So, some stuff happened

TL:DR I left my job, working at WhereBy.Us, stepped down as Code for Miami captain, still running CUTGroup Miami and I’m also 40

It was my fortieth birthday a week or two ago. It was bundled as a housewarming party, so some of my friends came over while I blew out a scented potpourri candle.

2016. What a year, right? It would be incredibly easy for my pessimist side to write the entire year off. The election. A dear friend of college passed away and I had trouble processing that grief. My appendix burst and I spent my 4th of July — and an additional 16 days — in a hospital. My hair is getting gray and I can no longer pass for a teenager, even as an Asian. (You’d think we were like pixies or something. Stifle your laughter, friends.) Yet, I am compelled to share some interesting things on my horizon that may be of interest of you, if you know me personally.

Christ just get to it already

I think most real-life friends of mine are sick of my “origin story” — I’m from California! I moved to Miami five years ago for love! Miami is weird and different and I have a complex love-hate relationship with it! One of those self-identities I took was that I had an software engineering job for Rackspace, a major cloud hosting company in San Antonio. Working remotely, I would always add, because the local salary wages in Miami are so low. I almost used this as a tagline, as if I had a HELLO MY NAME IS name tag and I wrote a novel in black sharpie: “My name is Ernie, I am a techie in Miami so I can’t work in Miami and we need to change this.”

“I will never, ever work at a start-up in Miami,” I said to anyone that would listen.

I am working at a start-up in Miami

Yes. I know. Look at me, bathing in this tub of irony. They’re like the bubbles from Calgon but they smell like sweat and realism.

So I’m going to be Director of Technology at WhereBy.Us. If you’re from Miami, you may have heard of The New Tropic, a local newsletter specifically geared towards creatives and engagers in a place known for being “a sunny place for shady people.” (They’ve expanded to Seattle as well, with a nifty website called The Evergrey.) It will be my first start-up in a while, so I’ll get to bring a lot of engineering and management processes I’ve learned over the years, especially that whole period of time where I ran a blog about Asian Americans for five years. I’ll be mentoring and/or managing a junior developer, and hopefully push the company a little farther along than if I weren’t there.

More importantly, I will be working with people I enjoy, notables such as Bruce Pincheck and Chris Sopher. It especially means I will be working with Rebekah Monson, one of my closest friends since I’ve moved here, my co-founder at Code for Miami, and general partner-in-crime when it comes to anything technology and empathy related in Miami.

It also means, of course, I parted ways with RackSpace. I enjoyed working with the the new friends I made in San Antonio (please keep in touch!) I also want to thank Brian Rountree, if were not for him I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to work at RackSpace, and thus the confidence to continue being based out of Miami.

You may be surprised to learn that while I’m leading with this, we’ve worked out a little bit of a deal: I’ll spend 80% of my time doing tech and engineering, but 20% of my time doing other things.

There are other things?

Also, there are other things. But first, a story.

Aww, look at Rebekah and I naive af about the rabbit hole we’d be diving down.

Most people know Rebekah Monson and I had run Code for Miami in a volunteer capacity, a direct result of an event called the National Day of Civic Hacking back in 2013. Rebekah called me asking if this was something I would want to lead on a regular basis, and I freaked the hell out in a bad way. “Well, we’ll freak out together!” she says, and somehow that convinces me to go through with this.

CFM has, for the first couple of years, met weekly at a local co-working space. We ordered Papa John’s Pizzas at half priced rates when the Miami Heat won, literally the only time I ever regularly check on anything sports related. For the first couple of years, we received regular stipends from Code for America, the organization CFM is loosely associated with.

We eventually get recognized as “the Miami civic tech people.” Rebekah gets profiled in the Miami New Times “People” issue looking and being incredible. I’m profiled in a “20 Under 40” list wielding a laptop and giving creeper face.

All goes pretty routine, and then some things happen:

  • Rebekah nonchalantly writes a grant for the Knight Cities Challenge to run a Civic User Testing Group, a sixteen month pilot program based off of a similar model in Chicago. Cristina and I, this year’s co-captains, are like, “sure why not we won’t get the grant anyway lol.”
  • We get the grant. I call Rebekah, right freaking the hell out in a bad way. Rebekah somehow convinces me to go through with this a second time.
  • Our group, as well as most “brigades” across the country, lose funding from Code for America.

Code for Miami had been organizing weekly hack nights for three years, and while there have been modest successes here and there, the whole “civic tech” movement in Miami isn’t — and probably will never be, for a whole truck ton of reasons I won’t get into right now — half as large as the community other cities. There’s been a lot of having to explain what civic tech is here in Miami, a lot of unanswered phone calls and e-mails to municipal employees, a lot of nods trying to convince folks that coding for “good” can be a thing, and especially a thing done in your spare time. Rebekah had stepped away from Code for Miami to start WhereBy.Us, and current co-captain Cristina Solana and I have exhausted ourselves doing this on a weekly places for two plus years.

As a result, both Cristina Solana and I will step down from being co-captains of Code for Miami at the end of 2016.

I’m not sure if other people will carry the torch, although we’re certainly doing my best to try to drum up interested folks. Like all organizations, there will be changes, probably in both how the weekly operates and its overall vision. I’ll keep participating if hack nights still happen. We’ll see.

Of course there’s a caveat

But on the other hand, some of you may know we’ve now committed ourselves to a sixteen month grant from the Knight Foundation for our work creating CUTGroup Miami. When Code for Miami got the grant, I turned to my partner, a former Knight Foundation grant recipient as well for his work starting O Cinema. “I don’t think we can pull this off. I don’t have to do this, right? We can just call them up and say this is a no go, right?”

He looks me dead in the eye: “you do not say no to the Knight Foundation.”

Okay, well, that’s how I interpret him sometimes. Nonetheless: crap.

So, I’ll still be Executive Director of CUTGroup Miami, which in a way is kinda sorta tied to Code for Miami, even though other folks will decide the future of the organization, I hope. Adding a layer of complexity is that Code for Miami had already started the process to be a non-profit organization, with the expectation for CUTGroup Miami to be a project of the non-profit as part of long-term sustainability, and somehow I have stepped down from being Co-Captain of Code for Miami to run what could be Code for Miami, Inc.

Remember the plot of Three Men and a Baby? Where Tom Selleck is all, hey, I’m Tom Selleck, Steve Guttenberg and that guy from Cheers and oops, here’s a baby at my doorstep, but we’ll take care of it because sending a kid to Child Services would make for a depressing movie script?

That’s me, basically. Even thought I’m one person. And I don’t have a baby.

You know what I mean.

Who am I kidding, this is probably my mid-life crisis

But in all seriousness, it’s a bunch of changes. For me personally, it was kind of one of those come to Jesus moments where you ask yourself what you want to be doing in life.

I’ve never really thought about what I would do later in life, even in my twenties or thirties. Go with the flow, I would say to myself, although a couple of those times I would say that when I was just trying to stay afloat, cope with whatever situation was placed in front of me and figure out how to deal with it. I think if I had stayed in California, I would have been perfectly content to do what thousands of other folks would do with similar skill sets: be an okay engineer, maybe become a manager in some engineering corporation if I’m lucky, generally don’t rock the boat. If I was super lucky, whatever tech company I would inevitably work for would have a contingent at the San Francisco Pride Parade, and we could throwing endless shade at the Facebook float with their tiny, hyper-intelligent 23 year olds named Mason or Tyler or Myler.

Somehow, the road less traveled made a sharp right at Albuquerque and I ended up here in South Florida instead. There are times when living here can be soul crushing, isolating, rage inducing.

But every once in a while, there are moments of clarity, and I understand I find passion in trying to “level up” places and the people around us through technology. I’ve also realized the hard way running communities here on personality alone isn’t sustainable. A big personal challenge of mine — along with getting acquainted with a lot of concepts outside of my comfort zone, of course — will be trying to figure out how to delegate things and let folks understand that this is a thing people should get into. It’s still something I struggle with.

At least I can kind of step back and observe all of this, wisdom from being older and wiser, I guess. And in that observation, some disembodied soul floating out of my body would hover a couple of meters above a chubby Asian guy running around a conference room picking up empty pizza boxes and convincing a code school grad he should devote two hours of his week building a python app that uses health inspection data.. This disembodied voice, which would surely be a deeper voice than the one I have, would say the following: You know what? Ernie did okay. Even for my Asian Dad Expectations, I’m mildly impressed.

And those moments make me happy.