tl;dr: just another person navel-gazing on the interwebs. This author happens to be an engineer who likes to build things and meet people while traveling wherever he can. Maybe you’ll find some small inspiration in the projects or journeys.
For me, writing is a way of organizing my thoughts. I’m prone to pontification (and, additionally, annoying alliteration). My name is Zane Claes, and I like the challenge of writing for an audience because it forces me to hold myself to a high bar in clarifying my thoughts. Blogging has long served as a sort of “public journal” for me. In 2010, after graduating from USC, I started a blog called Life by Experimentation and was surprised when it began to get quoted and republished in larger publications like Lifehacker.
The blog was renamed Skill Cookbook after these minor successes. It had always been about learning and self-improvement, but I no longer had the time to pursue it as I once did (owing to a career change). Still, I wanted to transform it into something of a stable resource for others.
That first blog was, as the name would suggest, an experiment. I was trying to figure out who I wanted to be. I came to California at 18, having first been born there yet raised in Michigan (around family and now-close friends). I’ve now spent more of my life in San Francisco and Los Angeles than in Michigan, though part of me still identifies most with the latter.
Travel & Early Work
I was fortunate, more so than anyone really deserves. I developed iPhone apps very early on during college and had an immediate way to sustain my lifestyle after graduation, despite the recession. As a computer programmer who could comfortably work on backend and front-end code, I was able to do contract-based projects from the road and earn a stable income.
I lived this life from 2010-2013. Already, in 2007-2008, I had lived abroad in China whilst helping to run an English teaching company. In the early-2010s, I reprised this traveling role to spend time in many European and South American countries.
The Life by Experimentation blog became a way for me to share my attempts to learn foreign languages, survive cheaply on the road, and otherwise have fun. It was my engineering/analytical mind, turned towards self-optimization. I really enjoyed writing it, and slowly the reader numbers began to creep up.
During college, I had studied Computer Science, Video Game Design, and a touch of Neuroscience. The Game Design bit, or “Interactive Media” as we called it, was the most interesting. It’s many young boys’ dream to become a professional game designer, of course. But it was more than that. We focused on topics like storytelling, psychology, and a myriad of others. We worked hand-in-hand with other students on the “art-track” of the same degree pattern. Truly, this experience opened my eyes to a love of learning for the sake of crafting.
As a member of the USC Entrepeneur’s Club, I was exposed early on to projects like “TOMS shoes” and the idea of conscious capitalism. At the time, I was too deep in personal debt to be able to pursue what I really wanted to do: creating video games with a positive social impact (esp., teaching skills or immedately useful abilities). After some more random work, twists of fate drew me into the vortex that is Silicon Valley…
San Francisco & Later Work
I can’t even begin to describe how much I’ve learned in this great city on the bay. Controversies aside, the people here are some of the most considerate and unique individuals I have ever met.
When I first stepped foot in Airbnb HQ back in early 2013, I felt like it was a company I understood. The founders, the employees, everybody at 99 Rhode Island all seemed to embody the “be a host” principle they would come to espouse. Over four years later, I’m still proud to be a part of this team.
Today, I work as an Engineering Manager on backend infrastructure projects (especially pertaining to APIs and email/push/SMS notifications). If that means nothing to you: I try to make sure data gets too and from Airbnb users quickly and securely.
Writing & Education
That blog I started back in 2010? Life by Experimentation eventually morphed into SkillCookbook.com as I tried to turn it into a useful resource for visitors interested in improving themselves and acquiring new skills more effectively.
The information on SkillCookbook is a compilation of the different science that impacts effective learning, product reviews of learning tools, and some resources I have created myself. I still add or revise articles as needed, but have largely exhausted the general-purpose knowledge I can share. New developments in the field of education and relevant neuroscience are not fast-developing.
I maintain a passion for helping others learn more effectively, though, and have been looking for a new means by which to fulfill this life goal. Another such attempt at this goal was publishing a book, The Joy of Craft (a bucket list item of mine) as a summary of the multitude of science I had read on motivation, happiness and creativity.
Today & This Blog
Since the conversion of Life by Experimentation into SkillCookbook, I feel like I’ve lost my creative outlet in which to express myself. At the same time, there are certain things I think are useful to share.
You’ll find this blog is broadly categorized into projects and journeys, with some photos thrown in for good measure. These are loose descriptions, effectively amounting to “how-to articles and lessons learned,” “a public journal and photo diary,” and “miscellaneous thoughts which have no better home” respectively.
If that sounds a bit scattered… 🤷♂️sorry. I hope you get something out of it, because I’ve certainly gotten something out of writing it.
– Zane Claes