Joseph Lemien

People Operations Specialist @ Centre for Effective Altruism
Pursuing a graduate degree (e.g. Master's)
Working (6-15 years of experience)
837Joined Dec 2020



I have work experience in HR and Operations. I read a lot, I enjoy taking online courses, and I do some yoga and some rock climbing. I enjoy learning languages, and I think that I tend to have a fairly international/cross-cultural focus or awareness in my life. I was born and raised in a monolingual household in the US, but I've lived most of my adult life outside the US, with about ten years in China, two years in Spain, and less than a year in Brazil. 

As far as EA is concerned, I'm fairly cause agnostic/cause neutral. I think that I am a little bit more influenced by virtue ethics and stoicism than the average EA, and I also occasionally find myself thinking about inclusion, diversity, and accessibility in EA. I tend to care quite a bit about how exclusionary or welcoming communities are. I was told by a friend in EA that I should brag about how many books I read because it is impressive, but I feel  uncomfortable being boastful, so here is my clunky attempt to brag about that.

I'm also looking for a romantic partner to settle down with in a long-term relationship, so if you think we might be compatible and make a good match you can reach out to me. My OkCupid profile is here.

How I can help others

I'm happy to give advice to people who are job hunting regarding interviews and resumes, and I'm happy to give advice to people who are hiring regarding how to filter/select best fit applicants. I would have no problem running you through a practice interview and then giving you some feedback. I might also be able to recommend books to read if you tell me what kind of book you are looking for.


How to do hiring


Oh, Australia. I fell prey to the common mistake of "assuming other people people are like me." I know a good deal about personal finance in a USA context, but only parts of that are universal: good chunks of it are particular to a specific national context. The national context matters a lot in personal finance issues.

Your idea of "have a little money that's easily accessible and most of it in a trust" does make sense. Have an 'emergency fund' or 'support myself fund' with enough money for a a year or two of expenses, and then have everything else in a fund that transfers X% into your 'support myself fund' each year (or 1/12th of X% each month). If you do it right, the trust should grow indefinitely, and the inflow to your 'support myself fund' will be larger than your expenses.

I think that I don't have anything particularly wise or useful to write about the whole 'trusting your future self' topic. But I imagine that there are likely personal finance professionals who have done research about that time of thing. It might take some poking around to find it though.

I'd be interest to read a post you write regarding illegibility of EA power structures. In my head I roughly view this as sticking to personal networks and resisting professionalism/standardization. In a certain sense, I want to see systems/organizations modernize.

A quote from David Graeber's book, The Utopia of Rules, seems vaguely related: "The rise of the modern corporation, in the late nineteenth century, was largely seen at the time as a matter of applying modern, bureaucratic techniques to the private sector—and these techniques were assumed to be required, when operating on a large scale, because they were more efficient than the networks of personal or informal connections that had dominated a world of small family firms."

From my limited knowledge of finance and law, I think that a trust would do everything you are looking for: you put your money into the trust, and the the trust follows particular rules that you set up. Rules such as "give me a 4% distribution annually" and "give all money to X upon my death" would be pretty easy to set up. The idea of borrowing against it might be a bit trickier.

But I think that the advantage of having the money outside of your control is relatively minor, while the disadvantages seem a bit larger. If you really do not trust your future self, then it might be worth it to set up a trust. But in general I would simply recommend putting the money into an instrument like a 401k or an IRA so that you are able to access the money early in case of emergency, but with a financial penalty to motivate you to not touch it. Excess money can be invested into a target date retirement fund in a brokerage account. Overall, I'm not convinced that the idea is worth doing, although I do find the concept interesting.

A very nit-picky note: the study that is famous for suggesting 4% of your assets as sustainable is only intended for a retirement of 30 years: it had a .95 probability of still having 0 or more dollars in it after 30 years. If you plan to live off of your investment for more than 30 years, then  3.5% should serve you pretty well (all the normal caveats apply: allocation matters, sequence of return risk matter, market performance matters, etc.).

The Intro EA Program might be a good way to get more familiar with some ideas and mental tools/models that are common in EA. Doing Good Better is an introduction to a lot of EA ideas that is fairly easy to read. Scout Mindset would also be a good book to read (less for understanding EA, and more for understanding an approach to the world of figuring out what is true, rather than fighting for what I believe to be true).

If you are in San Francisco (or the greater Bay Area) then it might be feasible for you to meet other EAs in person and get input on how to make your project/effort better.

If you want to adapt some EA-esque practices, then measuring your impact (such as lives saved per 10,000 dollars spent,  or years of incarceration prevented per workshop, or job placements achieved per SOMETHING) could be a good start. It is hard to do monitoring and evaluation well, but I'd encourage you to not let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Once you know your impact and input per unit of impact, then you can compare, optimize, pivot, and so on.

Cause neutrality is a fairly important idea in EA. While I don't think any person is truly and absolutely neutral about causes (we all have some things that resonate with us more, or pet projects that we simply care more about), in my mind the Platonic ideal of an EA would do a pretty good job of setting aside personal biases/connections/preferences and simply do what accomplished the most. I'm certainly not there (I work in HR for crying out loud 😅), but it is an aspirational ideal to strive for.

In general the bar for EA projects is set pretty high. A lot of EAs might look at an electrical engineering training program and think something like:

It is great to help these kids, but for the same amount of money/time/effort as helping these ten kids each learn how to build a boombox, I could help ten other kids get an extra 15 years of healthy life. One of these needs is gonna go unmet regardless (because we have limited resources), so I'm gonna make the tough choice and put my resources in a project that will have a bigger impact (while at the same time desperately wishing that I could fully fund/support both of these projects, because from what I can tell they both make the world a better place).

The EA community might be an appropriate community if you, but it is hard to say this with any level of confidence since I know so little about your projects, goals, impacts, motives, etc.

A good question to ask yourself: what if you had some evidence showing that your project was having a negligible influence on the result that you wanted? Or even worse, what if it showed that your project had a negative impact? If you would change your behavior based on these facts, then that is an indicator that EA might be a good fit.

Another thing to ask yourself: if your goal is to give people more economic opportunities, is training teens in California the best way to do that? If you were instead to train teens in Dakar, or New Delhi, or Mexico City, would that get more "bang for your buck?" Or if you were to find school uniforms for young girls in rural [insert country here], for each dollar spent would that generate more in lifetime earnings than your electrical engineering training program. These are the kinds of questions that an EA might ask himself/herself about a project like yours.

While there are definite downsides to living in the Bay Area, many of them are lessened/eliminated for my situation by the fact that I will be working remotely.

I'm a 35-year-old , so I am a bit cautious about moving to an area that is predominantly a "college town." But assuming that you would recommend Berkley for working professionals (or for anyone else who isn't a student), are there any specific neighborhoods or areas of Berkley that you would recommend?

I'll be working at Centre for Effective Altruism on the People Operations team.

Assuming that it's financially feasible to live in any of these four cities (San Francisco/Berkley, New York, Boston, or Washington DC), how would you prioritize them? Any reasons a person should choose one over another?

This is useful for people outside of Nordic countries also. I'm an American who has spent the past decade outside of the US, and it is strange and interesting to read about the hype, the group living, and the polyamory. I'd love to see guides like this expanded (so that the guide covers different EA communities and their cultures) and deepened (so that it covers more details about each EA community an it's culture).

Why don't we discount future lives based on the probability of them not existing? These lives might end up not being born, right?

I understand the idea of not discount lives due to distance (distance in time as well as distance in space). Knowing a drowning child is 30km away is different from hearing from a friend that there is an x% chance of a drowning child 30km away. In the former, you know something exists; in the latter, there is a probability that it does exist, and you apply an suitable level of confidence in your actions.

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