot of what I've learned to that place. If you'd never been, I highly recommend it. No, I wasn't paid to say that.

Somewhere along the way, I no longer became an administrative assistant or marketer on my resume, but a designer and front-end developer. You need to literally transform yourself, in what you know, what you can do, and who inspires you.

In July I received a phone call from ExactTarget. The Indianapolis-based company wanted to interview me for a remote position based in Seattle. After weeks of interviews, they made me an offer. I jumped in without knowing much, but decided to accept the offer. It sounded like a great opportunity. The question I remember, "how do you feel about traveling to Indianapolis once in a while?"

Uh...what?

Being an independent team member

In August I flew out to Indianapolis for New Employee Orientation. I have a job! I never really traveled much on my own before. In fact, the only time I could recall traveling alone was to South Bend to interview for admission in the fine arts program at the University of Notre Dame. I was the 3rd choice out of two available spots! That, is another story!

My mom bought me a suitcase, picked up Wilson and I was off to Indy for a week. I wasn't sure what I would be doing. The only thing I knew was that it was with email (which I had experience with) and some consulting work. When I heard some of the brands I was going to work for, I was stoked! Wow, never in my life did I think I would be able to step in and do this work. I would soon learn it was definitely baptism by fire! During orientation I met so many talented people, including one of my best friends Rob. It was a bit intimidation at first. As we went through the class, everyone was talking about all these great companies they worked for. Me? Oh, I did some freelance work and non-profit work.

The pace was so quick. I think I my job description changed three times before I even started working and changed bosses like that. I absolutely loved the pace. Here was a company that entrusted their employees to get the job done. Their mentality: hire determined people with talent and let them do their thing. My old boss was a huge micro-manager, so this environment was different. They basically did some email intros and sent me back to Seattle to start working with my client.

I worked for ExactTarget for about two years and gained confidence in my ability in working with clients of this magnitude and traveling alone, eating alone, and doing things alone. After a while I resigned from ET, which is still one of the hardest decisions I've ever had to make in my life. I became passionate in User Experience Design, building web apps and had a desire to travel and work remotely.

I decided to go self-employed.

Going self-employed: diving in head first

Let me say this first-off: there is NEVER a good time to become self-employed. It's like waiting for the tides to be perfect. Sometimes you have to just take the chance and ride that wave that you choose. That's what happened with me. This resignation was not like the first. I planned and really thought out what sort of work I wanted to do, had some prospects lined up and it was just a matter of execution.

It took two months of work before it was time to form a company, Xhatch Interactive. Who did I form it with? My friend @raid5! It is so nice to come full circle in some ways. The person who taught me so much about the industry is now a collaborator.

I am writing this post as I am taking a break from doing client work in Barcelona, Spain. I'm not quite where I want to be, but feel like I have a career and direction I'm working towards.

Moral of the story

Finding a job is NOT EASY!!! I think there is a perception, with the rise of new media, that you can connect with contacts you know, network and find work. Sure, it helps, but once you boil the Klout and brand down, you have the foundation of your skills and experiences. Always rely on that. I probably applied to 250 jobs, including ones out of my industry as I got desperate before I was called upon to work for ExactTarget.

My encouragement to you, if you're looking for a job or something different: pull out all the stops. If you don't know the skills, learn them. If you need help, find a mentor. If I can help you somehow, contact me.

Keep learning. Keep being inspired. Keep being curious.


Ichi-go Ichi-e. One Encounter. One Opportunity

Ichi-go ichi-e (一期一会, literally "one time, one meeting") is a Japanese term that describes a cultural concept often linked with famed tea master Sen no Rikyu. The term is often translated as "for this time only," "never again," or "one chance in a lifetime."

This Zen Buddhist saying was adapted by Samurai culture: you cannot get any moments back. The lesson being that you should make them all count. It’s a good lesson. One encounter with their enemy, one opportunity to make a strike. The outcome of that one action can determine the fate of his life. It's quite a beautiful saying. Similar is Japanese style painting, who take one swift brush stroke. The mark they make is forever embedded on the paper.

This is by far one of my favorite sayings ever, and I try my best to live my life this way.

I'm not a "regrets" kind of person. Of course I regret things. I think anyone who says they don't regret anything is lying to everything, especially themselves. That said, I have accepted my mistakes and missed opportunities in the past. Those marks have been made.

Now we have to make the most of it. We cannot change what has already passed through time, but we can make more marks on the paper to take a mistake and turn it into something beautiful.

I live my life very fast. I cannot wait, and I cannot hesitate. One hesitation can be the difference between a life changing experience and a missed opportunity.

One encounter. One opportunity.