David Tate

Mastering the Art (and Science) of Remote Work

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Can you learn anything from a vlog?

Vlogging, “video blogging” – fascinates me. Not the idea of me doing it – how it feels to watch a vlog, and what it might change long-term.

I started watching vlogs after I saw my kids watching them. We let our kids use the YouTube Kids app for a bit each day, and they watch popular blogs such as Shaytards and The Engineering Family.

I also watched every day of Casey Neistat’s vlog for almost a year and showed many of them to my kids. I was a long-time fan of Casey’s Youtube channel (it was my only subscription for years) after seeing a video about his functional office and hearing him complain about the way the intern had built one of his shelves. I loved the attention to detail, and recognized the desire to have everything you need within an arm’s reach.

The interesting thing about watching Casey’s vlog is that I legitimately missed it when I stopped watching. When I returned to watching it later I was surprised to see that his daughter had, as children do, gotten older. The sensation was one of seeing an old friend after a few years. But I don’t know the Neistats. When I heard that he had sold Beme to CNN I was happy for him in a deeper way than if I had read a blog post about a popular blogger selling his company. The bond was greater, the intimacy higher.

It used to be that we read each other’s blogs to see what was going on in other people’s heads and to learn from their mistakes. Blogs were the teachers and the quality of writing created influencers. Now we listen to snarky musings and jokes on twitter, and fewer people read. Video is the next wave of extreme followership, and it is very different than previous formats in a few key ways.

Intimacy and Authenticity

My new favorite vlog takes the camera home but also teaches: Nathan Kontny. The intimacy that this builds is strange, raw, and powerful.

When Nathan explores an idea related to his business, I’m listening. As a paying Draft user, I have read on Ninjas and Robots (his well-named blog), but his deep credentials aren’t why I’m listening.

His transparency on the vlog lends him the authenticity that you can’t get on a blog no matter how self-deprecating your “about” page is. He starts filming before he gets all cleaned up for the day and mentions how he has “parenting insomnia”, that his family is sick often, and mentions when his young daughter has a tantrum. While the fact that he is a father doesn’t seem related to his work, it somehow matters deeply. I’m listening to his stories because of the greater context I see of his daily life and family; honesty in one area indicates honesty in another. And he tells some interesting stories that feel more real within this context.

Long Term

I believe that vlogging is the way that the next generation of “influencers” will emerge. For software engineers, this might mean that the ones with the personality to pull off a daily vlog might have more influence than they do today. Should all developers go get haircuts and take that terrifying improv class? Probably not, but vlogging might turn into what doing a tech talk is now: a right of passage for those that want to move to the next level of influence.

There are some interesting implications here regarding personal usage. You can’t watch 10 vlogs a day, even at the 6 to 9-minute standard that seems to have been established there just isn’t enough time. So a winner-take-all system will develop in which you most likely watch one, and occasionally binge on the rest like TV shows. While Casey Neistat’s vlog was interesting, I found myself wanting to know more about Beme and thus eventually got tired of hearing about drones, skateboards, and pep talks and stopped watching. Something like Nathan Kontny’s vlog matches my interests more directly – daily stories of business or personal challenges that I find relevant to my life and work. I look forward to it every day.

Silver Lining

I love hanging around with my kids because they say so many things that don’t make sense. They sound of wise crazy poets.

Yesterday while walking with my daughter she looked up at the sky and said birds are so happy, but they have sun in their eyes all day. I thought about this and smiled and she smiled at me. We were on our way to dropoff a picture she made into a neighbor’s mailbox.

Not all birds have sun in their eyes all day of course, they fly beneath the clouds down here with us, but it reminded me of the common saying every cloud has a silver lining which I often hear applied to mean: “from every bad thing, there is some small, good thing”. This is not the meaning of the phrase, although it is the common usage.

Silver lining refers to the fact that the sun is always shining above the clouds, and you can see this on the edges where it makes it shine brightly in silver. Every cloud has a silver lining means that the cloud’s days are numbered, that the heat on the other side – with the same intensity and consistency as on a sunny day – will move that cloud away and it will be sunny again to you.

If you a spiritual person, it means that He who brought the clouds promises He will take them away. The origin of the phrase speaks to this:

I see ye visibly, and now believe
That he, the Supreme Good, to whom all things ill
Are but as slavish officers of vengeance,
Would send a glistering guardian, if need were
To keep my life and honour unassailed.
Was I deceived, or did a sable cloud
Turn forth her silver lining on the night?
I did not err; there does a sable cloud
Turn forth her silver lining on the night,
And casts a gleam over this tufted grove.

— John Milton, Comus: A Mask Presented at Ludlow Castle, 1634

Be A Digital Adult

Most of us reading this post are adults. We take care of those around us, hold down jobs, pay bills, shower daily and do other things that are considered mature. We avoid the struggles of children: petty conflict, biting others, and openly weeping when our bananas break.

But the world has changed and done so quickly. There are new skills to be learned, and if you don’t keep up you will continue to act like a child while those around you move forward and have to take care of your weak childish self.

Let’s learn how to be a Digital Adult – an adult in this new data-rich age run on technology:


Attention and Focus

  • Manage your email like your time is valuable. Manage all of your time as if you live in an attention economy. Don’t waste your life watching other live theirs.
  • Practice the ability to focus on actual work for long periods of time; what some call “Deep Work
  • Read things that people spent time making (like, I dunno, BOOKS), not crap like social media and celebrity gossip.

Accuracy of Information: News

You should read the news to know what is happening in the world, and not to be entertained. Read actual journalism, not things that are written as entertainment.  A good metric of this is: would the person who wrote this go to jail for a source? Also: was this “paper” around 15 years ago? Does this site seem always to print things that feel like conspiracy “we just can’t be ahead” theories?

Some things to read about this further:

Accuracy of Information: Healthcare

There is a lot of good information about our bodies and how they work online. Also, we can learn more about nutrition, fitness, and injury prevention than we have ever been able to in the past. But there are a lot of for-profit health “care” information sites that are just pushing their solution.

See the below slideshow and ask yourself if a site is driven by profit or public good.

Now, go and be an adult. Don’t let the big scary people trying to steal your allowance and energy stop you from playing and working.

I’m writing a book about successfully working from home; click here if you want to know when it is complete.

Chaos-Proof Your Marriage with Monkeys

The best thing that happened to our marriage is my wife getting so sick that she couldn’t walk down the stairs more than a few times a week. She was pregnant with twins and was having a side-effect of having hives all day and feeling sick. We saw a large number of doctors about it and learned how all of them looked when they had no idea what to do.

She was upstairs for seven months (the whole of the pregnancy), and I had two daughters to take care of: get to school, feed, clothe, argue with, etc. I did this in my standard fashion for a few weeks, and then things started to fall over.

First, we ran out of milk. Then ketchup. Running out of ketchup is like a methadone clinic running out of methadone. Then toilet paper.  The girls wanted to talk to me about things that I didn’t normally talk to them about.  The house needed to be cleaned.  The fridge and pantry became empty at a disturbing rate.

Also, I started to notice that I didn’t have anyone to back me up. I had to read and sign all the kid’s papers and clean out the van every few weeks, answer *all* of the mail, go to parent/teacher conferences, and have sad, hard conversations with kids that wanted to talk.

I was a single Dad during this time, and it made me a much better parent. Before my wife got sick I was a “bench player” and she was the star when it came to running the household and taking care of the kids. I backed her up and provided all the help I thought I could give, but I stopped short of full and complete responsibility for those areas. That stunk.

That stunk for her because it meant that she didn’t have an equal partner that was thinking about this stuff all the time and could provide ideas and stress relief. It meant that she lived with someone that didn’t know how difficult it truly was to take care of kids all day and be tightly-wound at night.

There is this idea championed by the Netflix organization that says that you should plan for chaos by creating it. The infrastructure to run Netflix, which during the holidays is 37% of overall Internet traffic (ugh) in North America, is as you can imagine vast and complex. They are leaders in providing always-on services, and many in my industry learn from their experience.

They use a piece of software called Chaos Monkey to test the fault-tolerance of their systems. You can imagine chaos monkey as a sub-system that randomly stops and messes with other parts of the infrastructure. If Netflix is a large room full of computers Chaos Monkey is acting like a literal monkey and unplugging, chewing through, and pissing on all the computers. And their software is disabling those computers and restoring power and firing alarms as these things are happening.

Overall, because of the chaos, they are much stronger.

My marriage had a very common anti-pattern to it: the less-involved husband. The extreme of this idea is the husband that comes in and grabs a beer and starts watching TV as his wife tries to cook while kids hang onto her feet. The most typical version of this is a husband that stops short of full responsibility when it comes to making decisions around the kids:

“Well, honey if this what you think is best.”
“I dunno what does the teacher think.”
“Sweetheart I’m too tired to think about this from my long day of (insert something that isn’t that hard here), can’t you just decide without me?”
“Talk to your mother.”

I can still be like this, but I know recognize it and try to push through and be better for her, for the family. And whenever more chaos arrives: sick children, family struggles, etc. I try to take it on directly and learn from it.

And, of course, this experience has taught me to appreciate my wife and all that she does.  There was so much “dark matter” of activities that I never saw that she did to keep things running.  I knew of some of it through weekends, but I didn’t appreciate how much work it was to buy vegetables on a Tuesday afternoon to save some money, or to keep an eye out for summer camps that were good for the kids.

If you learn from every struggle and approach every struggle with this attitude, then you end up being much stronger.  Because if there is one sure thing in life it is: you will have struggles.  Even if they aren’t literal monkeys pissing on your computers.

What I Learned from Briefly Sharing an Office with Steve Jobs

Get Started Early

Steve used to come in real early. By the time I got there I could see evidence that he had already been there — discarded coffee cups, little crumbs of food, a mild odor in the air — he had obviously been there for hours. Haters and self-doubt sleep in; get up early and get in charge of your day.

Don’t Clutter your Office — Don’t Clutter Your Mind

My desk has always been really messy. My side of the office was just a huge wasteland but it worked for me; Steve kept his side really minimal and I think it helped him focus. I mean just look at his accomplishments versus mine — clean desks are clearly the way to do it.

Head Off-Site to Avoid Distractions

When I tell people that I shared an office with Steve Jobs for a few months they don’t believe me, but it’s true. I think at the Apple HQ he was probably always being interrupted with questions and meetings and he just needed a place to just focus on work. Go off-site to improve your productivity.

Focus on the Important Stuff

I never once saw Steve Jobs on the phone and he never took a meeting in our office. What was he doing then? Just working — gathering scraps of food, looking up at me, running away. Avoid the distractions of social media, world news, and the unimportant.

Disguise Yourself to Avoid Interruptions

Steve was really a maverick, but his methods worked. Disguising himself as a small mouse was certainly innovative, and ultimately it will be up to the historians to decide if it was a greater achievement than the iPod. But I’ll tell you it impressed me; I’ll always look back with fondness of our time together.

R.I.P Steve.


This a brief excerpt from my book yeah, sure which is on sale at Amazon.

Yeah, sure

I have written a book ( yeah sure ) which is available for sale now.

It contains pieces that have been published in McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, The Feathertale Review, and Reader’s Digest along with 100+ pages of new material never seen outside of the walls of my office and the IHOP bathroom wall off Exit 7 by your uncle’s house (No: the other uncle).

Check it out on Amazon or Gumroad (if you want non-Kindle formats).

If you want a paper copy have a friend read it to you and write down everything they say.

Reductio ad absurdum of LinkedIn endorsements

John Lewis endorsed you for Inventory Management and Leadership

John Lewis endorsed you for Being Able to Help His Career and Always Being Nice to Him in the Breakroom When You Used to Work Together

John Lewis endorsed you for Wise Hiring Decisions and Giving People a Chance Even Though They Have Little Experience

John Lewis endorsed you for Seeing Him in Person at Build-a-Bear and Being Pleasant

John Lewis endorsed you for Pretending To Not Get Notifications from LinkedIn

John Lewis endorsed you for Ignoring Social Cues

John Lewis endorsed you for Passive Aggressiveness and Endorsing Him for Persistence

This is an short free excerpt from my book yeah, sure. Check it out on Amazon.

Resume of the Future

TLDR: You should totally hire me.


As a self-oriented detail starter I seek a dynamic company that can use me, abuse me, because I am not you’re average high school graduate. #nailedit.


  • Made a trick shot video where I threw pennies into toilets at the mall in super hard ways – got like a ton of hits.
  • 3K Instagram followers – only been on site for like a year.
  • Started the hashtags #putyourbuttonit and #grandmadontcare
  • Compiled 500K in virtual currency in NBA 2KLive in one weekend.
  • Lead Redditor of /r/gnomesdoingweirdstuff and /r/glittertrivia
  • Ran the airbrush stand at the mall for like two years – we had like a ton of celebrities come in there and I hooked them up.
  • Built a Minecraft replica of your mom’s house down to every detail (ya burnt).

Technical Skills

  • Adobe Acrobat, Microsoft Word. I can guess the Wifi password of most yogurt shops.
  • I can get you, like, whatever software you need.
  • Super good at googling stuff; I find videos that nobody has even heard of.


  • Went to like most of my classes even Ms. Smith she was a total boozer you could smell it



This is an short free excerpt from my book yeah, sure. Check it out on Amazon.

My daughter designed my perfect home office in Minecraft

Children notice more than you think. It has been a difficult two weeks with the kids out of school  due to “snow” and a winter break so the work/life harmony is a bit more chaotic than normal. I have gotten frustrated with them at times (especially yesterday when I found all four in my office looting it slowly).

My (middle) daughter (who is 5) must have picked up on this because last night showed me a home office that she made for me in Minecraft so I can “get quiet when you talk to people and type and read stuff”.  So it turns out she knows the nature of my work (which is just typing and reading I guess).  She also knows that I need:

  • Quiet.
  • Space close to but far away from the family.

Its in a flat world and the office is at the top of a tower with a lobby that you enter first:



You then “say your name to the guard and they let you in or kick you out” (when she showed it to me the guard had a large sword just in case there was trouble):




If you are granted entrance you have to climb (she says you aren’t allowed to fly there) to get to the office itself:


Its quite a climb to the top:


Up in the office I have some bookshelves:


A computer with plenty of light nearby:


And a great view:


outsideIt is amazing to me that she was perceptive enough to realize what I wanted and took the time to build it.

I’m writing a book about successfully working from home; signup if you want to know when it is complete.

Docked and Unplugged

Last year I went on my first cruise with my family. On the last night of the cruise my daughter got massively sick at 4 AM. Unable to go back to sleep after getting her settled I decided to take a walk around the ship; we would be de-boarding soon and I was sort of curious what the mini-floating-world would look like that early (especially on the last day). I was expecting a lot of tired children with Type A parents sitting at breakfast trying to stay awake so they could reach the car per their detailed schedule. Instead I found a closed breakfast buffet and a handful of men all sitting around looking at their cellphones.

I had noticed that my phone had chirped to life during the elevator ride to the 11th floor – finally within range of a cellphone tower and out of the deep interior of the ship it started its soft little symphony of text messages, work notifications, application updates, and social media “alerts”.

The men I found seated at tables (1 per table facing the same direction like an odd morning commute) didn’t have sick children who had awoken them at 4 AM like I had. They also didn’t have their families with them. They were all staring blankly at their phones and slowly scrolling through all those notifications. Not really knowing what to do since there were no pancakes to be eaten like I hoped I also sat down and pulled my phone out. Per usual whenever any modern person has a few spare moments I assumed the default behavior – slowly scrolling with my right hand.  News outside the network of things that actually affect me, work emails, photos and funny sayings, pictures of cats and babies – all scrolling past in a slow scroll.

I then stopped, stared blankly for a minute, and simply thought: What in the everlasting crap am I doing?

To want to leave the comfort of family and vacation a few hours early to catch up with work: this is the behavior of an addict.  I stood up and rode the elevator back to my softly sleeping family.

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