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Commencement

~ A parting thought from FiveStars. The commencement of Anelen. ~

When its network of the employees is strong, a company looks much smaller than it is.

Almost 6 years after joining the "awesome startup" when it was in a warehouse-like office in a sleepy suburb of Mountain View, the company HQ in San Francisco has a beautiful view of San Francisco Bay. To me, it also feels surreal to hear that we are now a 250 people company.

What is more amazing is how all team members are sincerely owning the company mission "Helping businesses and communities thrive by turning transactions into relationship." and living the core values: Shared Humility, Authentic Relationships, Warrior Spirit, and Joy Every Day.

It wasn't an easy journey to get there. We had great quarters and terrible quarters. Some days we celebrated our wins like nothing is more awesome. Some months felt like an everyday roller-coaster ride. What was consistent was that the authentic friendship between the two co-founders: Vic and Matt. I have witnessed this for many years. I believe it is their relationship that made the company values sound to real, echoing in the heart of each employee today.

The tale of FiveStars will not be any easier from here. In my tenure, it felt like a different company every 6 months. It got to the next stage of growth very quickly. Before we finish celebrating the accomplishment, the qualitatively different challenges were always in sight. For example in product, we only had engineers at first and the engineers went beyond their confort zone and designed the product, and visited our clients to install. By the time we hired designers and support staff, they needed to wear a manager hat instead, thinking how to scale the team. Each of us had to grow very fast.

Everybody's life evolved along with the company. I was one of the few who were already married in the early days. Now I have a child. Both Vic and Matt got married, and so do many others. Some people graduated to become leaders in much bigger companies. Some started their start-ups.

Now it is my time to graduate from FiveStars. Why am I leaving? Did I lose the faith to the company mission and the community we built? Absolutely not! After I leave, I will still look for opportunities to collaborate to achieve our mission, grow our culture, and live our values. I recall the day I was talking to K who was leading the recruitment for founding team 6 years ago. I said during my interview that I want to start my own business one day. It took nearly 6 years before I finally decided now is the time.

Back then, I was probably thinking about starting a startup. Through the experience at FiveStars, I slightly changed the idea. I do not necessarily want to start a fast growing startup that serves scalable products. I certainly do not wish to take outside money for my business. I want to own and run a small company. A humble and honest business, but reflecting what I am as "a sociable geek". My new company offers a data science consulting service.

This limited liability company is called Anelen. Anelen is a middle-English word meaning "to set on fire" or "to stimulate brain." When I was first searching for a name, the word in my mind was "annealing." Then I learned that anneal is derived from anelen.

Annealing: "to heat and then cool (a material, such as steel or glass) usually for softening and making less brittle; also : to cool slowly usually in a furnace." (Merriam-Webster)

I learned the word annealing as part of a combined term "simulated annealing" when I was studying numerical optimization during my Ph.D. study. It is a probabilistic technique to find a global optimum approximation for a non-convex function. Mathematical definition aside, the technique is inspired by annealing in metallurgy: A repeated process of heating and cooling of the material to increase its ductility and reduce its hardness.

I think our thought process is similar. At first, our thoughts are brittle and not workable. One's thought must be exposing to heated discussions with friends and colleagues who give straight criticisms. Then it must cool down. We do so by quietly sorting out what's the strengths and weeknesses probably while walking alone in a park or tucking oneself into bed at night. Gradually, our thoughts become less brittle and evolve to be workable.

Anelen is a great name. It reflects what I want to keep on doing in my life. The company will be a vehicle for me to keep on learning and reshaping my thoughts through the mental annealing process with great people.

In data science, we attempt to come up with a mathematical representation or "model" based on our observation or "data" of a variety of human activities. By exposing myself to the problems and data in many different fields, I want to learn about many aspects of human activities and crystallize my mental model of the world. As we always say in science, the model is always wrong. But over the time, my hope is to make the model less wrong before the end of my life.

I also want to form or join a federation of independent thinkers though Anelen. When I was a graduate student, I always looked forward our weekly lab meeting held by our thesis advisor, Professor Kenji Shimada. There, the student in charge owns the dinner meeting, sharing their research, findings, or anything intellectually stimulating. There was such security in the meeting set by the professor; the students gave honest feedbacks to the speakers. It was the place for us to articulate our thoughts without being personally judged. It was the place to expand the horizon beyond my narrow research interest and learn from each other. I want to replicate it with the people around me.

Data scientists are always hungry for different kinds of data and researches. But we need to focus on one topic at a time to be productive at work. Getting together to share each one's experience should help us grow together no matter where we serve as a day-job. I love food. I cook and eat. As graduate students, we used to go where the free food was. Our professor served food during the lab meeting. I hope to coordinate many small gatherings over a tasty food to fill both our brain and stomach.

So long, FiveStars! Hello, Anelen!

Original post: Aug. 23, 2017 | Last updated: Aug. 23, 2017

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