by JJ Hepburn1 min read15 Jun 2020 9
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On Naming Projects

My general rules or thoughts around naming projects is to avoid trying to give them a name that describes what the project is. The problem is mainly that you end up with lock-in and lose control over how your project is perceived. 
 

People are very good at taking the name of something and using that to build a model of what they think the project is. We have this problem with AI Safety Support and the word "camp" in "AI Safety Camp" has caused confusion too. When talking to people about what we do we have to remove their beliefs in what we do before building up a more accurate picture.
 

OpenAI has big problems with this in that outsiders have their own model of what the founders were thinking when they came up with the name. They are often criticised for not living up to their name.  
 

I'd prefer a mostly meaningless name where people have to ask what you do and you get to control the message. People start with a blank slate with no misconceptions that you have to deal with first. You get to build up the picture of what you do your own way. My default example of this is "Uber" which you would have a hard time coming up with your own picture of what they do. I also really like "Redwood Research" they obviously do research but I struggle to come up with an assumption of what that could be.


There are of course plenty of exceptions where a descriptive name is appropriate. This seems to be the default though and it is worth questioning. If you are struggling to come up with a name that you are really happy with and confident it describes your vision then consider a less descriptive name. 


 

Uncommon career advice

These are some of my lose, unstructured and possibly less common advice related to careers.

• When applying for jobs looking at resources for hiring managers can be much more helpful than resources for applicants.

• Apply too often rather than not often enough. I at times hear people chose not to apply for something because they assume it is unlikely that they will be accepted and their time would be better used upskilling in their field. I think that people should apply more often in these situations to get more experience with the application process. Applications are a skill on its own, you are likely to get a better marginal benefit from practicing apply in a real situation than from a few more hours on your field. (Rejections suck and rejection sensitive dysphoria is real.) You can practice applying without actually applying.

• Draft applications super early. Even as a first year undergraduate ( earlier is even better) look at jobs you could be interested in years from now and draft an application for them. This makes it very clear what things you are missing and can try to fill over the next few years. Even if you don't end up applying for that job years later you are likely to have a lot more of the common signals required for job applications.

• You are almost always rejected because if "failure to demonstrate" required attributes. A cynical view of this is that someone could demonstrate abilities they don't have (can be so hard to fake that faking is a good signal anyway). The important thing though is that someone with the abilities the job requires can be rejected because they failed to demonstrate them.

Thank you for this great post!

The first piece of advice about looking at resources for hiring managers is quite insightful! I will try to incorporate it in my job search.

I can totally relate to the remaining points. Entering the job market after a really long break has made me even less likely to apply than others. I find pushing myself to apply to a job as rather a learning as well as confidence-building experience of its own. Each application episode helps me overcome my fears. Rejection comes as not a rejection but another feedback that I can use to improve.  

Keeping an eye on an application that I would love to submit in the future definitely helps in having a to-do checklist to prepare myself for that desired job. 

You have very well pointed out the fact about 'failure to demonstrate'. Demonstrating one's abilities is another skill needed. I am back in the job market after a really long break and thus all of the above points have made me boost my confidence that took a hit because of the break. 

I'd also add (although I'm not sure this is uncommon) - Get accountability buddy(s) who are also applying to jobs to motivate you / with whom you can share draft applications on short notice etc. Even though you may end up spending ~1.5-2x the time you would have on job applications as a whole, you may on net end up doing / applying to more position.s  

I really don't like writing about myself in a CV. I find it hard to try to talk about how amazing I am. Writing in the third person certain helps ("JJ is amazing" vs "I am amazing") but even better is having someone else write about how amazing I am. So, it's even better if you and your buddy can write for each other.

I thought this was a great Shortform post!

  • The book for hiring managers I've seen referenced most often is Who. If you're not sure what "resources" to look at, that's probably a good starting point.
  • "Apply too often rather than not often enough": I often tell people this, because:
    • Some people tend to underestimate their qualifications or suitability. You might be one of them!
    • (What JJ said about getting practice)
    • Even if you don't get the job, you might get a referral to other jobs if you do well during the process (I was hired this way, and I've helped at least one other person get hired this way)
    • EA-aligned orgs are generally quite open to feedback; if you find a specific process confusing or overly time-consuming, you can tell the org this; I think they'll be much more likely than most orgs to make changes in response (improving the experience for other applicants)
  • I'm not sure about the "application drafting" approach, but I recommend something similar: If a job interests you, look at an org's website (or LinkedIn) to find people who have that job or similar jobs. Look at what they did earlier in their careers. Consider sending a brief, polite email with a question or two, or asking for a quick call. Sometimes, people will just give you great advice for free. 
    • And even if no one responds, you've still gotten a much better sense for how these career paths operate in the real world (which isn't always as restrictive as the stories we tell ourselves about getting a job).
  • I haven't read "Who" but it is on my list. Manager Tools is another great resource for me. Here is their podcast series How To Scan A Resume.
    • They make if very clear how small things in your resume that might need a little bit of effort from the reviewer can mean you get rejected. Make the reviewers life as easy as possible.
  • I'm never to sure how to phrase the "application drafting" idea. "Drafting" is probably too strong for what I mean but I do mean more than just reading over an application form. Maybe "sketch" is a better term. 
    • Writing it down in some way is important as it makes it much more salient. Doing this a year or two out lets you sketch what your CV will look like given your current path. Considering opportunities that may be available to you over the next couple of years and sketching variations of your CV as if you had already done them to get an idea which options you are most excited about or are most useful.
  • We certainly do have restrictive stories about getting jobs. Apparently about 25% of early career and about 50% of later career jobs are found through networking not applying to open jobs. I personally have worked for 5 different business through networking not applying.

If everyone is holding the door open then nobody is walking through.
 

I've been in a few situations where an opportunity has come up that I could be interested in (job, volunteering, speaking, mentoring...). I often think that I shouldn't put my hand up for this because someone else is likely to be more suited for this and I don't want to waist others time or take the opportunity ahead of someone. This is a bit of a common EA thing as we are less motivated to compete to advance individually.

Of course if everyone is thinking like this then no one is putting their hand up for the opportunity. It's as if everyone is politely holding a door open to let others through first and we are all left out in the cold.

I've seen this as an organiser myself having too few people apply and talking with people who likely should have. I now consider this when ever an opportunity does come up and I find myself thinking this way. I have at times found that when I do put my hand up in these situations I get some response like "thank goodness you responded", "Do you know anyone else that could help"

The door will hold itself open on it's own, just walk through.

What do you think we do?

This is a bit of a side note on my last shortform.

 

There are (at least) three versions of what we or any project/org does. 

  1. What we think we do
  2. What you think we do
  3. What we actually do

Hopefully these three have a lot of over lap. Even 1 and 3 can have a lot of a gap between what you were wanting to deliver and what actually happens.

I occasionally like to ask people that I haven't interacted with before what they think we do at AISS. I like this to be early in the conversation so that it is their raw belief. Though a little too often people actually start answering as if I'd ask what they think we should do.