Free Agent

Wednesday, June 29th, 2016

I’m no longer with NPR. NPR restructured its Digital Services division, and my position as Senior Director of Product Strategy and Development was eliminated.

So, there you go.

I still believe in the mission of public media. As a listener, I’ll still always drift to the left of the dial. My bedroom’s clock radio remains locked on WBUR, my office radio on Classical Radio Boston. Sonos on the weekend will continue to alternate between XPN’s Exponential Radio and KCRW’s Eclectic 24 — exposing the children to decent music as they’re growing up. Pop Culture Happy Hour makes my Friday runs far more pleasant.

NPR One remains the most innovative product on the market — and the best shower radio ever invented.

I’m glad that public media exists — I’m a sustaining member of WBUR, WGBH and WXPN — and I hope that they’ll continue telling great stories and building great experiences.

Ok, so what’s next?

I’m a little young to retire, so I should probably keep working.

I see three main paths — consulting and building, Startupland or BigCoLand. Each has its charms.

I’ve had good success working as an independent consultant, helping CEOs and Founders focus their product strategies and move in the right direction. I can also give informed, disinterested second opinions, what I refer to as "Sanity Checking as a Service."

The consulting lifestyle has its advantages. I mostly work out of my home office, and I have time to build other things and manage the Butler household more tightly. The cashflow tends to be more erratic, though.

I miss Startupland. I’ve been in and out of startups since 1997, and none of my adventures in BigCoLand have had the same energy and sense of possibility.

I found that I couldn’t effectively work at a startup when the children were small (and when I had an ailing senior in the house). The children are now happy tweens, and I think that I can look seriously at this route again.

I don’t want to dismiss BigCoLand out of hand, though. I like the chance to work on bigger problems, and it’s great to know that (literally) tens of millions of people will benefit from your work.

What now?

Over the summer, I’m probably pick up a little consulting work while figuring out the longer-term solution.

And, I get to write again!

I couldn’t comment publicly on any causes or issues when I was working as a public-facing employee of a news organization. This is entirely appropriate, but I’m happy that I no longer have that constraint.

I hope to be able to get back to writing several thousand words a week. Some of them I’ll publish, some I’ll trash. It’s the discipline that matters. I enjoyed when I used to be a decent writer; I’d like to get back to that.

I’m working on a "consolidated learnings" Tinderbox to pull together (for myself, if no one else) my current best takes and pointers. Depending on how things go, I may release this as "Jason’s Guide to the Universe" later this year. No promises on that, though.

I’m really excited to get to build stuff again

Executives at large organizations don’t get to touch stuff. As is appropriate. Still, I miss the ability to fire up Emacs and make the machine dance to my song.

First things first: this very website. I launched in early 2001, hand-writing all the code for the site. You can still see some of that embarrassing work on my Habitat for Humanity New Zealand and Tanzania sections. After a couple years, I migrated the blog part to Movable Type and then to WordPress. That’s the site you see right now.

And, boy is it creaky.

So, I’m going to rewrite this site. Once I have a modern stack, I’m going to build out some tools for myself to automate bits of my life. I haven’t been able to use my own site as a sandbox; now I will.

I’ll also consolidate some of my other writings around the web — 39 Essays among others — into one master site.

Next: Rebuilding my news-personalization apps. I wrote Serendeputy in 2008. The software still runs and I still use it every day, but it’s really beginning to show its age.

The other band-aid app I wrote was TweetDeputy which reads my Twitter feed and pulls out the links being shared. I actually use TweetDeputy a lot. Even though it doesn’t have the personalization elements of Serendeputy, it has a high enough hit rate that I check in with it several times a day.

Before I was recruited into NPR, I was working on the next generation of Serendeputy. I’m going to go back to that Github repository and see what I can use and what I would need to rewrite. The universe has moved a lot since 2008, and I’d like to be able to have an updated version of the application (even if it’s only for my use.)

I’m also a much better software engineer now than I was then. That should help!

Sharpening the saw

A little unscheduled free time is going to help me sharpen my saw and shake off the rust. I’ll need to get back to a reasonable level of competence on the stuff I’ve used before: Ruby, Rails, JS, Linux, Postgres, Ansible, etc.

I’m really looking forward to playing more with R, Analytics, and proper Machine Learning techniques. Serendeputy (currently) uses approximations of some of these techniques; I might as get really good at using them properly.


One thing I learned at Compass Aging was that "your life is far better in your sixties if you try a little harder in your forties."

I’m getting back to running in Minuteman National Park every midday during the week. I have a 5.5 mile loop that I am trying to master. I hope to be able to consistently nail a 10-minute pace for that loop by the end of the summer.

I’ve also been getting back to my DDP Yoga routine. It’s embarrassing how much more flexible my 10-year-old is that I am. Probably stronger too. I should see to that.

So, that’s the update. I have a little more free time now, so please let me know if you want to catch up. Most people reading this have my cell phone number (Touchdown Jason). My email address is Jason at this domain. You can also find me on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.

Have a great summer!

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