More on Leadership
10 months ago
A Comparison of Amazon, Microsoft, and Google's Compensation
Learn or earn
In 2020, I started software engineering. My base wage has progressed as follows:
Amazon (2020): $112,000
Microsoft (2021): $123,000
Google (2022): $169,000
I didn't major in math, but those jumps appear more than a 7% wage increase. Here's a deeper look at the three.
The Three Categories of Compensation
Most software engineering compensation packages at IT organizations follow this format.
Base salary is pre-tax income. Most organizations give a base pay. This is paid biweekly, twice monthly, or monthly.
Sign-On incentives are one-time rewards to new hires. Companies need an incentive to switch. If you leave early, you must pay back the whole cost or a pro-rated amount.
Equity is complex and requires its own post. A company will promise to give you a certain amount of company stock but when you get it depends on your offer. 25% per year for 4 years, then it's gone.
If a company gives you $100,000 and distributes 25% every year for 4 years, expect $25,000 worth of company stock in your stock brokerage on your 1 year work anniversary.
Tech offers may include yearly performance bonuses. Depends on performance and funding. I've only seen 0-20%.
Engineers' overall compensation usually includes:
Base Salary + Sign-On + (Total Equity)/4 + Average Performance Bonus
Amazon: (TC: 150k)
Base Pay System
Amazon pays Seattle employees monthly on the first work day. I'd rather have my money sooner than later, even if it saves processing and pay statements.
The company upped its base pay cap from $160,000 to $350,000 to compete with other tech companies.
Amazon has no performance bonus, so you can work as little or as much as you like and get paid the same. Amazon is savvy to avoid promising benefits it can't deliver.
Amazon gives two two-year sign-up bonuses. First-year workers could receive $20,000 and second-year workers $15,000. It's probably to make up for the company's strange equity structure.
If you leave during the first year, you'll owe the entire money and a prorated amount for the second year bonus.
Most organizations prefer a 25%, 25%, 25%, 25% equity structure. Amazon takes a different approach with end-heavy equity:
the first year, 5%
15% after one year.
20% then every six months
We thought it was constructed this way to keep staff longer.
Microsoft (TC: 185k)
Base Pay System
Microsoft paid biweekly.
My offer letter suggested a 0%-20% performance bonus. Everyone will be satisfied with a 10% raise at year's end.
But misleading press where the budget for the bonus is doubled can upset some employees because they won't earn double their expected bonus. Still barely 10% for 2022 average.
Microsoft's sign-on bonus is a one-time payout. The contract can require 2-year employment. You must negotiate 1 year. It's pro-rated, so that's fair.
Microsoft is one of those companies that has standard 25% equity structure. Except if you’re a new graduate.
In that case it’ll be
25% six months later
25% each year following that
New grads will acquire equity in 3.5 years, not 4. I'm guessing it's to keep new grads around longer.
Google (TC: 300k)
Base Pay Structure
Google pays biweekly.
Google's offer letter specifies a 15% bonus. It's wonderful there's no cap, but I might still get 0%. A little more than Microsoft’s 10% and a lot more than Amazon’s 0%.
Google gave a 1-year sign-up incentive. If the contract is only 1 year, I can move without any extra obligations.
Not as fantastic as Amazon's sign-up bonuses, but the remainder of the package might compensate.
We covered Amazon's tail-heavy compensation structure, so Google's front-heavy equity structure may surprise you.
Annual structure breakdown
33% Year 1
33% Year 2
22% Year 3
12% Year 4
The goal is to get them to Google and keep them there.
This post hopefully helped you understand the 3 firms' compensation arrangements.
There's always more to discuss, such as refreshers, 401k benefits, and business discounts, but I hope this shows a distinction between these 3 firms.
1 year ago
Steve Jobs' Secrets Revealed
From 1984 until 2011, he ran Apple using the same template.
What is a founder CEO's most crucial skill?
Presentation, communication, and sales
As a Business Angel Investor, I saw many pitch presentations and met with investors one-on-one to promote my companies.
There is always the conception of “Investors have to invest,” so there is no need to care about the presentation.
It's false. Nobody must invest. Many investors believe that entrepreneurs must convince them to invest in their business.
Sometimes — like in 2018–2022 — too much money enters the market, and everyone makes good money.
Do you recall the Buy Now, Pay Later Movement? This amazing narrative had no return potential. Only buyers who couldn't acquire financing elsewhere shopped at these companies.
Klarna's failing business concept led to high valuations.
Investors become more cautious when the economy falters. 2022 sees rising inflation, interest rates, wars, and civil instability. It's like the apocalypse's four horsemen have arrived.
Storytelling is important in rough economies.
When investors draw back, how can entrepreneurs stand out?
In Q2/2022, every study I've read said:
Investors cease investing
Deals are down in almost all IT industries from previous quarters.
What do founders need to do?
Storytelling talents help.
The Steve Jobs Way
Every time I watch a Steve Jobs presentation, I'm enthralled.
I'm a techie. Everything technical interests me. But, I skim most presentations.
What's Steve Jobs's secret?
Steve Jobs created Apple in 1976 and made it a profitable software and hardware firm in the 1980s. Macintosh goods couldn't beat IBM's. This mistake sacked him in 1985.
Before rejoining Apple in 1997, Steve Jobs founded Next Inc. and Pixar.
From then on, Apple became America's most valuable firm.
Steve Jobs understood people's needs. He said:
“People don’t know what they want until you show it to them. That’s why I never rely on market research. Our task is to read things that are not yet on the page.”
In his opinion, people talk about problems. A lot. Entrepreneurs must learn what the population's pressing problems are and create a solution.
Steve Jobs showed people what they needed before they realized it.
Present a Big Vision
Steve Jobs starts every presentation by describing his long-term goals for Apple.
1984's Macintosh presentation set up David vs. Goliath. In a George Orwell-style dystopia, IBM computers were bad. It was 1984.
Apple will save the world, like Jedis.
Why do customers and investors like Big Vision?
People want a wider perspective, I think. Humans love improving the planet.
Apple users often cite emotional reasons for buying the brand.
Revolutionizing several industries with breakthrough inventions
Everyone knows Apple in 2022. It's hard to find folks who confuse Apple with an apple around the world.
Apple wasn't as famous as it is today until Steve Jobs left in 2011.
Most entrepreneurs lack experience. They may market their company or items to folks who haven't heard of it.
Steve Jobs presented the company's historical accomplishments to overcome opposition.
In his presentation of the first iPhone, he talked about the Apple Macintosh, which altered the computing sector, and the iPod, which changed the music industry.
People who have never heard of Apple feel like they're seeing a winner. It raises expectations that the new product will be game-changing and must-have.
The Big Reveal
A pitch or product presentation always has something new.
Steve Jobs doesn't only demonstrate the product. I don't think he'd skip the major point of a company presentation.
He consistently discusses present market solutions, their faults, and a better consumer solution.
No solution exists yet.
It's a multi-faceted play:
It's comparing the new product to something familiar. This makes novelty and the product more relatable.
Describe a desirable solution.
He's funny. He demonstrated an iPod with an 80s phone dial in his iPhone presentation.
Then he reveals the new product. Macintosh presented itself.
Show the benefits
He outlines what Apple is doing differently after demonstrating the product.
How do you distinguish from others? The Big Breakthrough Presentation.
A few hundred slides might list all benefits.
Everyone would fall asleep. Have you ever had similar presentations?
When the brain is overloaded with knowledge, the limbic system changes to other duties, like lunch planning.
What should a speaker do? There's a classic proverb:
“Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn” (— Not Benjamin Franklin).
Steve Jobs showcased the product live.
Again, using ordinary scenarios to highlight the product's benefits makes it relatable.
The 2010 iPad Presentation uses this technique.
Invite the Team and Let Them Run the Presentation
CEOs spend most time outside the organization. Many companies elect to have only one presenter.
It sends the incorrect message to investors. Product presentations should always include the whole team.
Let me explain why.
Companies needing investment money frequently have shaky business strategies or no product-market fit or robust corporate structure.
Investors solely bet on a team's ability to implement ideas and make a profit.
Early team involvement helps investors understand the company's drivers. Travel costs are worthwhile.
But why for product presentations?
Presenters of varied ages, genders, social backgrounds, and skillsets are relatable. CEOs want relatable products.
Some customers may not believe a white man's message. A black woman's message may be more accepted.
Make the story relatable when you have the best product that solves people's concerns.
Best example: 1984 Macintosh presentation with development team panel.
What is the largest error people make when companies fail?
Saving money on the corporate and product presentation.
Invite your team to five partner meetings when five investors are shortlisted.
Rehearse the presentation till it's natural. Let the team speak.
Successful presentations require structure, rehearsal, and a team. Steve Jobs nailed it.
1 year ago
5 books my CEO read to make $30M
Offices without books are like bodies without souls.
After 10 years, my CEO sold his company for $30 million. I've shared many of his lessons on medium. You could ask him anything at his always-open office. He also said we could use his office for meetings while he was away. When I used his office for work, I was always struck by how many books he had.
Books are useful in almost every aspect of learning. Building a business, improving family relationships, learning a new language, a new skill... Books teach, guide, and structure. Whether fiction or nonfiction, books inspire, give ideas, and develop critical thinking skills.
My CEO prefers non-fiction and attends a Friday book club. This article discusses 5 books I found in his office that impacted my life/business. My CEO sold his company for $30 million, but I've built a steady business through blogging and video making.
I recall events and lessons I learned from my CEO and how they relate to each book, and I explain how I applied the book's lessons to my business and life.
Note: This post has no affiliate links.
1. The One Thing — Gary Keller
Gary Keller, a real estate agent, wanted more customers. So he and his team brainstormed ways to get more customers. They decided to write a bestseller about work and productivity. The more people who saw the book, the more customers they'd get.
Gary Keller focused on writing the best book on productivity, work, and efficiency for months. His business experience. Keller's business grew after the book's release.
The author summarizes the book in one question.
"What's the one thing that will make everything else easier or unnecessary?"
When I started my blog and business alongside my 9–5, I quickly identified my one thing: writing. My business relied on it, so it had to be great. Without writing, there was no content, traffic, or business.
My CEO focused on funding when he started his business. Even in his final years, he spent a lot of time on the phone with investors, either to get more money or to explain what he was doing with it. My CEO's top concern was money, and the other super important factors were handled by separate teams.
Product tech and design
Incredible customer support team
Excellent promotion team
Profitable sales team
My CEO didn't always focus on one thing and ignore the rest. He was on all of those teams when I started my job. He'd start his day in tech, have lunch with marketing, and then work in sales. He was in his office on the phone at night.
He eventually realized his errors. Investors told him he couldn't do everything for the company. If needed, he had to change internally. He learned to let go, mind his own business, and focus for the next four years. Then he sold for $30 million.
The bigger your project/company/idea, the more you'll need to delegate to stay laser-focused. I started something new every few months for 10 years before realizing this. So much to do makes it easy to avoid progress. Once you identify the most important aspect of your project and enlist others' help, you'll be successful.
2. Eat That Frog — Brian Tracy
The author quote sums up book's essence:
Mark Twain said that if you eat a live frog in the morning, it's probably the worst thing that will happen to you all day. Your "frog" is the biggest, most important task you're most likely to procrastinate on.
"Frog" and "One Thing" are both about focusing on what's most important. Eat That Frog recommends doing the most important task first thing in the morning.
I shared my CEO's calendar in an article 10 months ago. Like this:
CEO's average week (some information crossed out for confidentiality)
Notice anything about 8am-8:45am? Almost every day is the same (except Friday). My CEO started his day with a management check-in for 2 reasons:
Checking in with all managers is cognitively demanding, and my CEO is a morning person.
In a young startup where everyone is busy, the morning management check-in was crucial. After 10 am, you couldn't gather all managers.
When I started my blog, writing was my passion. I'm a morning person, so I woke up at 6 am and started writing by 6:30 am every day for a year. This allowed me to publish 3 articles a week for 52 weeks to build my blog and audience. After 2 years, I'm not stopping.
3. Deep Work — Cal Newport
Deep work is focusing on a cognitively demanding task without distractions (like a morning management meeting). It helps you master complex information quickly and produce better results faster. In a competitive world 10 or 20 years ago, focus wasn't a huge advantage. Smartphones, emails, and social media made focus a rare, valuable skill.
Most people can't focus anymore. Screens light up, notifications buzz, emails arrive, Instagram feeds... Many people don't realize they're interrupted because it's become part of their normal workflow.
Cal Newport mentions Bill Gates' "Think Weeks" in Deep Work.
Microsoft CEO Bill Gates would isolate himself (often in a lakeside cottage) twice a year to read and think big thoughts.
Inside Bill's Brain on Netflix shows Newport's lakeside cottage. I've always wanted a lakeside cabin to work in. My CEO bought a lakehouse after selling his company, but now he's retired.
As a company grows, you can focus less on it. In a previous section, I said investors told my CEO to get back to basics and stop micromanaging. My CEO's commitment and ability to get work done helped save the company. His deep work and new frameworks helped us survive the corona crisis (more on this later).
The ability to deep work will be a huge competitive advantage in the next century. Those who learn to work deeply will likely be successful while everyone else is glued to their screens, Bluetooth-synced to their watches, and playing Candy Crush on their tablets.
4. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People — Stephen R. Covey
It took me a while to start reading this book because it seemed like another shallow self-help bible. I kept finding this book when researching self-improvement. I tried it because it was everywhere.
Stephen Covey taught me 2 years ago to have a personal mission statement.
A 7 Habits mission statement describes the life you want to lead, the character traits you want to embody, and the impact you want to have on others. shortform.com
I've had many lunches with my CEO and talked about Vipassana meditation and Sunday forest runs, but I've never seen his mission statement. I'm sure his family is important, though. In the above calendar screenshot, you can see he always included family events (in green) so we could all see those time slots. We couldn't book him then. Although he never spent as much time with his family as he wanted, he always made sure to be on time for his kid's birthday rather than a conference call.
My CEO emphasized his company's mission. Your mission statement should answer 3 questions.
What does your company do?
How does it do it?
Why does your company do it?
As a graphic designer, I had to create mission-statement posters. My CEO hung posters in each office.
5. Measure What Matters — John Doerr
This book is about Andrew Grove's OKR strategy, developed in 1968. When he joined Google's early investors board, he introduced it to Larry Page and Sergey Brin. Google still uses OKR.
Objective Key Results
Objective: It explains your goals and desired outcome. When one goal is reached, another replaces it. OKR objectives aren't technical, measured, or numerical. They must be clear.
Key Result should be precise, technical, and measurable, unlike the Objective. It shows if the Goal is being worked on. Time-bound results are quarterly or yearly.
Our company almost sank several times. Sales goals were missed, management failed, and bad decisions were made. On a Monday, our CEO announced we'd implement OKR to revamp our processes.
This was a year before the pandemic, and I'm certain we wouldn't have sold millions or survived without this change. This book impacted the company the most, not just management but all levels. Organization and transparency improved. We reached realistic goals. Happy investors. We used the online tool Gtmhub to implement OKR across the organization.
My CEO's company went from near bankruptcy to being acquired for $30 million in 2 years after implementing OKR.
I hope you enjoyed this booklist. Here's a recap of the 5 books and the lessons I learned from each.
The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People — Stephen R. Covey
Have a mission statement that outlines your goals, character traits, and impact on others.
Deep Work — Cal Newport
Focus is a rare skill; master it. Deep workers will succeed in our hyper-connected, distracted world.
The One Thing — Gary Keller
What can you do that will make everything else easier or unnecessary? Once you've identified it, focus on it.
Eat That Frog — Brian Tracy
Identify your most important task the night before and do it first thing in the morning. You'll have a lighter day.
Measure What Matters — John Doerr
On a timeline, divide each long-term goal into chunks. Divide those slices into daily tasks (your goals). Time-bound results are quarterly or yearly. Objectives aren't measured or numbered.
Thanks for reading. Enjoy the ride!
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1 year ago
My Blog Is in Google's Top 10—Here's How to Compete
"Competition" is beautiful and hateful.
Some people bury their dreams because they are afraid of competition. Others challenge themselves, shaping our world.
Competition is normal.
It spurs innovation and progress.
I wish more people agreed.
As a marketer, content writer, and solopreneur, my readers often ask:
"I want to create a niche website, but I have no ideas. Everything's done"
"Is a website worthwhile?"
I can't count how many times I said, "Yes, it makes sense, and you can succeed in a competitive market."
I encourage and share examples, but it's not enough to overcome competition anxiety.
I launched an SEO writing website for content creators a year ago, knowing it wouldn't beat Ahrefs, Semrush, Backlinko, etc.
Many of my website's pages rank highly on Google.
Everyone can eat the pie.
In a competitive niche, I took a different approach.
When chatting with bloggers that want a website, I discovered something fascinating.
They want to launch a website but have no ideas. As a next step, they start listing the interests they believe they should work on, like wellness, lifestyle, investments, etc. I could keep going.
Too many generalists who claim to know everything confuse many.
Generalists aren't trusted.
We want someone to fix our problems immediately.
I don't think broad-spectrum experts are undervalued. People have many demands that go beyond generalists' work. Narrow-niche experts can help.
I've done SEO for three years. I learned from experts and courses. I couldn't find a comprehensive SEO writing resource.
I read tons of articles before realizing that wasn't it. I took courses that covered SEO basics eventually.
I had a demand for learning SEO writing, but there was no solution on the market. My website fills this micro-niche.
Have you ever had trouble online?
Professional courses too general, boring, etc.?
You've bought off-topic books, right?
You're not alone.
Big players often disregard new opportunities. Too small. Individual content creators can succeed here.
In a competitive market:
Never choose wide subjects
Think about issues you can relate to and have direct experience with.
Be a consumer to discover both the positive and negative aspects of a good or service.
Merchandise your annoyances.
Consider ways to transform your frustrations into opportunities.
The right niche is half-success. Here is what else I did to hit the Google front page with my website.
An innovative method for choosing subjects
Why publish on social media and websites?
Want likes, shares, followers, or fame?
Some people do it for fun. No judgment.
I bet you want more.
You want to make decent money from blogging.
Writing about random topics, even if they are related to your niche, won’t help you attract an audience from organic search. I'm a marketer and writer.
I worked at companies with dead blogs because they posted for themselves, not readers. They did not follow SEO writing rules; that’s why most of their content flopped.
I learned these hard lessons and grew my website from 0 to 3,000+ visitors per month while working on it a few hours a week only. Evidence:
I choose website topics using these criteria:
- Business potential. The information should benefit my audience and generate revenue. There would be no use in having it otherwise.
My topics should help me:
Attract organic search traffic with my "fluff-free" content -> Subscribers > SEO ebook sales.
Simple and effective.
- traffic on search engines. The number of monthly searches reveals how popular my topic is all across the world. If I find that no one is interested in my suggested topic, I don't write a blog article.
- Competition. Every search term is up against rivals. Some are more popular (thus competitive) since more websites target them in organic search. A new website won't score highly for keywords that are too competitive. On the other side, keywords with moderate to light competition can help you rank higher on Google more quickly.
- Search purpose. The "why" underlying users' search requests is revealed. I analyze search intent to understand what users need when they plug various queries in the search bar and what content can perfectly meet their needs.
My specialty website produces money, ranks well, and attracts the target audience because I handpick high-traffic themes.
Following these guidelines, even a new website can stand out.
I wrote a 50-page SEO writing guide where I detailed topic selection and share my front-page Google strategy.
My guide can help you run a successful niche website.
You're not late to the niche-website party.
The Internet offers many untapped opportunities.
We need new solutions and are willing to listen.
There are unexplored niches in any topic.
Don't fight giants. They have their piece of the pie. They might overlook new opportunities while trying to keep that piece of the pie. You should act now.
1 year ago
The nine novels that have fundamentally altered the way I view the world
I read 53 novels last year and hope to do so again.
Books are best if you love learning. You get a range of perspectives, unlike podcasts and YouTube channels where you get the same ones.
Book quality varies. I've read useless books. Most books teach me something.
These 9 novels have changed my outlook in recent years. They've made me rethink what I believed or introduced me to a fresh perspective that changed my worldview.
You can order these books yourself. Or, read my summaries to learn what I've synthesized.
Fooled By Randomness
Nassim Taleb worked as a Wall Street analyst. He used options trading to bet on unlikely events like stock market crashes.
Using financial models, investors predict stock prices. The models assume constant, predictable company growth.
These models base their assumptions on historical data, so they assume the future will be like the past.
Fooled By Randomness argues that the future won't be like the past. We often see impossible market crashes like 2008's housing market collapse. The world changes too quickly to use historical data: by the time we understand how it works, it's changed.
Most people don't live to see history unfold. We think our childhood world will last forever. That goes double for stable societies like the U.S., which hasn't seen major turbulence in anyone's lifetime.
Fooled By Randomness taught me to expect the unexpected. The world is deceptive and rarely works as we expect. You can't always trust your past successes or what you've learned.
More Taleb. Some things, like the restaurant industry and the human body, improve under conditions of volatility and turbulence.
We didn't have a word for this counterintuitive concept until Taleb wrote Antifragile. The human body (which responds to some stressors, like exercise, by getting stronger) and the restaurant industry both benefit long-term from disorder (when economic turbulence happens, bad restaurants go out of business, improving the industry as a whole).
Many human systems are designed to minimize short-term variance because humans don't understand it. By eliminating short-term variation, we increase the likelihood of a major disaster.
Once, we put out every forest fire we found. Then, dead wood piled up in forests, causing catastrophic fires.
We don't like price changes, so politicians prop up markets with stimulus packages and printing money. This leads to a bigger crash later. Two years ago, we printed a ton of money for stimulus checks, and now we have double-digit inflation.
Antifragile taught me how important Plan B is. A system with one or two major weaknesses will fail. Make large systems redundant, foolproof, and change-responsive.
Reality is broken
We dread work. Work is tedious. Right?
Wrong. Work gives many people purpose. People are happiest when working. (That's why some are workaholics.)
Factory work saps your soul, office work is boring, and working for a large company you don't believe in and that operates unethically isn't satisfying.
Jane McGonigal says in Reality Is Broken that meaningful work makes us happy. People love games because they simulate good work. McGonigal says work should be more fun.
Some think they'd be happy on a private island sipping cocktails all day. That's not true. Without anything to do, most people would be bored. Unemployed people are miserable. Many retirees die within 2 years, much more than expected.
Instead of complaining, find meaningful work. If you don't like your job, it's because you're in the wrong environment. Find the right setting.
The Lean Startup
Before the airplane was invented, Harvard scientists researched flying machines. Who knew two North Carolina weirdos would beat them?
The Wright Brothers' plane design was key. Harvard researchers were mostly theoretical, designing an airplane on paper and trying to make it fly in theory. They'd build it, test it, and it wouldn't fly.
The Wright Brothers were different. They'd build a cheap plane, test it, and it'd crash. Then they'd learn from their mistakes, build another plane, and it'd crash.
They repeated this until they fixed all the problems and one of their planes stayed aloft.
Mistakes are considered bad. On the African savannah, one mistake meant death. Even today, if you make a costly mistake at work, you'll be fired as a scapegoat. Most people avoid failing.
In reality, making mistakes is the best way to learn.
Eric Reis offers an unintuitive recipe in The Lean Startup: come up with a hypothesis, test it, and fail. Then, try again with a new hypothesis. Keep trying, learning from each failure.
This is a great startup strategy. Startups are new businesses. Startups face uncertainty. Run lots of low-cost experiments to fail, learn, and succeed.
Don't fear failing. Low-cost failure is good because you learn more from it than you lose. As long as your worst-case scenario is acceptable, risk-taking is good.
The Sovereign Individual
Today, nation-states rule the world. The UN recognizes 195 countries, and they claim almost all land outside of Antarctica.
We agree. For the past 2,000 years, much of the world's territory was ungoverned.
Why today? Because technology has created incentives for nation-states for most of the past 500 years. The logic of violence favors nation-states, according to James Dale Davidson, author of the Sovereign Individual. Governments have a lot to gain by conquering as much territory as possible, so they do.
Not always. During the Dark Ages, Europe was fragmented and had few central governments. Partly because of armor. With armor, a sword, and a horse, you couldn't be stopped. Large states were hard to form because they rely on the threat of violence.
When gunpowder became popular in Europe, violence changed. In a world with guns, assembling large armies and conquest are cheaper.
James Dale Davidson says the internet will make nation-states obsolete. Most of the world's wealth will be online and in people's heads, making capital mobile.
Nation-states rely on predatory taxation of the rich to fund large militaries and welfare programs.
When capital is mobile, people can live anywhere in the world, Davidson says, making predatory taxation impossible. They're not bound by their job, land, or factory location. Wherever they're treated best.
Davidson says that over the next century, nation-states will collapse because they won't have enough money to operate as they do now. He imagines a world of small city-states, like Italy before 1900. (or Singapore today).
We've already seen some movement toward a more Sovereign Individual-like world. The pandemic proved large-scale remote work is possible, freeing workers from their location. Many cities and countries offer remote workers incentives to relocate.
Many Western businesspeople live in tax havens, and more people are renouncing their US citizenship due to high taxes. Increasing globalization has led to poor economic conditions and resentment among average people in the West, which is why politicians like Trump and Sanders rose to popularity with angry rhetoric, even though Obama rose to popularity with a more hopeful message.
The Sovereign Individual convinced me that the future will be different than Nassim Taleb's. Large countries like the U.S. will likely lose influence in the coming decades, while Portugal, Singapore, and Turkey will rise. If the trend toward less freedom continues, people may flee the West en masse.
So a traditional life of college, a big firm job, hard work, and corporate advancement may not be wise. Young people should learn as much as possible and develop flexible skills to adapt to the future.
Sapiens is a history of humanity, from proto-humans in Ethiopia to our internet society today, with some future speculation.
Sapiens views humans (and Homo sapiens) as a unique species on Earth. We were animals 100,000 years ago. We're slowly becoming gods, able to affect the climate, travel to every corner of the Earth (and the Moon), build weapons that can kill us all, and wipe out thousands of species.
Sapiens examines what makes Homo sapiens unique. Humans can believe in myths like religion, money, and human-made entities like countries and LLCs.
These myths facilitate large-scale cooperation. Ants from the same colony can cooperate. Any two humans can trade, though. Even if they're not genetically related, large groups can bond over religion and nationality.
Combine that with intelligence, and you have a species capable of amazing feats.
Sapiens may make your head explode because it looks at the world without presupposing values, unlike most books. It questions things that aren't usually questioned and says provocative things.
It also shows how human history works. It may help you understand and predict the world. Maybe.
The 4-hour Workweek
Things can be done better.
Tradition, laziness, bad bosses, or incentive structures cause complacency. If you're willing to make changes and not settle for the status quo, you can do whatever you do better and achieve more in less time.
The Four-Hour Work Week advocates this. Tim Ferriss explains how he made more sales in 2 hours than his 8-hour-a-day colleagues.
By firing 2 of his most annoying customers and empowering his customer service reps to make more decisions, he was able to leave his business and travel to Europe.
Ferriss shows how to escape your 9-to-5, outsource your life, develop a business that feeds you with little time, and go on mini-retirement adventures abroad.
Don't accept the status quo. Instead, level up. Find a way to improve your results. And try new things.
Why Nations Fail
Nogales, Arizona and Mexico were once one town. The US/Mexico border was arbitrarily drawn.
Both towns have similar cultures and populations. Nogales, Arizona is well-developed and has a high standard of living. Nogales, Mexico is underdeveloped and has a low standard of living. Whoa!
Why Nations Fail explains how government-created institutions affect country development. Strong property rights, capitalism, and non-corrupt governments promote development. Countries without capitalism, strong property rights, or corrupt governments don't develop.
Successful countries must also embrace creative destruction. They must offer ordinary citizens a way to improve their lot by creating value for others, not reducing them to slaves, serfs, or peasants. Authors say that ordinary people could get rich on trading expeditions in 11th-century Venice.
East and West Germany and North and South Korea have different economies because their citizens are motivated differently. It explains why Chile, China, and Singapore grow so quickly after becoming market economies.
People have spent a lot of money on third-world poverty. According to Why Nations Fail, education and infrastructure aren't the answer. Developing nations must adopt free-market economic policies.
Elon Musk is the world's richest man, but that’s not a good way to describe him. Elon Musk is the world's richest man, which is like calling Steve Jobs a turtleneck-wearer or Benjamin Franklin a printer.
Elon Musk does cool sci-fi stuff to help humanity avoid existential threats.
Oil will run out. We've delayed this by developing better extraction methods. We only have so much nonrenewable oil.
Our society is doomed if it depends on oil. Elon Musk invested heavily in Tesla and SolarCity to speed the shift to renewable energy.
Musk worries about AI: we'll build machines smarter than us. We won't be able to stop these machines if something goes wrong, just like cows can't fight humans. Neuralink: we need to be smarter to compete with AI when the time comes.
If Earth becomes uninhabitable, we need a backup plan. Asteroid or nuclear war could strike Earth at any moment. We may not have much time to react if it happens in a few days. We must build a new civilization while times are good and resources are plentiful.
Short-term problems dominate our politics, but long-term issues are more important. Long-term problems can cause mass casualties and homelessness. Musk demonstrates how to think long-term.
The main reason people are impressed by Elon Musk, and why Ashlee Vances' biography influenced me so much, is that he does impossible things.
Electric cars were once considered unprofitable, but Tesla has made them mainstream. SpaceX is the world's largest private space company.
People lack imagination and dismiss ununderstood ideas as impossible. Humanity is about pushing limits. Don't worry if your dreams seem impossible. Try it.
Thanks for reading.
1 year ago
How to Use Obsidian to Boost Research Productivity
Tools for managing your PhD projects, reading lists, notes, and inspiration.
As a researcher, you have to know everything. But knowledge is useless if it cannot be accessed quickly. An easy-to-use method of archiving information makes taking notes effortless and enjoyable.
As a PhD student in Artificial Intelligence, I use Obsidian (https://obsidian.md) to manage my knowledge.
The article has three parts:
- What is a note, how to organize notes, tags, folders, and links? This section is tool-agnostic, so you can use most of these ideas with any note-taking app.
- Instructions for using Obsidian, managing notes, reading lists, and useful plugins. This section demonstrates how I use Obsidian, my preferred knowledge management tool.
- Workflows: How to use Zotero to take notes from papers, manage multiple projects' notes, create MOCs with Dataview, and more. This section explains how to use Obsidian to solve common scientific problems and manage/maintain your knowledge effectively.
This list is not perfect or complete, but it is my current solution to problems I've encountered during my PhD. Please leave additional comments or contact me if you have any feedback. I'll try to update this article.
Throughout the article, I'll refer to your digital library as your "Obsidian Vault" or "Zettelkasten".
Other useful resources are listed at the end of the article.
1. Philosophy: Taking and organizing notes
Carl Sagan: “To make an apple pie from scratch, you must first create the universe.”
Before diving into Obsidian, let's establish a Personal Knowledge Management System and a Zettelkasten. You can skip to Section 2 if you already know these terms.
Niklas Luhmann, a prolific sociologist who wrote 400 papers and 70 books, inspired this section and much of Zettelkasten. Zettelkasten means “slip box” (or library in this article). His Zettlekasten had around 90000 physical notes, which can be found here.
There are now many tools available to help with this process. Obsidian's website has a good introduction section: https://publish.obsidian.md/hub/
We'll start with "What is a note?" Although it may seem trivial, the answer depends on the topic or your note-taking style. The idea is that a note is as “atomic” (i.e. You should read the note and get the idea right away.
The resolution of your notes depends on their detail. Deep Learning, for example, could be a general description of Neural Networks, with a few notes on the various architectures (eg. Recurrent Neural Networks, Convolutional Neural Networks etc..).
Limiting length and detail is a good rule of thumb. If you need more detail in a specific section of this note, break it up into smaller notes. Deep Learning now has three notes:
- Deep Learning
- Recurrent Neural Networks
- Convolutional Neural Networks
Repeat this step as needed until you achieve the desired granularity. You might want to put these notes in a “Neural Networks” folder because they are all about the same thing. But there's a better way:
#Tags and [[Links]] over /Folders/
The main issue with folders is that they are not flexible and assume that all notes in the folder belong to a single category. This makes it difficult to make connections between topics.
Deep Learning has been used to predict protein structure (AlphaFold) and classify images (ImageNet). Imagine a folder structure like this:
- /Proteins/ - Protein Folding - /Deep Learning/ - /Proteins/
Your notes about Protein Folding and Convolutional Neural Networks will be separate, and you won't be able to find them in the same folder.
This can be solved in several ways. The most common one is to use tags rather than folders. A note can be grouped with multiple topics this way. Obsidian tags can also be nested (have subtags).
You can also link two notes together. You can build your “Knowledge Graph” in Obsidian and other note-taking apps like Obsidian.
My Knowledge Graph. Green: Biology, Red: Machine Learning, Yellow: Autoencoders, Blue: Graphs, Brown: Tags.
My Knowledge Graph and the note “Backrpropagation” and its links.
Backpropagation note and all its links
Why use Folders?
Folders help organize your vault as it grows. The main suggestion is to have few folders that "weakly" collect groups of notes or better yet, notes from different sources.
Among my Zettelkasten folders are:
My Zettelkasten's 5 folders
They usually gather data from various sources:
MOC: Map of Contents for the Zettelkasten.
Projects: Contains one note for each side-project of my PhD where I log my progress and ideas. Notes are linked to these.
Bio and ML: These two are the main content of my Zettelkasten and could theoretically be combined.
Papers: All my scientific paper notes go here. A bibliography links the notes. Zotero .bib file
Books: I make a note for each book I read, which I then split into multiple notes.
Keeping images separate from other files can help keep your main folders clean.
I will elaborate on these in the Workflow Section.
My general recommendation is to use tags and links instead of folders.
Maps of Content (MOC)
Making Tables of Contents is a good solution (MOCs).
These are notes that "signposts" your Zettelkasten library, directing you to the right type of notes. It can link to other notes based on common tags. This is usually done with a title, then your notes related to that title. As an example:
An example of a Machine Learning MOC generated with Dataview.
As shown above, my Machine Learning MOC begins with the basics. Then it's on to Variational Auto-Encoders. Not only does this save time, but it also saves scrolling through the tag search section.
So I keep MOCs at the top of my library so I can quickly find information and see my library. These MOCs are generated automatically using an Obsidian Plugin called Dataview (https://github.com/blacksmithgu/obsidian-dataview).
Ideally, MOCs could be expanded to include more information about the notes, their status, and what's left to do. In the absence of this, Dataview does a fantastic job at creating a good structure for your notes.
In the absence of this, Dataview does a fantastic job at creating a good structure for your notes.
2. Tools: Knowing Obsidian
Obsidian is my preferred tool because it is free, all notes are stored in Markdown format, and each panel can be dragged and dropped. You can get it here: https://obsidian.md/
Obsidian is highly customizable, so here is my preferred interface:
The theme is customized from https://github.com/colineckert/obsidian-things
Alternatively, each panel can be collapsed, moved, or removed as desired. To open a panel later, click on the vertical "..." (bottom left of the note panel).
My interface is organized as follows:
How my Obsidian Interface is organized.
This is where I keep all relevant folders. I usually use the MOC note to navigate, but sometimes I use the search button to find a note.
I use nested tags and look into each one to find specific notes to link.
Easy-to-use menu plugin cMenu (https://github.com/chetachiezikeuzor/cMenu-Plugin)
The global graph shows all your notes (linked and unlinked). Linked notes will appear closer together. Zoom in to read each note's title. It's a bit overwhelming at first, but as your library grows, you get used to the positions and start thinking of new connections between notes.
Your current note will be shown in relation to other linked notes in your library. When needed, you can quickly jump to another link and back to the current note.
Finally, an outline panel and the plugin Obsidian Power Search (https://github.com/aviral-batra/obsidian-power-search) allow me to search my vault by highlighting text.
Start using the tool and worry about panel positioning later. I encourage you to find the best use-case for your library.
An additional benefit of using Obsidian is the large plugin library. I use several (Calendar, Citations, Dataview, Templater, Admonition):
Obsidian Calendar Plugin: https://github.com/liamcain
It organizes your notes on a calendar. This is ideal for meeting notes or keeping a journal.
Calendar addon from hans/obsidian-citation-plugin
Obsidian Citation Plugin: https://github.com/hans/
Allows you to cite papers from a.bib file. You can also customize your notes (eg. Title, Authors, Abstract etc..)
Plugin citation from hans/obsidian-citation-plugin
Obsidian Dataview: https://github.com/blacksmithgu/
A powerful plugin that allows you to query your library as a database and generate content automatically. See the MOC section for an example.
Allows you to create notes with specific templates like dates, tags, and headings.
Templater. Obsidian Admonition: https://github.com/valentine195/obsidian-admonition
Blocks allow you to organize your notes.
Plugin warning. Obsidian Admonition (valentine195)
There are many more, but this list should get you started.
3. Workflows: Cool stuff
Here are a few of my workflows for using obsidian for scientific research. This is a list of resources I've found useful for my use-cases. I'll outline and describe them briefly so you can skim them quickly.
3.1 Using Templates to Structure Notes
3.2 Free Note Syncing (Laptop, Phone, Tablet)
3.3 Zotero/Mendeley/JabRef -> Obsidian — Managing Reading Lists
3.4 Projects and Lab Books
3.5 Private Encrypted Diary
3.1 Using Templates to Structure Notes
Plugins: Templater and Dataview (optional).
To take effective notes, you must first make adding new notes as easy as possible. Templates can save you time and give your notes a consistent structure. As an example:
An example of a note using a template.
### [[YOUR MOC]] # Note Title of your note **Tags**:: **Links**::
The top line links to your knowledge base's Map of Content (MOC) (see previous sections). After the title, I add tags (and a link between the note and the tag) and links to related notes.
To quickly identify all notes that need to be expanded, I add the tag “#todo”. In the “TODO:” section, I list the tasks within the note.
The rest are notes on the topic.
Templater can help you create these templates. For new books, I use the following template:
### [[Books MOC]] # Title **Author**:: **Date:: **Tags:: **Links::
A book template example.
Using a simple query, I can hook Dataview to it.
dataview table author as Author, date as “Date Finished”, tags as “Tags”, grade as “Grade” from “4. Books” SORT grade DESCENDING
using Dataview to query templates.
3.2 Free Note Syncing (Laptop, Phone, Tablet)
No plugins used.
One of my favorite features of Obsidian is the library's self-contained and portable format. Your folder contains everything (plugins included).
Ordinary folders and documents are available as well. There is also a “.obsidian” folder. This contains all your plugins and settings, so you can use it on other devices.
So you can use Google Drive, iCloud, or Dropbox for free as long as you sync your folder (note: your folder should be in your Cloud Folder).
For my iOS and macOS work, I prefer iCloud. You can also use the paid service Obsidian Sync.
3.3 Obsidian — Managing Reading Lists and Notes in Zotero/Mendeley/JabRef
Plugins: Quotes (required).
3.3 Zotero/Mendeley/JabRef -> Obsidian — Taking Notes and Managing Reading Lists of Scientific Papers
My preferred reference manager is Zotero, but this workflow should work with any reference manager that produces a .bib file. This file is exported to my cloud folder so I can access it from any platform.
My Zotero library is tagged as follows:
My reference manager's tags
For readings, I usually search for the tags “!!!” and “To-Read” and select a paper. Annotate the paper next (either on PDF using GoodNotes or on physical paper).
Then I make a paper page using a template in the Citations plugin settings:
An example of my citations template.
Create a new note, open the command list with CMD/CTRL + P, and find the Citations “Insert literature note content in the current pane” to see this lovely view.
Citation generated by the article https://doi.org/10.1101/2022.01.24.22269144
You can then convert your notes to digital. I found that transcribing helped me retain information better.
3.4 Projects and Lab Books
Plugins: Tweaker (required).
PhD students offering advice on thesis writing are common (read as regret). I started asking them what they would have done differently or earlier.
“Deep stuff Leo,” one person said. So my main issue is basic organization, losing track of my tasks and the reasons for them.
As a result, I'd go on other experiments that didn't make sense, and have to reverse engineer my logic for thesis writing. - PhD student now wise Postdoc
Time management requires planning. Keeping track of multiple projects and lab books is difficult during a PhD. How I deal with it:
- One folder for all my projects
- One file for each project
I use a template to create each project
### [[Projects MOC]] # <% tp.file.title %> **Tags**:: **Links**:: **URL**:: **Project Description**::## Notes: ### <% tp.file.last_modified_date(“dddd Do MMMM YYYY”) %> #### Done: #### TODO: #### Notes
You can insert a template into a new note with CMD + P and looking for the Templater option.
I then keep adding new days with another template:
### <% tp.file.last_modified_date("dddd Do MMMM YYYY") %> #### Done: #### TODO: #### Notes:
This way you can keep adding days to your project and update with reasonings and things you still have to do and have done. An example below:
Example of project note with timestamped notes.
3.5 Private Encrypted Diary
This is one of my favorite Obsidian uses.
Mini Diary's interface has long frustrated me. After the author archived the project, I looked for a replacement. I had two demands:
- It had to be private, and nobody had to be able to read the entries.
- Cloud syncing was required for editing on multiple devices.
Then I learned about encrypting the Obsidian folder. Then decrypt and open the folder with Obsidian. Sync the folder as usual.
Use CryptoMator (https://cryptomator.org/). Create an encrypted folder in Cryptomator for your Obsidian vault, set a password, and let it do the rest.
If you need a step-by-step video guide, here it is:
So, I hope this was helpful!
In the first section of the article, we discussed notes and note-taking techniques. We discussed when to use tags and links over folders and when to break up larger notes.
Then we learned about Obsidian, its interface, and some useful plugins like Citations for citing papers and Templater for creating note templates.
Finally, we discussed workflows and how to use Zotero to take notes from scientific papers, as well as managing Lab Books and Private Encrypted Diaries.
Thanks for reading and commenting :)
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