Forrest Gump

It’s been a strange couple weeks for me. A lot of stuff I’ve worked on (mostly in secret) for the last few years is now in the news. It looks like it really was important after all — I wasn’t deluding myself.

First off, of course, the whole Facebook Files / whistleblower thing is about the work that I and my colleagues did at the company.

Relatedly, in Time, there’s a decent primer to the civic team, which I worked on at Facebook for the majority of my time there.

Next up, via Ezra Klein just a few days ago, there’s a profile of David Shor and his polling, which was more or less what I helped build over the 2020 election cycle.

Weirdly, the NYT bestselling book, Black Buck, is heavily based on Mateo’s time at Grovo — the place I worked before Facebook.

I feel a little like a Forrest Gump — near all this fame and excitement, always just slightly off screen.

Wonder what happens next.

I have been, and will be, posting a lot of life updates here. This dynamic is why: seems like enough time has passed that I write about my 2020 election work.


What I did in 2020

In those early months of January and February, I had just quit my job. I explored my new, non-employed identity. I had quit Facebook for many reasons. One of them was the realization that, after about six months in Somerville, I still didn’t know my neighbors, my neighborhood, or really have any deep friendships. I needed a break.

I had moved to Somerville back in June 2019, but it felt like I only truly moved to the area the first day I was job-free. I had a few months of wintry freedom, then covid hit.

By the end of February, I was increasingly concerned about this novel coronavirus in China. With some trepidation, I visited my cherished former roommates in San Francisco, and spent the entire visit wondering why no one was freaking out as much as I was. People in my informational orbit (except, notably, for Matt Stoller) seemed to be fixated on the Democratic Presidential Primary. I stocked up on food, made panicked calls to my relatives, and tried to convince my friends that no, we weren’t going to be able to have an in-person communal Pesach event, no matter how much they wanted one.

When the public finally acknowledged the virus, I was on the second save of my post-work journey: video games. Hours and hours of Skyrim. Spending hours zoned out playing Slay the Spire. And when I wasn’t doing that, I was trying to write more, again.

I stayed home. I played games. The classes I audited were cancelled. I started writing. I applied to Berkman (a weeks-long endeavor!). I started a book club, restarted my matchmaking hobby. Ran a dungeons and dragons game. Joined another.

For Kavod, I became co-chair of partnerships. Thanks to prompting by Sivan, I set up a virtual pesach for Boston Jews of Color.

I took a lot of stuff at once. Realized I had too many projects on my hands. Put many of them on ice.

By the end of May, I started a job. I hadn’t completed the renewal I was seeking. But something more important came up — the 2020 election was looming.

Thanks to George, I joined Open Labs. This was perhaps the best job I’ve ever had — the only possible contender being the civic team at Facebook.

I became the engineering lead for the team. I worked with amazing people. Among other things, we built the engineering infrastructure for notably cheaper, faster, and more accurate polling and A/B testing for the election. Then we shared the results of that polling and testing generously.

(If you know about Jesse Stinebring‘s and David Shor‘s Blue Rose Research project, it was work adjacent to that)

It was magical. Really competent, generous, talented people. (Too many to tag!) I got to try out my manager/organizer/PM skills. We took the time to build a good team culture, and it paid dividends. One thing we did as a team outing — playing puzzles together with the Association for the Protection of Magical Creatures. Another thing we tried: Jackbox games every friday afternoon.

Ultimately, the election took over my life. I had to jettison most of my other commitments and go back into an intense, all-consuming job. I don’t regret it, but it wasn’t really what my body needed. And hey, I still was able to do some fun projects, like getting people jobs, joining the Louis Brandeis Legacy Fund, writing some posts, and raising money for the Movement Voter Project.

Over the summer I took an online course on anti monopoly run by the Law and Political Economy project. Sarah and I visited Rochester for a few weeks. We came back. For my birthday, Sarah got my friends to all call in amazing voicemails ahead of time. We wandered the town, drinking lots of wonderful coffee and eating fun foods, while I listened to those messages. Thank you, they were wonderful.

In September, I became a Berkman fellow. This was pretty cool! But I ultimately put it way on the back burner till after the election was over. This was a good call, but still a little disappointing: I felt like I had the fellow experience for only one semester, instead of two.

The year ended with me first scrambling to understand and react to post-election-day arguments about the legitimacy of the vote, then retreating into some well-needed quality time with video games and Sarah. I started ramping up my Berkman work. I spent a few days writing hundreds of bullets of notes, trying to work out how I felt about social media and how it works.

It was cold outside. The virus still ran rampant. It had been a strange year. I might not have finally reset my relationship to burnout and stress, but I had helped win an election, I was happy with my boo, and things were good.

(As a reminder, I keep a “then” page that lists what I’ve been up to every year of my adult life. I’ve now finally updated it for 2020)