I am about to leave San Francisco and I can’t help reflect on the last few months of my life…
Saying good bye to my life in Oxford was one of the most bittersweet moments of my life. Though I know I accomplished all I intended to do while there, which is satisfying, I had never anticipated growing such a fondness and connection with my brilliant and inspiring peers, and with the cute intellectual town itself. I was honestly horribly upset when I left, and seeing all the Facebook updates of my friends that are still there, brings tears to my eyes even now. Maybe that is the magic of Oxford: You never really want to leave and there is something that always draws you back. I know for certain that the last fours years there have been some of the most memorable of my life and that I will always think fondly of that experience.
Heading straight to Singularity University after my PhD seemed very-well timed though in retrospect, probably not the wisest of choices. Having just come from such an intellectually challenging and inspiring place, I felt at first that SU was all hype. The first few weeks I felt the lectures were over-sensationalized and lacked any real breadth or novel insights. I found the contrast between Oxford’s deeply rigorous approach to the creation and exploration of ideas and SU’s glam and gliz over-simplification of global issues and tech to be frustrating and even at times offensive. It was difficult not to compare the two. It took me weeks to reconcile this. I think at first I was culture-shocked. There really is a big difference between the English and Americans. But more than that, it took me that time to realize that SU is not about the lectures, the knowledge or even about the group project. It’s about vision and people. It’s about exploring the latest technological advances, and dreaming bigger. And, it’s about joining a community of do-ers who are all inspired and determined to make a positive difference in the world.
SU was certainly a roller-coaster ride for me; it had loads of build up and anticipation, it was initially exhilarating, hits some lows followed by some loop-da-loops, there was some build up of excitement in the middle with a few stressful moments near the end and finally relief that it’s over combined with total satisfaction that I took the risk to experience it. And when I got off the ride, with a huge smile on my face, I high fived everyone seated around me, feeling glad that I took that journey with those other adventurous people.
In the end, I feel privileged to have gotten to know my classmates at GSP14, as well as the super impressive SU staff and alumni. I know that SU has introduced me to some life-long friends, future business partners and collaborators, and am incredibly excited to see some of the ideas come to fruition.
Burning Man was next on my list… My first impression of BM was that it is fun, super cool and insanely intense. (Read previous post for more thoughts on BM.) A lot of my time at BM was spent socializing and reflecting inwardly. It was the first opportunity in months that I had the mental space to start thinking about my life path. I found myself starting to get excited about moving to Vancouver. And by the end, knew without a shadow of a doubt that the job at UBC was meant to be. It could not be more in-line with my interests, values, and goals. Start date is October first, here I come!
I’ve spent the last few days decompressing in San Francisco with my new and awesome Burning Man friends, my SU friends, and weirdly, with some Oxford friends. Oh how all my worlds have collided… and what a perfect ending to this wild chapter.
I leave tomorrow to start my long journey back to Canada to begin the next chapter. In the coming weeks I look forward to California beaches, the Redwood Forest, a Women & Leadership Symposium, micro-brewery beer tasting with a whole load of Aussies, meetings with UBC and contract negotiation, re-connection with a dear friend in Squamish, a massage in Whister, witnessing wedding bliss of the coolest and most inspirational couple ever, house-hunting in Vancouver, a stop-over in Revelstoke and the inevitable bbq’s and bike rides with my lovely Besties and geos, and finally, family hugs back in Cowtown. See you all on the flip side.
First off, I wish I had taken more photos. Below are a few moments I captured however they don’t even come close to capturing the creativity, beauty, and unabashed outlandishness that is Burning Man. I remember feeling that I wanted to just experience each moment in it’s fullest instead of cracking out my camera. Regret. That said, I will always have the art, dust, parties, sunsets and sunrises, conversations, and bike rides etched into my memory. I am already reminiscing about the week with my beloved camp (French Manila Air) through email. I can understand what draws people to return each year. The bonds that are created on the playa are special in an indescribable way. The entire experience is emotional, it’s inspiring, wondrous, innovative, loving and yet feels raw, fragile and at times uncomfortable and lonely. It is a humbling experience, and one that I would recommend to anyone.
Burning Man 2014
Burning Man 2014
Fun Photoshoot Time!
I am now in week 9 of the 10 week Graduate Studies Program at Singularity University at NASA Ames. The first 7 weeks were filled with lectures, workshops, tours, networking sessions, and brainstorming exercises. During this time I learned about all different types of exponential technologies including 3D printing, drones, robots, artificial intelligence, machine learning, bio and nanotech, social networks and virtual currencies; and spent a lot of time discussing how these might solve some of the world’s greatest challenges. Astronaut Dr Ed Lu said in his talk that, “you are all crew members, not passengers, on spaceship-Earth.” Now our challenge is to take all we’ve learned to start businesses which use these technologies to make a positive impact on 1 billion people over the next 10 years. The last few weeks of the GSP are dedicated to this cause and for about a week I worked with a team whose vision was to provide inexpensive and more accessible internet for people in the bottom of the pyramid. My team and I really believed in our idea but quickly realised that we were not the first people to take on this particular challenge, and that perhaps racing both Google and Facebook to the finish line might not be the best use of our time. So our group dissolved and we all joined other groups working on different projects. It is commonly said in Silicon Valley to ‘fail fast’. This phrase implies that if you are going to fail at something, it’s better to know that sooner than later so less time is wasted. I now know this is true from experience. My new team is using artificial intelligence in the education sector. I am particularly excited about this project being that I am an educator and am fascinated by IBM Watson and machine learning. We are still a few weeks away from making the details of our idea public, but I look forward to the moment when I can share more with you.
We went through a Startup Weekend with our teams and pitched to judges yesterday. Here is a photo of my team during the question and answer period. From left to right is: Claudia from Columbia (our Industry Spy), Roberto from Mexico (our Robot Man), Me (our Tough Cookie), Pedro from Brazil (our Maker), and Lorenn from Australia (our Credibility).
I will keep you updated generally as we move forward with our project, however at this time I can’t share any specific details. But put it this way, its a BIG idea and we need to be brave as we challenge the current industry norm. I am confident though :)
So you may have noticed that I have not been writing too much content on here for the last few weeks. That is simply because my mind has been inundated with so much new information that when it comes to writing an update, I honestly don’t know where to start.
We had our group-formation exercise yesterday and I ended up on a team with people I genuinely think could do great things. I love each member of my group individually and believe in their skills. We have yet to decide on an idea, which could be a source of stress in the group, but hopefully it will all work out.
The one thing I do know for sure is that I will not be working on Stackz while here. I have decided to pursue this idea outside of SU and while here work on something that my group and I come up with. Part of this is because I want to keep sole ownership of Stackz (the IP) but also because I want to really leverage the opportunity to do something BIG with technology that I might not otherwise have the opportunity to use outside of this space.
We are headed into a startup weekend where together with my group, we will hammer out and explore some of our big ideas, and hopefully narrow it down to one golden ticket. Wish us luck!
Wesley the Robot