Amy Labenz

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AMA: Working at the Centre for Effective Altruism

I think this varies based on the team. My team (Events) is very strong on Alliance Mentality and Purpose First. I think we could improve on Perpetual Beta, which is why we are emphasizing skills related to impact analysis and program evaluation in our current hiring round. 

AMA: Working at the Centre for Effective Altruism

One thing that CEA recently changed was to go from thinking about the org as "based in Oxford with remote staff" to "remote first".  As someone who has been a remote employee for many years now, I'm excited about this change.  What it means in practice, is that even after the pandemic ends

  • One-person-one-laptop for meetings
  • Coworking
  • Informal/social time
  • Systems to encourage +  support travel

I'm especially excited about that last bullet point. I remember January 2016 as one of the best months of my life because I worked for weeks at the Oxford office. It was Julia's first time visiting too and so I got to know her, Will, Rob, Michelle, and lots of other CEA / 80K staff. It will probably be a bit harder now that I have kids, but I'm really excited imagining a work setup that involves the opportunity to go work with my team and other EAs at the Oxford Hub! 
 

AMA: Working at the Centre for Effective Altruism

Oh, those were good too! Definitely loved the bake-off. My team’s name of Nick Bakestead was one for the books.

I also really liked the EA themed rap battle. Even though I epically choked trying to freestyle, the raps from Aaron and Louis made up for it!

And I liked when Stefan did spot on impersonations of other staff members. I think he really nailed me, Oli, and Tara!

AMA: Working at the Centre for Effective Altruism

Some things we do to support and improve staff morale:

  • We have weekly "Game Time" where we play a drawing game
  • We used to have in-person retreats and will again soon (which always involve a lot of silliness, including karaoke for those who enjoy it), this year we have also had various virtual events for the team, including a murder mystery type game and an elaborate clues-based game in Gather Town
  • We have had some dress-up days for staff birthdays, including one day where we all dressed up as different characters from a card game that one of our staff is good at
  • This year for my birthday the team collaborated on a poem where they said something nice about me for every letter of the alphabet (it was awesome!)
  • We have various slack channels that encourage bonding: a silliness slack channel (where we post memes, jokes, Ben's tik toks...), a support slack, high fives to compliment others, "I done good" to brag, mindfulness, workout, and pair debugging to support good habits, etc
  • Different staff organize other meetings that are optional: I'm involved in a monthly "action for happiness" meeting and a weekly "accountability" meeting
  • We have other opportunities for 1:1s: we optionally get paired every couple weeks in Donut for "fun on ones" and have occasional Icebreaker 1:1s in Gatheround
  • We have a budget for personal development and morale-supporting items like SAD lamps, monitors, etc
  • Managers check in on staff morale weekly and our People Ops checks in with polling and reaches out or provides support by request for folks who need it
  • We do a "cheer" at the end of every All Hands where we all say the same word to end the meeting, selected by our "cheer tsar" - and Max always says "can the cheer tsar tell us what the cheers are"
AMA: Working at the Centre for Effective Altruism

We also have had a bunch of workshops to help folks build their rationality toolkit: including workshops on forecasting and Fermi estimates as well as Center for Applied Rationality and Clearer Thinking content. 

I also include practical application of rationality tools in events training. For example, the project management presentation that I'll be giving at our EAGx team training this Thursday includes a handful of rationality tools in a ~15-minute presentation (including planning fallacy, Murphyjitsu, inside vs outside view, and back planning). 

AMA: Working at the Centre for Effective Altruism

The events team tries to feature content and promote community norms that maintain/improve the community's epistemics. 

Examples of content (these are just a few talks of many): 


A few things we have done to try to influence norms:

  • I have calls with almost every speaker where we discuss their talk and how they will present it. I encourage them to use reasoning transparency in their presentation 
  • At welcome talks at the start of the event, I've encouraged folks to be open to changing their minds, to seek out ideas that they think they disagree with and try to engage with them, and to try to pass Ideological Turing Tests of attendees they disagree with
  • We bought copies of The Scout Mindset by Julia Galef to hand out at the EA Picnic, coming up in July :) 
     
AMA: Working at the Centre for Effective Altruism

Three years ago I think there was a lot of internal disagreement about the strategy. It doesn’t feel that way now. I have some disagreements with teammates now and then, but it feels like we basically agree on the direction of the company.

We also had significant teammate turnover 5 years ago and 3 years ago. I now expect teammates to stick around longer and expect leadership to stay in place for longer. This means I have more confidence that our strategy will stay the same, rather than the frequent strategy changes we saw when leadership changed so many times.

AMA: Working at the Centre for Effective Altruism

I’ll answer from an events perspective:

I think we could be doing a lot more to support community building using events! This is one reason I’m so excited about the two roles I posted for my team.

In particular, I’m always inspired by how well EAGx teams do. We provide them a bit of support, mentorship, and money and they create events that can be quite impactful. One of the events roles we posted, the Community Events Manager, is meant to take this to the next level by supporting a portfolio of community run events (which could include a wide range of events formats!). We have seen community members take initiative to run things on their own with very little money and support and this feels awesome and like a shame. I’m impressed with what folks have been able to do on there own, but it seems like we are leaving value on the table by not helping community run events more. I’m hopeful that we will find someone who can fix that!

I also think our internal events could do more with the right person, which is why we posted a pretty broad second job of Events Generalist. I think I’ve fallen down by not doing as much as impact analysis on events as I could. In my perfect world I would add someone to the team who could help me with that. But even adding another team member who could help run targeted retreats or scale up our mentorship around events or a variety of other things would mean we could invest more in the community. I’m hopeful that we will find someone who can help us do that!

AMA: Working at the Centre for Effective Altruism

I love my job a lot. I think the biggest positive for me is hearing impact stories from the events where people get some amazing connection or opportunity as a result of attending. From a pure enjoyment standpoint I am a sucker for the feeling when an event starts and I get to see all of the excited EAs who have come to attend this thing that my team worked so hard to make for them. There are moments when people start streaming in and it is so busy with activity during registration and everyone looks so happy... it feels like when you buy someone a present that you know they will like and you get to watch them open it!

I used to find the criticism from the community to be a bit hard, but now I have a much thicker skin and better relationship with the feedback. I think part of that comes from having more time, so that if we get negative feedback about something it is a data point about something where we made a decision to do one way or the other. I still feel stress when I think I underperform on something because the stakes feel so high.

In the past I traveled quite a bit for work. At the time that was a positive for me. I’m not sure if it will be as much of a positive now that I have two kids. We will see pretty soon!

AMA: Working at the Centre for Effective Altruism

I agree that a lot has changed!

Five years ago CEA was only had a couple of staff members and was more of an “umbrella organization” to incubate other projects. My ops role was with “CEA core” and my events role was with EA Outreach (one of the projects we supported, which no longer exists as a separate org). Julia was on the EA outreach team at that time along with a handful of teammates - I don’t think anyone else on the current team worked with us at the time. During my first 6 months or so at CEA, EAO merged with CEA core.

In terms of culture, five years ago it felt much more like CEA was a startup. I think teammates were much more stretched then: I worked two roles at once (Director of US Operations and Head of Events), and the people I managed were working on different projects. And many of the EAO teammates were part time. That meant I worked lots of hours and still couldn’t always execute at the level I would have liked.

Now I have a team of people helping with events (see our post, we are hiring!). And a whole different team manages Operations. This helps us improve our execution. CEA has also shifted to a culture that emphasizes self care more. I feel more able to take time off now because I have a team around me, which helps because I have two very young kids (2 yo and 4 months old). Julia managed this back in the old days but I don’t think I could have at the time.

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