The Inquisitive Anthropologist

by Astrid Willis Countee

Software Developer. Social Scientist. Innovator.

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Back 2 The Start…

back_start.jpgThese last few years have been a constant whirlwind. From leaving my job, to learning how to code, to becoming a freelancer, and moving beyond, I have been constantly learning. And while I have learned to sustain drinking from the fire hose, I realized that I needed to take a step back.

I had reached a point where I was so mired in the what and how I was doing things, that I no longer had a why. Learning how to code is a lot, and if you are like me, you are trying to make the most of each situation. That meant that over the course of the last 3 years, I have worked on existing Rails apps, new Rails apps, Drupal sites, WordPress sites. I have coded in HTML, CSS, Python, Ruby, Rails, SQL and more. I have learned about site infrastructure, unit testing, product management, project manager, user research, community management and straight up coaching.

Don’t get me wrong, I have enjoyed

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I have been on a journey that started a little over a year ago. On this journey, I kept saying things like I want to be good, I want to be really better at what it is that I do. What I learned was that I had a need for Mastery.

When I was young, and again as an adult, I trained in martial arts. The difference between martial arts and the other competitive endeavors that I have been involved in is the goal. In most competitions, the goal is to win. In martial arts the goal is to become a master. A master is great at what they do because they have taken their practice to a new level. They are always pushing themselves and refining their technique. It has nothing to do with winning. Winning is superficial. Mastery is fundamental.

It was a missing key. Mastery is this thing that I have always known about, but somehow had stopped pursuing.

And so I have been seeking it out. I read

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Back 2 Basics

What a difference a year makes.

This time last year, I was just at the beginning of trying to find my way. After working for a job that I loved learning and growing at, the company had layoffs. I was one of many who had to pack my things and go. I didn’t think much of it all since I had experienced corporate decision making in the past.

I was doing fine until those last lonely minuets of powering down my system and turning around to say goodbye. My co-workers looked so sad, and it wasn’t until later that I realized that they brought tears to my eyes.

And then there was…Nurse Jackie. As in, I didn’t know what to do with myself so I watched all of the remaining episodes of Nurse Jackie for two weeks. It slowly dawned on me that I was a bit lost. I had never not worked before.

Not me. Not work and go to school and do internships at the same time, me. And for the first time ever, I

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See One, Do One, Teach One

do_one.jpegMany moons ago when I was pursuing my anthropology graduate degree I also volunteered in an ER. I was focusing on medical anthropology and seriously considering medical school. Being the geek that I am this was a super exciting way for me to spend my Thursday nights, and a reason for my very British co-worker to make fun of me for bailing on our bi-weekly happy hours.

Although I choose technology instead of med school (for a whole host of reasons that could be its own blog post), I did learn this thing that I believe to be the best advice I have received so far.

See One, Do One, Teach One

The first time I heard this, I had no idea what it meant. I was on the floor at the ER, where most of the time I helped the patient advocates and restocked the trauma rooms (which was an excuse for me to watch real traumas in action cause I NEVER got told to leave). One of the patient advocates

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Solving Human Problems with Code

I am an anthropologist, which for those who don’t know, is a fancy title for a human scientist that studies all that humans have been, are, and will be. I am also a software engineer. For me, this means that I get to make things using code magic like Harry Potter. Until recently, these ends of my life didn’t get to meet that much. But that is all changing.

For some time I have been trying to figure out how I want these puzzle pieces of anthropology and software to fit together. I have documented the process of getting here and truly taken the time to figure out where I want to go next. When you are a person with so many interests, trying to narrow down and focus on one seems impossible. I started where I last left off, entrepreneurship.

Ever since my time at The Iron Yard, I have been inspired by startups and entrepreneurs. As a result, I started going to meetups and had a stint as

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Kissing A Lot of Frogs


For those who know me, you know that this year has been a journey. One that I didn’t exactly mean to embark on, but one that I seemed bound to take.

It all started last Christmas when I was off of work for the holiday. 2015 had been a progressive year for me. I was working as an software engineer, on a team, and learning all the time. I was also still freelancing, with some working being in rails, some being more tied to data analysis, and some straight up writing. It was also my first semester in graduate school (again) and let’s not forget that I had signed up to be the co-founder of a health related start up. Needless to say, I was happy for the break when it came.

Once I had finally been given the chance to stop and think a while I realized that with all that I was doing, I was sad about what I still wasn’t doing. I wasn’t actively doing the things that made me happy. What were

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AAA Conference 2016


This year I had the chance to go to the AAA conference. For those that are not anthropologists, this is the American Anthropological Association’s annual conference. Not the car club.

I never got to attend the meeting when I was a grad student. There was the money thing, and being able to afford the hotel stay and the plane ticket. But there was also a time thing, since I was working full time, doing fieldwork and volunteering at hospitals. I just didn’t see how I could squeeze it in with that kind of a schedule. I wouldn’t have gone this year if it wasn’t for the fact that I was on a panel. And that happened mostly because of my mentor. But nevertheless, it was a worthwhile experience.

For one, I got to meet a bunch of anthropologists that I had only spoken to online. That felt super cool and also a little weird. Everyone looks a little different in person than a skype call or a

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Achievement AND Fulfillment

Today I was listening to a podcast on my blazing hot ride home (like I always do). In it, Tony Robbins was being interviewed about living life at the top of your game (click the title to hear the interview). He said a phrase that struck me. Please excuse the crude a quote that is about to follow:

“Most of us are living our lives for achievement, but not for fulfillment”

By achievement he means success. And he is right about that. Google how to be a successful… fill in the blank, and you will see what I mean. But fulfillment loosely translates to happiness. From my experience, this is where many of us get stuck, and Tony talks about this as well. There are always people who achieve all the goals that they set for themselves and then they look and say…is that all there is?

I know about that one. That is what happened to me a few years ago. It is one of the reasons that I decided to

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Authenticity Aint for Sissies

Authenticity1.jpgThese last few months have been a time of transition for me. Usually when I say that, what I mean is I may be doing all new work, or have new goals that I am working towards. But this time has been different for me.

After pushing myself for the last two years to aggressively pick up new tech skills and start a software engineering career, I found myself laid off. Even though my initial instinct was to immediately look for my next job, something inside me tugged against it. Instead, I decided to take moment to slow down and reflect on where I was and where I wanted to be.

What I realized was that I needed the chance to find my authenticity.

It’s not to say that software engineering wasn’t and authentic career for me. In many ways, I feel that making the move to engineering connected me back to a part of myself that I had neglected. As obsessive I can be about my love for technology

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Creating Meaningful Work

Recently I have found myself at a new beginning.

After working at my first real job as a software developer for a year, the company had lay offs, and I was one of them. This gave me the chance to determine what it is that I wanted to do next.

The obvious next step was to get a new job. But as I started my job search, something didn’t feel right. I knew that I wanted to keep working as a software developer, but I wasn’t sure that the right next step was to join a new company.

Because while I was on my Christmas Break I had decided something.

I decided that this next year was going to be a year where I started to build meaningful work. I wanted the things that I did to represent my true interest and desire, and not necessarily follow a particular career path. I wanted my work to be a reflection of me.

And that isn’t something that you normally find a job posting.

Instead, I

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