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Dosas, brains and Facebook’s Town Hall in Delhi with Vivek and Sneha

This update is very, very behind, but I’m still somewhat getting back to real life after a very fast, very cool trip to India. I tagged along with Michael while he went to a conference in Udaipur, then we spent a few days in Delhi. At the conference, I met Vivek and his lovely wife Sneha.

Vivek is a neurosurgeon at AIIMS, a giant, giant hospital in Delhi, where they live. Since Michael and I don’t know our way around Delhi, when we arrived, Vivek and Sneha offered to take us out for dinner (ok, it was dinner, not lunch, but rules schmules). They picked us up at the India Habitat Center (where we stayed and a very cool place btw) around 8:30pm. Both were coming straight from work.

Sneha’s phone kept ringing and while she was answering it, Vivek was telling us that Mark Zuckerberg was in town the same time as us, for a Facebook town hall in Delhi. It turns out, Sneha works on the PR for Facebook in India. Aside from feeling kind of guilty about going out for dinner the evening before what seemed like a pretty busy day, I was pretty excited to go for dinner with someone that would also be interested in talking about not-neurosurgery stuff!

Sneha recently visited Menlo Park when India’s Prime Minister came to visit Facebook. This led to a hilarious conversation of why does everything in the ‘burbs close so early and why are the only vegetarian options at most places salad? It was great to get a chance to brag about all the cool things in the US that aren’t closed at 8pm and uh…everything that isn’t salad :) Prior to that, Sneha was working on PR for Uber’s launch in India. We talked about the issues that came up during launch and also how the PR team addressed everything.

We had a great meal of South Indian food. It was all so delicious and I ate way too much food, although it felt like we didn’t even get halfway through the food we ordered. The restaurant was in a cool part of Delhi that I think used to be a separate village, but is now a bunch of cool shops, galleries, restaurants and places to go out. We walked into a couple of stores, but didn’t really get a chance to investigate too much (because I was hungry, I insisted on eating first, at 9pm, and when we were done the shops were closed).

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Peter loves data, startups and music

I had an amazing lunch with Peter Marinari today. Peter is someone who can cover an intense amount of topics in a 45 minute lunch. I knew I liked Peter the moment I first met him. He has a big personality, always thinks the best of people and consistently gets more stuff done in a day than most people do in a week.

We started lunch by talking about his recent trip to San Francisco for an RJMetrics customer event. He spent a day relaxing in Palo Alto, then emceed the event held at New Relic’s head office. Listening to him talk about how well the event got me all excited about my work, as well. Every day this week, I’ve talked to someone that is clearly sold on the idea of events being an important part of their business. Obviously, this feels great.

Peter is a great person to talk to about career trajectory. He’s spent time thinking about where he is at in his career, where he’d like to get and what he needs to do to get there. I get the feeling he’s spent as much time thinking about that for each member of his team, as well. We discussed a Seth Godin video that everyone at my work is thinking about (Lizard Brain, if you’re wondering).  It is both reassuring and energizing to speak to people at other startups about how work is going.

In addition to work, we talked about Peter’s music and where he’s at with it right now. I’m so impressed that he can juggle working at a busy startup, a toddler and being a musician, which isn’t an insignificant time commitment.

We ate at HipCityVeg, a great to-go lunch spot in Rittenhouse. We both grabbed salads and sat in the park, today was the perfect day for it.

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Chrisse talks tickets, running and toddlers

I had lunch with Chrisse Dragon today – we both ate a quick, late lunch by the windows in the office. Chrisse is the Director of Customer Success at Ticketleap and does an amazing job. She knows everything you can possibly imagine about ticketing (ok, that’s not the *coolest* thing ever, but for where we work, it’s pretty important). She’s also really great at talking to people on the phone (also good considering her job). One of the reasons I enjoy working with Chrisse is that she’s a very empathetic team member. She’s pretty good at reading how the team is feeling and knowing what to do about it. Maybe I should copy/paste all of this as a LinkedIn recommendation?

I used to be the first person in the office every day, but Chrisse has taken over that role pretty much all the time. That means she makes the first pot of coffee most days, so it is important to be on her good side (or at least, very important to me). In addition to being the first one in every day, she also often works out at lunch. Over the summer, we went running a couple of times together (she’s fast, it hurt and I really didn’t even keep up). We both also participated in the go-to-the-gym-across-the-street club, even though that gym is terrible. Since (I’m lazy and) Mike is on research this year, I don’t need to workout at lunch all the time. Pretty sure Chrisse is still going strong on that though.

Chrisse has one of the best last names ever and we often refer to her in office as Mother of Dragon, since she has a son. We talked about Halloween costumes for our kids and also some general, “Are we doing this parenting thing correctly?” that often seem to come up in the Ticketleap office. I can’t tell if we’re all terrible parents, or just more self-aware than other parents I meet.

Since we started working together, I’ve learned several things about Chrisse. She’s from NEPA, which I didn’t even know was a thing, she’s very competitive about everything she does while being a good sport and she takes her birthday off from work every year.

While I ate a sad, sad salami-on-Taffet’s sandwich, Chrisse ate some pretty amazing looking takeout.

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Juliana Reyes reports on tech and records her dreams

Today, I had a great lunch with Juliana Reyes at Gavin’s Cafe. Because I’m a numpty, I forgot to take her picture and had to ask her to send one to me.

We started off by discussing how she ended up a Technical.ly and what it was like to jump right into the deep end of the tech scene. I was new to Philly, but not new to tech/startups. She was new to tech/startups, but has been in the area for a while. We both felt pretty welcome, although it seems like a long time ago now!

Juliana recently started a series on Technical.ly on tech people talking about everything else in their lives. I think it is the best idea and asked her how she came up with it. She said she hates meeting people and being at a loss for what to talk to them about. This series is her solution to that. Meeting someone and already knowing a little about what they love to do makes it easy to having a meaningful conversation with them.
Perfect segue…

One of the reasons why I wanted to have lunch with Juliana was to ask her about a cool project she’s working on. She’s been writing dream poetry and, with her roommate, started making short films about them. She posted one on Twitter and I thought it was pretty neat. It seemed like a cool side project she was doing because she loved it — I wish there was more room in the world for projects like this. She said at the moment, she doesn’t have plans to do anything more with it other than to make more short films.

I asked about what Juliana took in school and she said she graduated from Linguistics. I appreciated our discussion about college/university, as it seems pretty similar to my experience. I went to drink and to figure out who I was as a person. I left with a degree and somehow ended up as an employable human. Although I admire people that go in knowing exactly what they are going to get out of a post-secondary education, I wouldn’t trade my experience for anything.

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Neil knows linguistics, improv and ex-pat life

Yesterday, Neil and i had lunch at Agno, one of my favorite lunch spots. It was brutally hot and at that moment, I very much regretted the all natural deodorant I bought on the weekend. Also, Neil has successfully dropped a secret middle finger in this photo.
Neil and I met through some of the stuff he does with Bad Kitten, an improv group he is a part of that makes great, “come to our show” videos. I learned at lunch that Neil spent 3 years living in The Netherlands before moving to Philadelphia. I appreciated his thoughts on living abroad and how he views the experience.
Neil’s background is psycho-linguistics. We had an interesting chat about all of that including how adults are continuously learning new words, how learning language after a stroke is both fascinating and terrifying and how deaf people form words when learning to read. While he is no longer in the academic world, his education and research helps with what he currently does. Improv Science helps scientist (and other science types, I assume) learn how to collaborate and communicate better through the same tools that improv groups use.
One of the things I admire about Neil is that he always seems to have several things going on. He contributes to geekadelphia.com, he is writing reviews at this year’s Fringe Arts Festival, he does improv, he works hard for the money and he has more cool projects on the horizon.
He very graciously did a spinach check on my teeth at the end of the meal.

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Lisa Wu loves her job, travels well and apple picking

Lisa Wu

I had lunch with this amazing lady yesterday. It was a holiday, so there was booze involved. We met at Jones, a place I have a love/hate relationship with. Something always just feels a bit off there…but they have tots so I inevitably keep going back.

Lisa works at J&J and I’m always impressed by the way she talks about what she does. She loves her job and her coworkers. She spends her days organizing clinical trials. I can’t even imagine how much work goes into her job and I get the impression she is very good at it (from her coworkers, not just hearing that from Lisa, haha). Her job is probably not a great for someone that isn’t into details.

We spent a large part of lunch discussing the one week safari in Africa, plus one week diving in The Maldives trip she and her husband just went on. If you’re ever wondering how much you can pack into one vacation, or how far away you can go in a limited amount of time, talk to Lisa. Her recreational travel schedule is impressive and neither Lisa nor her husband are shy about getting on long flights for a weekend trip.

Over lunch we also discussed the optimal fall weekend for apple picking, what the eff you do once you pick a bunch of apples and when we should next convene for cocktails at our (what I think of as) secret location, the outdoor garden at M hotel. Hello, gin list!

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Michaelangelo Ilagan runs, eats tacos and loves Philly

MikeyIl

I met @MikeyIl (and let him know we only refer to him as MikeyIl in the office) for lunch at Buena Onda today. He has a plan to meet 100 people for lunch and document each one. I thought it was a cool idea, so I’m copying it, starting with today’s lunch! I’m not sure I can meet people for lunch every day, but I’m making it my own and aiming for 3 lunches per week.

As we ordered, he mentioned he normally eats what I would consider to be two lunches because he’s been running a crazy amount lately. Over the last few years, he’s gone from not-a-runner to finding his groove and really getting in a huge number of miles every month.

After we ordered, we mostly talked about work, with a few random questions I had sprinkled in. I was interested in the dynamic of what it’s like to work at a smaller company, but be in a huge corporate office all day. He is a front end web developer for Think Brownstone and is contracted out to Comcast. MikeyIl says he likes how they work together. He gets all of the benefits of working at a smaller company, a great team culture, etc. but also has the stability and predictability (in a good way) of working at a large company. He said before working at Comcast, he had no idea just how many people could all work on the same website. It’s pretty crazy when you think about it.

MikeyIl seems to be connected to everything in Philadelphia, so I asked him about how he gets involved in stuff. He said if it has a social network, he’s on it, although he doesn’t actively contribute to the same things year over year. I told him my story of getting fired from Yelp Elite. He then definitely one upped my story by telling me about how he originally met Allison Hartman (I credit her with helping me get a job a Ticketleap) by trying to set The Trestle Inn on fire at a Yelp Elite party.

MikeyIl has just finished up Geekadelphia’s Geek Awards for the year, and I was excited to talk to him about how things went. Events are hard work and The Geek Awards is all done by volunteers. They used Ticketleap for ticketing this year and I’m looking forward to showing off some new stuff we’re working on to The Geek Awards when they are ready to ramp up again next year.

When I talk to anyone that’s from Philadelphia, I always want to ask them all of their favorite spots (and other questions, like, “Do you know where to go hiking?”). I settled on asking about a brunch spot I’d seen him post about (Fourth and Cross). It’s kind of weird when you follow people on social media. You know weird details about their lives, then have to either pretend like you don’t, or just be comfortable asking questions that would otherwise be awkward. “I stalk all brunch photos and was hoping to get your opinion on a restaurant.” would be one of those awkward questions. Lunch #1 was a success, even though I forgot to take a photo until after we ate.

Michael Lang gets inside people’s heads

I met Michael when he came up to Calgary to do a year of research at Foothills Hospital. He’s pretty smart. Before we started dating, I really had no idea what was involved in being a neurosurgeon, I just knew of it as a cliche.  What neurosurgeons do, and everything they need to learn to become one, is pretty interesting!

What do you do?

I’m a doctor; specifically, I’m in the first year of my residency training in Neurosurgery.

At what point did you know what you wanted to be?

For me, it was a bit later than most of my classmates in medical school, who generally say they were ‘pre-med’ from they day they could talk. I started out studying Philosophy in college (university if you’re reading this in the Commonwealth), and decided about halfway through that I wanted to practice Medicine instead.

As to a particular specialty, I knew fairly early in medical school that I would end up in a surgical subspecialty and was hooked on neurosurgery pretty much from the start. The procedures are amazing and there is no more intricate and beautiful anatomy anywhere in the body, so I got hooked.

Is being a resident what you expected? 

The first year of residency is a very classic experience. It’s pretty terrifying for the first few days as a doctor.  For example, my first day in the hospital was a 30-hour shift on call, covering 25 or so Intensive Care Unit patients.  The fear goes away quickly though, and then you’re forced to learn on an extremely steep learning curve.  Now nearly a year into my training, I feel much more comfortable taking care of very sick patients.

Being a first-year resident can be pretty tedious at times, as time spent taking care of the most mundane tasks in patient care greatly outweighs time spent operating.  That said, our specialty in particular is one in which subtle changes in the appearance of a patient or tiny mistakes or omissions can have lethal consequences. As a result, our training is one of supervised repetition until excellent patient care, or surgical technique, becomes habit. So even though the very rigid hierarchy of neurosurgical training can feel restrictive at times, I’ve tried to very hard to remember the importance of excelling at and being responsible for a specific role within a team.

What does a normal day look like for you?

I usually arrive at the hospital at 4:30AM to start seeing patients in the morning and spend the day running around seeing new patients and taking care of our inpatients. If I’m particularly efficient, I make it down to the OR to assist on a case until I’m called or paged away.  The day usually ends sometime between 7 and 8PM or so, and then I go home for some combination of food, studying, working on research projects, getting to the gym, and hopefully spending some time with my lovely fiancée.

How do you deal with having to tell a patient’s family really bad news? Is that the worst part of your job?

Yes, it is. Telling a family that their loved one has or is about to die is never a pleasant thing, which we do quite often given the nature of a large part of neurosurgical disease. As a result, you quickly develop an unwritten script and a cadence for leading families through bad news.  However, it’s at its worst with young patients who suddenly die (as is often the case with head trauma and intra-cranial bleeding). Having a routine helps to get through it, because the next extremely sick patient doesn’t wait for you to dwell on that experience. That said, it can be pretty hard to shake screams of anguish from loved ones after giving bad news.

What makes it all worthwhile?

Even at its worst, I love my job. I never go home without being stuck on how I could have been better or more efficient, or having identified yet another hole in my knowledge base. I work all day long with brilliant people.  Also, I get to operate on brains and spines, which is OK I guess…

Is there any advice you would give someone else that thinks they might want to follow in your footsteps?

Be prepared for a very long training process, of which each stage is harder than the last. I can’t imagine going through any of it over again, and I’ve only just begun my specialty training (2255 days to go, as of today). That said, I love my job and wouldn’t want to do anything else with my life. I feel very fortunate to have identified a couple of excellent mentors over the years, I think mentors are indispensible to learning what type of a doctor, and what type of a person you want to become. Lastly, I believe that success in life comes down to a relatively few sink-or-swim moments when you prove yourself. Remember that all the studying and all the hard work is just so you know how to float when the time comes.

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David Gluzman drinks good wine

David and I worked together for several years. We actually shared a tiny desk together for over a year (oh, startup life!). I can’t believe we still speak, actually.  He is the first person to introduce me to the idea of user experience. Since working together, David has founded his own startup.

 

What is BlackSquare?

BlackSquare is a slightly different kind of tech startup. Rather than dealing with fluffy bits and bytes, we dabble in the wine industry. Which means we drink less Gin in the office than Wine.

We run Alberta’s largest monthly wine club (WineCollective.ca), a premium flash sale wine portal (Tannic.ca) and a turnkey direct to consumer wine platform for anyone that sells wine (Blackboxx).

What is your background and experience?

I used to be dedicated to sport (started with Speed Skating, and transitioned to Cycling), which gave me an early opportunity to travel the world. During this time I balanced sport with working with computers. I used to do tech support, sell computers, and design/code/write on the Internets. I had my first “blog” in 1995 and thought usenet was pretty neat.

Since then I’ve created and worked at various startups, ad agencies, and ran an online magazine for ten years. I started as a designer, transitioning to a developer, and came full circle finding my passion in user experience and product design. I’m constantly playing with new concepts, and experimenting with technology.

I’m one of those people that always questions why something was built a certain way and imagine on how it could be better. I get frustrated when I approach a building with two doors, and the first one I try is locked! Why do you have two doors? That sort of stuff drives me nuts.

You were a consultant for a long time, did starting your own start up evolve from that, or is it something completely different?

The first time I took up consulting life was rough. I recall one year making $6000, and barely having enough to eat. Then again the last stint I did as a consultant, life was gravy. The only problem with consulting is that it never ends, and I always have an itch to work on products versus projects.

A big drive to working on my own products has come from the fact that I want to have the maximum amount of impact come from my efforts. Most jobs and even some consulting gigs restrain me.

How much time did you put into the experience people have when ordering through WineCollective?

A fair bit, but to be honest the website itself is pretty simple. We have set out to remove the choice when joining (we have five packages). Pick a price point and style, done. Wine starts showing up at your home or office every month – along with in depth tasting notes teaching you about them.

We taste hundreds of wines a month looking to find the best on the market (of which Alberta has an incredible amount of rotating skus). Our goal is to eliminate the dice roll of trying new wines, while pushing you into trying something you might not normally choose on your own.

We only showcase wine that we think are awesome.

Do you get to drink wine every day?

Yes.

How do you decide what wines will be delivered next?

It’s a mix between seasonality, quality and availability. For example we feature a sparkling wine every December and generally feature heavier reds during winter and brighter whites in summer.

What is your favourite part of founding your own company?

True creativity. Having to make decisions and figure out solutions without any kind of road map is incredibly challenging yet oddly fun.

I used to be excited by spinning out ideas, and now it has lost its luster. Ideas are a dime a dozen, the hard part is actually doing it. It’s the execution that is addictive.

To go a bit deeper I think the largest reward to running my own company is that I’m learning every day. I hope this never changes.

What do you wish you knew before you started?

From my first start up I learned how important it is to have motivated and driven people by your side. I also learned that these people come and go – that’s life.

This time around, I wish I knew how to clone myself. Did I mention we’re hiring?

What’s next for BlackSquare?

We’re expanding world wide, and currently working on expansion to Australia and Asia. I’m excited that we’re disrupting the wine industry, and pushing it into the modern world. We’re growing WineCollective and Tannic, but our main goal is growing Blackboxx as a new global standard for direct to consumer wine sales.

I want to revolutionize how people buy and learn about wine.

 

If you want to keep up with David, you can follow him on Twitter.

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Alex Middleton finds stories and shares them

Alex is organizing the 3rd annual TEDxYYC event next month in Calgary. He’s lined up some interesting speakers across numerous industries, including Raffi (as in Banana Phone) and Moeed Ahmad, the Head of New Media at Al jazeera. He is a PR Consultant, a former journalist and one of my favorite people to go for brunch with!

What do you do?

I’m a PR Consultant.

Does your education match your job title?

Strictly no, but the skills I learned being a journalist have certainly made the transition easier than if I had studied accounting. Being on the other side and having had the experience of working with both good PR professionals and bad PR professionals was a valuable experience in what to do to and what not to do. If not, how did you end up where you are today? I had moved back to Calgary after working in London with the CBC and The Globe and Mail and didn’t really know what my next career move would be but was offered a job with a film festival helping with their PR and communications and really enjoyed it. That was nine years ago, and I’ve been doing PR ever since.

How would you explain the skills required to put together an event like TEDxYYC?

Honestly the thing I think I’ve done well is surrounding myself with some very talented team members. It’s almost like planning an elaborate bank heist but instead of looking for explosives experts and get away drivers I’ve found a group of people who are great designers and web developers, event planners, speaker prep and community connectors.

You’ve been able to attract some world class speakers to a relatively small event, without paying them. How do you do it?

Begging;) Actually the TED brand is recognizable enough that when approaching a potential speaker target out of the blue starting of your email with TED often times gets their attention and then once we have their attention we talk about what we want to accomplish at our event, which is community building and collaboration. This is what it’s all about for me – attract a group of speakers that will inspire an audience to take the lessons they’ve learned and then spread those ideas into the greater community.

How do you learn about people who might give interesting talks?

From reading magazines and newspapers to getting feedback from everyone in the community about people they’ve come across in their professional lives. We usually draw up a list of around 50 people and then whittle it down to around 12. IT’s not easy and a lot of the time it’s a crapshoot as we’ve never seen the people we select speak in public. A good speaker prep person is invaluable.

What keeps you up at night in the days leading up to TEDxYYC?

The fear of technical issues on the day of. We work with good production partners though so those fears are somewhat mitigated. Unlike the first TEDxYYC event when a caterer plugged a coffee machine in and killed our live stream. We now have safe guards built in.

Who is your dream speaker and what would they speak about for 20 minutes?

Santiago Calatrava. Especially with the controversy surrounding the Peace Bridge in Calgary. I’m a huge fan of the bridge but there has been a lot of vitriol from Calgarians about the project. I’d love to hear him talk about art and architecture and the role design plays in livable communities. If anyone out there has his phone number let me know.

Have you read any good books lately?

I just finished Atul Gawande‘s book Complications: A Surgeon’s Notes on an Imperfect Science. I don’t generally read non-fiction and am not especially interested in the healthcare industry but I flew through the book as it is so interesting, and frightening, and there are so many issues with the healthcare system that mirror problems in other industries. Highly recommended.

If you’d like to learn more about TEDxYYC, check out their website. You can also follow Alex on Twitter.