The Truth about my Cliff

My dad (and probably a cousin or two) is going to hate me for telling this story, but here’s the truth about my history that led me to a serious brain disease and disability now:

Back in my 20’s, I worked 10-12 hours a day on my part-time MBA and full-time career for 3.5 years. Then, did a startup, Shopseen (which was backed by 500 Startups), where I was working a ton…14-16 hour days for a year. Life was going great! 28-29 years old; Co-Founder of a venture-backed company, newly minted millionaire, just completed my MBA, and first-time homeowner in SF. Really enjoying all of it including working my ass off! Something cropped up at the tail end of the startup though.

My dad got diagnosed with Interstitial Lung Disease (i.e. ILD) a month after his retirement (that slowly suffocates people to death within 2-5 years and has no cure) back in 2/2014. Then, I, honestly, stopped working on the startup because I felt overly depressed. My other founder, logically, booted me out because I wasn’t really working for a few months thereafter, runway was very short, and I hadn’t told him what was going on with me personally. On that last month, my dad’s oldest sister passed away from the same disease…I distinctly remember crying that night about her (she was really a really joyful and awesome aunt) and thinking I was an idiot for going the entrepreneurial route rather than spending more time with my parents.

From what I remember, that feeling continued for months including in the middle of interviews. It took ~2.5 months to find work. Through that process, I went back to reset: volunteered as a tutor to underprivileged kids, reconnected with friends to seek advice, ended up meeting my first girlfriend, and getting a good PM job at a good company on 6/2014. Life was pretty on track.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t end there. The company, Granicus, decided to move to Denver about 3-4 months into me being there. So, I had to make a decision to leave my dying dad (from what I thought at the time), my girlfriend, and my close friends in Silicon Valley for Denver to keep the job. Instead, I decided to move back closer to home and find work around there at Ooyala.

Work at Ooyala was promising early on just like at Granicus, but I really needed a break, have something stable, and to slow down. I didn’t get that due to the ability that I showed at work (was doing very well early on and getting a ton of opportunity). I didn’t understand it at the time, but I should have been seeing a therapist. While my health got worse, I also started getting weird allergic reactions to tofu which I hadn’t been allergic to previously for years (told my family at the time)…and then a whole host of other symptoms…that led to a serious brain disease. It’s a sad story.

In hindsight, a mix of un-forced life factors, stress, a predisposition, and lack of early treatment for Depression really messed up my promising life for a number of years and, probably, going forward. It caused a lot of grief and uncertainty to people that care and love me as well. On the other hand, my dad’s doing well and daily breathing exercises help him, my mom, and me a ton ever since I’ve been at home. Mindfulness really works! Also, so does medication, therapy, good diet, exercise, and talking to people through it. I’m out of my first episode and its well-managed as well as perfectly livable now.

…this is the real story. It’s the honest one with a clear mind after so many years. Time to move forward; with better living and no allergies.

The Mango Story

Won’t go into it too much, but food and farming runs in the family on my Mom’s side…especially Mangoes. I’ve kinda talked to death about my allergies, but this story has stuck with me.

Indian Mango

Born with just a ton of allergies, the mango was the weirdest. I was eating it every day in my first 2 years of life (who wouldn’t, but especially with my family). Every day, I was getting sick. On one day while I was ~2 years old, my dad got fed up and locked himself in a library for a weekend reading up about allergies. He read through everything he could find and was about to give up (mind you, this was pre-Internet) until he thought about looking up tree nuts.

Glancing through the book, he found out that the Mango…is a cousin of the Cashew. That revelation meant that they were feeding their kid something, everyday in his early life, that was causing him to get sick…and wasn’t getting healthier. Lots of it too because it was so delicious.

That story carried with me when they told me about it. My parents + sis have been protective my entire life. How do you care for a sick child for an illness you don’t understand, isn’t hereditary, and that medical science doesn’t understand (back in the 80’s)? You protect.

If you don’t know, I was in a bunch of hospitals or asthmatic and severe allergic reactions early on before the age of 5 that became rather formative and caused a lot of sadness. We always had to be careful. Bring a month’s worth of safe foods to India, if we go. Don’t eat anything or interact with anyone eating Indian food (e.g. family and cultural events). Eat safe food like McDonald’s and Taco Bell not as a luxury, but as a necessity. Etc.

Wanted to share, but to me, this current serious sickness is just another one that I traded for, IMO.

Thoughts on Mental Health Tech

I recently read this article on a potential California system to identify and push along services to the mentally ill in order to better support and service their journey to healthy. Frankly, I don’t think people realize how useful it can be (as long as the service is very much opt-in).

The most important priority in any person with a mental illness and/or serious mental illness is to get healthy. The disease they have affects behavior based on internal mechanisms of something that’s, right now, unnoticeable. Generally, what that leads to is a lack of understanding and help for the individual to go anywhere in life until they’ve shown and proven to be healthy and productive to any new person. So, the question arises: how do you know someone’s healthy with a mental health condition? What are the factors to look at? Are they a “danger” to themselves or anybody else?

Doctors, as always, can give an approval that someone is healthy enough to contribute back to society (though that’s a tough situation to be in to give approval about someone’s human rights to the pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness). Also, some peer and support network can give the a-ok that they’re ready to go (in the best case scenario). Though, no one really has a standardized plan for these efforts, as of yet, on any real scale. Also, unfortunately, medical science just can’t pick up on real-time internal mechanisms for behavior right now (at least I haven’t seen anything great and useful).

The technology that is available, like the Apple Watch and Fitbit, are trying to get there alongside other apps that track your CNS, but it’s really not accurate enough. Plus, they’re all new, unproven tech that is going through growth and needs to be researched and proven in clinical trials, IMO. Most monitors right now, like the fMRI scan and blood tests, are static.

I’ll disclose: Personally, as a person with a 10+ year tech career and a good understanding of how some of this stuff works…as well as with a serious mental illness myself (yes, very much stabilized now), I want to prove I’m capable of leading a very productive life to anyone new I meet. That’s where, I think, Mindstrong has a potentially fully realizable dream. It’s where the 20% of the population suffering from a mental illness can fully say, “yes, I’m either unhealthy or healthy enough to contribute to society on any level and to any person or group of people”. Incredibly important and a hugely untapped market.

I don’t give one crap about the privacy concerns, as long as I opt-in, because I’d gladly give that up, in my situation, in order to live a great and productive life again (the same or better one than I had before – which is saying a lot). That’s the state I and many others are in from what I’ve seen. Not a good situation to be in life. Further, a lot of this tech would help drastically improve scientific understanding of a very unknown set of illnesses. That’s worth it for any set of privacy concerns to get and gain stability.

Starlink and Us

After a day thinking about it, here are my expanded thoughts on Starlink and it’s initial 60-satellite launch 2 days ago.

I don’t think people understand how important this SpaceX Starlink constellation is yet. Namely, we’re living in the future now and even sooner than we think.

The 4B people (mostly developing countries) that aren’t on the worldwide internet are going to have cheap access in 2-3 years because of this (or nearly instantaneously when it turns on). That’s amazing – we’re talking about revenues of increased to $30B-$50B for SpaceX in just a single day/week/month too (to further space exploration and colonizing the Moon and Mars). We’re talking about a social media app like Facebook going from 2B users to 6B users, potentially, in a single day/week/month (obviously not accurate, but just explaining the potential situation). Other possibilities:

  1. We’ll be able to live anywhere, practically, with access to the Internet and all services.
  2. Developing countries will suddenly have access to all apps, info, and data that’s accessible to us in Silicon Valley in just one day, cheaply.
  3. We’ll be able to have all your devices, individually, connected to the Internet from practically anywhere.
  4. Companies will be able to improve logistics and fleet routes to decrease, significantly, travel time for shipped goods.
  5. Tons and tons of data collection across all devices (e.g. clean tech and electricity consumption and weather devices) at high throughput.

Lots of implications when you start really delving into what this constellation means, I think.

BizzyBot: Tinkering w/ Twilio SMS

So, I built a small Flask app while tinkering with Twilio API’s called BizzyBot. It’s a SMS bot that provides requests/responses for your personal business card information. It was fun, quick, and easy to set up using the Twilio Console, Python, ngrok, and Twilio docs. It’s amazing how far they’ve gone just building out their documentation and having other users built out their own getting started guides. The main block, “bizzy”, parses through a text request and runs the “getContent” method to choose which response to send back.

from flask import Flask, request, redirect
from twilio.twiml.messaging_response import MessagingResponse

app = Flask(__name__)

# Get the business card info to text back
def getContent(msg):

    msg = msg.lower().strip()
    bizinfo = ""

    if "resume" in msg:
        bizinfo = ""
    elif "phone" in msg:
        bizinfo = PHONE_NUMBER
    elif "email" in msg:
        bizinfo = EMAIL
    elif "github" in msg:
        bizinfo = ""
    elif "blog" in msg:
        bizinfo = ""
    elif "linkedin" in msg:
        bizinfo = ""
      bizinfo = "Welcome to Aakash's SMS Biz Card! Please reply with one of the following: resume, phone, email, github, blog, linkedin"

    return bizinfo 

@app.route('/', methods=['GET','POST'])
def bizzy():
    # Get the body of the incoming text request
    body = request.values.get('Body', None)
    # Start a Twilio response object
    resp = MessagingResponse()
    # Reply back to the text request
    replyText = getContent(body)

    return str(resp)

if __name__ == '__main__':

Going through the normal offline to online workflow, I found that tech folks found the exchange fun…though new. Fun experiment and I’m not sure how it’ll go with people who don’t already understand the tech.

In the future, I’d like to build out more of a chat workflow and maybe apply it to the blog somehow. If you’re interested in checking out the app SMS workflow, ping me via GitHub or channels and will send over the phone number!

Climate Mood

Continuing with the delve into Climate Change, looked into understanding how people feel, positive/neutral/negative, about the subject on Twitter. Using TextBlob, with Tweepy, Pandas, and Plotly Dash…I built initial revision of a data visualization dashboard, Climate Mood, that analyzes tweets over a sample of the last 2,000 collected hourly. The idea is to provide a simple, sentiment-focused look across multiple analyses. I’ve particularly enjoyed building and re-applying some of the methodologies and statistical analyses I’ve learned recently.

Go to the dashboard

As mentioned, the dashboard pulls from Twitter over an hourly basis and deposits into a PostgreSQL database. The top chart provides a linear regression trend line (unevenly for now) across tweets collected that can be toggled. Also, tweets can be seen on the top-right tweet-box on hover. Other simple sentiment analyses include average verbosity of tweet length, popularity of tweets, and average sentiment-based amplitude of tweets. Feel free to check it out!

Looking forward to applying more statistical analyses across these auto-updated samples. If you have any feedback or suggestions, please submit an issue on the GitHub repo or contact me.

Climate Trends

Been thinking about climate a bunch lately and started looking into trying out the latest data tools and trends out there on the Internets. I’ve particularly enjoyed R and Pandas/Python, especially via Plotly Dash, and re-applying some of the methodologies and statistical analyses I’ve learned while on the job. The latest curiosity is in global temperature change since 1910 and various other societal factors. Lo and behold, the first iteration and not-so-polished, Climate Trends.

You can view the dashboard here

The dashboard has a drop-down menu of various analyses around global temperature change and linear fits across birth rates, fertility rates, death rates, life expectancy at birth, and rural population growth rate as well as a nominal years passed chart. Feel free to dabble!

If you have any feedback or suggestions, please submit an issue on the GitHub repo, respond on Dribbble, or contact me.

Anaphylaxis & More @ UC Irvine

Near-death experiences provide a heavy emotional weight…even 16 years later and, generally, the rest of a person’s life.

Still remember everything, as much as I can, from that night in Irvine. My most important anniversary thus far in life. Here goes:

It started with a pecan-filled brownie that wasn’t properly listed with its ingredients. After eating it at Mesa Commons, a half hour later I started experiencing all sorts of issues: swollen throat, diarrhea, vomiting, blood-red eyes, swollen forehead (that was red too through my brown skin), a distinct lack of oxygen, inability to walk without support, and an inability to breath or talk. I needed to type out, letter barely after letter, to take me to the hospital by my dorm-mates. I lost consciousness before I got out of the door. My dormmates told me that I fell apart in their arms at the steps leading to the parking lot and fell down a flight unconscious. They called the paramedics and I got a number of Epipen shots to kick my body into gear…ended up 30 minutes to an hour later at the ICU at Irvine Hospital. The docs took awhile on me and tried out some experimental drug to open up my lungs and throat…a last ditch effort before calling me dead, actually.

Thankfully, my lungs and throat opened up. 3/4’s of a day later, I woke up from a coma that the doctors weren’t sure if I’d ever wake up from with a family crying (they drove all the way down overnight not knowing if I was going to be alive or dead by the time they reached there). I was intubated and lying there motionless not able to move a muscle as my body was wrecked and lifeless.

It took another day to move me out of ICU and into a proper bed without intubation or…anything else needed to support me. I couldn’t walk for a day, but I told my parents, well, I had homework I needed to get done by Monday for my Physics class (one of the first things I said after getting out of the coma). I stayed 3 days in the hospital and my parents, incredibly begrudgingly decided to keep me in Irvine (400 miles away and only 4 months being alone for the first time in my life). I went to my physics class in a crutch unable to walk properly, but I was there at 7:30am in the morning with my homework.

From there, I ended up on academic contract a quarter later. I survived that as well taking the toughest grading professors in the Computer Engineering program for 3 straight quarters. Ended up graduating with a pretty decent GPA after it and a lot of discipline built up over the years and through that.

Note on Product Prioritization Frameworks

Always looking for ways to improve how to prioritize features appropriately to a roadmap. Each sprint is full of items to juggle between buckets of customer requests, items that improve customer retention, or (of course) increasing revenue. Features working towards on the roadmap are no doubt important, but fixing an issue customers see out in the field could potentially improve retention and apply a greater impact to the company’s bottom line.

The 1st approach calculated “ROI” by dividing using an averaged set of “Impact” ratings using a simple 1-5 likert scale (by my Eng Lead, UX Designer, Technical Support SME, and myself) and then divided the average by “Cost” (i.e. t-shirt sizing) to find ROI. It worked reasonably well; we were able to get to a prioritized list of features, but there was a skewing towards items that were quick wins and less towards major user features.

So, taking in some of the great PM content out on in the interwebs – I took the cue for my own team by trying to find a methodology. The latest approach uses weighted-values for 2 top-level product themes and “customer satisfaction” to identifying priority for each backlog item. Thus far, the priorities for each backlog item have all passed my PM gut. Also, there’s been solid feedback from the team too.

Take a look, hope you find it useful! If you find a way to improve on it, would love to hear about it.