Adam Savage’s advice on how to find a job you love, get noticed, and get a better job that you love

Adam Savage at Maker Faire 2013

“What is the practical reality facing young people entering the wider world, and making and wondering what they can do with making? The practical reality is that the jobs market is a tough one. Finding a job that feeds you creatively is even harder. The middle class is disappearing and the competition is fierce. I have no idea how good each of you are individually as makers. I don’t know what skills you have or are capable of learning, but I do have advice. I have advice about how you can improve yourself, be employable, find a job you love, get noticed, and get better jobs that you love, and it’s really this simple: Work hard and work smart”

I have always loved Maker Faire. Unfortunately I’ve never been able to attend anything larger than a Mini-Maker Faire. I’ve also been a fan of Mythbusters since day one. More than Mythbusters I’m a huge fan Adam Savage, the things he does on Tested and all of the education and outreach that he does for science and art. Every year since I first hear about the SF Maker Faire I’ve said “I’m going next year”. After watching this video (and re-watching his presentation from previous years), I am definitely going next year. And I highly encourage everyone to give me a hard time about it next year starting in March, so I have extra incentive to follow through. Below are the notes I took from his speach. You can read them, or just watch the first 15 minutes. Enjoy.

Work hard and work smart means many things.

  • Be present
    • Work on what’s in front of you
    • Most of work is boring. You earn the right to do the 10% that’s fun by doing the 90% that is soul crushing
  • Don’t waste your time or your employers time
    • Know the big picture
    • When you start to ask questions, like when you start any skill, you aren’t going to be very good at it. It is a skill you need to develop by continually asking for clarification.
    • When you save your employer money and time by asking the right questions they will notice.
  • Working hard and smart means collaborating
    • “Jamie and I transfer information through a process we call arguing.”
    • Working collaboratively means having humility
    • It means giving up your idea because a better one came up
  • Working hard and smart means communication
    • Ask: Better to be wrong and say something than to be right and keep it to yourself.
    • If you’re going to surf the web at work, hide, please.
    • Mistakes slow you down far more than slowing down does.
  • Working hard and smart means finishing the job that you started
    • Your goal shouldn’t just be to finish the thing in front of you, times 50; it means finishing all 50.
    • When I find a finisher I make sure to keep them around as long as I can.
  • Working hard and smart doesn’t require actually being smart.
    • Being smart isn’t nearly enough
    • If you lukewarm the performance of your job it doesn’t matter how smart you are, no one will notice.
    • Bust your ass
  • As an employee you might not feel like your supervisors know what you’re doing. If you are working hard and smart they will notice.
    • People who work hard like that are hard to find, inspire everyone around them to work harder, enjoy their work more and enjoy working well with others, save time and money and become invaluable.
  • Some may not notice. Some may not want you to know the big picture; some may tell you to shut up when you ask those questions. Don’t work for those people.

“I’m not saying that any of this is easy. In fact it’s absolutely the opposite, but I’m saying that working hard and smart means that your work will be more satisfying, you will advance fast and you will enjoy the work that you are doing and you will do better work.”

This started out as me taking notes on his speech, I thought I was paraphrasing a lot, but looking back a lot of those sentences are direct quotes. I’m not sure which is which. So the parts I took particular care to quote are in italics. My full notes are here but it would be faster to watch the first 15ish minutes of the video than read my notes. Sometime between minutes 15 & 17 he starts answering questions, most of them are good. One of them I felt strongly enough about that I quote it here with a portion of the thoughts that went through my head when I first heard it.

Q: “Would you consider yourself an artist or a scientist?”

A: “What a great question! I don’t think there’s any difference.”

At first I balked at this a little, but then I realized that aside from how widely “The Scientific Method” is used, I completely agree. My first thought after overcoming my knee jerk reaction, was that the world would be a better place if more artists understood the scientific method. Then I realized the world would be a better place if all people understood the scientific method. The same is true of teaching everyone the same creativity that is nurtured in artists.

* Image at top of page courtesy of Kyle Nishioka via flickr

We need to think differently about Sandy Hook

As an Engineer and Scientist I greatly respect the work of Albert Einstein. I particularly enjoy his ability to see and think from a perspective that is rational but that many people overlook. One of my favorite quotes of his (and there are many) is:

“We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.”Einstein Quote Gun Black and White


There have been many tragedies over the years, and they seem to be escalating. Sandy hook is a recent and horrific example. My heart and my prayers go out to the families effected by this tragedy. In reality I think that applies to almost everyone.

It seems as though the vast majority of people instinctively insist that the solution is either more or less guns. Guns are neither the problem nor the solution. We need to think differently about the problem.

My suggestion would be to focus not on firepower but education.

No, not education about firearms. If that was your first thought when I said education then you need to completely rethink the situation.

I mean reach out in your community, both to your own children, nieces and nephews, and to those who may not have someone to look up to, and read to them. Talk to them. Be there for them. It takes a village, and a child cannot have too many good mentors. When I was young it felt like adults were constantly asking me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I rarely hear adults ask children that question anymore. Maybe it’s just me, but those are the type of questions we should be asking kids so often that they roll their eyes at us.

“If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales” – Albert Einstein

Same Passion, Different Generations

My father in law came over last night w/ an Ardruino Uno and asked if I had ever heard of

Arduino uno

Ardruino, and if I would like to help him out with a project. I had to use a lot of self control to keep from jumping over the couch and hugging him right then and there. Before I had a chance to explain that I love Ardruino, and that at times the only reason I hadn’t quit my job and taken up hacking/inventing using Ardruino platforms is because I know my beautiful wife would be very sad (I actually don’t think she would leave me, she loves the mad scientist in me; but she also loves me not spending money we don’t because I quit my job on more stuff that takes up 99% of the garage). Before I could tell him about laundry list of arduino projects just waiting for an excuse good enough to justify doing. Before I could tell him about the Raspberry Pi, or the Beagle Board. Before I could gush about all of my excitement, he said “ya know, ardruino is going to change everything”. My response; “it already has”.

world maker faire poster

This might seem like a random rant but it sums up a social/generational situation that I have run into at least explicitly at least a dozen times this month, and indirectly almost every day. The “Maker movement” and baby boomers. Boomers honestly are the best people to have involved in a Makerspace, hackerspace, project, startup, whatever; because they have so much experience, and “making” is what most of them grew up doing. Only when they were younger it didn’t have a title per se, it was just tinkering or getting the job done. You don’t see enough boomers in the make/hack/startup community because of a variety of reasons; but the problem I face constantly is trying to communicate how big of a deal things, like 100kGarages and Make, are despite the fact that they feel so familiar and common place to a generation that has spent their evenings in garages making stuff.

festival for little makers

IMO the Maker Movement is about moving (some) production from factories in China back to your back yard/garage. It is a work ethic as old as time, an inventive nature innate in so many people, and technology younger than the Millennial  coupled with skills and trades older than the Boomers even.

Making stuff is timeless, but faces change with time.

Working in the face of disaster (Remembering September 11th and Katrina)

So my first major paper that is due for my MBA program at UNO (University of New Orleans) is on Telecommuting. And something that has popped up more than once is how telework (AKA telecommuting) allows businesses to function during crisis, and natural disaster situations. This is particularly of interest to companies in New Orleans, where I live now. Many businesses had to close during Hurricane Isaac the week before Isaac. And even those businesses who are not retail dependent where forced to close during Katrina, in most cases for several months, if not indefinitely.

Something I found in my research is “The Status of Telework in the Federal Government”; an annual report on telework among government agencies. The first one was in 2002, and therefore reflects data from 2001. And the only thing it discusses in its background besides how it fulfills a bunch of different bills and laws of section this of bill such and such, is “Post-Disaster Response” and this is what that section says:

“In the aftermath of September 11, telework has become an option of necessity for many employees and employers. Displaced workers in the New York area and at the Pentagon were left without offices. Road closings and increased security precautions exacerbated already severe traffic congestion. As a result, many federal managers began to take a fresh look at telework arrangements.”

Businesses have the ability to be more agile than ever before. They have the responsibility to be. I’m not saying that businesses should turn on a dime. But in the face of adversity, rather than slowing down you need to be able to speed up. I was hardly adversely affected by Isaac, but because of the storm I couldn’t be busier. If you or your business is not agile then perhaps this recession is your ice age. And I believe that it will drive more companies to extinction before it’s over.

Free (legal) music | My favorite Mashups

So last week Max Tannone released a new set of tracks called “Mic Check 1234!”  Max is the artist that released Jaydiohead (possibly my favorite all time Black album remix). I got a lot of response from people about how much they like the album, Jaydiohead, and the rest of his stuff, which I enjoy but thought was sort of “old hat”. I mean Jaydiohead is 3 years old. So I thought I’d take a second to share some of my favorite mashups, all of which are legally provided for free download by the artists who created them.

I love The Grey Album, and most everything by The Legion of Doom, but that is a little more questionable when it comes to legality.

DJ Dangermouse: The Grey Album.  A mashup of Jay-Z's Black Album with The Beatles White Album

DJ Dangermouse: The Grey Album. A mashup of Jay-Z’s Black Album with The Beatles White Album


E-603: Live in NYC. His newest album

E-603: Live in NYC. His newest album

E-603: Smoke Show

E-603: Smoke Show

E-603:Torn Up

E-603:Torn Up

He also has an album “Something For Everyone” that I really like, but I can’t find a direct download for it.

There are days where E-603 is all I want to listen to. He is less vulgar than GirlTalk, just as creative, but not quite as intricate.

Girl Talk: 

Girltalk: All Day

Girltalk: All Day

Girltalk: Feed The Animals

Girltalk: Feed The Animals

Girltalk: Night Ripper. This album was my first real introduction into the world of mashups

Girltalk: Night Ripper. This album was my first real introduction into the world of mashups

Girltalk: Believe in Magic Instrumental

Girltalk: Believe in Magic Instrumental

A couple of things I should probably mention about GirlTalk:

1) The first two are free albums, the others are “pay what you want” which means you can download them for free or pay for them. I recommend downloading either Feed the Animals or Night Ripper for free first, wrap your head around the complexity and awesomeness of what is going on and then consider paying for the other albums.

2) The content of these albums can be vulgar, but I guess what do you expect when 80+% are mixed samples from popular rap music.

3) I saw GirlTalk live at Bonaroo a few years ago. It was EPIC!

Max Tannone: 

Max Tannone: Jaydiohead. A mashup of Jay-Z's Black album with Radiohead

Max Tannone: Jaydiohead. A mashup of Jay-Z’s Black album with Radiohead

Max Tannone: Double Check Your Head. The beastie boys mashed up with... the beastie boys!

Max Tannone: Double Check Your Head. The beastie boys mashed up with… the beastie boys!

Max Tannone: Mic Check, a rap punk mashup

Max Tannone: Mic Check, a rap punk mashup

Max Tannone: Ghostfunk, pairs hip-hop artists, Wu-Tang member Ghostface Killah, with vintage African funk, high-life, and psychedelic rock music.

Max Tannone: Ghostfunk, pairs hip-hop artists, Wu-Tang member Ghostface Killah, with vintage African funk, high-life, and psychedelic rock music.

Max Tannone: Mos Dub

Max Tannone: Mos Dub

Max Tannone: Dub Kweli

Max Tannone: Dub Kweli

Enjoy, and please share any other mashup artists you like. Or any other artists that offer up their music for free download.

I don’t love math… It’s just a theory.

Prize awarded for largest mathematical proof – physics-math – 09 September 2011 – New Scientist

I love numbers and science, their simplicity and absoluteness. In an equation, if it is solvable, then there is a rational explanation for the solution. In many cases there is only one correct answer. All of my favorite science and engineering puzzles are this way. With one elegant indisputable solution. Unfortunately life is not always, or even usually, this way. Possibly why I love hard science (not soft science like psychology or part of biology) so much. It is ordered and logical, once you finally figure it out.

Up until today I thought I like math. I was actually under the impression that I enjoyed math itself. Until I read the above article and realized that the thought of numbers and equations that take up hundreds of thousands of pages, decades, and dozens of Ph.Ds to solve. It gave me a headache just thinking about math that complex. I’m not saying that I couldn’t read Aschbacher’s 1200 page paper and understand most of it. Granted it may take me as long to fully understand it as it took him to write it. But the thought of having a job like his filled me with dread. Which to me was odd, because if I truly LOVED numbers and math as I thought I did, I should relish the thought of diving into a pool of unsolved mathematical mystery and emerging with buried treasure. But I don’t. At least not on that scale.

What I realized is that I love numbers when their solutions result in actionable knowledge. If I use regression or integration to determine when a condition is at it’s best/worst or simply IS, and that knowledge means that this doohickey should be like ‘this’, or made out of ‘that’, or is ‘something’. I’m not saying that their solution doesn’t MEAN something. It means A LOT, and generations from now, their theorem will effect the way things work that the average person doesn’t even know exist despite depending on them. But when that equation was solved they didn’t then run out and MAKE something. It simply was a completed equation.

I LOVE puzzles, but what I really love are solutions and MAKING things. Not simply making them, but making them better than before. I love research, and part of all science is hypothesis and theory. But I could not live in a world of theory, where solutions aren’t actionable outside the world of more theory.