Personality – Self-awareness + curiosity = adventurous life

Sam McAfee – Adoptable Personality – How self-awareness & curiosity help create an adventurous life.

So I did not actually expect to be in technology at all. I actually studies political economy as an undergrad in college. And I was an activist and I was interested in doing something in the community or working with a nonprofit. And I moved out to California right after I graduated with the assumption that I would join an NGO and be a policy analyst or a researcher or something like that. And I did that for a couple years. Worked on some political campaigns. I didn’t really have an expectation that I could get into technology, but I had several friends that moved out to California at the same time who were in computer science. And I noticed they all came out to San Francisco for a very different reason, because this was like 1997, 98, so the boom was definitely on.

For economic reasons, turns out it’s actually hard to make a living as a community organizer, so I noticed that there were a lot of activity in the technology scene. A couple of friends basically talked me into picking up some computer skills just to be able to pay the bills. And I was pretty skeptical. Literally in those days, like you could pick up a book on HTML, study some web design over the weekend, put it on your resume, and BOOM! Recruiters would be ringing your phone the next day. So that was exactly what I did. And what I was surprised by was that I really actually enjoyed it a lot. So I basically found a niche of being a freelance developer, and there was an enormous amount of activity going on. This was like the tail end of the boom. And so I was a freelance web developer for a couple of years.

That eventually turned into a consulting agency, which is very accidental. Basically my wife actually is my partner during that business. And it was her idea, basically. I’m doing my freelancing and I’m getting more and more work and more clients, and starting to get overwhelmed, and she had her backgrounds in business and management, she said, “Hey, why don’t we incorporate and we’ll just form a little company around the work that you’re doing? I’ll manage you.” She manages me already, so why not? It’s a natural thing.

So basically the two of us built this company not really intending to build a big agency. We grew organically. We hired help doing some of the coding with me. I got more into organizing and managing the team, doing lots of business development. I was sort of the primary lead for clients because I could go out and personally connect with the clients and talk to them about their projects. So as we grew, at our peak, we were about 12, 13 people. I had a little office in downtown Oakland. It became apparent that while I really enjoyed engineering, and I had learned a lot over that period of time, I wasn’t really getting to do that much. I was mostly doing sales and visiting. Essentially, selling our time. And around the same time I started learning about lean startup. It was coming out around 2010 or so, it was just starting to pick up steam. I realized that we were working on a lot of products for our clients, and then kind of handing them off.

flexible-adoptable

There was never really engaged or taking ownership in any actual product development. Both my wife and I after 10 years of running this agency, we’re pretty burnt out on service. And so we just decided to wrap it up and do other things. And then I made a big shift and started looking for sort of the technical leadership position in some already existing company, and that’s when I landed at Change.org. They were looking for someone with my skills, to kind of manage the team at the middle level. So I joined them as director of web engineering, and that was the beginning of 2012. That was a really amazing and valuable experience, because they were pretty rapidly growing web property at the time. The window that I was there for about a year and a quarter was from when they were reasonably successful but still pretty scrappy engineering team. Really talented but still really start up feeling. And I basically helped them apply agile development and start out principles to really build out and professionalize the product development. So as they were bringing in design and bringing in product managers, we started adding more professional process to really look at how we were building the product and scaling the product. And so after doing that for little over a year, and all of the major pinpoints of that team, we have pretty much ironed out.

I started looking for different opportunity. I was really getting more and more involved in the learning and the educational aspects of lean startup. I had done some speaking at different meetups and small gatherings about lean startup and product development and engineering. When I bumped into the folks at Luxr, it really seemed like a good fit, because they’re all about teaching the process of doing lean start. You’ve read Eric’s book, you’ve read the lean startup book, or you’ve taken Steve Blank’s course, and the next question is how do I apply this? It definitely sounds great, but how do I actually attack my own problems in my own company, my own product development, to really apply these principles? And what Luxr is trying to do is to build a curriculum out of rather than sort of theoretically learning the material and using lots of abstract examples, with our stuff its more workshops where you’re actually working on your product while you’re doing a workshop. So you’re solving your own problems with the tools and with the techniques. And that was really attractive to me, because it’s both theoretical but hands on and practical at the same time. So that kind of brings us up to today.