One weekend, while on break from her last year of her undergrad studies, my mom went back to visit home. I was under a year old at the time, and the moment my mom walked in the door, my grandmother shrieked.
Turns out my 21-year old mother wasn’t the best at feeding me and I had gotten a bit frail. Thankfully I survived, so I can forgive my mom for some of her initial mistakes :)
In all reality though, about ten days ago, it was announced that after several months of applications and interviews, I was awarded the honor of being included in the 2013 Thiel 20 under 20 Fellowship.
There were a lot of people in my life who’ve helped me get to where I am today, and I owe this award entirely to them. First and foremost, I’d like to thank my parents. My parents are crazy hard workers; the two of them both studied mathematics in their undergrad and got their Bachelor’s Degrees from the University of Sofia. From there, they decided they wanted to escape from the Communist Bloc, so they both applied to and got into Caltech.
They arrived in the U.S. in their early 20s with about $300 and me in a stroller. My parents were the epitome of the American Dream. Through an incredible amount of hard work and late hours, they managed to raise me in an amazing environment. I never had to worry about food being on the table, and my first math tutors were PhDs from Caltech.
My father was an IMO Gold Medalist in 1990. The IMO is the most prestigious high school mathematics competition in the entire world. Getting a gold medal places you in the elite league of math prodigies.
One of my distinctive memories from my childhood is my father putting up flashcards of multiplication and division before I had fully mastered English.
My parents put me through a couple of different school systems while living in Pasadena, and I always did pretty well in school, but none of my teachers ever clicked with me.
That all changed in 7th grade. I got accepted into West High School, a local public high school which had a program for advanced students which allowed them to enroll in high school in 7th grade.
There I was introduced to an awesome program known as MathCounts, which is a middle-school mathematics program. The coach was a wonderful woman named Kate Little, a parent of a classmate of mine.
Kate poured her heart into the school’s MathCounts team. She would spend almost every single day walking us through problems and training us.
That year, West won 3 out of the 4 spots for students to be sent to MathCounts Nationals. The following year, we won all 4, the first time in Utah’s history. Kate fundamentally changed my view of the world and sparked my love for mathematics. She taught me that raw hours could translate to meaningful results. After months of grueling training, we were awarded with an amazing trip to Washington D.C. to compete on the national circuit. I can’t possibly thank Kate enough for setting me up onto the path that I’m on today.
During this same time, I was also taking geometry from a man named Todd Kassner. Mr. Kassner was famous for his emphatic gestures during proofs. Mr. Kassner taught me how to have fun while also loving math. To this day, ever since jumping around on his desks, Mr. Kassner has a picture of the Family Guy monkey with my name printed underneath.
Kate didn’t stop at just training us after school either. Her efforts started a community-taught math class which followed the works of the Art Of Problem Solving. Rather than taking the standard 8th grade math class, I was taught by brilliant parents of my peers. Kate made a class just for us and even got covered by the local news.
That year, my dad also decided to start a more advanced math team to participate in ARML. He would coach a 30-person team once or twice a week throughout the entire year and then take us down to Las Vegas to compete at the regional competition.
I distinctly remember weeks in 8th grade, where, between MathCounts, the AoPS class, and the Utah ARML team, I was being coached or trained in mathematics every single day of the week. None of this could have been possible without the efforts of my dad or Kate.
The following year, I heard that the teacher who let us use his room for the math class, Daniel McGuire, was going to be teaching AP Physics. Over the course of the year, Mr. McGuire whupped me into shape and taught me physics. Mr. McGuire was never afraid to call me out if I was ever getting too full of myself. I don’t think I’ve ever learned so much in a single year while being in continuous fear.
A year later, Mr. McGuire sent out a note asking interested students to stop by his classroom to discuss starting a robotics team at West. I knew I had learned a ton from Mr. McGuire the previous year, so I hopped onto any opportunity to learn more from him. Fast-forward a couple of months of writing grants and recruiting, and we had built our first robot and landed an article in the news!
Through this FIRST Robotics team, I learned how to lead a team of software engineers and how to create an actual user interface for the drivers. None of this could have been possible without the ridiculous amount of time Mr. McGuire spent with us outside of school. Outside the winter season, he would meet up with us at least twice a week, and during the 6-week winter season, he was with us every school-day from 3 PM - 10 PM, and every weekend from 10 AM - 7 PM. The first year we finished in 2nd place at the regional competition and the following year we were invited to travel to Atlanta to participate in the International Robotics competition.
The following year, after the robotics season ended, my friend, Erick Chen, and I decided we wanted to compete in the science fair as well. Mr. McGuire mentored and helped us with our research for that as well. I’d also like to thank Erick for enduring through several weeks of getting little to no sleep to sprint through months of research to get our submission ready in time.
We ended up getting a week-long free trip to San Jose to compete at the International Science and Engineering Fair. I would have never been able to do this without McGuire’s mentorship, Erick’s dedication, and about $400 of parts from both our parents.
By senior year I had realized that I was gaining the most knowledge by being around Mr. McGuire, so I ended up signing up for 3/8 of my classes with him. Through the beginning of senior year, Mr. McGuire helped my friends and I apply for a $10,000 grant from MIT to work on a year-long robotics project. The robot was known as UXO Grazer, which autonomously detected the locations of landmines and reported it back to the cleanup crew. As a team we got to fly out to MIT’s campus and present the project.
Long story short, through Mr. McGuire’s efforts, I got to travel to Las Vegas, Atlanta, Boston, and San Jose for a variety of science and robotics competitions. Not only that, but I also got it hammered into my head that I don’t know anything about anything, which was much needed.
I have one last story about Mr. McGuire. Senior year, in the final two weeks after the testing period, when most teachers stop giving out homework, McGuire gave us a unique proposition. He was going to throw out all of the grades we had accumulated over the course of the year, which were mostly through the UXO Grazer. Instead he gave us a difficult astrophysics problem involving the theory of special relativity. Our grade in the class would be based on the completeness and accuracy of our solution.
We were given two weeks to model and understand what a flight to the nearest inhabitable planet would be like, how long it would take, and how much fuel we would need. About a week into playing around with the problem, my friends and I realized we were in way over our heads. We managed to discover a physics professor at Drexel University who had tackled a similar problem in a paper he published. We ended up getting to Skype with him and getting some advice on how to solve our problem. At the end of the call, he asked us how old we were. He was shocked that we were in high school. In his words, “I wouldn’t even give this problem to some of my 4th-year physics students”
To say Mr. McGuire pushed the limits of being a high school physics teacher would be a gregarious understatement.
I’d also like to shout-out to the Utah Crew team as well. They kept me fit and energetic throughout all of high school. Thanks to everyone from my co-captain Maggie Bradford, to the infamous Coach Andy. I don’t think anyone managed to push me as hard physically as Coach Andy did. Thanks to my mom for showing up to every single race, even if she didn’t fully understand how the sport worked!
One thing led to another, and I found myself on MIT’s campus as a confused freshman. I knew I wanted to study CS, and I knew I didn’t want to just be an engineer either. One fateful elevator ride changed my entire course at MIT. I was riding up after Crew practice, and stumbled upon Romi Kadri. We only had about 15 seconds together, but his closing comment was “You seem energetic and you said you like coding? You should come by this entrepreneurship class I’m starting”
Next thing I knew, I was spending every night at the Martin Trust Center. A few weeks later, Romi and I launched FanFuser, the first startup I’d ever done. The folks over at the Trust Center, most notably Bill Aulet, Colin Kennedy, and Christina Chase. I remember the night that FanFuser launched, Colin stayed up with Romi and I until 4 AM, helping us work out our last bugs before launching.
I can’t possibly thank the team at the Trust Center enough. They’ve fed me, given me free advice, given Nightingale free office space, and always been there when I’ve needed them most.
I learned a lot about myself in my first two years of college, and lot of that learning came through my fraternity, Phi Sigma Kappa. Watching a house of 45 young men operate with extreme efficiency on a daily basis is a sight to be seen. I’d like to give a shoutout to a few of the brothers who I’ve gotten to travel around a decent amount with. Akash Badshah, Ryan Lau, Victor Pontis, Sam Parker and I have gotten to visit some of each other’s homes, and I wouldn’t give up those trips for anything in the world. Thanks for celebrating with me when the times are great, and helping me out when the times aren’t as great. And of course thanks to Brett Van Zuiden for being Brett.
Huge thanks to the guys at General Catalyst, most importantly Bilal Zuberi and Nitesh Banta. The work I’ve gotten to do with RoughDraft.vc in the last year has been fascinating. They’ve also been huge supporters of StartLabs which has inspired dozens of MIT students including myself.
I’d also like to thank my more traditional academic advisers. Thanks to Professor Patrick Henry Winston for being an awesome artificial intelligence professor, and also letting me know when he thinks I am doing MIT wrong. Thanks to Professor Sanjay Sarma for introducing me to a ridiculous number of people in the healthcare industry and teaching an amazing Design for Manufacturing class.
I’m really excited for these next two years with the fellowship. I don’t think dropping out of college is the right choice for everyone, and I think the traditional educational system has its place. I’ve tried to enumerate every teacher/professor/academic who has helped shape the person I am today. I’ve probably missed a lot of people along the way, so thank you to everyone who has helped me.
I joined StartLabs in my freshman year at MIT to help support student entrepreneurs. Through it, I’ve run a variety of events, like Startup Bootcamp. One of my favorite new additions to the StartLabs team this year was Adam Eagle.
I’ve always been inclined towards kids who have been coding since before they could walk and Adam fits that stereotype perfectly.
StartLabs throws a weekly event known as SLACK (Stay Late and Hack). We open up our space to anyone in the Boston area and give them free dinner in exchange for having them work out of our space. I’ve seen a variety of projects spring out of this, from an automatic check-in system for MIT students coming to SLACK, to actual startup prototypes.
Adam and I frequently attended together, and he was crucial in helping me design the Startup Career Fair poster, and I always looked forward to working next to him.
One fateful week, Adam met a guy named David, who pitched him an idea. He believed that students wasted a lot of money on taxis to the airport, and that it would be awesome if they could split them. Not only would you save money, but you’d also make a new friend from your school.
Thus, SplitMyTaxi was born out of a SLACK night in the end of 2012. At the same time, I was approached by a local student celebrity, Peter “Bad Boy” Boyce. He saw that I was passionate about helping out student entrepreneurs and pitched an idea he had to help them even more. A couple of weeks later, RoughDraft.vc was launched, a student-run venture capitalist firm.
The idea was that a lot of students, like Adam, had these side-projects, dorm-room startups as I like to call them. However, a lot of these projects fall by the wayside due to classes and other commitments. The idea of RoughDraft was to give that minimum jolt of capital to students to make their ideas a reality and dedicate some real time towards it.
A couple of days after launching, I got the following email from Adam:
Hey Delian, I was looking at RoughDraft and was intrigued….
Of course, I pounced. Adam was clearly fit our portfolio of hacker kid working on an idea that could become a reality. At that point Adam had already developed an initial prototype. He posted it to the MIT Class of 2016 Facebook group a few days into Winter Break, and everyone was clamoring to use it on their way back to campus.
Well, one thing led to another, and I’m proud to announce that SplitMyTaxi is the second company that RoughDraft has funded.
What most people don’t understand, is that the capital we provide is not the most valuable resource we offer. Being backed by GC means that we are able to reach out to any of their portfolio founders on behalf of RoughDraft founder to ask for advice.
In Adam’s case, the fact that the partners are from the largest Boston schools was a huge resource as well. We got him connected to the school newspapers at Harvard, Tufts, and BU to help advertise and spread the word about SplitMyTaxi. I’ve helped Adam with everything from connections to Boston, to even wording in his signup process. As a partner and a friend, I’ve tried to help him as much as possible.
One of my favorite anecdotes from this entire experience of supporting Adam was hearing the first thing he bought with the company card:
“I remember the first thing we bought were a couple of Tshirts with the SplitMyTaxi logo. I think that’s when I realized this was real.”
I’m excited to see where SplitMyTaxi goes, but most importantly, I’m happy I’ve been able to be a resource for Adam beyond just being a good friend. I’m also excited that Adam is now permanently in the RoughDraft family, and I know he’ll be changing the world soon enough.
I love MIT. I love MIT more than I’ve loved any institution or organization in my entire life. I love this place so much; I helped design one of its most iconic symbols, the Brass Rat
MIT can be a really difficult place. That can happen when you put together 1,100 brilliant students per year onto one campus. 42% of my class was valedictorian of their high school and 90% were in the top 5% of their class.
One of the events I went to when I came onto MIT’s campus for the first time during my CPW (Campus Preview Weekend) was a poignant speech given by Stu Schmill, the Dean of Admissions. My favorite line of that speech was this:
At any point during your career at MIT half of you in this room will be below average. And over the course of your 4 years here, almost all of you will be below average at some point.
A lot of freshmen come into MIT feeling like hotshots. They were at the top of their class, never had to study, and aced all of their classes. MIT quickly breaks you down, with the hopes of building you back up even stronger.
What I love about MIT the most though, is that they have really nailed this process. For your first semester at MIT, you are on Pass/No-Record, meaning that for all of your classes in freshman fall, you can either pass, or it doesn’t show up on your transcript. Second semester, all freshman are on A/B/C/No-Record, meaning that you can either get a passing letter grade, or it doesn’t show up on your transcript. This means that over the course of freshman year, you literally cannot fail a class.
Coming into MIT, I was always really scared that the environment would become ultra-competitive, with everyone trying to nudge themselves forward on the bell curve and push everyone back. Over the course of the two years I’ve been here, I don’t think I’ve ever heard of a student not helping someone who asked for it. MIT is built to be collaborative. Some of the PSETs are so difficult, that it would be impossible to complete them on your own.
Freshman advisers constantly push their advisees to form study groups and find friends in their classes to work with.
MIT also has a ton of administrative support for students as well. One of my favorites is S^3 (Student Support Services), where you can go with any problem from mental health, to just not feeling fully-prepared for an exam. They will require professors to push back exam and due dates if it means that you will perform better as a student.
I see MIT as a giant, inter-connected supportive family. I feel comfortable chatting to every student, faculty, and administrator.
Thursday night’s events in particular show off how we band together and grieve over the loss of one of our own. On Thursday, April 18th, 2013, Sean Collier, an MIT police officer was slain while responding to a report of disturbance. Sean gave his life in protection of the MIT and Boston community.
The outpourings of stories I have seen about Sean throughout social media have been heartwarming, and I know that we have all missed out on the life of a truly wonderful person. One of my favorite anecdotes is below:
Not an hour before Officer Sean passed away, I drove past his patrol car in the ambulance and he gave his emergency lights a quick flick, I gave ours a quick flick too, and we all waved, smiled, and laughed as we each went our different directions. It was these moments, where Officer Sean went out of his way to make people happy, to go above and beyond his job to treat the people of MIT as friends.
RIP Sean Collier, you will be missed.
MIT has come together to remember Sean and his character. Almost all of campus is wearing black to school in his memory.
A few weeks ago, I did something really stupid. Like really really stupid. The part that frustrates me the most was the way it affected the community I so dearly cherish. The part that digs deep into my heart, is not the disciplinary action that I am going through now, but instead the reactions from my fellow classmates. Instead of causing some laughter over cancelled classes, I caused strife and extra stress on my friends during one of the most difficult weeks of the semester.
I think the most exemplifying event was how the administration reacted the following morning. There was no mention of the disciplinary process I would go through or anything like that. Instead, the president of MIT was asking me how I was doing, introduced me to the head of S^3, and gave me some tips on how to deal with the media.
I guess what I’m trying to say is, I love you MIT and your family, I hope I can make it up to you one day.
Earlier today I sent out an email to most of MIT which alluded to a very controversial situation and spoofed as if it was sent from the president of MIT. This email produced fear and caused many people to be angry that someone would take such a serious matter so lightly. I’d like to apologize for the damage I caused to the MIT community, especially in light of the recent events that have caused large amounts of strife, which I only added to.
I made a lot of people mad, and made many people very scared, and for that I feel terrible. MIT has already gone through a lot in the last few months, and my actions were completely inappropriate. I should have never written the email, and especially not sent it out to the entire school.
Below, I’ve documented what happened and an explanation of the severity of my actions:
Earlier today, I made the mistake of sending out the following email to MIT: (Pulled from this article)
This prank all started as a simple argument between friends at 12:45 AM. I was trying to explain how email is a completely insecure protocol, and that it was very easy to spoof an email to be sent from anyone. My friend didn’t believe me and challenged me to send him an email as if it was President Reif.
I decided to show my friend up and make it seem even more legitimate. I quickly pulled up a couple of President Reif’s emails and stole his letterhead and a couple of sentences.
I initially wanted to pull a prank on my living group and convince them there were no classes tomorrow, so I racked my mind for an excuse and decided to put something in about “threats from the media” causing classes to be canceled.
I knew I had to be tricky, because of President Reif’s emails are sent to email@example.com, but I knew my message would obviously not be approved. To make it seem legit, I would send the email to that address, but BCC whatever email address I would want to see it.
I initially sent it out to just my friend, and then a minute later, I decided to send it out to the whole living group, and then all of the dorms. At that time, the only thoughts that were going through my head were “This’ll be really funny when people think there aren’t any classes tomorrow”
At the time, I wasn’t thinking about the gun scare. I wasn’t even thinking about the Aaron Swartz case I had copied into the email. All I was thinking in composing that email was to make it seem like an email President Reif would actually compose.
I walked away from my computer to go eat some food, and I was still worry-free until I saw the email on a friend’s computer. Reading through it, with the official letterhead, I realized how this appeared in context with the Aaron case and the recent gun scare.
Today, President Reif decided to inform the MIT community that we were not ready to release the report on the Aaron Swartz papers due to the concerns of the safety of members of the MIT community whose names were mentioned. Now I had just spoofed an email from the president and sent out to most of campus that classes were canceled due to some sort of “threat”.
At this point the reality of actions hit me like a cold wave. I wasn’t sure initially how to respond. First, I needed to make sure no one thought this email was real, so I sent an apology email to the entire school.
Next thing I knew, hundreds of emails were being sent that were spoofing President Reif, and the MIT Tech was calling. I dismissively told the reporter that “I was just a kid”. I just wanted to make it clear that the email had no malicious intentions, but that I was being extremely childish.
I realized I had left the script running, and that each time someone visited my server, it sent out another spoof email. By the time I managed to shut down the server and SIPB had reached out to me, over 120 spoofed emails had been sent.
What started out as a way to prove a point, turned into a very very stupid email which was sent out to campus. And then it was sent out another 120 times.
I didn’t really think through the context of the email, or the effects it could have. I didn’t think about how this email appeared 12 hours after a very serious email was sent out to all of MIT.
I’d like to apologize to President Reif and the entire MIT community. I deeply regret my actions earlier tonight.
EDIT: Added a sentence at the top to make it clear this email should not have been written.
The other day, my co-founder, David, came up to me and asked me if I’d be willing to help someone fix their website. Immediately a thought flashed through my head along the lines of:
“Ugh, not this again. Someone has some silly error and I’m going to take time out of working on my product to fix it”
As an MIT CS major, I’ve seen hundreds of postings on our jobs list along the line of:
“Business major with an *amazing* idea, $100 million in revenue guaranteed within a year. Major funding already received and board of directors is seated. All we need is a technical co-founder to start making the product”
We get sick of being treated like code monkeys and people not appreciating how difficult it is to create a great product. So when this request came in, I rolled my eyes per usual, but since the request came from my co-founder and the company was a fellow Beehiver, I decided to help her out.
The website is http://glutenfreegluttons.com/ a site for those allergic to Gluten to find restaurant alternatives in the SF area. The founder, Shireen, was not technical and had a friend help her make the site. The website had been down since October 9th, 2012, and her friend couldn’t figure out how to fix it. She said she got at least 4-5 emails a week asking when the site would be back up.
Whenever you tried to search for anything on the site, it would pull up a page which said:
“This website is under construction, come back soon”
So, it was time to start digging. I got FTP access and pulled up the main page. As it turns out, that message would come up if the connection to the SQL database was refused.
Shireen used DreamHost as a hosting service, and on it, her friend had created an account and set up his password, which matched what I saw in the config file on the site. I quickly had an aha moment and went in to see what users had sql access (There are DreamHost users, i.e. those that get FTP/SSH access, and SQL users, those that can connect to the DB). Lo and behold, the password her friend had set to the DreamHost user didn’t match the SQL user. I quickly changed the DB config file to have the right password, and boom! Site was completely functional again.
The look on Shireen’s face was priceless, she was clearly overjoyed and thanked me incessantly and now owes me a gluten-free lunch in Cambridge. It dawned on me that coding was one of my only skills that I had that can evoke such a reaction from someone.
As Gabe Newell says:
The programmers of tomorrow are the wizards of the future. You know you are going to look like you have magic powers compared to everybody else
I guess the moral of the story is, I hope coders realize their powers and the joy that they can bring into people’s lives, and I hope you use them for good. I took less than 5 minutes out of my day, and now those allergic to gluten have their resource back.
P.S. One of the classes that excites me most at MIT right now is 6.S194 Open Source Software Projects, where your entire coursework is contributing to a major open source software library, i.e. Ruby on Rails
Sometimes people ask me why I love my cofounders. This post is why:
So I was hacking away on Nightingale yesterday when Delian mentioned that a few guys from Highland Capital had emailed him, encouraging us to apply for their summer accelerator. I didn’t think much of it until he told me that there was secret easter egg on their site which would get us…
As some of you may know, over the last couple of months I’ve been working on my startup, Nightingale. By working on it, I’ve begun to appreciate some of the lessons I learned while working at Square. I’ve listed them below by category:
Before starting at Square, the largest team software project I had worked on was my FIRST Robotics team at my high school. At its peak, we had at most 5 programmers working on the project, but usually we were working with only 1 or 2. Our versioning system consisted of sending zip files of the code base to the entire software team at the end of the night. Branches? We handled those by manually merging changes. Outside of Robotics, all of my coding was as a lone contractor, so I never bothered to research versioning. I arrived at MIT and worked on FanFuser, where, again, I was the only coder.
Suddenly, I found myself at the end of freshman year, and I had still not learned how to use git or svn. I had created a GitHub account earlier in the year, but didn’t understand its value. Two days before my start at Square, I decided it’d be a bad idea to come in with no experience, so I started the Git Immersion tutorial.
I sat down for my first day of work on the Android engineering team next to Eric Burke. He walked me through their code submission cycle. I pretended to know what a pull request and jenkins were. For the first few weeks there was a lot of git commit —amend as I figured out what Jira meant, but somehow, no one was pointing out my severe lack of understanding, and I began to figure my way around the code base.
Now, 6 months later, I start a git repo every other week and am always teaching others the usefulness of git add -p. Nightingale currently follows the same development cycle as Square: Pull Request —> Code Review —> Jenkins Build —> Merge to Master.
In the spring of my freshman year, I was playing around with Android Development and decided to learn how to connect the app with a server, which involved making an http request. I read the following post which led me to read up more on Jesse Wilson, the author. I eventually stumbled upon this video teaching about Guice (A library created by Google to support Injection in Java). The creator of Guice, Bob Lee, introduces Jesse who explains the benefits of Guice. When I listened to the video, I was like, wait a minute, I was just interviewed by Bob Lee the other day! Known as Crazy Bob, he’s the CTO of Square. It suddenly dawned on me how amazing the Android team at Square really was.
I met with Bob the first day I got to Square. I was originally assigned to work on their device firmware, but, after taking a semester-long class on Android development and learning about Bob’s contributions to Android, I knew which team I really wanted to be on and immediately switched.
Next, I started to do more research on the team, to see who else I was working with. The first person I started researching was Jake Wharton, who, according to AppBrain, has the 11th most used Android library in the world. I quickly realized I was working with some big hitters.
Halfway through the summer, I heard we had an awesome new hire come onto Android. For the first couple of days, I didn’t get a chance to meet him, but I was amazed at the huge amount of commits he was making even in his first week. I asked Eric to introduce me to this new programmer, and I felt a sense of deja vu. The new programmer was Jesse Wilson.
To say Square has a rockstar Android team would be an understatement. They have some of the top contributors to open-sourced Android and Java libraries in the entire world, and it was very humbling to work alongside them. Now, when working on the Nightingale Android app, whenever I run into difficulties, I read the Square blog or shoot off an occasional email to Jake
As mentioned above, before this summer, I had never worked on a large software team, so my first ever standup meeting occurred on my second day at Square. I loved those meetings because they were capped at 15 minutes and were a great way of learning what my team was working on. Another favorite was the retros, where every other week, the entire team would get together and talk about the product roadmap for the next six months. Anyone was allowed to chime in and voice their opinion on where the product was headed. I was amazed that as an intern I was able to voice my opinion and question the decisions of those made from higher up.
A key facet in Square’s culture are the weekly all-hands meetings known as Town Square. They take roughly an hour, but they were my favorite time. This is where Jack would announce funding or the Starbucks partnership, months before the press releases would come out.
I’ve taken these lessons on team structure and meetings and applied it to Nightingale. Even though we’re a little small, we do once a week retro and demo meetings.
I think Square also taught me how to have fun while working on a product you love. Whether it was the workday or the weekend, I was always excited about mobile payments even though I had never heard of the industry 6 months before. Maybe it was the tradition of coworkers sending out rainbow unicorns to the company if you ever left your computer unlocked. This fun was exemplified in my final act on my last day at Square. I tried to sneak in a pull request that fixed a bug on the signature screen. It also had a sneaky feature that the screen would look like the following if I, another intern, or Jack Dorsey ever signed:
All in all, I believe most young entrepreneurs should spend a summer at a tech company before going off to pursue their idea. There’s a lot you can learn in a much lower risk environment, and what better place to go than Square.
… unless you want to work in healthcare, then come on over to Nightingale :)
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Three semesters ago, I was a bewildered 17-year old kid who was thrown onto the campus of one of the best universities in the world. As soon as I could, I started reaching out to everyone I saw as a resource, I joined student clubs, I started doing research in Artificial Intelligence, and even did a varsity sport. Though busy, I still felt unsatisfied. On the side I was continuously hacking away on small side-projects and I kept feeling like I wanted to do something more. I wanted to change the world and I wanted to start now.
One day in the elevator in my dorm I stepped and saw a handsome young man, who I’d seen around. In the minute that we had in the elevator I told him my research and what I was involved in. He stepped out and said “You seem like someone who likes making things, you should come to this entrepreneurship class I’m helping start”
A week later, and after a couple of meetings with MIT administrators we had officially registered the MIT GSD “Get Shit Done” class. The idea of the class was that there are a lot of MIT students who work on side projects and are going through the same difficulties. Drinking from the fire hose of MIT can let a lot of things slip to the side, including projects you are passionate about. During one of these meetings with an administrator, I was asked what sort of support I wanted. All I asked for was time where I could work each week with other people, just not on classes.
For the rest of that semester, a group of students met each week on Mondays at 8 PM. MIT fed us a great dinner and we did a standup meeting. We would talk about what we finished the last week, our goals for the next week, and our blockers. One idea that I had for the class was to do a demo day at the end of the semester, where each of the teams presented in front of a group of people we invited.
Last night we had our demo day and I wanted to walk through the 13 companies that came out of this semester’s class:
StyleUp is helping women dress up with new and exciting outfits using clothes they already own and appropriate for the weather in their hometown. Kendall is growing this product fast and I’m really excited to see where this goes. I love when people create something from their own passions, that is, Kendall worked at several fashion magazines before coming to MIT.
AudioCommon is working on a platform to have artists, producers, and sound engineers collaborate on music together online. What amazes me is that the founder managed to help throw the Music Hack Day in Boston and even hosted Lady Gaga’s producer Fernando Garibay, all through connections from the GSD class.
Now Onboard is working on bringing online retail to the Carribean. In these islands, there is no such thing as Amazon Prime. Most of the populace makes a decent middle class income, but in order to participate in retail, they have to take a vacation and bring products back with them.
KangaCruise is working on bringing the cruising industry into the 21st century. Currently almost all bookings occur over the phone or through a travel agent, but with the cruising market shifting farther and farther away from those at the age of retirement, a digital solution is needed and I believe Kangacruise is exactly that.
Lifetime Supply is the idea that you can give your friends gifts of lifetime supplies of everyday objects. Everything from socks and gum to jars of Nutella. What amazes me about this project was the speed of idea to implementation. The amazing Max Kanter (Same kid who hacked the Dropbox Space Race)
OneTesla is building Tesla Coils that play music by adjusting the voltage provide to crate the arcs. Watch this demo (At about 1:11) to understand how amazing this is. Hoping to see this go big on KickStarter soon.
RobieOne is creating personal care robots which can be operated remotely through a cellular device. Need to check if you left your keys at home? No problem. Too lazy to go to the fridge or feed the cat? Do it from the couch.
Hoowenware, i.e. Who? When? Where? is working on making group travel a flawless experience. No more bickering over which hotel to use or which flight to take, instead hoowenware has hotels and airlines bid for your group and then presents the same option to all those in your group. From there you can invite more friends to come along and have all their details sorted out.
Nightingale is actually my project that I’m working on. We played around with an idea around communication problems in coumadin clinics. We actually made a prototype and spent a decent amount of time in coumadin clincs seeing how we could integrate with their workflow. We ended up making the tough decision to ditch this idea and are currently working on an idea around medication adherence. Note, we are named after Florence Nightingale
Pill Pack is working on a online pharamacy. Request your medication at the click of a button? Done. Deliver to your home? That too. Keep track of when your prescription runs out and send you refills automatically and report that information to physicians? Working on it.
EagerPanda is working on changing the way we learn. It allows experts and learners to pair up in a webinar format. The expert teaches his pupil, and the entire lesson is recorded. From there, both members can post the footage from the lesson with their comments and sell it.
Indivly is working on making content creation for marketng managers a much less painful process. Want a brochure to look good on Pinterest, Twitter, and Facebook all at the same time? Then Indivly is there for you!
Mediuum is woking on bringing the display of art to modern times. Display art on tablets, TVs and your cell phone. Throw a galleria online. This is for curators, artists, and art-lovers.
Projects like these are what keep me inspired. All of these projects are being done by full-time MIT students. Throughout the semester I kept noticing that one of the issues everyone was having was obtaining a small amount of funding. We weren’t looking to go around to get a seed round. But sometimes it’s nice to have some money to run experiments on AdWords, acquire your first users, or even just for some server space. This is why I’ve decided to join as a partner for RoughDraft.
Watch the coverage at TechCrunch and follow the discussion at HackerNews.
The other day I went out for coffee with one of my friends who does theoretical math research. I actually ended up having my first cup of coffee ever.
As was usual with this friend, we got onto the topic of his research and started debating the merits of our two majors. As an engineer I fundamentally believe that an idea’s worth is based on its success of implementation in the real world. That is, unless it’s solving a real world problem right now, I have difficulty valuing the idea.
However, all my mathematics-focused friends fundamentally disagree with this belief. One of the best examples I have heard that has countered my claim was the following. My friend believes that the work she does in theoretical mathematics is pushing the knowledge boundary of humanity and that it will only take time for the rest of the world to be able to understand her ideas and implement them. Her favorite example is Knot theory. Knot theory is the idea that all knots can be represented as a series of three different operations, known as the Reidmeister moves.
There are essentially three basic operations, a twist, a poke, and a slide. Those three operations define every knot in existence. Take that Boy Scouts. As knot theory was being developed, especially in the 1970s, when studies shifted towards hyperbolic knots, many dismissed the field as a useless mathematical endeavor which could only contribute to the abstract concept of quantum field theory. Fast-forward twenty years and biologists are applying the theorems behind Knot theory towards protein folding and determining the chirality of molecules (chirality is essentially the difference between your left-hand and your right-hand). What was once an abstract concept and a mathematician’s game was now helping further the study of DNA, since you can imagine DNA as a string and its folds and creases as knot operations.
Next time you are tying your shoes, imagine that you’re playing with a piece of DNA and trying to unravel it. I don’t think DNA gets tied into a bow though.
“Last year at Google, Sergey came and sat down next to me at lunch”
“What did you talk to him about?”
“I didn’t say anything to him. I didn’t know what to talk to him about and I was scared!”
I had this conversation with a friend of mine a few weeks ago. He was an intern at Google last year and gave up the opportunity to talk to Sergey because of his fear of seeming unknowledgeable because of his lack of prepared conversation. Don’t ever let these opportunities slip by.
This is one skill that I’ve come to realize is invaluable, the ability to always have an idea to pitch, no matter what the situation. For example, the other day, I went to the pitch night hosted by Google which had Kevin Rose as one of the judges.
I noticed that once the event was over, most of the audience left the room or mobbed Kevin, asking for a photograph or a signature. I saw many squandering a valuable opportunity to pitch any idea that didn’t make it to the finalists at the event. At the time I had the specific goal of pitching Kevin the idea of coming to MIT and doing a talk. I managed to have a conversation with him. Because I opened up to him about one of my ideas, he immediately began asking me more questions about what I was working on and because of this I’ve had the chance to speak with him again.
This advice doesn’t even have to apply to just the Tech industry either. I’m lucky that my name backwards is naileD, which provides for a great conversation-starter in almost any scenario. Immediately I can ask everyone what their name is and watch those with longer names try to pronounce theirs backwards. Everyone has something unique and exciting about them, it’s just a matter of being prepared to share it.
So, make sure to keep in mind an idea you can propose to anyone, whether it be the next Android app you’d like to build or your thoughts on online currency. Most importantly, don’t forget that all humans share this same characteristic, whether you’re Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, or Sergey Brin. We all poop.