أول يوم لي في مصر

مضى يوم كامل على زيارتي لمصر. أخذت قسطا كبيرا و مستحقا من النوم، و قضيت وقتا ممتعا مع عائلتي و أبناء أخي الصغار و زرت جدتي في المستشفى. لا أستطيع القول أنني أشعر بالسعادة لأن عقلي لا يزال منشغلا بالمستقبل الغامض الذي ينتظرني، و لكنني بسعتي أن أقول أنني أشعر بالسكينة.

و الليلة هي أول ليال عيد الفطر. كل عام و أنتم بخير.

“This is not Cairo”

I am sitting at the Swiss Business Lounge in Geneva as I am writing this. I was supposed to be in Cairo about twelve hours ago, but my Lufthansa flight from Munich kept being delayed, and then when we boarded the pilot said that he is unable to fly the plane and we had to get off.

The way Lufthansa dealt with the situation was a complete shit show in my opinion, contrary to all my expectations. Instead of offering hotels to us they offered us pillows and blankets so we can sleep in the terminal (it was late at night then), and given that all restaurants were closed they offered us “water and chocolate”.

Unfortunately things got chaotic very quickly, as is usually the case when you have a crowd that is predominantly Egyptian. Passengers were yelling at the Lufthansa service crew, and understandably so. What disappointed me though was that the crowd had dedicated their effort to complain rather than calm down and look into resolving the situation.

What I found most disappointing, however, was the manager at the Lufthansa service desk, who got angry in response to the crowd’s protests and shouted “This is not Cairo!”

As expected, this comment added fuel to the fire and the crowd was enraged. I was very angry with this comment myself, yet deep inside me I knew that he was right. Objectively speaking, Cairo is one giant mess of a city, and it’s hard to compete with Egyptians when it comes to chaos and lack or organization.

I am sad. I am sad that Arabs disrespect themselves in their own countries and as a result are disrespected internationally as such. I want to fix this. I am not sure how exactly just yet, but I really hope to see this change during my lifetime.

Anyways, I’ll be shortly catching my flight to Egypt. A new chapter in my life is about to begin.

The Space Balloon Experiment

I spent the bulk of today with Nishanth, Carlos, Nick Pisarro, and Sai. We went to Tracy, California. Or, more specifically, we went to 37.642266, -121.395005.

Today was the launch date of project “Space Dust”, where we were going to launch a weather balloon carrying a payload with cameras + other sensors to an altitude of roughly 100,000 feet to record footage.

I brought up the idea of this project after reading guides on how to do it, and I felt it would be a great way to do something fun and that involves teamwork.

The planning for the project wasn’t as thorough as I had hoped, and with a project this complex this was a dangerous sign. Nonetheless, I think we got pretty far. We had everything set up – filling the balloon, securing the payload, electronics, spot tracker, radar reflector, etc. Everything came to a halt though when we realized that the helium we had wasn’t enough to lift the payload. Oops.

On a related note, I tried out the new Spectacles that the team at Twitter had (very thankfully!) gifted me to document this experience. I must say, it’s a pretty dandy piece of hardware. One thing I learned from this is that I need to say the word “alright” a lot less often.

A New Beginning

I have been anticipating this moment for so long. A few days ago I formally gave notice to Mark Kent, my then manager, that my last day at Twitter will be Friday, June 16th – yesterday!

Yesterday was surely a bittersweet day. Lots of farewells and goodbyes with people whom I love and enjoyed spending the bulk of my waking hours with. It made me realize more and more how I should invest more time and energy in fostering relationships with those around me.

The structured life that I have been accustomed to for the last three years has now ended. I no longer have a job, no source of income, and no stable home. I don’t even have plans for what I’ll be doing next. I have a flight to Egypt that leaves on the 21st so I can spend time with family, but that’s all there is.

In some way, this may sound like I am recklessly rebelling against my current lifestyle or committing some mild form of suicide. There is undeniably some truth to that, but there’s also more to it than that.

There’s so much on my mind but I’ll leave it at that for now. It’s 3am already and I spent all night with Nishanth and Nick Pisarro at Noisebridge where we were preparing for our space balloon launch. We have to wake up in less than four hours and launch this baby! Stay tuned.

A Night at Cowell Ranch Beach

This weekend I ended up camping with Imad, Omar Fahmy, and Omar Shaker. It has been a while since I’ve gone camping, and I’ve been seriously craving it for some time. In fact, last week I have been reading the book “Ultralight Backpackin’ Tips” in anticipation of extended backpacking trips that I’d like to arrange at some point in the near future.

We ended leaving late Friday night to Cowell Ranch Beach. The beach is closed at night, but we sneaked in. There was no one else at the beach, so we set up camp fire and spent the night.

It was a magical night. The darkness, the stars, the ocean waves, the company, it was all just… magical.

One of my favorite moments is when we used the drums Imad brought and played it along some medium tempo music.

Another favorite moment is observing Omar Fahmy sleeping. It’s quite entertaining.

نمت في العراء خارج الخيمة و كان نوما في غاية الراحة و السكينة. استيقظت في الصباح الباكر و السكينة تملأني. استيقظت على صوت البحر العذب و تغريد العصافير و الندى الذي كان يكسي الرمل و الزرع.

هذه الليلة كانت تذكرة بسيطة لي أن السعادة لا تتطلب الكثير.

Winning at TechCrunch Disrupt

Last weekend was a weekend full of serendipity and life lessons. I flew out to NYC from San Francisco to visit two of my best friends: Amr Saleh and Motaz Elewa. Both Amr and Motaz were visiting NYC from Egypt to showcase a new product they’d been developing together at TechCrunch Disrupt.

Amr and Motaz were both arriving late Sunday and I arrived Saturday morning. My plan was to catch up with a few friends until they arrive. What actually happened though, was slightly different.

While I was taking a cab from the airport to Queens to meet one of my friends, I was looking up events that are happening in NYC that weekend. I remembered then that TechCrunch Disrupt holds a hackathon the weekend before the conference, and that it’s big. I checked out their website and, of course, the hackathon was fully sold out.

The hackathon was going to start in less than an hour, and a voice in me told me to go and try to get in, despite not having a ticket. Another voice told me to not bother, because it’s a very popular hackathon and it’s sold out – unlikely for me to make it.

As I was grabbing lunch with my friend, I decided to listen to the hustler in me. I quickly a took a cab to the hackathon, a to the hackathon I went. I told them that I took a red eye flight from San Francisco and I thought I had a ticket to the hackathon. With enough begging, they let me in.

Lesson #1: Ignore the inner voice that hold you back!

There was very little risk in going to the hackathon and attempting to get in. Any inner voice that tells me that I shouldn’t try is simply afraid of rejection. On that note, there’s a quote from Seth Godin that I came across that I really liked:

If the only cost of being rejected is the experience of being rejected, it’s a foolish compromise to err on the side of doing only the things that are guaranteed to work.

Seth Godin – What to do when it’s your turn

I formed a team with Isma and Christopher. Erica Lee, a friend and former couchsurfer of mine, learned that I was at the hackathon from Facebook and also decided to join.

Lesson #2: Have clear goals.

When Erica joined the team, we were developing an idea around event discovery. The first question Erica posed when she joined the team was, what were our goals? We all mumbled something along the lines of “we’re hear to have fun and do something cool.” I felt a bit unsatisfied when I said that, and I think that’s partially because the answer wasn’t immediately obvious to me when I it was asked.

I knew I also wanted to win, but I don’t know why I didn’t say that. Maybe it’s because I have this noble thought that aiming to win shouldn’t be a goal, but should be an artifact of you doing what you want to do.

Erica didn’t shy away from telling us that her goal was to win, and we didn’t disagree. I knew that winning would feel good, and I didn’t see why I shouldn’t set it as my main goal. Moving forward, I’ll be sure to be a lot more clear and more bullish about what my goals are out of an experience.

Lesson #3: Understand what people want.

Erica suggested that we look into the prizes offered by sponsors. A quick scan of the prizes attracted us towards Verizon, who were the only sponsor that offered prizes for the top 3 teams as opposed to the top team. We realized our probability of winning is significantly higher if we were to focus our efforts on their prize.

We went to the Verizon booth and chatted with them to build a personal relationship. We asked them about their APIs, how it’s used, and what kind of projects they’re looking to see. I was surprised to see the breadth of applications of their APIs to be honest. We ended up building a solution for car insurance agents that help them better understand where the liability in an accident is.

I have to give credit to Erica. She’s great at understanding what people want, and that’s a very valuable skill. She knew that these sponsors are looking for publicity, and that the winning hacks will need to be “cool” and show to the world that the sponsor’s APIs can be used to solve “cool” and interesting problems.

That’s exactly what we optimized on delivering, and nothing else.

Lesson #4: It’s going to suck.

There were at least 3 moments that night where I would’ve surely quit if I were working on my own. I remember it being 1am, everyone else on the team had left, and I was working by myself and no code had been written yet. I was super tired given that I took a red eye flight the night before, and I really craved just calling it quits and getting a good night’s sleep. It sucked. I pushed myself through, and I need to learn to push myself through things when I am uncomfortable. There’s no way around that.

We’re capable of creating work that matters only if we’re willing to be uncomfortable while we do it.

Seth Godin – What to do when it’s your turn

Lesson #5: The end feels amazing.

Getting what you want after pushing through the discomfort felt amazing, and I felt that I became a better person given what I’ve been through last weekend.

At this point of my life, I am hungry to hustle, hungry to push myself forward, hungry to try new things, and hungry to make a meaningful difference. I am even hungry for rejection. I am genuinely fine with that. What I am no longer ok with is to not try at all and to keep following the inner voice in my head that tells me not to do things.

Onward.

 

The Saxophone Guy

I remember the time when I first lived in San Francisco. It was in January 2012 that I first moved here to do an internship at ContextLogic (now known as Wish). I was living at the Park Hotel and, at the time, I was going through some emotional and spiritual turbulence.

The Park Hotel was in the middle of the financial district, and for a $1000/month it was a really good deal. Work was 10 minutes away and I was in the heart of the city. Despite the great price and location though, there was one thing about the place that I hated, and that was “the saxophone guy”.

The Saxophone guy is an Asian man who would stand a couple of corners away from the hotel, and for years since then I only heard him play one song: The God Father Song. I know nothing about the movie, but what I do know is that this song is depressing. It was especially depressing given the turbulence I had been going through at the time.

For years I kept hearing him in different parts of the city, and every time I encounter him I start thinking to myself “يا دين أمي”.

Last Thursday though, I had just come back from NYC and met up with Omar Fahmy for dinner. And, guess what? There was the saxophone guy. Omar knew the story and this time around he insisted that we go talk to him. I really disliked the guy’s music, and very reluctantly went with Omar to him to say hi – after five years of hearing him around the street.

And what was the result? It was so rewarding! The guy turned out to be from Shanghai and we had a good exchange in Mandarin. Omar told him that I’ve been hearing him around the city for years, and fortunately he didn’t tell him about the part where I disliked it.

Anyways, we ended up shooting a video of all of us together and with him playing a “special” song for us. This was the first time I ever saw him playing a song other than the Godfather.

My feelings toward him have completely changed. I now look for the saxophone guy on the street, and I do see him I’ll be sure to say hi. We’ve developed a connection!

As silly as this story may seem, this was a gentle reminder for me. Sometimes confronting the little things that annoy can feel so rewarding, and this was a clear example of that.

So much to write about!

I have way too many experiences to talk about. So much is happening! It’s time to get this blog back on the rails. I am now sitting at the cafeteria at work on a Sunday with the sole goal of documenting some of my experiences over the last few days and weeks. I won’t be writing about everything I want to write about in this session, but it’ll be a start.

Let’s do this.

Jazz Horror Stories, Running Back Home, and Lessons in Physics

Yesterday I met up with my friend Maysa after work. She’s here for a brief visit from the UK. Even though Maysa doesn’t live here, she seems to be quite well connected and is aware of events going on in the city that are somewhat unorthodox to me. The last time I saw her we went to a poetry gathering, and this time around we went for a jazz and radio show.

The show was really neat. It was at the “Bird & Becket” bookstore near Glen Park. A few musicians played jazz music, and between every jazz songs there was a radio show. I am very foreign to radio shows. Maybe the last one I listened to was on radio “هنا القاهرة”, an Egyptian radio channel, some 15 years ago, and it was by accident.

Watching a radio show live was very entertaining. In fact, in the show they shared two horror stories. It reminded of the “حكواتي”, the story-telling profession from the Middle East. It made me wish there was some kind of Arabic radio show meetup, particularly stories in traditional Arabic and along the lines of Arabian Nights.

Here’s a little snippet from the show:

The bookstore itself had an interesting collection of books. I rarely buy physical books, but I managed to snatch this little one that I pretty excited about:

Also, as of this week I am training for Tough Mudder (more on that later). According to their training schedule, I was supposed to run yesterday but I didn’t have the time. I did, however, decide to run back home from the bookstore to compensate for it. It was not an insignificant run. Here’s the track:

For someone who’s very new to running, this was challenging especially with all the elevation. But, it felt like a million bucks by the end of it!

Maybe I should just run to all my destinations moving forward. It’s cheaper than taking a Lyft or Uber anyways.

Day 10,087: A Great Day

Today was a great day. A lot of progress at work, I went to a great deep learning meet up (screenshot of the details below), caught up with Maurice, an old friend of mine, and I trained hard for Tough Mudder that’s coming up next month!

 

Today has been a clear example of how putting oneself in the right environment and setting clear goals is key to progress and productivity. One goal I have set is going to Tough Mudder next month. And being present at the book club and engaging with an author on deep learning was very fascinating. I’ll be doing more of this moving forward.

As part of my Tough Mudder training today, I went running for 4 miles. I don’t remember the last time I went running, and I was pleasantly surprised as to how easy it was. Whenever I thought I was tired and can’t keep going I just kept pushing. To the point where, in the last mile, I was running at near top speed feeling an ever exploding energy as I my legs were racing against the treadmill. I nearly felt like a leopard!

I am super tired right now, so I’ll save the analysis and more detailed thoughts to a later day.