Pennsylvania, New York, Washington, and California. TradFi and DeFi. Back to school at UCLA. My 2021 in review.
After a cautious and isolated 2020, 2021 was a welcome step towards a more informed, less fearful approach to life.
I began the year with family in Pennsylvania, but after getting my jabs in March and April, I got to work making up for what I’d missed out on in the dark months of 2020.
From March to June, I worked at a startup in New York; from June to August, I learned about blockchain programming in Seattle; and in September, I moved to Los Angeles to return to school for UCLA’s first quarter of in-person instruction since March 2020. Between time with friends in more familiar places (Ann Arbor, San Francisco, Denver), I had a chance to explore some new spots (Miami, State College, Muskegon), too.
Throughout it all, I’m thankful to have remained healthy and to have had the support of amazing colleagues, friends, and family. While we’re not fully out of the pandemic woods yet, 2021 managed to be a fulfilling, fruitful year, and I’ll look back on it fondly as I look forward to 2022.
I returned to the Philadelphia suburbs in late 2020 to spend the holidays with family. As midnight struck on January 1st, I watched New Year’s fireworks from the parking lot of the Blue Bell Wawa.
I stayed close to home and generally did things outdoors in these pre-vaccine months. In doing so, I was also glad to be able to experience a lot of natural beauty nearby that I’d previously overlooked: Wissahickon Valley Park, the Lehigh Valley, the mountains around State College, and Shenandoah.
In March, with vaccines becoming more widely available, I sublet2
My first time subletting a place off of Facebook Marketplace — we got a great deal, and I ended up finding my Seattle sublet on Marketplace as well.× Close
. I met some awesome coworkers, participated in a company hacker house in Miami, learned some new things about high-growth startups, and overall enjoyed my return to city life.
In May, I finally passed the Series 65, hitting my first concrete milestone towards becoming an accredited investor, and I also heard back from the schools I’d applied to earlier in the year. I ended up having the choice between UCLA and Berkeley (UCB)4
You think I’d get in if I applied to Stanford for a third time?× Close
In the meantime, life started feeling slightly more normal, and between exploring the city and hosting friends at our apartment, I took my first cross-country trip since 2020, briefly visiting Colorado and Southern California6
in June around the end of my internship before returning to New York to finish up and offboard.
I received a small grant from the Ethereum Foundation to learn more about and contribute to blockchain projects over the summer in Seattle (thanks Brian for putting it together!), so after my internship in New York ended, I decided to make a quick stop in Michigan (since it was on the way to Washington) to visit a few friends from freshman year.
I spent a couple of days around Detroit and Ann Arbor7
I didn’t have a car on campus when I was a student in Ann Arbor, so I never really left town. I didn’t realize how much I was missing out on — a few car-enabled highlights from this trip include enjoying some excellent middle eastern food in Dearborn and trying real Detroit-style pizza for the first time (thanks Albert!).× Close
before heading west to Muskegon (a small city on the shores of Lake Michigan) for the first time. In addition to enjoying the gorgeous late sunsets, I’d also bought a drone8
The first eBay auction I’ve ever won — between this and the two sublets I found on Facebook, I really doubled down on P2P marketplaces this year.× Close
a few weeks before and we were able to take some pretty sick photos on the lake9
I also almost lost my drone in the lake when we couldn’t figure out where it was and it auto-landed after hitting critically low battery (shoutout to Jackson’s cousin Isaac for piloting it to a safe spot over the sand right before it died!).× Close
in the boat, too (thanks Jackson!).
From Muskegon, I took the ferry to Milwaukee to catch Amtrak’s Empire Builder10
This was my second time doing a long-distance train trip (I also took the California Zephyr from Chicago to San Francisco in 2019). Overall, the Zephyr was more interesting to me since the mountains start earlier in the route and it goes through more major cities (Denver, Salt Lake City, and Reno), but I did see Wisconsin, Minnesota, and North Dakota for the first time on this route, which was cool.× Close
to Seattle, and I arrived in the city the morning of July 4th11
Unfortunately, this also meant that when I arrived, the landlord’s office was closed, so I couldn’t pick up the keys to my sublet. Fortunately, it gave me a great reason to talk to the people living across the hall from me to figure out my key situation — thanks Maya, Calvin, Melanie, and Kai for being such awesome neighbors and friends in Seattle!× Close
I stayed in Seattle for six weeks. Every morning, I’d take the bus over Lake Washington to Bellevue and post up in a coworking space with a few other folks also doing crypto/blockchain work. I read a lot, met a bunch of people doing super cool stuff in the space, and eventually wrote about what I learned in an article on ethereum.org12
. I’m not sure whether I’ll work in crypto long-term, but this summer seriously opened me up to the possibility.
Also, my investment adviser registration was finally approved by the SEC in July, eight months after I originally began the process.
Ode To Paying No Rent Last Month
The couch in New York was barely five feet wide,
stuffed into a tiny Nolita apartment.
So I enjoyed a little luxury,
a queen-sized air mattress instead
that turned the living room into a bounce house.
I dreamt sweet dreams in Boston,
where I slept on a three-piece sectional.
Its brown segments, stuck together
like pieces of milk chocolate
wrapped by a silver plush blanket.
In San Francisco the couch was mid-century modern:
aspirationally suave and sophisticated.
It stretched across the room,
with seating for ten,
in a group house of startup entrepreneurs.
In State College, Pennsylvania, I was one of perhaps hundreds
to have rested on that tattered red sofa.
Well-worn, well-lived, like the memories
we reminisced upon, cherished stories
of times gone by.
In short, since UCLA is on the quarter system and starts later than most other schools, after flying down to LA to meet up with my family and move my brother into his dorm at USC, I spent the rest of August and the first half of September visiting friends at various semester-system schools14
Thank you to each and every one of you who hosted me during these few weeks (and throughout the year!). I owe you all big time — please, please let me know if you’re ever in LA.× Close
Besides visiting colleges, I also returned to Pennsylvania for the first time since June to run in my high school cross country team’s alumni meet. I’ve never missed it since I graduated (other than last year’s COVID-induced cancellation), and I’m happy I kept the streak alive for another year.
When I wrote about leaving school in 2019, I talked about college as a way to get a sort of “broader perspective” than the one easily accessible to me as a non-student/software engineer in San Francisco. In my 2020 year in review, I explained how I felt that my experience in the workforce showed me that if I did go back to school, I could probably study whatever I wanted and lean on my previous experience when it came to the job search.
In various degrees, both of these ideas have shaped my thinking in returning to school in 2021.
A year after 2020, I have more confidence that my work and life experience have given me a solid license to approach college in a more freeform, relaxed way — and I have a better understanding of how unique this opportunity is.
And similar to 2019, returning to college is still partly about broadening my personal perspective, albeit less so in a rigid academic sense. In 2019, I imagined my return to studies as being more intentional and deliberate (e.g. I’d study a formal liberal arts curriculum). In defense of the real world, though, I think it already “broadens perspectives” in a way that’s tough to match with a strict curriculum. Instead, at this point, I think I can trust my curiosity enough to point me in worthwhile directions without an external structure dictating what a “good” college experience should look like.
So for now, my reason for going back to college mostly comes down to having the chance to make the most of the new freedom I have to learn things without being burdened by requirements and other constraints — overall, the idea that I can just have some more fun with it now (and at the same time, perhaps broaden my perspective of what a “good” college experience can be)16
My friend Kelvin Yu’s essay about dropping out of Princeton right before his senior year offers an interesting perspective here, too (specifically, see the “country club” bullet). I only got one year of the country club before leaving!Beyond the “country club,” though, another aim of mine in college is to learn more advanced math. It’s something I discovered I liked at Michigan which was tough to make time for once I was out of school, and something which I think is especially well-suited to being taught and learned in a university setting.× Close
As always, though, the pull of college is simultaneously countered by the pull of the professional world. It remains strong as ever, compounded by the fact that many opportunities seem especially timeful right now. This is especially apparent in crypto (if we’ve learned anything from the last bear market, maybe I should get my bag now and run17
I don’t mean to endorse rugging here — just the idea that there are a lot of relatively honest opportunities in crypto right now that are potentially lucrative in the short-term but are extremely uncertain in the medium-term (and/or beyond, depending on how much of a true believer you are).× Close
). Beyond crypto’s favorable economics, though, a DeFi founder around my age (albeit graduated) who I spoke to earlier this year talked about how exciting it felt to have the opportunity to build the foundational infrastructure of the new financial system from scratch. How often does an opportunity like that come around?
College is timeful in its own way, too, though — I’m still not much older than my peers, I still don’t mind living in the dorms, and I have no other real responsibilities or commitments. I’m having fun — and I only got a year of it before leaving the first time.
There’s merit to both sides of this argument, and although I plan to focus on school for now, I don’t think it has to be an either-or, either. Rather than a single-minded focus on school or work as I’ve done in the past, I’m also hoping to strike a healthier balance between my in-class and out-of-class activities, with a bit of accumulated wisdom re: the experience of sacrificing one for the other.
Despite my student status, I was still able to squeeze some travel in between classes, taking trips to San Francisco (twice) and Denver (once) during the term18
. In retrospect, though, continuing with my itinerant lifestyle did interfere with my transition to college, and I will probably travel less while in school going forward. I ended up missing three weekends of the term, which isn’t much in the semester system, but is 33% of the weekends in the quarter system. I also kicked off the term with grades that were less than stellar, although I mostly turned it around by the end of it. I think overall I need to transition more fully out of the working mindset and back into the student mindset.
In terms of the parts of college experience that I think I did do a good job with, though, I’m happy with the classes I took, my ample borrowing from the university library19
My favorites from fall quarter: Antonio Garcia Martinez’s Chaos Monkeys and Mihir Desai’s The Wisdom of Finance.× Close
, and towards the end of the quarter, my regular running club participation. It was also great to have met other students interested in crypto this fall, both on campus and down the road at USC, and to have explored more of Southern California — I’m getting a better idea of how I feel about Los Angeles compared to some of the other places I’ve lived20
Short summary: the weather’s better, but life without a car is difficult.× Close
and where I might want to stay long-term.
It’s also been nice that my brother and I are now both based here in LA. I crashed at his place at USC a few times this fall and we went camping together in the San Gabriels after finals. For the week of Thanksgiving, our parents came out west to save us the hassle and expense of a Wednesday-afternoon-to-Sunday-night transcontinental roundtrip back to Philly. It was our first Thanksgiving away from Pennsylvania in over a decade, and I wonder whether it will be the first of many such family Thanksgivings here in the Golden State.
I’m excited to see what 2022 will bring. I’ll be staying in school for now21
Albeit part-time this upcoming quarter — I’m still working on my in-state tuition petition, and I need a few more months of physical presence in California to qualify.× Close
, and in between class I’m hoping to tinker more with crypto and continue reading and running as much as I can.
I’m also hoping we can continue to travel and see each other safely in 2022. It was wonderful to meet and see so many of you this year in-person.
My best wishes for your health and happiness in the new year.