Three and a half years ago I announced I was leaving software to try to work on longtermist projects instead. A year ago I announced I was focusing specifically on research on the meta level. Today, I’m sad to announce that neither of these have worked out like I hoped; I’ve failed to find a way I’m confident has a large positive impact on the future. Three years seems like long enough to give this project, especially given that I don’t know what I’d try next if I wanted to. In light of that, I’m stepping back from big Save The World projects to focus on finances for a while.
What this means for the blog: I still like reading stuff and talking about it, so that will probably happen sometimes just like it did before I took this on ~full time. Maybe even more, now that the pressure to do the Most Impactful Research is gone. I don’t plan on putting more effort than is fun into refining knowledge bootstrapping or learning-and-trauma studies for the foreseeable future.
What this means for me: I’m now looking for employment that isn’t “the most impactful thing I can do”, and would appreciate any leads you can give me. My primary skills are as follows:
- Was once a programmer. I didn’t like it then but ironically the learning-and-trauma stuff is making it much easier to do and I may hit enjoying it again on a reasonable timeline.
- Was once an SDET. I’m going to be even pickier about SDET work than dev work, but it is a skill I have.
The research thing is tricky. There’s not a lot of call for uncredentialed laymen who can read books about the history of childhood really thoroughly. But those skills are applicable to a wider range of problems, if people know to conceptualize the problems the right way and know that they have the option to turn them over to an expert. I spent one of the last three years at a company that *did* know how to use those skills, and was fantastically useful as I twitter-stalked investors, found the unwritten rules for getting on exchanges, and forecast the economy of Argentina. But of course I would claim that. Instead of taking my word for it, here’s a description from my former boss at Reserve, a for-profit company where I worked as Head of Research for a year:
From managing Elizabeth at Reserve, I would strongly recommend her as a researcher to other companies, and even more so to startups, that need help making difficult highly complex decisions.
Early on at Reserve we faced many very complex challenges – e.g. navigating a labyrinth of legal issues, identifying product-market fit, and making major strategic decisions about how to fundraise. A major recurring bottleneck to make decisions was that we lacked information on various key unknowns, and so to find this critical information we tried out hiring Elizabeth as a researcher. Initially her scope of research at Reserve was pretty limited, but we quickly realized that her skill and autonomy meant she could do alot more for us and so we kept giving her larger and larger research tasks and she quickly became a pivotal member of the team.
Elizabeth has high agency at learning about an extremely wide range of topics and enjoys research work, and so she happily took on any research challenge that we gave her. She’s very competent – I remember we needed background info on someone, and she found a lawsuit against them hidden away on the internet. She will also research to any depth that you want – she can do 1 hours worth of research on something and then report back, or 5, or 10 hours. Best of all she’s highly autonomous and needs very little oversight, so once she knows what you need she can independently make decisions about what’s worth researching, and at what point is it best to stop and report back, which makes her especially well suited to a startup.
[Said manager didn’t want his contact info plastered all over the internet but it is available on request]
[If you’re wondering why I left a job I enjoyed and was good at and appreciated me that much, the answer is a combination of “changing business needs” and “crypto winter”.]
Some other traits that make things a good fit for me:
- Not make the world worse on net
- Not be a bullshit job, in the Graeber sense of the word. One of the hardest things about the last three years has been the lack of feedback loops, and one of the things I’m most looking forward to is having concrete contact with reality.
- < 25 hours/week on average (large week-to-week fluctuations are fine)
- Working with other people who can give me feedback. One of the other hardest things about the last three years has been doing it more or less alone, and worrying about what I missed is just exhausting.
This would have been a really devastating announcement if I was making it any earlier than I am, but after my last grant rejection, I came to terms with it pretty rapidly. I tried something, I failed, and I’m pretty fortunate to have had both the option to try something unlucrative and a lucrative thing to return to. I don’t think my current orientation towards money and mental space is permanent- I just don’t currently have anything compelling enough to justify further burning of runway.
If you’d like to contact me directly, my e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thanks to everyone for all their support and encouragement over the years.