2014, and 30

I remember one particular lie I told in 7th grade. I was in art class and I told some people that I had a wakeboarding photo shoot that weekend. The truth is that it was my mom driving beside me on a jetski taking pictures with her camera. I’d eventually go on to ruin one of her cameras this way, accidentally getting too close and spraying it with water. In my wildest dreams as a 7th grader, I was a professional wakeboarder, traveling around, living that life.

I turned 30 in 2014. Sometimes I find the easiest way to gauge how I’ve changed over the years is to think back on things I’ve said or done that I’m the most embarrassed about. Opinions I’ve held, things I’ve said out loud, old email threads I go back and read – some of these things make me cringe. I’ve long since given up any ambition of being a professional wakeboarder. But this year I did buy a self-flying drone with a GoPro mount on a stabilizing gimbal. The purpose? To fly along side me and film me when I wakeboard. In some ways I can’t recognize myself anymore, but in the best version of the reflection turning 30 has caused me I’m just a better iteration of my 7th grade self.

Last year for Christmas my mom had all of our old family videos put on DVDs for us and I’ve been working my way through them. It has been amazing to be able to watch my family grow up, see my dad again, hear his voice. The more I watch the more the more I realize how much of the success I’ve experienced to this point has been a product of my environment. There’s this one scene a day before I turn 2 where my dad comes into my room while I’m sleeping just to film me so he has a record of how peaceful I am. My parents fawned over their kids and each other, and expressed their love with clarity. These things propagate and multiply.

So I grew up with a huge support system which allowed me to do well enough in school to get into harder classes with people who were smarter than me. In high school my grades were fine but not amazing. I started learning to play the guitar because there were a couple of joke songs I wanted to play, so I ended up becoming really good friends with a few guys who were great guitar players and happened to end up to be valedictorians in their respective classes before going on to the Ivy League. When you hang around people who are smarter than you, the bar gets raised. I ended up doing just well enough in high school to get into Michigan by the skin of my teeth where once again everyone was smarter than me and the bar was raised again.

I studied computer science not because I had any foresight that it would be a good career move but because I’d been into computers for as long as I could remember. My elementary school was one of the few at the time that had a strong science and math focus and gave us lots of time to play around with computers. My dad bought our family our first computer early on and encouraged my tinkering with it. It just so happened that these things led me to choose a career path that would be hugely in demand when it came time to graduate. Probably 90-95% of my graduating class had jobs lined up and waiting on them before they even began their last semester of college. I spent the better part of my 20’s working for the same company with people who are smarter than me.

This theme has been woven through my entire life. I can’t look at any bit of success I’ve had without seeing how a lifetime of luck and privilege and people pulling me upwards played a significant role of leading me there. Sometimes I feel bad that I got chances that others didn’t, but I would feel worse if I didn’t acknowledge this. And don’t get me wrong – I work really hard. Most nights I come home from work and peck away incantations into my keyboard hoping something interesting or useful will come out, writing software, prototyping ideas, trying to learn. But that doesn’t make me special – lots of people work really hard. Not everyone has had a life filled with people pulling them up, falling forward.

If I could brag about one thing, it would be that I don’t have much ego. I don’t care or want to be the best in the room, but I love being in a room with them. I always want to be improving. The best way I’ve found to do that is to be around people who are better than me. The best way to do that is to be born into a family that gives you immense privilege and opportunities, and to let those privileges multiply themselves as they are to do.

So what about 2014? As far as hobbies go, I started drinking coffee. That escalated quickly. My charcuterie project lost a ton of steam which was disappointing. I mostly just got backlogged with posts to write after I made things. I’m hoping to get that back on track soon.

My wife and I took a few trip, including celebrating our one year marriage anniversary in Huatulco, Mexico, and we also did a 10 day California trip since she’d never been. The original plan was to drive from San Diego to Portland, but we opted to stop in San Fran instead so that we could spend more time at different stops along the way. The highlights were probably our time in San Diego and the camping/hiking we did in Yosemite. We were hoping to get permits for Half Dome via their lottery system, but unfortunately they took the cables on Half Dome down the day before we arrived. I think another longer trip to Yosemite may be in order. Sequoia National Park was also worth the stop but we only had a day there. The drive from Monterey to San Fran was spectacular. San Fran was San Fran – an embarrassment of riches where I love to visit but probably wouldn’t want to stay.

As for side-projects, I usually have 3-4 things going at once. This is not a recipe for success. Most of my spare cycles this last year have been devoted to understanding cryptography as it relates to privacy and economics. I avoided taking cryptography in college because it didn’t sound that interesting, but the global political and economic climate has changed so much since then that these things are becoming increasingly relevant for a computer scientist to care about. A lot of my interest in this space has been related to cryptocurrencies/platforms (like Bitcoin, though Bitcoin is broken), but more generally in decentralized architectures. I’m working on a few things in this space, but don’t have anything formal enough to announce here yet.

I’m not going to go into much more detail here, but here are a few other highlights: I became an uncle, twice. My sister and her husband adopted my niece Ava, and my step-sister and her husband had their first, Caleb. This has been really meaningful to me and I sometimes regret not living closer. I released some code at work that I’ve been working on for a year and a half and am proud of. My dog Wilson turned 3, and he is awesome.

For 2015, I’m going to do some more stumbling, hopefully upward.

4 Responses to “2014, and 30”

  1. Pam says:

    I always love to read your work. I am very proud of you Kevin Ross!

  2. Lindsey says:

    Love you brother dude!

  3. Nate says:

    Glad we got to see you guys this year. Keep the posts coming!

  4. […] wrote a bit about my origin story last year and still stand by it. I’m realizing a bit more though as I battle through my own […]

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