#164 Swim in a Cenote, Mexico

This was number 164 on my bucketlist.

I love swimming in various weird places, so swimming in a Cenote was a dream of mine ever since I swam in “Blue Hole” in Jamaica.

In Mexico, Yucatan peninsula is made of porous limestone. That means, that water just sinks through rock and all the water bodies (lakes, rivers) are underwater. It also means that sinkholes are very common there. Cenotes are just that – sinkoles filled with water.

Check out Anna’s ultimate guide to Yukatan cenotes.

And so – in the autumn of 2016 I found myself in Mexico. So I swam!

My favourite Cenotes:

  1. Cenote Samula
  2. Cenote Xkeken
  3. Cenote Ik Kil
  4. Cenote Dos Ojos
  5. Grande Cenote

 

 

Swimming in Mexican #Cenote was my #Bucketlist item 164. Achievement unlocked!

A post shared by Artur Piszek (@_artpi) on

Secret patterns of flavour

In March 2016, while helping to organize TEDxWarsaw, I had a great pleasure of working with James Briscione on his amazing talk “Secret Patterns of flavour”. This fulfilled my Bucketlist item #4.

James is a head of Institute of Culinary Education in New York and together with IBM created “Cognitive Cooking with Chef Watson” book and app. He explores the science of flavour and how different chemicals come together to create a symphony of taste we all enjoy and crave. Since I call myself a Cognitive Engineer and am a foodie, Cognitive Cooking seemed like something extremely interesting and I jumped at first opportunity to help.

Finally, we have a recording to show James’s amazing work:

 

For me personally, it was an amazing journey and a great privilege. James lives on the bleeding edge of cuisine innovation and it was inspiring to meet him and see the final talk and learn a lot!

Some interesting links

 

#182 Cycle the Loire Valley

[ #182 in Bucketlist ] While choosing my bike, I wanted something good for a trip. I was asking myself

Is this something I could cycle through loire valley on?

This was few years ago and I had no concrete plan to really go and cycle in France. Only a certainty that I would get around to doing that.

And so it happened:

The amazing company I work for, Automattic in its infinite benevolence was sending me to a conference (React Europe) in Paris. Without much thought, I started looking into putting a bike on a plane.

How do you put bike on a plane?

This actually turned out to be much easier then I expected. I decided to fly with Wizzair and with them, you can fly your bike for 130 PLN ( ~32 USD ). The conditions are:

  • Bike has to be in a special bike bag
  • You have to let air out of tires
  • Handlebars and pedals have to be folded

Of course I used this occasion to put a bunch of my stuff with the bike. As long as you are under 32 KG, you should be fine. (I was close on the way back because of all Foie Gras I was bringing back).

People were looking at me pretty funny while I was putting my bike back together at the airport.

Places I visited

 

Chambord

DCIM100GOPROG0078244.

Chateau de Chambord started as a humble hunting lodge, but as projects often do, spiraled out of control and ended up as a huge Renaissance castle with 440 fireplaces and 84 staircases. Pretty tricked-out for a hunting lodge.

Cheverny

DCIM100GOPROG0158280.

Chateau de Cheverny is considered the “best proportioned” castle of the whole Loire valley (whatever that means). It was inspiration for the castle in the adventures of TinTin, but honestly it does not meet my standards for a castle, which require a military function.

Chaumont sur Loire

DCIM100GOPROG0148426.

Well, THAT is a proper castle! Pointy towers, positioned on the cliff overlooking the Loire and hard to attack! Whats interesting is that now it serves as an art gallery and pretty interesting one. I found it very charming!

Amboise & Clos-Luce

Clos-Luce is the last residence of Leonardo da Vinci. It was gifted to him by king Francis I, who had a special relationship with the Maestro. Leonardo was buried in the courtyard of castle and his remains were later transferred to the crypt.

His grave is unusually humble and not-crowded, contrary to Mona Lisa in Louvre, which is hard to see between legions of tourists and their tablets.

In the last 3 years of Leonardo’s life, Francis paid him a steady salary just for the opportunity of listening to his conversations and having a chats with da Vinci. I would gladly pay everything I have for the same privilege.

Chanonceaux

IMG_4894

Now, THAT’s a castle! Properly situated across the river, it looks straight out of Tarrantino movie and has a history to match! (Hear me Quentin? You can have this idea pretty cheap):

  • It’s called “The castle of 7 ladies”, because 7 prominent dames where in charge of its construction during the years
  • It was THE place for the parties and balls. The galleries that stretch across the river were huge ballrooms
  • During I World War it served as a military hospital funded by a chocolate magnate (Such a Willy-Wonkanesque story!)
  • During II World War the river was a a demarcation zone and castle served as a Nazi art gallery. The gallery currator was helping the Jews escape from Nazi-occupied side to france.

I highly recommend strolling on the other side, where you can get for free by using the bridge nearby.

Chinon

Fortress of Chinon is another proper castle. Important for me because of my obsession with Knights Templar, was the place where the last Templar grand master, Jacob the Mollay was imprisoned with his advisors. You can see a graffiti they made in the stones of the tower.

Paris

You may have heard of this one. It’s ridiculously beautiful and crowded.

Biking tips

  • Alongside the whole bank of Loire river, there is a bike route, “Loire a Velo”.
  • The free app is pretty helpful
  • Cycling-Loire is a great website devoted to the topic
  • Generally, it’s pretty easy to bike everywhere
  • You can bring your bike on any TER train. I recommend checking your train plans with voyages-sncf website
  • Remember that a lot of businesses are closing 12-14 for lunch and some restaurants are open only then. French people know how to live.
  • There are some wicked awesome campgrounds that have treehouses and other pimped-out accomodation. The French are big on camping
  • Don’t forget to sample French food. It’s known for a reason.
  • In Decathlon you can buy a tent for 20 euro. Just sayin’.

 

 

 

#181 Giants causeway

This fulfills my Bucketlist item 181

A long time ago, I stumbled upon photos of this incredible phenomenon in the vastness of interwebz. In Northern Ireland, there’s collection of these weird hexagonal bazalt pillars. As you can imagine, there are competing explanations for this incredible natural phenomenon.

One includes a Giant, Finn McCool (name almost as good as McLovin’) building a bridge to scotland, to fight another giant.

Another, completely bonkers explanation suggests that while basalt was cooling, cracks formed at the top and then penetrated lower and lower while the mass was cooling.

To me, one with the giant sounds more believable.

 

 

Getting there

Its pretty easy – and totally worth it to get there from Belfast. For 12 pounds you can get on route 252 from Belfast to Bushmills and then you can walk or take a city bus to “Giants Causeway – The nook” stop. That stop is right beside the causeway. You can consult schedule on Translink site.

Alternatively, there’s plenty of tours going there from almost any part of Ireland.

A nice walk

This is a stunning place with a  lot to offer. I highly recommend taking the Causeway Coast walking trail which is part if the “Ulster Way” . Its about 5 hour walk and its definitely worth the effort. On the way you can see:

  • Giants causeway on your own, without bus full of people getting in your photos
  • Majestic cliffs
  • Balintoy Harbor, where they filmed Game of thrones
  • Carrick-A-Rede bridge, phenomenal rope bridge to a fishing island
  • Sheep everywhere
  • Bushmills whiskey distillery

 

 

 

So you want to work at Automattic?

Today, it’s been precisely 6 months since I joined Automattic as JavaScript wrangler. All you’ve heard about how awesome this company is in fact an understatement!

It is out of this world!

IMG_0951

Working from out of this world.

One of the things you have to know about me is, that I fit right in with the whole `Tim Ferriss fanclub` type of crowd. It is not religious in any way, I just like the content he exposes me to and I enjoy tips, tricks and `weird shit from the world of esoteric he digs up`, as he himself puts it so eloquently. Some of my friends don’t share this enthusiasm, but it’s beside the point 🙂

Tim Ferriss in the 4-hour workweek introduced me to this idea of “Geo-arbitrage”. Basically, he says: for Americans it is extremely easy to travel, because the money they make in US can go a long way in other, cheaper spots on the map, so it would be a good idea to become a remote employee, travel the world, all while living a good life abroad.

Awesome! Work that allows you to travel AND save compared to your usual expenses? Where do I sign up?
Except, there’s one problem with that: I live in Poland. The only place that our salaries let you live on a decent level is Romania. And cheaper parts of Poland.

Nevertheless, I tried to make this happen. With one of my friends I started an e-marketing agency (Netivo) which I helped run while studying in Sweden. Turns out it’s pretty hard to travel, run a business and make enough money in Poland to live decently in Sweden (that plan is an example of reverse geoarbitrage and is generally a challenge stupid idea). But in that line of business I had to work A LOT with WordPress and became quite fascinated with it to be honest. I decided to become kind of an “WordPress” expert since.

Then the crash of 2008 made everything more difficult. I switched to JavaScript and found a career in safer, bigger companies as a JavaScript engineer.

I was quite happy, but in 2015 I started to crave greater things in life. I felt that world is moving forward, all these startups are sprouting all over and people get to change the world. In Silicon Valley, or even in Western Europe people could be proud of the stuff they build, all while working with the newest technologies or programming paradygms. In Poland, it felt like an “IT Callcenter”. We are good, reliable and cheap, but we were not on the bleeding edge of the innovation razor.

Then, I stumbled upon Automattic job offer.
They were hiring in JAVASCRIPT!
Not only in PHP, but also in JavaScript – the technology I became pretty decent in. On top of that, it turned out, that working in Automattic would let me:

  • Work with React, Redux, NPM, node and all the ‘fresh and hip’ JavaScript technologies;
  • Work with amazing engineers from all over the world and be a part of Silicon Valley;
  • Instead of reading articles about what ‘cool kids’ do, I could have an opportunity to join them!
  • I could travel quite a bit, or even live wherever I wanted! Automattic is a distributed company (or, as we put it: location-agnostic) which lets you see the world without taking a day of vacation (which you have unlimited amount);
  • Because of the whole remoteness, I could be in Poland whenever I wanted to, without skipping work. This is important to me, because I have very old grandparents and sometimes they really need help;
  • I was very excited with the product – I loved WordPress!
  • Tim Ferriss’s site is hosted with this company! (along with Time.com, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post and the Guardian, but I find Ferriss more influential 🙂 ),
  • It was never about money, but geo-arbitrage is finally working in my favor;
  • Overall, this really looked like my “Dream Job”. I became determined to get it and to do it right.

Getting there

Well, you probably got pretty annoyed by the long lead-in. But this is my blog, my rules and I can write here whatever I want :).
But here comes the meaty part:

Reading

I was determined to do it right, so I dug up everything I could on Automattic and their hiring process:

IMG_1446

All I’ve read about Automattic hiring process

Polishing the resume

At this point I knew they must be getting a lot of resumes, so I decided to make mine one-page and make every word count. I reviewed it over and over, asked friends to review it and obsessed about it a lot.
Since I did my reading right, I threw in some “nice touches” about my core competence constituting off-the-charts-sandwich making ability and one of my hobbies being barbecue. All true. Putting that in a resume felt good.

The wait.

G0073526-ANIMATION

After sending that resume I waited. And waited. And waited some more, all while questioning myself.

  • Did they get it?
  • Did they read it?
  • Did they reject me?
  • WHO PUTS SANDWICHES AS A COMPETENCE?! Why did I do that?!

Moar wait.

After 1,5 months I needed to do something constructive. So I booked a ticket to “WordCamp Europe” in Seville, where I was sure I’ll find an Automattician. That was the extent of my plan.
I actually met a bunch of them and they turned out to be very cool people. I even “pinged” them to get my resume reviewed and got back home.

Moar wait

Just after WordCamp Europe, a lot of Automatticians went to React Europe where they ran a coding competition for the attendees. They made a mistake of tweeting the URL, so I promptly joined in.
As you can see, I came in second, after “Moarhaus”, who (despite me trying really hard) had a huge advantage over me.
I have no idea who he is. I only have a vague notion as to where his soul may reside.

reurope.png

Actual Hiring Process

Artur, can you please get to the point? This story is becoming longer and more convoluted that “Pirates of the Caribbean IV” plot and we didn’t get to the hiring process description yet!
I hear ya, but to be honest, Pirates of the Caribbean IV plot is just /dev/random…

1. Chat

First, I was invited to a text-based Skype chat. It lasted about an hour and was quite fun. It was way less technical than I expected.

2. ‘Simple’ coding challenge

After the chat I got a coding challenge to solve. It was not in JavaScript.
The instructions were very open – ended, without any deadline and only with vague description of problems to solve. I assume my drive and ability to self-direct my work were also tested.

I later learned that it was designed to take 6-8 hours of my time.
I devoted about 35 to that project making sure it was perfect.
I may have taken it too far.

3. Chat + Challenge feedback

It took 40 minutes.
I am in for a trial! Wohoo!

4. Trial

What can be a best way to make sure you fit in a company? Ask you questions about JavaScript context execution, new ES6 syntax and what would `”potato” + {} ` evaluate to? Brain teasers about roundness of sewage covers?
Turns out, that the best way to see how an employee would perform is to well, employ them.
This is how trial works. I was working on my trial project, communicating with other coworkers just how I would If I was already working there.
You can do trial “after hours”, keeping your previous job. I decided to throw everything at it and take no chances. For me, it felt more risky to approach this opportunity tired, after hours of my usual work than to quit my safe spot at a huge company. I quit my previous position at Samsung and decided to do the trial full time.
I got paid 25$/hr, which was way more than I was actually making before.
The project was similarly open-ended as the previous one, just much, much bigger. I had to research proper technologies, communicate my progress and design my tasks.

The trial took me ~1,5 months.

5. Matt chat

The final stage of the process is a chat with CEO, Matt Mullenweg. It is a unusual opportunity, as he is a “celebrity” in IT world and frequents the Forbes and other such magazines.
The chat itself also isn’t a mere formality – mine lasted 4-5 hours and I felt that Matt wanted to know me at a personal level. He seems to take this hiring thing very seriously. It is great!
Because of his schedule, sometimes you have to wait quite a bit until he finds time. He caught me in a movie theater, but fortunately I had a good excuse to postpone the chat.
I was watching “The Martian”. It was pretty neat.

I started my job 2 days after that. It was my 30th birthday.
Most awesome gift ever!

Grand Meetup

IMG_0150

GM is a yearly event where all employes meet in person. Because our company is completely distributed, we don’t see each other face-to-face. During this one week a year, we get to shake hands, do some awesome activities, party, geek out, eat together, hug, have a meal, have a walk, eat together, try Polish vodka I brought from home and eat some more.

Naturally, being a relentless badger as I am, during my trial I tracked down other Polish Automatticians and pumped them for information when the Grand Meetup may be.
Knowing the date, I tried to expedite my hiring process so I can “make it” to this years GM. 9 days after my “Matt chat” I was on a plane to Salt Lake City to meet the rest of my new coworkers.

It was a whirlwind!

My team is bunch of the coolest, funniest, most awesome people around!

Automattic Benefits

IMG_1864

Working very hard for those benefits from a Whiskey distillery in Bushmills, Northern Ireland

  • You get to work with really awesome people,
  • The product you work on has 100 000 000 (yep, that’s MILIONZ!) users. The stuff you do matters,
  • You work from wherever you want. Seriously,
  • You want WHENever you feel like it. If you have flow, you can work 12 hours, and the next day – you don’t have to do much. It’s up to you (at the beginning, it was hard to me to understand it),
  • No distractions, meetings and corporate b***t to slow you down,
  • You can spend time with your kid when you need to, walk your dog, set you laundry,
  • You get unlimited vacation,
  • They fly you to awesome places to meet your cool coworkers,
  • Friends all over the globe,
  • A lot of other stuff, listed on benefits page 🙂

And that’s me, Cognitive Engineer, Artur Piszek. One of the cool kids.
Who would have thought.

And yes, we’re hiring.

PS: Working in Silicon Valley company was my Bucketlist #26

#180 See a space launch

This is my bucketlist item #180

I have always dreamt of seeing a space launch.

When I was just a small kid, my dad bought me a model of a Space Shuttle and we glued it together and later hanged it over my bed.

I was falling asleep staring at it and dreaming of endless possibilities and adventures aboard a Space Shuttle.

Sadly, the Space Shuttle program is cancelled. But my space dream still lives on, and during my visit to Florida, I was able to attend a launch.

Sadly, it was too late to buy bleacher tickets, but it turned out, that Playlinda Beach is the closest you can get to the launchpad.

And very early in the morning, I saw launch of Atlas V rocket.