Four Years of Working at Spotify, Four Years of Shared Values


I can’t believe it’s been four years since I started working at Spotify. Every Friday, the Technology, Product, and Design group at Spotify’s New York City office gathers to eat freshly catered snacks, introduce new hires, announce “wins of the week,” and commemorate the anniversaries of existing employees.

Last Friday was my turn to stand before the couple hundred members of TPD. It’s customary for people celebrating their employment anniversaries to speak about their favorite Spotify memory. I don’t get many chances to address so many of my colleagues at once. So I took this opportunity to prepare a short statement. It went something like this.

What’s my favorite Spotify memory? I have a hard time with this question because I don’t have a good answer. There’s so many.

I find another question more interesting. That question is, “What, after four years, makes me look forward to getting up every weekday morning and working at Spotify?” Four years is a long time to be doing anything continuously.

I can tell you what’s not the main reason. It’s not the snacks or perks or the amazing office. It’s not even Celebration X [Spotify’s massive 10-year anniversary party in Stockholm]. These are all great things, but they’re not the main reason I show up everyday.

The main reason is values. I’ve never been at a place where I share so many values with my colleagues and the company. My teammates like Matt and Staffan and Mats share my values of hard work, competence, and personal responsibility (and beer). The company constantly strives to become a better version of itself through being risk-taking, passion, and compassion.

Every day is a new memory. Every day I feel blessed to be here working with all of you. Thank you.

Skydiving With Friends - Jumping Out of Planes Is Fun


On April 16, seven friends and I went skydiving at Skydive the Ranch in New Jersey. We rented a black SUV (a Hyundai that had terrible acceleration and braking) and each did a tandem dive. It was a first for many of us including me.

My takeaway was that tandem diving out of a plane at 14-thousand feet is easy. The instructor takes care of everything. I just had to sit back and enjoy the view. If anything went wrong and I died, I wouldn’t feel that bad about it because I wasn’t the one who screwed it up.

Driving seven of your friends out of and back into New York City is nerve-wracking, on the other hand. I was personally responsible for everyone’s lives. Trying to return the rental car on time while driving through Union Square in Manhattan where there’s a pedestrian fair going on, ambulances and cop cars, and drivers double parking wherever they want is very stressful.

Hopefully Avis doesn’t notice the small white scratch on the mirror of their mint condition car (18 miles when I got it) that was left when I managed to squeeze through two city buses before they crushed me.

Growing Together and Apart


Thanks to Nanette for editing and agreeing to let me publish this and to my friends who gave me feedback.

“It’s almost 2016. Let’s reset our relationship next year. OK?” Nanette asked me two days before Christmas Eve. I couldn’t bring myself to say yes. I felt I would be lying.

I told Nanette we should break up. We spent the next two days crying until our eyes became red and puffy. I had bought bus tickets for the night of Christmas Eve to travel back to my family in Boston. It was cold and pouring that evening, but Nanette still accompanied me to the bus stop. I got on the bus and asked her to go back home. She stood outside in the rain waiting for the driver to pull out while looking at me through the windows. It broke my heart to see her standing on the sidewalk, her tears mixing with the rain.

When Routine Becomes Ritual


  • Wake up at 6:30AM.
  • Pound down a serving of Soylent since solid food will give me cramps in the pool.
  • Smell the chlorine. Try to put in at least 3,500 - 4,000 yards in the pool. My back and arms are now fatigued.
  • Say hi to Musa Kaleem Keita. Realize I’m talking to someone who personally knew prominent African Americans like Muhammed Ali and O.J. Simpson. Ask him if he’s seen the recent true crime show called “The People v. O.J. Simpson.” Realize after a few minutes of talking to Musa, that white and black America view the things very differently. Get reminded of Bill Clinton’s reaction to the O.J. Simpson verdict.
    • Americans see the world differently, generally, based on their race, that troubles me. I think the only answer to that is for us to spend more time listening to each other and try to put ourselves in each others shoes and understand why we see the world in different ways and keep trying to overcome that. I would say that even though it’s disturbing, we have succeeded so far in managing the world’s most multi-ethnic diverse democracy, better than a lot of countries that are smaller than we are with fewer differences. - Bill Clinton

  • Walk to Spotify and feel grateful I get to work at a company where I like what I do, my colleagues, and the company culture.
  • By Friday, all that swimming has made me a tight wad of nerves and flesh. Trudge down to a small Chinatown massage parlor where a masseur plies and kneads me until my muscles open up again.
  • Realize on the weekends that I’ve become the cheapest date on the planet. Refrain from more than one or two drinks since I remember that time I finished swimming at night, had one beer, and had a hangover the next morning.

Don’t Worry About Forgetting to Cancel Your Subscription - Use a Virtual Credit Card


Almost all of us have signed up for a free trial we then forgot to cancel before getting charged for the next month or have felt uneasy entering credit card information on a sketchy website. I discovered virtual credit card numbers several months ago and now use them for both these cases.

Virtual credit card numbers (VCN) are credit card numbers that aren’t associated with a physical card. They are usually tied to your regular credit card account, and charges to the VCN will show up on that credit card statement.

VCNs have two great features on top of regular credit card numbers. You can set the expiration and maximum limit can be charged, and you can cancel them at any time. Let’s say I want to try Spotify Premium. It’s free for a month and $10 per month afterwards. I generate a VCN, set the limit to $1 with an expiration of one month, enter that number into Spotify’s website, and forget about it. Use a VCN when you’re wary that an online merchant might steal or is unable to protect your card info as well.

So how does one get a VCN? The only free and bank-sponsored credit cards I know of that offer them are Bank of America’s ShopSafe feature and Citibank’s Virtual Account numbers. (Amex seems to have discontinued theirs.)

There are cases when using a VCN might create more hassle than it’s worth. The two I can think of are booking a hotel room and needing to show your card when you arrive in person and returning a purchase and trying to get a refund.

Being Emotionally Honest Is a Sign of Strength Not Weakness


Please excuse the rambling nature of this post. It’s more like a collection of thoughts mushed together than a coherent essay.

The New York Times published an opinion piece a few weeks ago by a university cultural studies instructor named Andrew Reiner about how conventional gender norms for men in the US are restrictive and can harm not only women but also men themselves. In “Teaching Men to be Emotionally Honest” Reiner said we teach boys from a young age what emotions they are allowed to express. Boys are taught to convert their sadness or misery into anger; vulnerability and compassion is best left to women and somehow makes a man less manly.

Reiner advocates for the creation of men’s studies as an academic field in its own right along with campus resource centers that would create “safe spaces” for guys. He points out, however, that people can be skeptical of such efforts. A proposed Men’s Centre at Simon Fraser University created debate over its intentions and usefulness.

But wouldn’t encouraging men to embrace the full range of their humanity benefit women? Why do we continue to limit the emotional lives of males when it serves no one? This question is the rhetorical blueprint I pose to students before they begin what I call the “Real Man” experiment.

Reiner’s piece makes me think about how masculinity has meant different things in different times and places. Crying, for example, was more accepted in Greek heroes than it is in today’s male leaders. The website says (yes, I’m quoting,

As recently as the 19th century, male tears were actually celebrated as a sign of honesty, integrity and strength. And not in the “you’re brave enough to show your weakness” way, but just as a symbol that you actually gave a crap. And it probably also meant you were confident that no one would mock you, since you had just won a battle or torn the limbs off of a monster with your bare hands.

Confessions of a Noob Landlord III - How to Deal With a Difficult Tenant


Let’s say your parents own and rent out a couple of condominium units in the greater Boston area. The lease is about to expire for one of the units that’s rented out to a young Polish woman who is a student.

Your mother Nancy emails the tenant, who we’ll call Ashley to protect her real identity and also because we all know a crazy girl who happens to have that name, several months ahead of time to ask if she’d like to renew for another year given a monthly rent increase of $50. According to your mom, Ashley implied she would sign the new lease, but it’s been a couple of months and she hasn’t sent a signed copy back yet.

A few days ago, Ashley wrote an email complaining of multiple problems with the apartment that she’s never mentioned before. So what should your parents do?

Luckily, this is a guide on exactly how they should handle the situation. Tell their unhinged broker Joe to deal with the crazy tenant and watch the situation spiral out of control. All emails below are copy-pasted verbatim.

My parents have learned from this experience and no longer work with either tenant or broker.

From: Ashley
Date: Monday, June 22, 2015
To: Nancy
Subject: signiture

Hi nancy,
can we fax it next week? We are on a family trip in Niagara falls until Saturday. Have a good weekend!


From: Nancy
Date: Monday, June 22, 2015 10:14PM
To: Ashley
Subject: Re: signiture

Hi Ashley ,
When you will be back? I don’t have the fax. But you can scan it and send it by email on next week or mail to us.

From: Ashley
Date: Wednesday, July 1, 2015 11:17AM
To: Nancy
Subject: Re: Re: signiture

Oh I’m sorry i d

meant we will mail it to your home!

From: Ashley
Date: Wednesday, July 8, 2015
To: Nancy
Subject: Re: Re: Re: signiture

Nancy please help

The mice have taken over my house. I don’t know how this happened. There are Many holes. I mean I painted the whole house.i cleaned it for over 60 hours when I moved in . I tried to over up with tape. I’m sorry to be this way but most apartment don’t have these issues. I googled the apartment and they are all new so for 1400 in my building clean and nice but this is my home. I don’t want to move..just ask for help and help

  1. so much mildew I cough daily all over walls
  2. I haven’t been at peace with mice living with me. I clean daily.
  3. bug problems I find at least 4 centipedes in my shower when window are closed.
  4. the pipes of the shower are collapsing and the 1920 bathtub is gathering chemicals
  5. I had the bathtub inspected and it has to be replaced due to cancer components such as iron and magnesium


Foreign Domestic Workers - Read This and Try Not to Cry


Imagine you had to leave your family and the only world you knew to travel to a far and unfamiliar land. You need to do this to make enough money to give your loved ones the life you want for them. You’ll be gone for years if not decades.

Despite having a college or graduate degree, you have to do manual labor and menial tasks you find beneath you. You’ll face isolation and loneliness. You only interact with your spouse through occasional phone calls since dialing home isn’t cheap. You wonder if he or she is still faithful. You watch your children grow up, get married, and have kids of their own through photos and video chats.

If you’re lucky, you return to a home that still remembers and has a place for you. If you’re not, you die in an alien land.

This isn’t the job description of an extraterrestrial colonization mission. This is the life of hundreds of thousands of migrant female workers from countries like the Philippines and Indonesia. They work as maids and nannies all across the world including New York City.

This is how I feel after reading “The Cost of Caring” in last week’s New Yorker Read the article and try not to cry.

My mother worked briefly as a nanny when she first immigrated to the United States. When she flew from China in 1989 to rejoin my father who had entered the University of Kentucky’s Ph.D. program in molecular biology, she didn’t speak a word of English. She left me as a one-year-old in the care of her parents. The plan was for me to rejoin them in a year once my parents had set up their life in America.

My father picked my mother up from the airport, dropped her off at the rundown apartment building where they shared a bathroom with another couple, and rushed back to work. She said she just stayed at home and cried that day.

She tried to make money by babysitting other people’s kids, but holding another toddler in her arms reminded her of me. She quit and worked as a waitress instead.

It is a tragedy that countless women like Emma in the New Yorker article feel compelled to choose between being with their children or providing for them. Emma said, “I took my love for my own children and I put it on these girls. I treated them as if they were my daughters.” The author Rachel Aviv describes how “When the youngest boy [of another worker in the article named Ivy] couldn’t sleep, he sometimes crept upstairs and slipped into her bed. She said, ‘The oldest keeps asking me, “Ivy, do you really love me? When I’m married, will you take care of my children?”’”

María Ibarra, a professor of Chicana and Chicano Studies at San Diego State University, calls [foreign domestic workers] “emotional proletarians”: they “produce authentic emotion in exchange for a wage.

If I had children and the choice, I wouldn’t want to pay a stranger to give them care and affection. For these reasons:

  1. I don’t want to be complicit in yet another system that exploits gender and class differences.
  2. I’m too proud and DIY to outsource such important work.
  3. I’m selfish and would want my kids to love their biological parents more than anyone else.

It Always Feels Good to Return to New York City


Sunday March 27 was my first day back in New York City after vacationing in the UK for ten days. I stepped into a subway car and noticed everyone was crowded around the entrance so I pushed my way into the less populated mid-section. I soon realized why people were avoiding that area. A skinny, middle-aged man was trying to get the attention of two young women sitting next to him. I don’t remember what he was saying, but it was obvious they felt uncomfortable and didn’t want to talk. After they got off, he looked around and asked,

“What is going on? Why are all the women standing?

“I crashed my jaguar. Now look at my knees. This one’s bigger than that one. But I still get up to give the women a seat. No woman should be on her feet. A man that hits his woman ain’t worth shit.”

Most people were trying their best to ignore him. I couldn’t help but laugh a bit. He then tried to strike up a conversation with some other men around him. I missed the beginning but was able to overhear this:

“I’ll kill them. I’ll do it for nothing. I don’t want you to pay $100,000 for your daughter to go to Harvard and then get raped by a rich motherfucker. I hate rapists and pedophiles so I’ll do it for free!”

I got off at my stop and started reading the New York Times on my phone.

Donald J. Trump and Senator Ted Cruz of Texas traded insults on Easter Sunday morning over recent smears against their wives, while Mr. Trump ruled out creating internment camps for American Muslims and said he would study a proposal to allow delegates to bring guns to the Republican National Convention.

Ah, it’s good to be back.

My Southern UK Trip Itinerary


I just finished planning a vacation I’ll take with my parents through the southern parts of the UK. Here’s our itinerary in case anyone else finds it useful. I spent a day researching the worthwhile destinations close to London.

This itinerary is an opinionated one. I left out Stonehenge (forums said that unless I’m really into anthropology, it’ll just be a pile of big rocks to me), chose Cambridge instead of Oxford (they’re similar and Cambridge has the magnificent King’s College Chapel), and opted for the Seven Sisters over the White Cliffs of Dover (I found out the White Cliffs aren’t that white anymore).

The only undecided part of this itinerary is whether and where to get the rental car for the Jurassic Coast. Let me know if you have good ideas.

March 18 - London

  • Tower of London
    • Wiki: “The Tower of London, officially Her Majesty’s Royal Palace and Fortress of the Tower of London, is a historic castle located on the north bank of the River Thames in central London.”
    • tickets: $33 book here
    • address: London EC3N 4AB, United Kingdom
  • Greenwich
    • Wiki: “As well as the presence of the first example of Palladian architecture in England, and works by Christopher Wren and Inigo Jones, the area is significant for the Royal Observatory where the understanding of astronomy and navigation were developed.”
    • address: a neighborhood of London
    • free!