There Are Different Kinds of Hard
November 9, 2017
Author: Bianca Yang
I once posted about how I think startups don’t solve hard enough problems. This statement wasn’t qualified very well. Hard is a relative issue, and it’s difficult to say what kind of hard I’m actually looking for. The hard of managing people is very much different from the hard of solving Caltech problem sets. The hard of finding a purpose in life is very different from the hard of getting rejected for job after job. The hard of academic research is very different from the hard of implementing a scalable machine learning algorithm for Facebook. I think my view of hard is narrowly focused on the kind of hard inherent to Caltech problem sets. I thrive on that now because I have to to survive. But there are so many other forms of hard that I have tried hard to avoid. I try to avoid hard people problems. I have so far tried to avoid hard research problems but am now starting for those kinds of problems.
I don’t think it’s necessary for me to eventually become a manager. I don’t think moving up demands that you become a manager. I think it’s very much respectable to grow into an expert individual contributor role. Not everybody has managerial aptitude or interest, so there is no need to feel like you’re missing out or inadequate if you don’t ever become a manager. There are many ways to take on more responsibility other than being responsible for more people than yourself.
I am currently seeking research-type hard problems to solve. Engineering problems and infrastructure problems don’t interest me. Analysis and model building and model testing and more analysis fascinate me. I like thinking about human systems and the stock market and machine learning and data science. Some subfields in these disciplines are human problems. Those subfields are trying to predict and model human behavior so we can ultimately create better human systems. Others are exploring the unknown areas of the field for the sake of gaining knowledge. I believe that research and exploration for the sake of exploration and research is absolutely necessary for progress. Someone must always be seeking out the unknown.
I am also seeking to know myself. I spend a lot of time thinking about what kind of life I want to live. I wonder about what kind of house I want to build, where I want to live, what kind of people I want around myself, what kind of work schedule I want to maintain (or not maintain), what kind of work I want to be doing, and what kind of goal I want to aim for. It’s hard to plan for the future, but I want to know that I’m generally moving in the right direction. I think that’s the minimum I can hope for. I also hope that when the evidence demonstrates otherwise, I will be wise enough to pivot. The only problem with pivoting is pivoting too late. But, even then, I don’t think you can be too late to anything. As much as people have their prejudices, if you can prove them wrong, you will never be too late.
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