Value, Emotion, and Money

TL;DR, Summary, Breakdown

  • What is value?
  • Philosophical, sorry, but I do get to an answer… and I think it’s pretty rad.
  • Skip to the end if you don’t like to, don’t have time to think. YMMV.

What is value? Are emotion and value the same?

She says no. I say yes.

The value of a sack of grain to a starving man is to sate his hunger. The value of a dollar to someone who needs a dollar is to fulfill a need, too.

—Is fulfillment of a need the same as emotion? No. Emotion is the manifestation of the need, itself.

Is value in the fulfillment of an emotion? I think it is. When I eat, my hunger is sated. The food I ate has value. When I read, my need to understand or be entertained is fulfilled. The book I read has value.

So, value is not the same as emotion, but it is inseparably linked with emotion.

—In this money is useful as an abstraction to fulfill many needs, present and future.

—In this, we are able to see when we have enough grain: when we fill our storehouse for winter. Then we can rest, we can find fellowship with others, we can give away our excess grain and build trust, friendship.

Yet, money is abstract. It’s harder to see when we have enough money. Our bank is never full. Grain has a shelf life. With money, we can save for our kids’ education. Then we start thinking about saving for a legacy. If we do this, our dreams can never transition from taking care of ourselves to taking care of others.

She was right. Emotion and value are not the same. Yet, they are inseparably linked. Value is the precursor to emotion. It is the ability to move someone, maybe ourself, maybe someone else.

Father of Boys (at the twilight of a woman’s right to choose)

I wrote this in June and published it in November. I think I have always been afraid of entering the discourse, particularly as it seems to be devolving and may be held against us in the uncertain future. No, I’m going to resist. I want to lean the fuck into humanizing and listening and — expressing: expressing feelings, not judging. There’s so much to divide us, but if we choose common ground, humans are wired for connection.

I am a father of boys.

I don’t have to worry.

I have lived and worked in the tech economy, made some money.

I don’t have to worry.

Once, a girlfriend had to take the morning after pill — plan B.

I worried for a moment. For her. For us. —For me. That was years ago. A faded memory.

My mother is post menopausal.

I don’t have to worry.

My female friends have access to care. Access to lawyers. Access to airports. Access to … money.

I don’t have to worry.

If I was father of a daughter,

I would worry.

If I lived in a place where something about me was unaccepted,

I would worry.

If I didn’t have the money to run,

I would worry.

If elections were decided by the people with the power to ignore the votes,

I would worry.

If I loved a woman—oh, god…

To love women is to—oh, god…

Plan B is never the best option. Is there even a Plan B here?

I will worry, for a moment.

Then, resolve — to make my mind as father of a daughter.

Then, resolve — to resist.

Then, resolve — to reach out. To humanize. To be human.

A crime of identity, Artist Lizania Cruz at Alma|Lewis

TL;DR, Summary, Breakdown

  • Took some time to understand
  • Important and meaningful

My first impression of Performing Inquiry, The Alma|Lewis Gallery’s latest exhibit was confusion. I thought I was trying to understand a crime scene from the perspective of learning about how governments were investigating people and taking away rights. I was confused by the display of migration patterns into The Dominican Republic. I was confused by the family trees on display. I was confused by the video of artist Lizania Cruz interviewing a man in The Dominican Republic about his name and simple history.

What was the crime here?

There were evidence bags. There was an electronic interview for jury selection. There were suspect and witness pictures hanging on the wall.

How did these relate to the family trees? How did these relate to the video interview, which didn’t ever ask, “whodunnit?”

It didn’t hold together. The cohesiveness wasn’t there.

There was no crime.

The second time I walked into the exhibit, I was alone. There was no crowd. No artist to chat with, to try to distill the essence of the exhibit from.

I reviewed the exhibit, flowing around the room, clockwise — not sure if that was the intent. I reviewed the map of migration. I reviewed the family trees. I reviewed the video. I reviewed the bags of evidence. I reviewed the suspects and the witnesses. I reviewed the 18 ways in which Dominicans differentiate themselves by combinations of color an ethnicity.

I reviewed some of the selected literature, sitting on a shelf in the exhibit space.

There is no crime here. Erasing someone’s identity is not illegal.

I feel uncomfortable just writing that.

There is no crime here. Erasing someone’s identity is not illegal.

I imagine having my identity stripped away. A new identity is gifted to me. I’m adrift in understanding who I am. None of my choices make sense anymore. The new identity is not a gift, it is control. My own opportunity as a human to frame my own narrative is taken away.

For how legal erasing someone’s identity may be, it is unjust and repugnant, passive violence.

Part of the exhibit is a set of literary works placed on the wall. In the selected essay, “Venus in Two Acts,” Saidiya Hartman writes about how a slave ship captain was put on trial for the murder of a slave girl. The girl’s name was mentioned once and only once. Yet, the trial is about the value of her life. The negative space left in the court transcript leads Hartman to imagine her, forgotten, at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean. Hartman wants to write a historical fiction about the girl, yet can’t. She believes there is more meaning in leaving the girl’s identity tragically lost, than in providing a fictional one.

Lizania Cruz’ work is brimming with meaning around identity. Through her interviews and her research she is working to document the sense of identity of the people of the Samana peninsula in The Dominican Republic, beyond their relationship to black & white. This identity was lost, stolen, crushed, rewritten, and sometimes simply forgotten due to trauma.

It was so worth my extra time to revisit Alma|Lewis and work through my confusion.


Bartees Strange is 🔥 Bartees Strange is ⚡️Bartees Strange is 🎸

TL;DR, Summary, Breakdown: Fire, Electricity, Guitar

I met Bartees Strange for a few minutes before his show, his tour opener at The Thunderbird in Pittsburgh last Thursday night. He’s soft spoken. He’s bald, squat, maybe even frumpy looking. He had a mask on — the smart thing to do in a crowd. I learned he was a press secretary for Obama. Bartees is from rural Oklahoma, the only black kid in school. He had some really interesting experiences to mine for meaning. I had noticed the poetic, deep lyrics on Wretched and the other songs on his album, Farm to Table. The lyrics pulled me in. So, I was thinking I was going to be treated to some wonderful poetry, set to music.

There was wonderful poetry set to music.

But it was background to the energy Bartees brought with his guitar. Listen to the chorus on his single, Wretched, and you’ll get a sense of what a Strange performance is like. The recorded album Farm to Table totally plays up his thoughtfulness and more somber emotion. On stage though,🔥 Bartees Strange is 🔥. I did not think a guy shaped like Strange could jump so high and rock out so hard — I think because no one in the past would have ever packaged or promoted someone without chiseled jaw line, inspired hair, and six-pack abs. I prefer the inspiration of the outsider, whose incredible talent burns through the bullshit.

I think of Brandi Carlisle’s “The Joke,”

They tell you that your place is in the middle
When they had the way you shine…
…I have been to a Bartees Strange concert
I’ve seen how it ends
And the joke’s on them.

His band was fantastic. He always had a second guitar going, but often times had as many as 3 guitars and a bass. His drummer was also totally inspired.

Bartees said Henessey was his favorite song, about the limits of stereotypes.

Henessey on Spotify

Four days later, I find myself searching for more concert dates within driving distance.

What a feeling. 🔥 🎸⚡️

Net Detractor: Alexa, STFU

  • TL;DR, Summary, Breakdown
    • Alexa likes to interrupt.
    • This is dehumanized tech.

I played a song on Alexa. I settled into my work. As the song ended, I was deep in thought.

Then Alexa said, “by the way, I can notify you…”

“Alexa, shut the f*ck up!”

I’m really tired of the Amazon product managers trying to notify me of new ways to spend money on Amazon. I’m tired of them trying to normalize conversations with Alexa. Alexa is a thing. When she says, “by the way…” she is intruding on my life and crossing a boundary. Amazon as a company is crossing a boundary. The product managers are crossing a boundary.

Crossing boundaries happens. However, repeatedly crossing boundaries is avoidable. When someone reacts and sets a boundary, we can either respect it or not.

This is not the first time Alexa has interrupted my thoughts and day. Alexa’s interruption was small, but indicative of lack of awareness or disregard: either passive or active disrespect.

While taking the time to post this is disproportionate to the interruption, the currents of product management OKRs, ruled by engagement and lifetime customer value lead to intrusive, dehumanizing technology.

Scott Galloway, iconoclast and genius ironist

Scott Galloway‘s latest “No Mercy No Malice” post, “Text-ure,” was a little shocking and then I found the genius in it. I hope it’s either genius or an issue of limited time to think through the implications of the article. In particular, 

Mid-way through the article he says, “On average, they’re [rich people] more intelligent and harder working than your average citizen”

My gut reaction is to ask, how many poor people does Scott hang around with? Ok, that’s dismissive. Was Einstein rich? Not in the sense of today. Godel certainly was not! Van Gogh, nope. MLK, nope. Lincoln, nope. Gandhi? Q is about to break the news that Gandhi had 1000 secret swiss accounts. Toni Morisson? Maybe at the end, but not at the beginning. Scott’s example was anecdotal and shows some obvious blind spots. The photos that hang on my wall are not of rich people — but of people of unimpeachable character, hard workers, intelligence applied to real, human problems.

L Ron Hubbard was rich, smart, and hard working. Kenneth Lay too. The architects of the opioid crisis, rich, hard working, smart. The architects of the great recession of 2008, all rich or aspiring to be, many were converted math and physics PhDs. Jeffrey Epstein was by accounts I’ve heard rich and smart and hard working. Bernie Mad– Oh, I hope I see what Scott is doing here.

I think Scott is right that some people in think that money is the score. Isn’t this what he’s complaining about with Elon and co?  Are we saying that people with 1M-100M are really smart and of good character, but things start to decline from there? I hope I see what he’s doing here…

I think the distribution of talent across social classes is unknown and unknowable, because we spend so little providing opportunity to lower classes, one of the points Scott makes. I think I see what he’s doing here…

Again, I really respect Scott’s brand of say what you think — and he’s right in his final question. Who is going to check you and pull you out of your self-created psychosis? Is your wingman checking your six or admiring your paint job?

I hope this was his ironic, self-referential internal check to make sure someone on his team is checking his back. I’m going to give him the benefit of the doubt and call it pure genius — because I’m an optimist.

Looking forward to seeing if I can bring this up in the last Section4
Brand Strategy Q&A.

60 feet under, in the presence of a true giant

Dedicated to Janet Ferguson, who loved to travel

I met Hilary through a mutual friend. Hilary was interested in talking about establishing her sustainable travel business. In the end, I don’t even remember that conversation. I’m grateful for her, though. I told her I wanted to swim with a whale shark, but do it responsibly. I did exactly that.

Two out of three people I show this photo are surprised I would swim with something so dangerous. I joke that the animal here is vegan, eating mostly plankton. Though I guess it’s more of a pescatarian, eating small fish and crustaceans too.

This still blows my mind… give me a moment…

We were about 30 minutes into our third dive at Darwin Island, in the Galapagos. There was a din from my left. When I looked over, I saw Christian, the divemaster shaking his underwater noise maker and pointing off at a distant shadow. A bus sized fish emerged from the gloom. Some of us just watched from a rocky shelf below the shark while two of our group took off, rising and swimming toward it. I was managing my air, avoiding strenuous movement, breathing deeply. I just filmed. Neither of the divers got close. The fish appeared to lazily swim by.

Jonathan Greene, shark scientist, conservationist, and partner in the Galapagos Whale Shark Project, said it was 11 to 11.5 meters, 35-37 feet long. He said getting in the way of the tail could kill you. I’m the one taking the picture. My bunkmate, Max, is the one in pursuit near the tail.

I got lucky. Of five dives at Darwin Island, we saw the shark on one dive. A few see none. That being said, some see many, and according to Greene, the sharks are sometimes curious enough to swim much more slowly, allowing divers to approach. Some of the divers on the trip discussed seeing numerous whale sharks in places like the Maldives in the Indian Ocean. However, The Galapagos is special for being able to see animals this size—the largest fish in the sea. Some reach sizes in excess of 50 feet long.

It’s really weird how shows like Blue Planet expose us to the existence of such wonders, but there’s an element of the profound, of overwhelming connection being there in the presence of such an animal, in quiet weightlessness, 60 feet underwater.

Other highlights:

  • Surfacing at Darwin Island with a pod of dolphins, who decided to put on a show
  • Insanely fun, intense drift diving at Wolf Island with a school of hundreds of hammerhead and Galapagos sharks—this was so fun we did it a second time!
  • Swimming with marine iguanas, sea lions, giant sea turtles, and a penguin on a single dive at Isabela Island
  • Manta rays and too many spotted eagle rays to count
  • Walking with giant Galapagos tortoises
  • A pair of mating octopi—and me without my camera!
  • Jonathan Greene’s and Jenny Whack’s commentaries on conservation and the Whale Shark’s place in the ecosystem.
  • The people: divers care about the environment they dive in. They are curious, good listeners. They are also ready to connect, by sharing their own experiences in life and in diving. Such a fantastic group! —Except for the Brits, they’re just “rubbish.” [1] 😉
Giant Manta
Hammerheads off Wolf Island
One sunset is fantastic
Giant Galapagos Tortoise, one of Darwin’s inspirations

My primary complaints, there just weren’t enough trip highlights and they weren’t massive enough. For an overwhelmingly positive experience, far and away the most incredible dive trip of my life, I just expected more. Also, I got really tired of the amazing sunsets.[2]

Also, the beer selection onboard left a lot to be desired, being simple lagers. I primarily care for hazy IPAs, APAs, and —you don’t care. It’s probably for the best, anyway. Dehydration is not a diver’s friend.

In all seriousness, this is the kind of experience that gets me thinking philosophically. I have always loved sharks and have heard about the impact humans are having on the oceans, but that’s all been intellectual. However, seeing a school of 100 animals, hammerhead sharks, dissipate into shadow, implying hundreds if not a thousand more animals is a spiritual experience—which now directly links to the images I’ve seen of sharks being slaughtered on fishing vessels. I have let the problem in. I could push it down, bottle it up, but I don’t want to. I want my kids to have a chance to experience this.

Again, every time I look at that picture, I can’t get over it. I am speechless for a moment. …give me a moment…

I took this trip under the premise that it was responsible. The two main parts of this were

  • offsetting my flight with carbon credits at a bargain price of around $30
  • booking my dive boat with The Galapagos Whale Shark Project team

Yet, I still need to understand if this is just wishful thinking. I have confidence in the mission of The Galapagos Whale Shark team and would like to write about them further. They are doing one small, essential thing for conservation. I need to understand, though, is the carbon offset verifiable and really making an impact, or is each tree planted just leading to a different, unprotected tree being cut down?

Also, there’s a discussion to be had about the positive (and negative) economics of international travel. One positive, as I see it, I worked with at least 5 different service providers on the trip, each was small and local. Each was splitting some amount of the money I was spending on the trip. While there’s inefficiency here, that in a former life, I would have thought about how to eliminate and capture, I felt positive about each of the individuals involved. While sometimes I felt pressure to be upsold, I always felt that responses to my questions were genuine. I trust them. In particular, Hilary from Yugen Earthside did a great job working with me to find the right experience. Angelica from Tera Sur Travel acted as a personal concierge making sure my experience in Ecuador was what I wanted and I felt safe and comfortable. I would work with both again and so appreciate their introduction to Jenny and Jonathan. I write this because I see this as an alternative model to the huge travel organizations like Marriott, Hilton, etc. which focus on economic return over being good stewards or offering tailored experiences.


Magic over Darwin Island

[1] Actually, they are a lot of fun.

[2] I can sometimes deliver irony in a very dry, imperceptible manner, but I had some feedback that made me think I needed to add this footnote… Hint: I’m saying, “for the best trip of my life, it wasn’t best enough.”

At some point, you just get tired of this, right?

Summer Dinners with Tunde Wey

Tunde Wey leads a discussion at Contours of Capitalism Dinner

I consider artist, philosopher, chef, Tunde Wey, a friend. He’s not a friend who will be calling me to discuss relationship issues. Tunde is more like a shooting star or supernova—something that captured our ancestors’ imagination for a moment, and sparked their curiosity and imagination. Tunde is a brief experience, that in the right situation, leads to ripples of creativity.

I was first invited to meet Tunde by my friend Kilolo who was hosting him in Pittsburgh. She had sent me a number of articles about his past art from GQ, Time, and Vogue. Tunde has a knack for putting issues of race and economics in people’s faces. In one example, Tunde charged white and black patrons of his restaurant different prices to represent the difference in opportunity in the United States. In another, a man paid $100 for dinner, and received an empty container, all by random chance. I imagined paying $100 for dinner and receiving nothing. Is this art or just mean?

Because of Tunde’s provocativeness, I was a little afraid of the spot I might be put in; an unknown surprise to stoke my emotions. I feared leaving hungry. I feared leaving shamed. The fear in itself was visceral—I felt nervous walking into the building.

Post-script Notes, Oct. 7, 2022…

My first pass at this article, focused on my personal experience of my time observing Tunde Wey. While this is important, I also wanted to be more direct about what I think Tunde’s message was.

While I think the metal forest is powerful context, bringing meaning to my choices, the situation in Lagos, Nigeria is far more powerful: densely populated floating slums without clean water, waste disposal, and the slimmest of hopes… Yet, it’s remote for me. Youtube is how close I can get, and it scares me to watch. Tunde, asked “When is the last time you felt anxiety?” I get anxiety, just thinking about watching the videos, empathizing with the conditions.

The United States has a huge impact on the world. The decisions we make related to monetary policy have ripple effects, which not only affect poor people in the United States, but people all over the world. Choosing inflation over jobs in the US, also meant impacting people who live in Lagos. If people with resources ignore this responsibility, they are the ones who are most responsible for the negative outcomes. A “rational” choice made by white people affected brown and black people’s ability to survive, 5000 miles away.

I also realize it’s a fool’s errand to think I can fully interpret Tunde’s message. The most I can do is take time, observe, and allow myself time to relate. I have been taking extra time, something at a premium these days, to allow me to more effectively connect to the artist’s work and message. My experience and Tunde’s differ so much, I will always have a different perspective. Though, I think we’re going to the same place.

That first meeting was a round-table dinner and discussion about economics and equity. All attendees read a scholarly article about monetary policy and inflation and effects on the economy and people. We then shared our thoughts. What I found was Tunde focused on framing and then making space for conversation. There were no right or wrong answers, or at least he held his opinions back, to make space for mine and his other guests.

Tunde succeeded in getting ten dinner attendees to get past academic jargon and have a real conversation. “Inflation,” “interest rates,” “recession,” and “unemployment,” are often wielded by economists and financiers in ways that make most of us recoil, rather than seek and strain to understand. Yet, the discussion pushed past the professional jargon in a way that included and invited us all in, leading to a a rich and essential conversation about democracy, “The American Dream,” and living with each other.

The article explained the Volcker Shock, a plan to control inflation by raising interest rates and thus risking recession in the US economy in the early 1980s. It was named for Paul Volcker, chairman of the US Federal Reserve at the time, who is responsible for setting interest rates for money lent by the United States’ central bank, “The Fed”. In the early 1980s, prices of everyday items were rising at 10% per year. By increasing interest rates, Mr. Volcker thought inflation would be limited. Prices would stop rising. At the same time, unemployment would rise, because there was less money being lent to make investments or start new businesses. There could also be a recession. However, it was necessary to tame inflation and keep prices from increasing. There was no other way. We had to trade jobs and recession for price stability.

There was no other way. We had to.

Sorry, why did we need to tame inflation? Do you know?

I was clueless. I haven’t taken economics since college. I stopped listening to the Planet Money podcast in 2015. Paul Volcker knew better, right? If he says inflation is the thing that will destroy the world and there’s no other way, then there’s no other way, right?

“Ding!” Oh, my phone. I need to check my Insta…

But wait, what if we had chosen to leave interest rates alone and inflation had continued?

💰 If you have savings of $100, and inflation of 15% happens, your savings can buy 1/2 of what it could before: $85 worth of stuff. That’s just $15 less. Not so important

If you have $1 Billion in the bank, your money is now worth $850 Million… That’s a loss of $150 Million—a number people really care about.

Not so fast! $150 million to a billionaire will have no material impact on the billionaire’s life. Imagine having $100 in the bank, living on $2/day, and then losing your job. -It’s life and death: survival.

The ten of us had budgeted two hours for dinner, but ended up staying almost four, talking. We learned a little about economics, politics, and each other. We weren’t experts by the end of the night, but “interest rates,” and “inflation” were more approachable. We were free to ask questions and collectively answer them. Most importantly, the question of taming inflation was properly reframed from being a technical question to a values question:

  • Prioritizing inflation, prioritized existing wealth over employment → Inflation maxed out at 13.3% in 1979 but rising interest rates triggered a recession and unemployment hit almost 11% in 1982.
  • Prioritizing employment/jobs may have raised inflation, and in doing so it would have made existing savings and fortunes worth less. It would have made home and student loans worth less to the bank, at the same time making it easier for people with those loans pay them off as wages would have had to rise.

This is a discussion of values:

protecting existing savings versus protecting jobs.

Wall Street saved $ billions, but what happened to the people who lost their livelihoods?

We don’t talk about these things in the 2020s. If we read an article, it’s often presented in a sanitized, technical way. It’s seldom presented in the context of the people who will be affected.

Maybe most importantly, were there alternatives? The article presented this as a binary choice. Maybe it’s a failing of the article, but everything is presented as binary these days. Red, Blue. Black, White. Capitalism, Socialism.

It’s my experience in complex problem solving that there are always myriad solutions. Some solutions even complement each other. My experience in leadership and teamwork has convinced me that presenting a diverse group of people with a context and problem lead to diverse, creative, and effective options. Was there another way?

On a summer morning, I walked with Tunde through Point Breeze to Bakery Square. He had something to show me. We walked through the winding paths of Mellon Park, to Penn Ave and a place between two new office buildings. We talked a little about relationships, divorces, growing apart. We talked about roots, Nigeria, Iowa.

There was a forest of white metal trees. They were laid out perfectly. Each one was the same, with three layers of branches, starting about ten feet off the ground. The branches had LEDs underneath. They were street lamps, there to illuminate the pebbled concrete corridor between the buildings. An architect’s attempt to soften the concrete and make it look more natural. As the pathway continued, 300 feet beyond, the path was flanked by real trees, green, illuminated by the early morning sunlight. The leafless, white, metal lamps felt very desolate.

These are the choices we are making.


  • A lifeless approximation created with toil and sweat, but needing no water, no nurturing. Neither growing, aging, changing, living.
  • Or our constant companion since humanity began — The Giving Tree, symbiotically taking our breath and using it for their lives while we take their breath and use it for our lives.

The choice of two futures.

My second dinner with Tunde was the second seating for an experimental dinner gameshow he worked on during Pittsburgh residency.

Thematically, the evening unfolded showing the hidden luck each of us have by the lottery of our birth. This culminated in the ‘working class’ of diners having to work for our main course, while the wealthy were able to sit and watch. Our “work” consisted of blowing up balloons, counting balloons, folding dollar bills, and other tedious, satirical metaphors for modern professional life. We then had to pay for dinner with our earnings.

Some of the “work” was done answering questions that took me back to high school in their presentation: needing a written essay. However, I think they are absolutely essential questions for living with others.

  • What’s the last thing that made you anxious? How did you deal with it?
  • What was the last impossible choice you had to make? What made it impossible? Who were the characters? How did they suffer or benefit?
  • What is power? Is it the absence of constraints or the presence of limits?
  • When are you most free? How has that freedom affected other people negatively?
  • What are the talents you’ve nurtured? What were you born with?
Dinner Theater schedule and menu—we went 2 hours over…

Is this art or is this just mean?

This is essential.

We need to take time to wrestle with selfishness and selflessness. We need to account for the truth that both are human nature. Our emotions drive us to help ourselves. Our emotions drive us to help others. I think it’s only by wrestling with these things that we can move from the struggle to an integrated whole with fluid movement and respect for both.

Tunde spoke about living in the United States and then returning to his home in Lagos, Nigeria. He explained how the contrast between the overwhelming poverty in the slums of Lagos led him to anger. I didn’t ever see this anger projected. I only felt a constant challenge to look at the world from a different angle.

One thing I reflect on now, but barely noticed at the dinner: we all started with a secret amount of money. Those with money in their bank accounts, didn’t have to work for their dinner. The rest of us folded our dollar bills and blew up our balloons. I think the intent was to show the inequity of starting places. This worked, if you were looking for it. However, the activities were interesting and novel enough that I never felt bitter or angry that I had to do them. I was open to them, which is fundamentally different than suffering through a daily grind, working for food. Also, we were never at risk for not making enough to have our meal. While I am thankful for this, I think it’s important to be congnizant that we don’t all eat, and we don’t all eat the same thing.

Kilolo Luckett comments on John Barbera’s money folding, as they work to earn money to pay for dinner from the gated executive suite. Festive balloons rest on the floor, destined for the Great Pacific Garbage Patch

Bread and the Contours of Capitalism was a benefit dinner to celebrate the completion of Tunde’s summer residency at Alma|Lewis. Tunde was the head chef, but hosted by Kate Romane and her staff in her Black Radish Kitchen space. Seating there is communal, with groups of 2-4 seated with strangers at 10-person tables. This creates an atmosphere around new relationships, sometimes with diverse points of view.

The dinner was a victory lap, the way the final day’s ride in the Tour de France is 100 miles, an intensity in serving dinner for 60 people. Tunde interrupted and asked questions to prompt conversation. He had tables nominate speakers to provide responses to earlier topics. Yet, most of the dinner, he was in the kitchen, sweating over plating and making sure the diners were happy. When I met him on the stairs outside after dinner, he looked exhausted. I wonder if he enjoyed it. —I think he has a dream of the slums of Lagos being one day changed, of the asymmetric suffering of black people being assuaged, and I think he will find it hard to rest until that dream is realized.

While the crowd leaned Liberal, the discussion was generally non-political, and very open. There were no recriminations voiced or ideologies espoused without critical thought. It was a large discussion of what it means to live in a free society, how deeply rooted work and economics are, and how we affect each other, here in the United States, and globally.

I didn’t check my Insta once. [1]

We are lucky to have Tunde in the United States. I think the world is lucky. As a nation with tremendous economic power, it is essential we think about our place in the world and how we affect others. When I think about art, this is something few paintings, drawings, or sculptures can do. Yet, every time I ate agege bread with Tunde, he knocked me over and rolled me around. I was left thinking about it for days.

The anxiety I felt when I first read about Tunde and went to meet him for the first time was completely unwarranted. Tunde’s opinions were his own, and he would confidently express them outside his dinner experiences, but he was never judgmental. He was genuinely interested in sharing.

The absurdity of blowing up balloons, folding dollar bills, and answering essay questions to pay for my dinner is pure comedy, brilliant satire, but I can’t find anything funny to say. Tunde has reminded me of the importance of breaking bread and sharing. It’s nothing, if it isn’t profound.

Author’s Note: I had to end this somewhere. There are persistent, urgent questions [2] here.

[1] Disregard the fact that I look at Instagram once a month…

[2] “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’” -Martin Luther King, Jr.

Supporting the Dream

The Student

A few weeks ago, I opened my home to S, a current student at the non-profit coding bootcamp, Resilient Coders, focused on training students of color. I met S through their longtime mentor, Mike Skirpan, Exec Director of Community Forge. Like any 19 year-old, S loves video games, social media, and talking. They struggle, at times as I did, putting school work before their interests. S is bright and really funny.

Unlike my three sons, S has been homeless. S’ parents struggle or are unable to support them in becoming a professional—part of the great economic abundance I have enjoyed in Tech. S loves their mother, but they learned budgeting and other lessons from Mike and other supporters. I started teaching many of these modern, essential skills to my sons before they were even tweens.

There’s a gap here. We know it. It’s the birth lottery. It leads to the education gap, which then gives way to the experience gap, all of these are monumental to overcome.

This is common sense, but a little abstract… so I’ll channel my inner Quant, because… Math [1] helps us understand things.

Maths and hope

Talking about $14/hr, a common low-skill wage available vs $60/hr, a very achievable tech salary is not particularly meaningful to me. So, let’s talk about what this means in a lifetime.

$14/hr → $1.1 Million in a lifetime.
$60/hr → $4.8 Million in a lifetime

💰 That’s a $3.68 Million Dollar Difference for an individual

This can lead down 100 lines of thought, but focusing on S, a young adult whose future is yet to be written, this is transformational. Across their cohort of 10 students, this is the potential for $36M in 2020s dollars.

It was a little jarring at first, having S in my home. It’s usually quiet during the day, and they brought energy and passion, which I could hear, to their remote team collaborations. In a two story house, with ample local coffee shops, I could always find a quiet place. However, I loved hearing their youthful enthusiasm.

Experience and Jargon

I’ve had final decision hiring two dozen engineers in my professional career, not a ton, but enough. I’ve puzzled over the lack of female names. It wasn’t until recently that I really knew about unconscious bias related to race — how many black or brown candidates have I overlooked? S happens to be black. Resilient Coders focuses on teaching people of color.

Over the last few years, I’ve increasingly become cynical about jargon like “at scale,” “monetization,” and “alpha,” which describe what the private sector values, keeping us from ever truly engaging beyond arguing over acronyms DEI, DEB, JEDI, JEDIB. Are we satisfied with the rate we are seeing African Americans, descendants of slaves, making inroads into tech? No, yet we approach the problem the way we have been approaching it, assuming the Ivy-League will start delivering candidates soon.

Maintaining Standards

I had a chat with a friend who works at Google and he said, “We need to solve the problem without lowering standards.” As long as we are talking about “not lowering standards,” we are always going to be looking for kids from CMU, MIT, and Princeton.  The language, “lowering,” without “challenging our standards” implies we got it right already–and we know from experience that our experience is biased.  If you are having trouble hiring people of color, I’m convinced this must be a horizontal OKR, across the leadership team, not just in a single officer, and that it will make Duo an even better company than it currently is—serving and growing into its mission of enabling people in new jobs.  I’d love to have a real chat about how we can get people like, S interviews at Duo, and what it will take to help them succeed.

S and their classmates won’t get a look if they come in through HR or a front-line employee. If they do, they might get past the data structures and algorithms question by studying Leetcode, but they won’t have the 4 years of elite schooling and the summer internships that will get them through the systems design and SDLC process questions. What isn’t seen, is that the standardization of questions is walling off the garden to people who don’t have the same background I did (BS and Masters from Carnegie Mellon). We think that data structures and algorithms (DSA) are what a young person needs, when actually, we built resilience through our early career and mentorships. S has uncommon resilience and passion and needs a mentor, or just time, for the data structures, algorithms, and skills building.


Resilient Coders has built a thriving training ecosystem in Boston, helping mature, driven, deserving candidates into Tech, without loading them with debt or disproportionate risk. I’m volunteering, with significant opportunity cost, to help open doors for Resilient Coders and S at tech companies in Pittsburgh. This matters, because I’m not selling anything (for now) — I’m acting out of a deep need to realize the best traditions of a shared American dream [2]. I’m doing this, because if we work toward this dream for S, it will realize that dream for my kids. It’s going to be uphill. S doesn’t have a degree from Carnegie-Mellon, MIT, or Princeton. They are not Ex-Google or Ex-Facebook. They don’t always feel safe in their community. They don’t have a reliable car. They do want a better future and they’re willing to learn and work for it.



[1] I love dualities:

  • I have lived in fear of math since high school and at the same time
  • I have understood I have math superpowers, and I use them, to viciously solve problems when other tools fail me.

    I should not have ever feared math—no one should fear math. Einstein got some of his most transformational math from Lorentz (who turned out to be a total douche) and others. I’ll write about math and fear of math in the future. The best math teachers put math in context and take fear “out of the equation.”

[2] I want to double down on the idea that there are things in this world that are worth doing because they are good, they make you feel good, and they are not only about personal profit. I believe doing this makes the world better for my kids.

A Peach

A juicy peach

There is nothing like an early August peach. Georgia rightly claims to be amazing, but Pennsylvania has some of the best.

Sweet and juicy, obvious adjectives.

Yet, wholly inadequate.

The peach overwhelmed my primary senses of sight and sound. For a moment, taste and smell and touch were in focus.

I don’t have the words for the flavor beyond “sweet”. It’s just “peach.” That should evoke a flavor if you’ve ever tasted one. I wonder if the failing of my words is also why Inuit have so many words for snow.

For the sensation of touch experienced by my tongue, gums, teeth, jaw, and roof of my mouth, juicy gives way to squish, squirt and gush. Softness. Fuzz. Gentle. Sensual. The ten year old inside snickers. All of these adjectives evoke sex.

I’ve eaten at least 10 peaches this week, two a day for the last five days. One of my favorite times of year.