Late last spring of 2014, I decided to leave my job and look for “what’s next.” Right out of college, I was very lucky to work with an amazing team at a machine learning startup, which eventually became “Hunch.” I learned a ton from my coworkers and built a wide range of tools & experiences (first with a number of science experiments and later a number of pivots). It was so much fun to constantly solve new challenges, work at a super fast pace, and strive to combine machine learning with user experience.

After Hunch was acquired by eBay around Thanksgiving 2011, we seeded a new New York office that specialized in onsite recommendations (aka merchandising) and—over time—grew to take on more product focused projects. I ended up with the keys to a nascent project to drastically change the homepage, which made user curation front-and-center and was an entire web application within eBay itself. My team launched the project and went through additional iterations that involved massive data migrations, design changes that pushed the internal status quo, building extremely high capacity & resilient services, working with many remote teams, and lots of grunt work. We assembled a great group of old & new people as well as great hires too.

Ebay did a lot to treat us well, but I was eager to get back in the saddle, on a small team working to change the world. I started sending out feelers, asking for intros, and getting an idea of what was going on in NYC. Turns out there’s a ton going on here and it was really overwhelming. I learned to start using my calendar and I was keeping track of meetings in a spreadsheet—I now see why VCs have professional assistants. I also distracted myself by starting filming a music video (still needs to be finished…), playing chess in Washington Square Park (where I finally won my first game), and discovering Dominion online (a time-sink that is better avoided). Eager to work on something, I started contracting for Ringly to build their launch website.

Ringly was started by my friend, Christina Mercando. I got to work with her at Hunch, where she ran product for the last year and change. She was a real powerhouse and also brought a really discerning eye to anything she worked on. While the engineers were building a “Taste Graph,” she was responsible for making sure our product had taste. She also was at eBay after the acquisition, but left a year before me to scratch an itch that turned into a company. The itch was this recurring problem of constantly missing important phone calls, texts, or other notifications from family and friends while she was out. Furthermore, she was unwilling to solve the problem by leaving her phone out all the time—folding to such a solution is rude and makes one a slave to her phone. She wanted to make a “smart ring” that would let her know when important notifications were coming through and let her enjoy the real world, stress-free the rest of the time.

into the woods ring

Turns out it is extremely hard to make a simple sounding idea like this work, but she had already raised seed funding, found a cofounder with Logan Munro (a classmate of mine back at MIT), assembled a talented small team (some who were previous Hunch folks), and was ready to start putting rings on pre-order online. In the time that had passed since she started, “wearables” had become a commonplace term in tech, but still not widely “worn.” More so, a wearable that was focused on social & notifications and fashion-first was completely missing. (Btw, the logo is a Venn diagram of fashion intersecting with technology.)

Building out the website, launching it, and seeing the first orders stream in was really exhilarating. Approaching the end of the summer, I was still only contracting and I was enamored with a number of companies from my startup search, but—right around the announcement of the Apple Watch—I decided to join Ringly to head up software. I knew the team was outstanding. I knew the company would have taste and vision. I knew hardware was difficult, but the amazing hardware folks already had made great progress beyond what others said would be possible in such a demanding form factor. I also knew that I could integrate a layer of software into the product that would be critical to the whole experience, and that we would be building a full stack startup that owned hardware, software, jewelry design, product, and brand.

Over half a year later, I’ve been wearing a Ringly everyday, and despite not being the target demographic—I love it! It’s amazing how I no longer get distracted by meaningless notifications, how quickly I catch critical texts from friends or my wife when on the go, and how I no longer miss meetings. Also, the discreetness of no screen to pull me out of the real world is wonderful. We also raised a series A fundraising with our awesome investors—led by Andreessen-Horowitz—and the team has been growing with truly astounding hires. We are only getting started. I can’t wait to bring the future of this product to the world. If you’re interested in joining our team, please check out our jobs page or email jobs -at- ringly -dot- com.

As my 10 year high school reunion has rolled past, along with the 10 year anniversary of Facebook, I realized it has been an entire decade since my freshman year at MIT. Between then and now, I finished a degree in Computer Science (course 6-3) and moved to NYC to join a web startup called Hunch, which was acquired by eBay, where I am now the dev manager of a team that powers the homepage and underlying services. I even got married and have a tiny dog in the city—not quite the wolf-like dog I dreamed of having as a kid, but she’s very lovable.

Moving on to the point, here are some tips for MIT freshmen to get the most out of their undergraduate experience. I assume the ideas can be applied to many other colleges too.

The Gym credit. I originally saw the 4 required gym classes as a burden. It wasn’t until my senior year when I took sailing (twice) and absolutely loved it that I finally realized how much the gym credit has to offer. Not only do you have access to a world-class gym at the school, but—apart from that hefty tuition—never again in your life will you have easy access to such a wide array of “free” activities. Step outside what you already know, take fencing, take ice hockey, play squash, if you wanted to learn how to swing a golf club, do golf, try to get the pirate diploma, or find something else that you think you’ll never do otherwise (I didn’t take any of those gym classes, but wish I had). Furthermore, exercise is great, I highly recommend it. If you were playing a sport and suddenly quit, you’ll notice a short-term dip in your happiness and grades.

Taking tests. If you’ve learned all the examples from lecture and recitation in preparation for an upcoming test, but haven’t mastered the core concepts, then you might be in a lot of trouble. In most of my engineering classes the questions on the tests would make a point to be different enough from what was shown in class to catch students who were just pattern matching on prior examples. I remember a circuits test that introduced a completely theoretical transistor with different properties from a MOSFET in order to test underlying principles and not just the features of the most common transistor. Also, don’t ruin yourself trying to get perfect grades, instead try to learn things that you think are interesting or useful—unless you decided to be pre-med, sorry pre-med students.

Classes get harder. Moving beyond first term freshman year, you’ll be taking classes that are less and less familiar as the overlap of what you already learned in high school and what you’re learning in college disappears. This is great, it’s an opportunity to really explore new ground and expand your mind, but it also means you’ll likely have to work harder. So, don’t be too proud of yourself after finishing your first term of pass-fail introductory classes. However, building on concepts from prior classes, you’ll eventually find yourself getting better at picking up new concepts and material.

Look around you. Not the tv series, instead I’m referring to your fellow students. You’ll rarely be surrounded by so many smart and motivated people in other parts of your life. Make friends, work on school projects with others, and build or create things outside school with others. You’ll learn a ton from your classmates, you might make something amazing while still at school, and regardless you’ll have future connections that will be invaluable after school.

Have fun. This one shouldn’t really need mentioning, but I’ll bring it up anyways. You’re at college, take the opportunity to have a ton of fun in both nerdy and non-nerdy ways—both are abundant at school, despite negative perceptions that outsiders might have about student life at a challenging school.

Remember how to communicate with normal people. With an engineering degree, you’ll find that you have honed a skill to discuss very complex problems in easily understandable terms to other engineers. You’ll also find that this can slowly dull your ability to communicate with normal people. The skill won’t disappear, but you just might wonder if your current writing abilities would hold up against your old AP English essays and you might feel self-conscious bringing up the topic while writing a blog post. So take the time to continue reading books, force yourself to write once in a while, and put a lot of effort into very clearly getting your ideas across. Such talents paired up with an engineering degree will take you very far.

That’s a few pointers, let me know if you have anymore. College is a great ride and it’s just the start to much bigger things.

An in-browser tool for decoding and pretty-printing the different parts of a URL. It even pretty-prints query string parameters that are JSON. read full post…

25 December 2013

Happy Holidaisy 2013

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidaisy from the family. read full post…
An interactive list of 2-letter Scrabble® words. Just click on any letter to see valid combinations. read full post…

Peter Coles

Peter Coles

is a software engineer who lives in NYC, works at Ringly, and blogs here.
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