Romanian IT in San Francisco – 2019 retrospective

Later edit: Thanks Andrei for the extra info I missed!

After I set up the Mailchimp list earlier this month, time to complete 2/2 of my Romanian IT in San Francisco bucket list for this year. It’s been a great 2019 and I think it’s worth going through it month by month and seeing what happened in the local community, our events, hikes and announcements, and how the group has grown to 454 members to date.

January 2019

It was a quiet month, with no official events. We helped the Cassiopeia – Zero Robotics high school team connect with a few Romanians in the Bay Area, as they were visiting the US for a robotics competition. We also announced our first meetup of the year, and a visit from one of the Romanian IT founders.

Oana, and the Find My Mentor team, kick-started the 3rd (or 4th?) edition of their program in mid-January. Find My Mentor is a 3-month mentorship program, designed to connect entrepreneurs and tech professionals with mentors, in order to accelerate their personal and professional growth. It featured 30 mentors, and more than 360 mentorship sessions, in over 20 countries. We had several mentors that participated from the Bay Area, including me and Andrei.

February 2019

We had our 1st meetup of the year, thanks for those who showed up. We had a few people traveling in the Bay Area and we were happy to host them at our usual venue, in the Mission District.

Later that month, a few members decided to celebrate Valentine’s day together in San Francisco, at the Emporium SF – no pics.

UiPath also hosted their first meetup in the Bay Area, in Mountain View, which we helped promote via the group. There were three more events we announced in February – Google’s Cloud conference in April (we got free tickets for the community, thanks Victor), a South Bay Romanian IT meetup organized by Ionut and Adrian, and the European Chamber of Commerce May 9 cruise to celebrate Europe day.

Last but not least, Oana, one of the Romanian IT co-founders, decided we should expand to be Romanian IT in USA. Let’s just say the local community wasn’t very happy about the change, but we had to live with it for 30 days, due to Facebook Groups rules

March 2019

This month, we held the first San Jose meetup at the Three Sisters bar (in San Pedro Square Market) and it had a pretty good turnout. We announced our April meetup for San Francisco. I was away in Utah for a few weeks, so things had to be scheduled around that.

We also promoted

  • The Swedish-American Chamber of Commerce 2019 Spring European Pitch Night, where Romania was to have one startup. I’m not sure if anyone from our community attended.
  • A Don Lothrop meetup about his Romanian projects, organized by the Romanian America Business Networking group

This month we were able to go back to our Romanian IT in San Francisco name. Business as usual.

April 2019

We met again at El Rio, but I didn’t take any pics of that meetup. I’m sure we had a blast and that’s why :). We also met at the Easter picnic, so overall it was a pretty busy month.

We also started planning hikes again, since the rain/snow season was coming to an end. With Easter and elections coming up, there were a few more things to promote:

  • Easter picnic in the South Bay, as usual (see pic, via Oleg)
  • Two projects via Alin Zainescu – Teleleu and Code for Romania HackDay in SF
  • Alina spoke at StemEd SF, where a few community members got together
  • Volunteers for the voting precinct & the polling station location for the May European Parliament voting session
  • A Declic / Mircea Bravo GOTV campaign for the May elections

May 2019

May was all about hiking and elections. We went to Berry Creek Falls (12mi), Stinson Beach/Cataract Falls (~8mi) and we also got together to vote and catch up afterwards in the East Bay.

This month, a lot of the focus was on elections, volunteers and the Code For Romania hack day that was to be held on June 1st.

June 2019

We started off the month with pics and videos from the hack day. I couldn’t make it, but a few of members did. We also connected with RoMADE – Romanian Mobile Apps Developers and Experts, an action financed by the Romanian Government and organized together with Romanian Creative Industries Business Federation. They were in San Jose to explore the business opportunities in Silicon Valley.

We then met for drinks again, at El Rio, and afterwards we headed out to the traditional El Farolito. Good turnout, fun night.

Later that month, a few of us connected with Cristian, one of the Meetin VR founders, who was visiting the Bay Area looking to network and potentially raise capital.

July 2019

This month was all about meetups again, with South Bay members getting their second event, with Adrian and Ionut hosting again in the San Pedro Square Market, Downtown San Jose. There was no SF meetup this month, but we promoted more Romanians doing cool things in tech and also kicked off Presidential elections voter registrations.

I had been organizing meetups by myself for a few months now. It was time for a change.

August 2019

The month kicked off with great news, Andrei joined me as co-host and organizer for the Romanian IT community in San Francisco. It was a few months after Mihai had left town and I had been looking for people to help out with event hosting, moderation and other responsibilities.

In August we organized a hike to Rodeo Beach (4.8mi) and the monthly El Rio meetup, which we had to move to the next-door bar, due to a wedding taking place at El Rio! Still great fun and good turnout.

This was the month where we decided we needed a WhatsApp group, so we can include people who went off Facebook. The group link is on the Facebook page, had to remove it from the blog due to spammers coming in. We also started promoting events for a very busy September.

September 2019

This month, besides elections updates and voter registration, we met and hiked not once, but twice each – Angel Island early in the month (6mi), then Coastal and Fox Trails Loop (6.3mi), plus 2x El Rio meetups.

I think by this time we found that everyone’s sweet spot with hiking is around 6 miles. I tried not to go over that so we don’t exhaust everyone after a full day on the trails. Love the feedback!

We also promoted Alianta‘s event in Washington DC, that was organized in October, the 7th edition of the Romanian Film Festival at Stanford University, UC Berkeley and San Francisco State University, also in October and more voter registration for the November elections.

Towards the end of the month we met with with Tudor, founder of Floating Dots and Studhub, who was visiting the US to look for new partnerships, and grow their development outsourcing business based in Cluj-Napoca.

October 2019

We took a bit of a break in October, with only one meetup at the end of the month, after the 4 events in September. It was great to see everyone again at El Rio.

We continued to help with the elections volunteer recruitment and posting regular updates for the community, as well as promoting the film festival.

We also met with Bogdan and Alex, the founders of Plant an App – a low code development platform for custom business applications. They’re spending some time in the Bay Area, as their company is part of the 500 Startups program (early-stage venture fund and seed accelerator).

November 2019

November was again very busy, with 4 events, 3 meetups and 1 hack day. 2 of the meetups were all about the Presidential elections, that take place in 2 rounds in Romania, usually.

We met twice in South Bay, where for the first time since I had arrived in the Bay Area, we had another polling station. Both were fun, thanks everyone for coming out to vote and chat afterwards!

This time elections lasted for 3 days outside of Romania and almost 1 million Romanians in the diaspora came out to vote.

In November, Code for Romania hosted their second Hack Day in San Francisco, which I managed to miss, again, due to business travels.

December 2019

We hosted a last meetup in mid-December, wishing everyone happy holidays and promising to see each other in the new year

(It poured, so we had a smaller turnout, and Adelina was our host, since El Rio was taken over by some office party with increasingly drunk people).

This month, we also promoted a Romanian night in the South Bay, and a few more movies in Berkeley. Unfortunately, due to rain and cold weather, I had to cancel the last hike of the year, much to the disappointment of a few of us.

Overall, we had a great year, with 19 events, two elections and the bar is high for 2020. Looking forward to more meetups, hikes and more people getting involved in the community. If you know someone who’s looking for likeminded Romanians to hang out with, Romanian IT in San Francisco is a welcoming group, granted we share the same values.

My commitment for next year is that we’ll do at least 1 event in January 2020, #promise! Happy new year!

My first guest post in a few years: Havingtime.com

I used to write a lot at some point and even guest post on other sites. Recently, I started writing again, and with the intro of a friend, I was invited to contribute to HavingTime.com, a platform for people with stories to tell.

I chose to share my thoughts about my own impostor syndrome, and how I managed to overcome it. I found it very ironic that it was the very first thought that struck me while I was searching for a first topic to send them for review. It was basically telling me I have no authority and that my story is not interesting enough to be shared there.

Plot twist, it is and you can find out how I did it by reading about my take on What is Impostor Syndrome & How Can You Manage it?

Photo by JOHN TOWNER on Unsplash

Some personal news: I went back to AI and Machine Learning

It was an opportunity too good to refuse, that’s what I said about two years ago, when I left AI for the crypto world and joined Civic Technologies to help build what now is a decentralized marketplace (identity.com) and the for-profit startup on top of it (civic.com), that eventually expanded from identity to identity and finch – decentralized finance / defi. It was a great journey, with an amazing team and I’m sure they will do well moving forward.

Now for the personal news. This October, I have joined the Figure Eight team, part of Appen, as the Director of Marketing Communications. The group is the biggest ML-assisted and crowd data labeling platform for machine learning. I can’t share too much about the journey ahead, but I can tell you big things will happen in this industry in the next 5-10 years. Machine learning is at a point where it has become productive in a few industries and more and more giants are now looking at their data sets, their processes and trying to figure out how to optimize and improve efficiency. 

Data is the new energy, and it’s likely we will see a similar revolution with ML departments as we have seen with the IT function. It (and IT, ha!) started out in the basement, with the servers, and evolved from a fringe function to the core of many of the most profitable businesses in the world. The best jobs out there rely on IT today and will do so in the future. I see the same future for machine learning, now elevated from curiosity/research only domain to part of the engineering team, where it plays various roles, from marginal to core business, depending on the company. Soon, with enough data and understanding of ML processes and principles, any enterprise will be able to scale faster and more effectively. 

You might wonder what data labeling has to do with all this.

“During the gold rush it’s a good time to be in the pick and shovel business,” Mark Twain reportedly said

Think of it like the gold rush, where people flock to gold bearing mountains to find the prize, gold. They need food, supplies, clothes, fuel, picks and shovels, mining gear and machines, cars and planes. It this case, the prize is profit, the gold rush is the digital age and data is the energy powering everything. The more energy you have and the more refined/adequate it is, the better your chances to find gold. Same goes for machine learning, the more high quality data you have, the less of it you need to train an efficient model, the less resources you spend on computing power. Also, data, unlike fuel, comes in all shapes and sizes, and there will always be more data to be labeled as it is being created. 

Long story short, I’m excited about the journey ahead and looking forward to sharing more stories along the way. 

Photo by David Edkins on Unsplash

And as always, opinions here are solely mine and don’t reflect the views of my employer

The thing with Americans and their attitude

I met with a friend at the best coffee shop in town while I was in Baia Mare, visiting my family. She had just returned from Indonesia after years of traveling and living abroad. We both shared stories about how alien we felt in this town and how travelers always feel like this when surrounded by less traveled people. She told me about the people in Indonesia and the beauty of their culture, and then she asked me about the US, about life in California.

After delivering the classic picture of a tech manager in Silicon Valley, along with a few observations about the cultural differences between Eastern Europeans and Californians, I shared something that I found remarkable about people in San Francisco that I had encountered both professionally and in a friendly setting.

But first, a little context – I grew up in Northern Transylvania, attending public schools and being brought up in a very Romanian fashion. You were supposed to be great in school, get top grades, not get overtaken by your neighbor. Sports was secondary, but I still took up competitive basketball for awhile. The coach was tough, the team was demanding and there was little pleasure in playing, except for the winning moments and training with the girls’ high school team.

I dropped out of the competitive part of the sport mainly to pursue random teenage things like partying, smoking, drinking and being rebellious — for the duration of my high school years. It was only in London that I picked up basketball again, playing with startup co-workers and investment bankers at Canary Wharf’s Reebok gym every week. When I eventually left London for the US, I tried to find the same thing in San Francisco. A few months in, through friends, I found the basketball group that plays in the Presidio every weekend and I’ve been going there ever since.

You’re probably wondering why all this context, what’s the catch? It’s about basketball.

You see, I am not a professional player, nor am I a great amateur. I’m average, even considering my 6ft 6in advantage over others. When I was back in Romania, or even in the UK, playing and missing or failing to pass resulted in disappointment comments and bad looks from fellow players. You were expected to punish yourself with some down talk, too. That diminished the fun of the game, but supposedly kept your competitive spirit up and in the game. In San Francisco, I started playing, but something was missing. I would miss shots, fail to pass, but the only person talking down or frowning was me. Everyone else was trying to encourage me to go again, “good try”, “great shot”, “good look” – even though I knew and they knew I was way off. That made the game more enjoyable. Slowly, I started getting rid of the self talk that put me down on the basketball court.

But it’s not just in basketball. I’ve seen this type of behavior all over, where your peers, your bosses and your employees give you positive reinforcement and encouragement, even if things are going south. That, too, was a cultural shift from the mostly negative, sullen offices I had grew up in as a professional. This type of attitude not only makes things more fun and enjoyable all around, but push you to do more things, take more risks and ultimately grow — ironically the same goal of the other type of behavior I was used to, but significantly more effective.

This reflected in my writing too, because when I started doing it, it was more of a rebellious spout, a manifestation of my personality, in Romanian and very stream-of-consciousness, even with the more trade pieces.

I lost that when I moved to the UK, and then to the US, and it took me a long time to get it back, since I felt I had to “impress” my past readers in English and held back from publishing due to fear of looking like a fool. I forgot the fun in blogging. And it was this observation of how people react to mistakes in pickup weekend games that showed me I have a different public this time.

My friend asked me if I like America. I said yes, and used this basketball story. She understood why.

Photo by Braden Collum on Unsplash

Life as an improv game

Last year, I accidentally got myself and my wife into a walk-in improv class in San Francisco. It was one of those things that I had never done before due to cultural reasons and wanted to put myself out of my comfort zone by doing. We got there early, so we chatted with a few of the people there – some had done this before, others were new, just like us. The instructor then led us up there, in some old conference room belonging to the SF Chronicle. The instructor was a guy who worked as an Engineering Manager at Google and lots of the participants were techies, so we felt right at home.

The setup was not amazing, but we quickly forgot about it with a slew of games that made us more aware of each other, more in the moment.

More importantly, it showed me that I’m potentially good at this acting thing. I had thought the opposite my whole life. So I decided to double-down on it, by booking a full 6 week class of Improv I. If you’re in San Francisco, you can do it, too. It’s really easy, 3 hours every week, and if you miss a class or two, you can easily reschedule. To graduate, you need to attend at least 5 of the 6 classes.

I went there with an open mind and I got a lot more than I was expecting, hence this article. Improv, unlike standup comedy, is more about creativity and playing than it is about being funny or making jokes. Being able to play a scene and be consistent, authentic is what matters more than to be witty or crack the best punchline. Often, the best punchlines were the ones unplanned, the ones that came naturally as part of the relationship being played there.

I recently finished a book called “The Triangle of The Scene” – spoiler, it’s about improv. The author, Paul Vaillancourt, who’s an improv veteran, gives a little bit more structure around these plays and what makes them work – the relationships being built and played in the scenes

What I’m doing // What you’re doing // What we’re doing about it

Triangle of the scene

Reading this book and doubling down on my experience with the first improv class got me thinking about life and how we approach our relationships with others and with ourselves. There’s much to be learnt from the power of “yes, and” and the focus on relationships rather than the narrative. Try following your vocabulary at home and at work, see how many “yes, and”s you say and how many but’s, however’s, no’s and other negations we use on a regular basis.

I bet you’ll find the negative most often outweighs the positive. Try to flip that ratio for a week and see what happens. You may be very pleasantly surprised. Many leadership books and talks focus on getting people to prioritize positive relationships. Improv takes a different look at things.

Wish I had done this earlier in my life. Worth it and scheduling the next modules as soon as possible.