Nathan Wailes' Blog

My thoughts on time-dependent work-related topics.

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Alcohol may reduce anxiety while programming

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On Sunday I had my first-ever alcoholic drink on my own initiative, without being prompted by someone to drink (it was a Stella Artois in the fridge at work).

I decided to try it as an experiment to see if it would take away this anxious feeling I’ve been getting for years when I’m trying to program and I’m running into one error after another; the feeling ends up making me procrastinate really heavily, to the point where I’ll go an entire day without getting anything done.

I got the idea from reading Mark Zuckerberg’s blog posts from when he was creating Face Mash, in which he seems to describe drinking to take away the anxiety of not having your code working: “It’s taking a few tries to compile the script…another Beck’s is in order.“.

Well, it seemed to work. I’m not sure if it was just the placebo effect or not. I didn’t finish the beer. I’ll probably keep experimenting with it. Obviously it’s something to be careful with.

Written by Nathan Wailes

December 1st, 2015 at 5:14 am

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How to Read Business Biographies

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Here’s an email I recently sent to someone who is interested in starting a business within the next few years; he had asked me if I had any advice from having read a bunch of business (auto)biographies:

I’ve attached a list of some of the books I’ve read since graduating college. Note: I haven’t read all of those books cover-to-cover, but I only included books on that list where I read the “meat” of the book. I’ll explain:

I recommend you think about reading books like eating steaks at a restaurant or in your home. Sometimes you’ll get a steak served to you that has a little fat around the edges, and what I do is cut that part out and not eat it. Sometimes you’ll have a lot of fat, and you only end up eating half of what was given to you by weight. Books work the same way.

I recommend that if you decide to read business biographies, you focus on the first few chapters, where it is explained how the person went from being like anybody else to being more successful than other people. If those chapters make up only 1/10 of the book, I think it’s smarter to read those chapters 10 times than to read the entire book once.

Another analogy I use to explain how to read is Ikea furniture: when I’m assembling Ikea furniture, I don’t read the instruction manual cover-to-cover before I start. I just read the first step and do that step, and then I read the next step. Business biographies work the same way: most biographies spend the bulk of their pages talking about the subject once he/she was already successful, but that isn’t as useful to people like us because we haven’t yet gotten to the same level of success.

So instead of reading these books cover-to-cover, you’d be better off focusing on the beginning, which is more relevant to your current situation. If you follow that strategy you’ll also be able to get through more books, and you’ll develop a better sense of what other successful people have done early in their careers.

Wailes, Nathan – Continued Study

Written by Nathan Wailes

March 7th, 2015 at 5:36 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Update: September 2014

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Below is an email I sent to a friend of mine who is coaching me through the process of how to break into the programming world. He went to Princeton, worked at Google for a year or two, and has now been working at hedge funds for the past few years, so I trust his advice.

————-

I made good progress this month: I made changes to my job application email (see below), my Python script sent out ~130 emails about a week ago to people posting in the HackerNews “Who’s Hiring” thread, and my inbox is now full of ~30-40 responses. I’ve had ~5 phone interviews in the past few days, three or four of which were with people who went to Princeton / Harvard / Yale / MIT, and I have a bunch of people I need to get back to via email.

I think I’ve pretty much figured out how to get an interview. Now I need to practice getting past the interview. For the interviews I’ve had I can tell I have consistently underwhelmed my interviewer when they give me a coding challenge. For the next month I’m going to focus on HackerRank and Cracking the Coding Interview.

What I did this past month:

1) In August I only attached my resume to my emails. This time I attached my resume, portfolio, references, and a list of books I’ve read since I graduated college. (I’ve attached everything I used just in case you’re curious.) I think this was a big part of why I got so many more responses this time, especially the portfolio.

2) I made the changes you recommended to my resume. When I first read what you wrote I was defensive, thinking, “I don’t want to work with squares!”, but after thinking about it longer I agree with you: a certain level of formality can inspire confidence in a potential-employer when you’re first getting to know them; it helps show that you know how to get down to business.

3) I “rebranded” some of my previous jobs: for any job where I used programming to get my job done, I described myself as being a Developer of some sort, as opposed to being an Administrative Assistant who uses programming to get his job done faster.

4) I ran an A/B test on my resume: for half the emails I sent out I used a resume that said I had just graduated from DevBootcamp, and for the other half of the emails my resume said I had been accepted and was deciding whether to go. Surprisingly (to me), I actually got more responses to the resume that said I hadn’t gone to DevBootcamp. All but one of my phone interviews were for applications that said I hadn’t gone. Today I had an interview with an MIT PhD who said he found it very impressive that I was self-taught. So I think I’m going to pass on going to a bootcamp and just focus on being able to pass an interview (big-O notation, data structures, algorithms, coding challenges).

5) I added a second page to my portfolio with some more-minor projects.

6) Last month I applied the day that the HN thread was posted. This time I procrastinated and sent the emails out about a week later. Because of the large response I got, I suspect that might be a better way to do it in the future.

———Unrelated to my job applications————-

6) I started reading Calculus For Dummies, Linear Algebra For Dummies, Sams Teach Yourself SQL In 10 Minutes, and Beginning Programming With Java For Dummies. I’m trying to do a chapter a day for each book as much as possible. I can read the SQL / Java book at work without having to worry about getting in trouble, and I read the Calc/Lin. Alg. book at home in bed when I’m getting ready to go to sleep.

Written by Nathan Wailes

September 16th, 2014 at 9:05 pm

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Update: July 2014

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Since September 2013 I have been working at a DC startup called “Hitch”, which coordinated the installation and management of credit card machines in the back of DC taxis. The installations were generally finished by December 2013, at which point the company shifted to troubleshooting problems with the systems (drivers not being paid, machines breaking down). The CEO is now hoping to use this position to create a taxi dispatch app that would compete with Uber.

While working there I have continued to study programming and business. Over the past few months I have been developing a computer program that automatically applies to jobs on Craigslist, and after getting it to work for myself I put in a few dozen more hours to get it working for other people as well. At the moment I have it running for 5 people, and I’m beginning to cold-call people to find more testers.

Written by Nathan Wailes

July 30th, 2014 at 2:44 pm

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Update: July 2013

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Here’s a message I sent to a math/programming-genius friend of mine who’s helping me stay motivated while I study math/programming:

I’ve been procrastinating about sending you an update, so this’ll be a partial list of things I’ve been thinking about:

1. If you find YouTube ads annoying, Google “adblockplus”. It installs in 1 click for Chrome and disables ALL ads. It’s amazing, and I can’t believe I’ve been dealing with ads for years when they’re so easy to get rid of.

2. Check out “Dimmer” for dimming your screen, if that’s annoying and you don’t already have a solution.

3. Check out AutoHotkey for Windows (it lets you move the mouse around, click, press key combinations). It’s great as a way of creating a macro that works across different programs, eg you want to copy something from Excel, switch to Chrome, and paste it in Google Search.

4. I started working on a Venn Diagram Teacher for my LSAT students but lost interest when it came time to make a menu:
http://www.nathanwailes.com/games/venn-diagram-teacher/

5. I found these cool explanations of how you can use linear algebra to analyze Chutes & Ladders and Candyland:
http://datagenetics.com/blog/november12011/
http://datagenetics.com/blog/december12011/index.html

6. I’ve started a serious effort to try to be active in the AoPS community, use their free Alcumus service, and do a page from the AoPS Vol. 1 book every day. I’ve started with the topics I found most interesting (probability, counting, proofs), and I’m doing the practice problems at the end of each chapter every 2-3 days so that I get spaced-out practice.

6a. I helped Richard Rusczyk solve a problem he was having by using AutoHotkey, he responded “Wow; thanks. You really crushed that.”:http://www.artofproblemsolving.com/Forum/viewtopic.php?f=133&t=542039

7. I spent a lot of time learning about AoPS, MATHCOUNTS, the AMCs, USAMO, and the IMO. I honestly had only the vaguest conception of what any of those things were when you would talk about them during high school. I watched the documentary “Hard Problems” on YouTube:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B-nw75pNQgc

8. I’ve continued to make slow-and-steady progress studying for a perfect score on the SAT. I’m going through “Dr. John Chung’s SAT Math”, making flashcards of every problem that I i) get wrong, ii) find hard, or iii) solved in a different way than the solution given in the book. I can tell that I’m slowly getting better.

9. I highly, highly recommend that you check out Anki. It has really been amazing at helping me learn Spanish, Russian, German, American Sign Language, math, programming, people’s names, the main ideas from books, etc. I know you said that you found spaced repetition to not be efficient without understanding WHY some mathematical thing was true (eg constantly rereading books), but I think that you can incorporate your idea of picking-stuff-apart into Anki. For example, you can add a card that says “This theorem says that these two things are necessary. Why is the first thing necessary? What happens if you don’t have it?” and then on the back of the card it can be the lesson that you learned from working it out. Here’s a useful reference of how to make effective cards:http://www.supermemo.com/articles/20rules.htm

10. I’ve been slowly making Anki flashcards for Teach Yourself Mathematical Groups, Introductory Graph Theory, and some other things. My goal is to make the cards work so well that a person can learn the material without reading the book. I’m starting to suspect that books are going to become outdated technology once people figure out how to use computers to help people learn faster. You can find my flashcards here: https://github.com/NathanWailes/Math-Flashcards

11. The more math I do, the more I’m enjoying it for its own sake.

12. I highly, highly recommend that you learn about the mathematicians Ed Thorp and Jim Simons if you don’t already know about them.
Jim Simons talking about his career:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SVdTF4_QrTM
Very, very interesting articles/chapters (re: Jim Thorp, Michael Dell, etc.):
https://www.dropbox.com/sh/r7xu3ieionsv6iw/7ko6agatjG

13. After I took the LSAT I wrote up a lengthy guide on how I did it, which is now considered by many to be one of the best out there:http://www.top-law-schools.com/forums/viewtopic.php?f=6&t=120471
Would you consider writing up a short guide on how you got to where you are? I remember asking you about this in the past but I still only have a vague idea of what your path was (all I remember is you saying something like, “I was doing math on my own when I was like 4”). I’d be interested in things like, Did your parents read to you when you were growing up? Did you participate in MATHCOUNTS? What books did you use when you were in elementary / middle school? Were you in math clubs in elementary / middle school? What was the exact chronology of your learning to program? Was there a club at your elementary/middle school for programming? Did you start learning once you got to BCA, or did you know how to do it beforehand? Basically, I’m interested in having a very nitty-gritty understanding of how you got to be so good.

Written by Nathan Wailes

July 16th, 2013 at 5:47 pm

Posted in Uncategorized