Tickle your tinker

Published on Dec 04, 2019

Small decisions that seem insignificant in the moment shape our lives

I’ve been looking back on my life examining what decisions I made that led to success. As I’ve studied my own history, I’ve noticed a pattern—all of my successes can be traced back to a small decision to tinker.

I’m not a computer scientist by training. I actually studied math and biochemistry in college. My entire career as a computer scientist can be traced back to a night in college where I decided to crack open a beer and teach myself how to write one python function.

I’m happily married to an amazing girl, but when we first met we weren’t planning on becoming a couple and eventually spending the rest of our lives together. In fact, we were friends and then roommates for several years before we started dating.

What I find even more amazing is that I remember the exact sequence of events that led to me meeting my wife in our first month of college. I’ve always been an introverted, shy person. My largest class my first semester of college was biology—I think there were ~300 people in the lecture hall per day. For the first few weeks I intentionally found seats where there was nobody next to me. The professor would often ask “clicker” questions during class and allowed students to talk amongst themselves before submitting an answer. I always did these alone.

But one day I decided to work up the courage to sit next to someone and socialize. The person I chose to sit by was Matt Bitters, who also ended up becoming a good friend of mine. Later that day Matt invited me to go rock climbing and introduced me to my wife.

What is tinkering?

My definition of “tinkering” is blindly exploring streams of thought in small ways.

When I started learning python, I didn’t have plans to become a software engineer and write python every day. I just thought it would be cool to understand what “code” was a little bit better.

When I made the decision to sit next to Matt in biology, I wasn’t chasing a goal of becoming an extrovert whom everyone loves and knows. I just wanted to make one small step and talk with someone.

When I created my GOT AI, I didn’t set out to arc my career towards machine learning or to create something that went viral around the world. I had the idea one night at dinner to train a model to write GOT text after debating theories for the show/book with my wife. $200 of AWS bills and a few days later, I had a trained model.

That’s how tinkering shapes your life.

How does one tinker?

In order to tinker, there are three essential elements:

  1. Your tinkering projects have to be small in scale
  2. You have to not care about the outcome
  3. You need to be willing to invest both your time and money

I’ve also noticed that most of my impactful tinkering has been spontaneous. I don’t think this needs to be a rule, but I do think it’s important to give yourself the freedom to be spontaneous.

What am I tinkering with right now?

This blog started off 6 months ago as a tinkering project to learn how to make a static website with jekyll. That snowballed into redoing my personal site with jekyll, and then adding a blog to my site. Now I’m tinkering with blogging every day.

I’ve been tinkering a lot with crypto lately. I setup a Helium router. I’ve started using Brave as my browser. And my good friend Jason and I have pooled together our crypto assets and are exploring small-cap coins.

A few friends and me are trying to “beat vegas”.

Who knows where these projects will take me. Maybe I’ll get sick of writing the blog next week. Maybe all crypto will nosedive to $0. Maybe it’s not possible to beat vegas betting odds. I don’t really care. When you tinker, it’s not about achieving goals.

So the next time you have a wild idea, give yourself permission to follow it without caring about the outcome. Spend $100 to invest in yourself. Be curious. Tickle your tinker.

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