Earl Lee in Paris

Note: I recently created a personal website/blog where I will start posting these annual reflection and goal-setting posts as well as thoughts on tech. Check it out at EarlVLee.com!

2018 was an incredible year. Certainly not the easiest but when has incredible ever been easy? This year, I went from not programming since 2015 to coding 40 hours a week on top of a full-time job, vaguely considering business school to cramming for the GRE and applying, and leading a team of 5 on the FiscalNote mobile app to a team of almost 20 across web & mobile engineering, design, and QA. I got to visit Peru—my first South American trip—stopped by Beijing for business, visited Paris to see my girlfriend, and spent a weekend in Chicago for the first time. I placed 3rd at a weightlifting competition and even learned to kayak and snowboard.

Continue Reading →

10. February 2019 by Earl
Categories: Life | 2 comments


Earl in Japan

Hello, World! I always look forward to writing these annual reflection and goal-setting posts, and it will be nice to look back and hopefully be able to see progress through the years. I find these posts to be helpful in recalibrating my approach to growth and long-term goals. Furthermore, writing all of this down creates a sense of ownership for my actions and accountability for my goals. Continue reading to see how I did on my goals for 2017, lessons and observations from the past year, and what I hope to accomplish in 2018.

Continue Reading →

27. January 2018 by Earl
Categories: Life | 1 comment


2016 was a tumultuous year for the world, with Brexit and Trump’s rise to the presidency erupting a new normal, but amidst the chaos, 2016 turned out to be both exciting and calming for me. I grew to love DC, made a handful of new friends, visited Berlin, Yosemite, Hong Kong, and Bejing, and got into the habit of consistently reading. Of course, it wasn’t all perfect, but I’m appreciative the lessons I learned along the way and how all these experiences, both good and bad, have helped me develop clarity and resolve around how I want to grow in the future.

Let’s start with 3 realizations:

  1. I’m a builder at heart, or at least that’s what all my mental signals are telling me right now. I need to have a hand in creating new value to really enjoy the work I do. In college, I studied computer science and quickly gravitated towards the technology industry instead of academia. I had my feet in both—almost, quite literally. While conducting research phishing detection research at University of Houston during summer 2013, I wrote code for the early FiscalNote prototype during evenings and attended a web development camp at Google. The excitement of having ownership over something that was built from nothing is unbeatable. In 2016, this was building the analytics stack at FiscalNote.
  2. Iterate yourself like a product. If you haven’t seen Henrik Kniberg’s illustration of how to develop a product, you should. It proposes that the way to build out an ambitious product vision is not by building interdependent pieces of the vision but by building the simplest, descoped version of that vision that gets the fundamental job done, in other words, a minimum viable product (MVP). From there you should keep adding features and improve the MVP until it fits the vision. In most cases, this is a great way to approach building things, and that goes towards ourselves too. You don’t go to the gym for the first time and try squatting 315 lbs and expect to squat that weight one day so long as you keep going back and attempting to squat that weight. You first train to squat 135 lbs, then 155lbs, and so forth. In other areas of life, it’s not so simple. If you want to run a successful company one day, what is the first step you should be taking? There are many correct answers and many paths, but I think it’s important to understand that it’s an iterative process that takes enormous patience and thought.
  3. Time is the most valuable resource. I’ve always known this, but it’s something that we all need constant reminders of. We all get the same amount of this resource and there’s no getting back what you’ve spent. Yet we spend so much of it on wasteful activities like consuming junk content and being lazy because those provide short-term gratification. One thing I did to optimize this for 2017 is moving closer to the office and areas of interest, which reduces travel time and gives me the flexibility to go back and forth from the office more easily which directly helps the efficient allocation of time.

2016 Goals Retrospective
From a binary perspective, I only hit 30% of my goals for 2016. Furthermore, I started off the year doing 5 of the 7 habits I wanted to acquire but ended the year with only 2 of 7. From a pure numbers perspective, those results are very bad. However, I made substantial progress on 4 of the goals I did not hit. For example, I was only 35 lbs away from my squat PR, having improved my squat by 65 lbs. I also built up a robust analytics stack at FiscalNote and helped start a team that focuses on corporate strategy and analytics, which isn’t exactly the growth leader role I was aiming for but also not completely missing the mark.

That said, I’ll be making three changes to hit my 2017 goals:

  1. Time Allocation
  2. Focus
  3. Consistency

I need to be more cognizant of diminishing returns on my time and evenly distribute it amongst various goals to get the biggest returns possible. I also need to pare down what I want to do well on and pace myself such that I consistently make incremental progress towards goals throughout the year instead of trying to tackle everything at once and consequently making little progress on everything. So without much further ado…

2017 Goals

  • Read 17 books by reading a book every three weeks.
  • Build a useful web app by committing code to GitHub twice a month.
  • Monetize my photography.
  • Connect with 50 new people by talking with someone new every week.
  • Become more informed about the world by reading important news.
  • Be healthy and lean 155 lbs around 10% BF by training consistently 6 days/week, hitting my PR goals, and competing.

Sitting in my new apartment, already two months into 2017, I feel pretty good about the goals I’ve set for this year and where I want to be in 5 years. See you all in 10 months!

25. February 2017 by Earl
Categories: Life | 3 comments

Growth Feedback Framework

I recently published a post on Medium about feedback culture. Specifically, I applied the Growth Mindset to feedback to help organizations address feedback problems. Here’s a preview:

Let’s face it, it’s hard to give feedback that matters. Feedback that matters should help the receiver improve, but that kind of feedback is rare in many workplaces because it isn’t given for fear of offending someone or feedback tends to only point out errors without offering pointers for improvement. This lack of honest feedback in turn leads to tension and lingering problems, a dysfunctional organization.

This is a phenomenon I noticed at FiscalNote back in Fall 2015 and one that resonated with others on the Product team. Early that year, we had launched a new product only to find it harder to sell than expected. Some people including myself had the feeling we had completely missed the mark only to find ourselves making incremental improvements with the hope that the next update would get us that product-market fit. We found ourselves skirting around the giant elephant in the room — the fact that we decided to build what was easy and not what solved new pain points for our customers — and lacked brutal honesty with each other. In these sorts of environments, it feels hard to hold each other accountable without hurting feelings and as a result, a lot of time gets wasted mulling over issues instead of taking action.

Read the full article here!

I will start posting thoughts on technology and entrepreneurship on Medium, so check it out and follow me if you like what you see!

21. August 2016 by Earl
Categories: Life | Comments Off on Growth Feedback Framework

2015: What if it’s a gift?

Earl at Smithsonian Zoo

A young teen opens up his Christmas presents to find an Xbox One. It’s a huge upgrade from the hand-me-down PlayStation 2 he used to play as a kid. He loves it and immediately becomes addicted to Halo 5, playing it for hours on end, even sacrificing school work and pickup games with friends. A couple months later, while playing Halo 5, the boy curses and chucks his controller at the console. Clink! The controller knocks over a cup of water perched on a coffee table between the boy and the TV set. The water splashes all over the console, and few seconds later, the screen goes blank. Worried, the boy runs to his father and asks him to fix it. The father walks over, tinkers around for half an hour and declares, “Son, you’re Xbox One is dead.” “No! Why! This is the worst!” the boy yells. The father, calm as the blank TV screen in front of him, looks his son in the eye and says, “It’s your fault you lost your temper, son.” “But, it isn’t fair that my Xbox broke so soon,” continues the boy, tears forming in his eyes, “Who knows when I’ll get a new one!” The father smiles and tells his son, “Oh, but what if it’s a gift?”

While reflecting on 2015, I found it hard to come up with one story to tell, one lesson I learned, or one change that happened. How is one supposed to fit an entire year, 365 days, 8,760 hours, 525,600 minutes, or 31.536 million seconds into one reasonably short blog post that won’t bore people to death?

But then I realized that everything that was running through my head really boiled down to this: Think big.

To be specific, think big in the face of change. A lot changed for me in 2015.

  1. I graduated college and left the place I called home for the past four years.
  2. I forged amazing friendships with and mentored some freshman during my last year at Yale but then moved hundreds of miles away from them.
  3. I met and dated a girl who made me really happy, created incredible memories together, but then lost her.
  4. I became a product manager at FiscalNote after spending almost two years writing code and took ownership over several large initiatives—growth, metrics, and our API.

Change can be a blessing, but it can also be hard. It doesn’t discriminate between health, money, relationships, or career. It touches everything in your life, seemingly at random.

There’s a quote I love that goes, “Victims are frightened by change; leaders are inspired by change.” This is one of the mantras I try and live by. I’m not going to lie. At one point or another, I was frightened by every change that happened this year, but that fear and discomfort, slowly but surely, changes to inspiration. You think bigger than the past, the present, and the what-if. You begin to see opportunities born out of the current situation, out of change. How fast that shift happens—if at all—depends on your mindset.

On a similar vein, I don’t believe in karma. I don’t believe in luck. I don’t believe in destiny. I believe everyone is in control of their life. It’s easy to give in to external factors. It’s easy to say, “That’s not fair,” or “It’s out of my hands.” Once you believe something is out of your control, that you should leave things as-is, then you don’t have to work. However, there’s always something you can do. By blaming external factors, you victimize yourself and give up your power. If you take a step back and think bigger than that one change—if you turn a little to the left or to the right and take a few steps forward—then you’ll be able to look over and see that being forced to change paths was a gift.

Read on for my 2016 resolutions!
Continue Reading →

10. January 2016 by Earl
Categories: Life | 1 comment

Outcome Independence

View from The Penthouse

They say ignorance is bliss. In the grand scheme of things, it’s not. Maddening curiosity is not bliss, nor is slowly settling into the life you know without taking a step back to look at the big picture and what else is out there. The past couple weeks, I went on vacation, and for once, I mean that in the truest sense of the word. I stopped working. I stopped lifting. I got on a flight to LAX and didn’t look back.
Continue Reading →

21. March 2015 by Earl
Categories: Life | 3 comments

2014: Habits I Plan to Keep and Acquire

Earl on a rock

Will Durant once said, while paraphrasing Aristotle, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” In the spirit of excellent habits, most of my 2015 New Year’s resolutions are structured as habits I plan to acquire or continue to keep up. Hopefully, these can help you think of some habits you want to pick up in 2015.

Continue Reading →

09. January 2015 by Earl
Categories: Life | 3 comments

2013: Strangers, Money, & Opportunity

Last Year's Short Rib

The title of this post sounds a lot like the headline of some political scandal, but in fact, it highlights the keywords of things I learned this year. I don’t know about you guys, but I learned and changed a lot in 2013. I discovered new passions, such as Olympic-style weightlifting. I tried new things, from coding at hackathons to wrestling, and I changed the way I make decisions.

Cantonese Pork Belly at Nom
Continue Reading →

01. January 2014 by Earl
Categories: Life | Tags: , , , | Comments Off on 2013: Strangers, Money, & Opportunity

Raku and Dolcezza Artisanal Gelato

Tuna Tartare at Raku

Tomorrow, I am going up to New York before I head back up to school the next day Thursday. I look forward to returning to school because, over the summer, I set my mind on a career path and found what passions I really want to pursue. Without delving into details, I gained new life experiences this summer. For that, I have to thank everyone I spent the summer with—fellow interns in Houston, old high school friends I met up with in California, new friends I made at Google, and more. Yet, as I prepare for my third year at Yale, I can’t help but feel rushed. With only two years of college left, I wonder if I’ll find myself in the spring of senior year wanting to start over. This is something I’ve talked about with recent graduates and alumni, and they’ve all agreed that by the end of senior year, Yalies are ready for and accepting of moving on to the real world. While comforting, this doesn’t change my renewed determination to maximize the latter half of my college years, so here’s to the next two years.


Last weekend, I visited a hip Japanese restaurant located in the heart of Bethesda, MD. Located in the midst of a busy shopping district, Raku is easy to overlook, but for its reasonably low prices, it doesn’t disappoint.

When I met my friend Sarah at the restaurant on a Friday evening, Raku was packed to the brim. Chances are, without the reservation I made earlier on in the week, we would have looked at a healthy waiting period before getting seated. In retrospect, some time spent with the menu before getting seated wouldn’t have hurt.

Raku’s dinner menu spans over 15 sections, from First Flavors to California Lineups. Among the intriguing options are ‘Seoul’ Train Roll and Chinese Five Spiced Duck Breast. Raku’s menu brings the indecisiveness out of most people, and it is menus like this that make me want to pursue a part-time role as a paid food writer, just so I could order everything that fancies my mind.
Continue Reading →

20. August 2013 by Earl
Categories: Life, Reviews | Tags: , | 3 comments

Google Chrome Academy 2013

Team Baguette

Last week, I attended a program called Google Chrome Academy, and it was one of the most memorable weeks I’ve enjoyed in my life. Chrome Academy is a weeklong camp at Google’s main campus in Mountain View, CA, where rising sophomores and juniors learn about web technologies, such as AngularJS and Polymer, and build their own web apps for a culminating presentation. In a sense, it’s like a week-long hackathon. To me, it was a paid vacation. Everything is covered—from basics, such as flights, hotel, and food, to extras, such as Patagonia backpack, Nexus 7, and a Google apron. We rode around in limos, posed for photos with the storied bicycles Google has lying around campus, hand-made pizzas at a Google café, took pictures of ourselves sleeping on charter buses, ate garlic fries at AT&T park while watching the Giants face off against the Marlins, and talked late into the night about where we wanted to be next summer.

Few things in life are better than you anticipate it, but this was one of them. Perhaps it was the late-night coding fueled by beef jerky and OhYeah! protein bars, or the laughter shared with my teammates who all came from different walks of life, or the feeling of roaming Googleplex as if I were a freshman again, but everything seemed just right. I found myself inside a bubble where nearly everything and only the things I care about* were all there. I even managed to get a few sleep-deprived, weightlifting sessions in, one of which resulted in a snatch PR.

At Google, we heard first-hand about web technologies. For example, Eric Bidelman, one of the developers of the new Polymer framework, taught us about web components and Polymer. Vojta Jina, a developer working on AngularJS, introduced us to the emerging Javascript MVW framework. We learned how to optimize our websites and utilize HTML5 features from Googlers who helped write specs. Everyone who dropped by were masters of their fields. I have no doubt that they were all probably busy with more pressing matters, but here they were, there, in-person, open to having one-on-one conversations and help sessions.

The food I ate, the free swag I got, and the new technologies I learned about will all fade into the past, but the people I met, the friends I made, the struggles, laughters, and aspirations we shared will be with me forever. Thank you to everyone who became a part of my experience at Chrome Academy, especially the organizers—Allison, Janet, Desiree, and Peter—my team, and the few others not on my team but wished you were.

*This is a dangerous statement to make because I care about many more things, such as family, but I’m going to go ahead and abuse my literary license.

Continue Reading →

27. June 2013 by Earl
Categories: Life, Tech | Tags: , , , , , | 4 comments

← Older posts