Many of you will note that my name is Zachary. I spell Zachary with an ‘H’. What you may not know is that many of my friends call me Zack. Notice how I spell Zack with a ‘k’. There are many reasons for this, but lets just say that Zack with a ‘k’ sounds more correct to me. Sorry for any confusion.
I was watching a TED talk on Youtube the other morning as I was getting ready, just like any good engineer in the Bay Area. Once the talk I was watching finished, the next talk was by a woman who was trying to convince me that life wasn’t about happiness, but rather purpose.
It may just be me, but this is not a new theory. I’ve always believed that there was a purpose, but I have had no clue about what it is.
In this cacophony of words, images, video, sounds, and generally multimedia, I often feel that sharing my opinion with the world is a bit trite.
I have traveled more than most. I have experienced a lot of different cultures and have unique experiences, but so does everyone. I’ve always wondered what makes mine special?
The answer is simply, it isn’t special. I am not special. Or more specifically, I’m probably exactly as special as anyone who would ever read this. If I’m special than so is everyone else.
Recently I’ve been contemplating the sources of information I consume. With Facebook maybe effecting the last Presidential election, I’m concerned that I spend so much time reading a plethoria of potentially unreliable articles. I don’t know if these writers are good stewards of my mind. As more and more information is available on the internet, it is hard to know what to trust.
This has lead me to two truths. Firstly, I should not be reponsible for deciding if you want to read my content. That is your choice. If you think my experiences are worth reading, great, read them. If you think I’m full of crap, write poorly, or am just generally annoying, feel free to ignore what I say. My second truth has been that if I ever want to be a voice in this world, I have to publish. I have to learn to write. There is relatively little harm in writing and having people ignore my content.
Sure, if someday I really learn how to write, I could be embarrassed about what I’ve written previously, but that is a risk I’m prepared to take in order to move forward in my writing.
Every year around the mid of September I do a swim in the SF bay. Well, by every year, I mean the last two years and I’m about to do my third year. Swim Across America is a special event.
I somehow got talked into doing this swim by one of my teammates, Jessica Steffins. Jessica is a phenomenal swimmer, she was actually part of team USA Waterpolo in 2012 that won the gold medal in 2012. I really didn’t know what I was getting into. It’s a very early morning start, around the palace of fine arts in the city.
Half asleep they throw you onto a bus and ship you across the city to where you board a ferry. Once on the ferry, you get tatted up with some temporary tattoos marking your commitment to the event. First year, you get a rookie tattoo. I plastered an additional tattoo on my forehead.
They then put you on a boat, and take you out into the bay. There is a ceremony where they invite people who have been touched by cancer to talk about their experiences with the disease. Some get up and talk about their loved ones, some doctors get up and talk about their experiences treating cancers, but the most powerful stories are those who are surviving with cancer and still out here to swim.
Those stories are really very powerful. I’d do the swim just for those stories alone.
Year one was a smaller group, we had only a couple of people from Salesforce signed up on our team. I believe there were four of us.
Once you jump off the boat you swim in to shore. I was wearing a full sleeved wetsuit and was very hot the whole way in. I panicked just out of the boat and was concerned about making it in. Jessica was there to calm me down and had me focus on taking a couple of strokes and breaking then doing a couple more then breaking again.
Year two I practiced more. I spent a lot of time in the pool working on my swimming. We even did a practice run in the ocean. The group was much bigger, somewhere in the neighborhood of 10 people. I got salesforce tattoos for the team.
The process was roughly the same, but there was a lot more current and it made the swim much harder, and I actually had to be towed in a bit at the end.
It’s coming and I haven’t done any real training. I’ve been spending more time in the water this year, both in Newport, surfing, wind surfing, and wake boarding, but I have spent very little time on long swims. This is really going to be a change. Please consider donating!
Reasons to Donate
I’ve had several friends ask why they would donate to a swim that I’m doing? Here are several reasons why you should consider donating:
- Most importantly: you agree with the notion that cancer is a terrible thing and it is especially terrible in the young ones. Childhood is rough enough, going through cancer as well just seems like too much.
- You wish you could swim this year, but didn’t register in time, so you want to donate your sign up money to my fund.
- The more you donate the more I feel like crap if I don’t make the swim. Help me raise my minimum so that I have no choice but to get up at 2 am, drive to the city and then spend some time in the super cold bay! Think of it as a punishment for all the ways I’ve annoyed you over the years. Get me back!
- You want to support the engineering team. Currently I’m the only engineer on the SFIQ team, please don’t let Will Roller and his product ways beat me.
How to Donate
Go there and donate some money. Any little bit helps.
Two years ago I got to visit Newport, RI for a couple of days in October, but because we were right before Dreamforce I had to work almost the whole time I was here. I realized that even if I hadn’t needed to work I wouldn’t have been able to experience all of Newport that I wanted to experience, a weekend just isn’t enough. I promised myself that I would take the summer of 2017 off from work, and when I got back, I started asking my bosses how I could do it. Guess what? It’s the summer of 2017, and while I’ve decided not to take the whole summer off (I technically could have), I am taking July off.
There are no rules about this month. I’m not allowed to get mad at myself about doing a thing or not doing a thing. I’m not going to berate myself if I don’t build something spectacular, I’m just going to relax and do the things I feel like I need to. I’m reading a little about swift, I’m looking at a couple of other programming things that I’ve been meaning to look at but been too busy, but there are no requirements. I’m not accountable to other people this month, I’m accountable to what I want to do.
About half way through the month, I’ve driven across the country, done an acro yoga festival, visited seven different Patagonia stores (eight if you include Newport, which is a technically not a corporate owned store, but might as well be), sailed four of the last five days, been to Maine for the first time in over a decade, seen my niece and nephew, played with dogs, driven a scooter, and eaten at some of my favorite childhood restaurants (though I’m still searching for a good latté in Newport).
In short, my dream two years ago has been realized and I’m ecstatic about it, and I still have two weeks left!
As people we often talk about what we want to do, but if what you want to do turns into a dream, I suggest you find a way to make it happen. This one ended up not being that hard to pull off and I encourage you to look at your dreams and evaluate what it would to turn them into reality.
In one of my many office pranks, I’ve created a new website. A coworker of mine just crossed his three year mark at the company. At SalesforceIQ we value our people and we celebrate milestones. Three years is a big a deal, so much so that my coworker made me this wonderful website: ZackCohensVan.com. Well, my fiend Fabian just crossed his three year mark and wanting to make sure his anniversary experience was as pleasent as mine, I decided to create a website for him.
I went through several iterations of domains before I settled on the site that I chose:
I used a responsive template and used some crazy images and stories I have collected over the 3 years I’ve worked the Fabian.
Aside form the site, I’d just like to say that I really appreciate how our company really promotes these anniversaries. They celebrate the fact that the company is made up of a bunch of individuals working together to make something happen.
Today is the fifth of January. I’ve started taking the position that each month I’d like to doante to something related to national holiday of the month. Not all months have holidays, but most do. This month’s is Martin Luther King Day. There are lot of charities, but I’m particular about where I want to donate. I don’t want to donate to any charity’s whose focus is about increasing one group’s “power”, or “influence”. I’m about equal rights, about getting to the point where race is not the consideration, but peopel are evaluated on more fair criteria.
This belief in supporting freedom led to me to ACLU. If you would like to join me, please visit them at:
I’ve been thinking a lot about the environment ever since we elected a President that doesn’t believe in Climate Change. Apparently, so has my favoriate company Patagaonia. They donated 100% of their Black Friday sales to grass roots movements to help the enviroment, totally around 10 million dollars.
For this month’s fifth, I chose The Concservation Fund this month for my donation. Found it from Charity Watch, they have an A+ ranking. If you feel like going out and exploring is important to you, maybe you can consider donating as well.
I create a lot of things. I really enjoy starting projects. I’m not so good at carrying them through.
I started a podcast with my friend Evan to talk a little about climbing. We are both based out of the South Bay so we called the podcast South Beta. It’s a play on our location and route Beta. We have three episodes with no real purpose yet. That is the goal for the next episode, start putting some meaning behind it and start getting something to build for our listeners. Not quite sure what that is supposed to be.
Anyway, it’s an intersting listen and if you climb at planet granite it covers some gym related news. We also talk about going outdoors in this area and climbing tips.
If you have a chance, go to the website and check us out. You can also find us on iTunes.
The past couple of months I’ve been doing some recruiting for my awesome company SalesforceIQ. Part of it has taken me to some career fairs. While I’ve met some really great candidates, there are several things I’d like to share from the recruiter perspective.
Firstly, there is always a hot topic of the day. Currently, it’s Machine Learning. There are several other ways of saying it, Data Science, or NLP (Natural Language Processing) for example. They all refer to the same thing. Working with large amounts of data and discerning information from it.
It makes sense because one of the biggest problems facing computer scienctists these days is how to make sense of all this data we have. It’s a big problem. It appears like a fun problem, because no one really has a certain way of solving it yet.
The issue is, everyone says they want to work on it.
As a tech recruiter in a career fair, I may talk to 30+ people an hour. If you are saying the exact same thing as everyone else, it’s going to be hard for that recruiter to remember you. If you express interest in an area that everyone else is also interested in, you are in a larger group of candidates. Recruiters will naturally find a way to shorten the stack of resumes they need to consider to make it managable. Maybe they will exclude base on degree level (in Machine Learning, PhD is starting to be something we look for). Maybe, they will look for super high GPAs. The thing is, you don’t know the criteria, and the only thing you’ve done is lump yourself in the group with everyone else. You aren’t doing anything to give yourself an advantage over other candidates. You want to find a way for the tech person to turn to a recruiter after words asking if they followed up with “that person you remembered had interest in….”
Not all remembering is good. You don’t want to remembered as that person who kept asking the same question for 30 minutes. In general, however, you do want to make a memorable positive impression on the recruiter.
One way to do this is to talk about a specific interest you have that may differenciate you. Lets say you have a strong interest in Human Computer Interaction, and you have done some research on density of information. Distilling your interest and beliefs down to a 30 second talk on the subject may be the ticket to making a positive impression which can help move you along quicker to the next step in the interview process.
It’s the fifth of the month. I started a thing a while back and have stopped doing it. I give $5 to charity on the fifth of every month. It makes me feel better. Five dollars isn’t that much.
This month, in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness month, I’ve donated to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation. They are rated A+ from Charity Watch.
The whole concept behind $5 fifth is that if we all did it would make a difference. If you can, please consider donating.