Week 2: Going to Siberia, Why Weeknotes, and Being a Jerk

I’m writing this from Delhi, where I’m visiting my family for a few days before I leave for Russia to attend DevFest Siberia 2018 as a speaker. My talk is about using Rust and WebAssembly to draw fractals in the browser. I’m really excited, not just because Rust is amazing and WebAssembly is amazing and being able to use both of them together is amazing, but also because this will be my first talk outside of India!

My throat, however, has still not fully recovered. I’m scared that I won’t be able to speak for 45 straight minutes without hurting myself badly or lapsing into a coughing fit. I’m going to a new doctor tomorrow and hoping for a miracle. Fingers crossed.


After I published last week’s post, a friend asked me why I wanted to publish these weeknotes on the Internet for everyone to see. Taking time to introspect is helpful, putting your thoughts down in writing is also helpful, sharing them with close friends and family is perhaps also helpful, but why put them up for strangers to see?

That question doesn’t have a single answer.

First, I enjoy the conversations that happen as a result of me publishing something on my blog. It’s powerful, to connect with another human being simply by the virtue of typing up whatever I’ve been thinking about lately. I don’t have a vast army of fans hungering to read my next piece, but the five or six people who click through to my posts from Twitter usually end up talking to me, which is reason enough for me to continue writing.

So far, almost everything I’ve published online has been technical. I suppose these weeknotes are also an attempt on my part to break away from that kind of writing, to flex writing muscles I haven’t flexed since high school.

Third, it’s fun to have this little space online where I can just type and not have to worry too much about tailoring my words to a specific audience. I enjoyed the old-school blogging culture of a decade ago, which was what passed as social media back then. People wrote meandering posts about what they were cooking, their favorite coffee places, or how their dog walked all over their favorite rug with muddy paws that day. That kind of stuff now happens on Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook. Social media is fun, but it doesn’t quite afford me the space to think out loud in the way I’m doing right now.

Fourth, my weeknotes give me a chance to practice saying “I don’t know”, or “I’m struggling with this”, or “I don’t feel so great” until I have an easier time saying these things.

Fifth, maybe someday some of this will help somebody else?

Sixth, it gives me a feeling of accomplishment, of having made something. I know it’s nothing that has much value, but hey. It gives me a certain satisfaction.

I can probably go on about this, but I’m going to stop now. It’s been a long day and I’m about to fall asleep at the keyboard.


I’ve recently made a lot of progress on some of my creative projects because I’ve started dedicating an hour and a half every morning exclusively to them. During this time, I disconnect completely from all means of communication and focus solely on my work. I sometimes feel like a jerk when I turn my phone back on and find frantic messages from people who have been trying to get in touch with me, but nothing world-ending has happened yet. I’ll continue being a jerk for the foreseeable future.

I’ve started doing a similar thing, to a lesser extent, for the work-related writing I’ve been doing at Uncommon. It seems to be working, because I’ve already finished writing one blog post that I’m going to publish next week! I’m probably going to start leaving the office to do this, and sit at a nearby cafe with a coffee in order to get some thinking space.

In the next few days I’m coming up with a concrete plan for my client outreach efforts at Uncommon, and I’ll have more to say about it in my notes next week. I also have a few thoughts about the different ways I’ve failed at doing my job properly this year, but that’s another thing I need to sit on before I can write about it.


Until next time,
Ankur.

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Week 1: Health, Getting New Business, and Hip-Hop

I recently discovered Weeknotes and now I’m compelled to try writing them myself. The idea of reflecting and thinking out loud in public is fascinating.

* * *

I’ve been sick a lot this year. My current bout of sickness started when I came down with a bad cough that lasted three weeks. After I got better, I went right back to working long hours, going out, and staying up far too late. The infection never really went away completely and has now developed into some sort of an injury in my throat? Serves me right for not listening to my body.

On Monday I sent my client an email telling them that I have to quit working on their project because my brain can’t figure out how to write an if statement anymore. This is the first time in my career that I’ve walked away from a project for any reason. I understand that I genuinely needed to rest and heal, but I still feel pretty garbage about this whole situation.

I still can’t talk for too long without pain. Funny, because I’m speaking at ReactJS Bangalore next Saturday. Fun times.

Kids, take care of your body.

* * *

These last few months I’ve been thinking a lot about how to drum up new business for the Web Engineering team at Uncommon. So far, most of our new work has come to us serendipitously. Uncommoners been active in different technology and design communities in India for years, and the networks we’ve built keep sending new clients our way.

While I’m thankful for all the amazing people we get to work with, relying on the same networks all the time means the kind of work we get to do is not as varied as I’d like it to be. More than that, an over-reliance on existing networks leaves us helpless in the face of dry-spells, since we have no idea how to effectively reach people outside of our circles.

I say we, but really I mean just me.

I don’t have a repeatable strategy for finding new work, and this year has been all about figuring that out. I’ve tried a few things and learned a few things, mostly about what works for me personally. Here is a braindump:

  • Cold email has a very low conversion rate, even when you’re reaching out to people you’ve previously worked with.
  • Social media can help you find work. Do not Twitter uselessly, use it instead to become a Thought Leader™ and engage in some Growth Hacking™.
  • Creating content that helps someone accomplish something is one of the most effective ways of connecting with people. Think blog posts, books, YouTube tutorials, livestreams, podcasts, conference talks, and workshops.
  • I don’t listen to podcasts, watch livestreams, or look up programming tutorials on YouTube. I do enjoy reading, as well as watching conference talks. I want to create content for people who have similar preferences, instead of putting energy into content I would personally never consume.
  • Writing is the easiest, cheapest, most efficient way to reach people. It’s hard to stand out from the crowd with just writing, but it’s still worth doing.
  • I find writing opinion pieces incredibly hard. Much harder than writing something purely technical. In the short term, I’m planning to exclusively stick to technical content. I’ll try my hands at other kinds of writing when I’ve made a habit out of publishing regularly.
  • Speaking is fun! It’s much more time consuming than almost anything else, but the payoff makes it worth doing.
  • As all creative endeavours, technical writing and speaking will only pay off if you have consistency and a large body of work. Quality is usually a result of consistency and volume.
  • Whether you’re a freelancer or you’re running a consulting firm, you have to make time in your schedule for generating new leads. This is part of your job, and it’s not optional.

I don’t have anything particularly insightful to say about this subject yet, but I will keep coming back to it in the coming weeks and months. It occupies a large part of my attention.

* * *

I’ve grown up listening to hip-hop and, like any other hip-hop fan, I’ve tried my hand at writing my own verses. I’ve recorded a few of them and shared them with friends, but it has never been something I’ve taken seriously.

In the last few years I haven’t written much at all, focusing instead on music production with Ableton and the incredible Push 2. But lately I haven’t been able to stop thinking about writing again. Maybe it’s the political climate, maybe it’s the incredible new music coming out of the Indian hip-hop scene, maybe it’s just a phase. Point is, I want to write.

So I’ve started. And this time I’m writing in Hindi.

I’m glad to report that my output is not as corny as I’d expected. Progress is slow, but I’m seeing results and it’s making me very happy.

Until next time,
Ankur

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