This article was published on 6 Oct 2021.
Thank you so much for considering working with me. Let’s learn from each other! Here are some things I’d like you to know about me:
I am not British
I always say exactly what I mean, which in theory should make it easy to work with me. Unfortunately, this also means that I don’t sound as polite as British people do. For example, where a British person would say “Perhaps, if you do have the time, you could possibly do this, please?”, I say “You do it!” and expect you to tell me if you don’t have the time. I also don’t say “thank you” as often as I probably should. In my mind it is obvious that if we are working together towards a common goal, then we are grateful for each other’s contributions, and so no extra acknowledgement of that is required.
I understand that everyone is different and I’m happy to adapt my communication style. I want to become a person that you would be delighted to work with, so please do tell me if I sound (in person or in writing) rude, dismissive or otherwise unpleasant. Please help me grow, and I will do the same for you.
I don’t like positive feedback
To me “Well done!” sounds like “I didn’t have time to look at your work”. I love criticism because it allows me to improve. I love when people point out my mistakes. Please don’t ever try to avoid offending me, I am eager for feedback, both professional and personal.
As a consequence, you might find my feedback overly critical or even conclude that I generally have a negative attitude towards everything. Please do let me know, and I will make a conscious effort to emphasize positive feedback that I often skip because I myself find it pointless. This is just how my brain works - it is obsessed with information density. “Well done!” could mean either that you had no time to look at my work or that you have no suggestions for how to improve it; either way I can’t learn anything from it.
My background is in computer science
My academic background is in mathematics and computer science. Since typing mathematical equations in what you see is what you get formats (Google Docs, Word and similar) is a pain, I fell in love with what you see is what you type formats. I share documents as pdfs (generated from LaTeX or html) and my notes as plain text or through WorkFlowy. This is not to make your life more difficult, this is because using what you see is what you get formats is a real pain for me. To collaborate, I can copy-paste content into a Google Doc, if I absolutely have to.
I don’t use WhatsApp and I don’t have a Zoom account, because cyber security is important for me. If you want to learn more about computer related stuff or about my productivity hacks, I am happy to chat about it. Please let me know which formats and communication methods work best for you, and I’ll try to adapt as much as possible.
Why I don’t use WhatsApp
First, it’s my personal choice. To install WhatsApp I would have to accept their terms and conditions, but for me they are not acceptable. The actual situation might be even worse than what is outlined in terms and conditions, because WhatsApp is not a security focussed organisation. Signal invested a lot of resources into developing a security protocol, and then shared it with WhatsApp for free to contribute to building a safer world. Now using WhatsApp is more secure than it was before, but I choose to use communication methods developed by people who actually care.
Second, I don’t like the new type of descrimination against people who don’t have WhatsApp. I’ve travelled through many countries, and I’ve seen all sorts of organisations that refuse to communicate in any other way apart from WhatsApp. People can use any available phone to make a phone call, and email can be checked on any internet connected device; WhatsApp is much less inclusive. Most of my work is in low income countries, so I’m accutely aware of how important it is to use communication methods that are avaialble to as many people as possible. I don’t think we should accept WhatsApp, a for-profit company, as the only way we can communicate in our professional and personal lives.
Third, I want to live in a world where people are free to choose what works best for them. If we let one for-profit company become a monopoly on all of our communications, that will detract from our freedoms. You might have noticed that my email address I’ve shared with you is different from the Gmail address from which you are receiving emails from me. That is because right now I use Gmail for my emails, because it works for me, but any day I might choose to switch to another email provider. That is why I shared with you an email that I actually own, so you will be able to reach me no matter what email provider I’m using at the time. Similarly, right now I use Signal, because it works for me, but I don’t have to do it and I am free to switch to a different instant messaging provider. I think we should protect our freedoms.
I know you might be thinking “Can you please just install WhatsApp for this one project we are working on together and you don’t have to use it for anything else?” No, because I don’t want to compromise the security of my phone.
Please let me know if it’s urgent
I always try to reply to messages (emails, Signal, LinkedIn and Slack) as soon as possible, but sometimes there is a delay because I am travelling or working towards a tight deadline. I am swapping sim cards often, depending on which country I am working from, hence reaching me by phone is usually not the best option. If your message is urgent, please let me know by sending an email with a subject starting with the word URGENT. I reply to these types of messages immediately (or as soon as I reach an internet connection).
This applies not only to mission critical stuff. For example, if you are booking accomodation in a city I’ve been to before and would like a recommendation about the best neighbourhood to stay in, I’d love to share my tips while they are still useful. So please don’t hesitate to prepend an email subject or a Signal message with the word URGENT if a prompt reply will make a difference to you. I’ll do the same, if you don’t mind.
Way too often I reply to an email that starts with the words “sorry for the late reply” and then i start my reply with exactly the same words. Let’s just drop that and save ourselves some keystrokes. I typically take a 48 hour break over Saturday and Sunday to keep my sanity, during that time I have no meetings and I don’t reply to most messages. If we are working towards a specific deadline though, I can work non-stop for as many days as necessary.