Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Twelve Steps of Financial Planning

I am not a financial advisor. This is based on my own experience. These steps are not right for everyone’s situation, but should be viewed as guidelines. I recognize that for some people these steps will be easily achievable, and others will struggle with Step 1. The point of this is to make financial planning a conscious part of your life, and to take things one step at a time.

Step 1. Live within your means. Create a budget, and track expenses. If you are spending more than you make, you either must increase your income with a different or additional job, or reduce your expenses. This is not optional: the consequence of not doing this is eventually bankruptcy.

Step 2. If you have children or other people who are financially dependent on you, get a “term” life insurance policy. These are fairly inexpensive, and may be available as a benefit through your employer. “Whole life insurance” (which is basically an investment) is generally not a good idea (poor returns compared to index funds). If you do not have people who are financially dependent on you, do not buy life insurance.

Step 3. Start an emergency fund. Put $x out of each paycheck into a savings account until you accumulate enough money to cover 3 months worth of expenses. Do not touch this money unless you lose your job or have a similar financial crisis. Always maintain this fund at a 3 month expense level.

Step 4. Pay off high interest consumer debt. Sort your debt from highest interest rate to lowest interest rate, and pay off the higher rate debt first.

Step 5. Contribute enough to your employer-sponsored 401k/403b to at least max out whatever match your employer offers. This match is free money to you. At this step keep your investments simple and put the money into a domestic equity index fund (e.g., S&P 500 or Total Market).

Step 6. Save for goals. This might be a reasonably priced needed car, or a down payment on a house. Financing for such things should be available at low interest rates if you have good credit (e.g., 0% for cars, <5% for houses).

Step 7. Increase your retirement investments and consider whether a ROTH is appropriate. Keep retirement investments in domestic equity index funds. As the investments grow, consider diversifying 25%-40% into international equity index funds.

Step 8. Pay off non-deductible, low interest debt, such as student loans and car loans. Never be in a hurry to pay off a mortgage on your primary residence, the interest on which is deductible and generally a very low interest rate.

Step 9. Insure yourself. Make sure you have appropriate levels of health insurance, car insurance, and homeowner’s insurance, so that if a crisis strikes, you are insured. If you own a home, also get an umbrella liability insurance policy.

Step 10. Non-retirement savings. Put aside extra money into non-retirement savings. At this stage keep your investments simple and put the money into a domestic equity index fund (e.g., S&P 500 or Total Market). As the investments grow, consider diversifying 25%-40% into international equity index funds.

Step 11. Consider more diverse or complex investments for retirement and non-retirement savings (individual equities, bonds, etc.).

Step 12. Really plan for retirement. Figure out how much money you will need to retire, and how to achieve that goal. Keep investments diversified, and as you near retirement age start to make your investment mix more conservative.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

my favorite outdoor spots in the south bay

The west part of the valley gets the most moisture and is the greenest and lushest (although in this drought that is questionable).  The east part is barren and dry, and generally shadeless.  Just keep that in mind when outdoors.

My favorite outdoor spots in no particular order are:

1. Mission Peak hike in Fremont.  2-3 hour round trip, 2,200 foot elevation gain, to the peak of a mountain. It's a tough hike up, but the views are amazing (sometimes the peak is above the clouds).  I do this hike once a month, but I only do it on weekdays. I start when the park opens at 6:30am, and I'm done by 8:30am, and at work by 9 (I do hike it fast though).  Parking at that hour is plentiful in the residential area around Stanford Ave in Fremont.  Avoid weekends - it's a zoo.

2. Big Basin in Santa Cruz mountains.  This park encompasses much of the Santa Cruz mountain range.  I prefer to enter the park through Saratoga (southwest of San Jose).  The road is windy though.  The park offers campgrounds and is "full service", usually has enough parking, and has well defined trails and occasional waterfalls.  These mountains are lush, so the trails are usually shaded. There are a number of trails of varying lengths, most are loops.  For a really exciting hike, do the "skyline to the sea" hike from the mountains down to the pacific ocean near Half Moon Bay, and back.  Actually, I recommend starting at the ocean, hiking UP, and then having the easy return down (this is a full day hike).  

3. For something a little easier and closer, Fremont Older Open Space Preserve in Saratoga.  This is probably the closest park to us that I consider to be hike-worthy.  There are a number of trails, varying lengths, most are loops.  There isn't much shade here so bring a hat.  Parking is also quite limited, so go early in the day.  

Trivia:  The trails I mention in #2 and 3 are connected.  In fact, most of the trails that exist from Santa Cruz, up through the Santa Cruz mountain range, through west San Jose, up to the Los Altos Hills (west of Mountain View) are all interconnected.  I have never hiked between parks though - I usually stick to loops within a park.

4. Stanford Dish hike.  Starts near Stanford University and goes up a moderate, unshaded incline path to the Stanford satellite dish.  This is a 1-2 hour fairly easy hike, good for a picnic, etc.  Parking can be limited around Stanford.

5. Alviso.  Basically a section of North San Jose, and the headquarters of Tivo.  Drive up to Alviso Marina County Park, park there (plenty of parking in the park or on nearby streets), and explore the ghost town, and the trails that loop out into the marina / bay.  Great photography here.  walk around the streets of the town just south of the marina and inspect the abandoned buildings from the gold rush era.  You can easily spend 3-4 hours wandering around taking pictures.  Twilight / before sunset is really nice lighting.  Watch for the Amtrak and other trains going by - also great photography opportunities.

5. Stevens Creek Trail, Mountain View.  This trail goes right by the main Googleplex, down into Cupertino.  It's a paved trail, really meant for bikes, but if you just want to get out and about this can be fine for walking.  If you have a bike this is really a great trail to ride.  Especially the north part near Google, it connects into Shoreline park and even goes north along 101 into Palo Alto area.  The whole trail is fun to ride around - lots of wildlife, marsh areas, etc.  I do recommend biking this though - it's a long flat paved trail that isn't much fun for walking.  One of the better biking trails though.  There are similar paved biking trails that stretch from Google basically all the way down to South San Jose, and even further south to Milpitas and Los Gatos.  They're very enjoyable if you're into flat, paved-path biking, but they're really not enjoyable for walking/hiking.

Unrelated to hiking, a few really nice places to visit and explore:
- Half Moon Bay, and the Public Access Beach next to the Ritz Carlton. Beautiful.
- Alviso, mentioned above
- San Jose Japantown.  Good spot to go for lunch or dinner, and walk around and explore the area.  It's an up and coming area of the valley.
- Computer History Museum in Mountain View.  
- Stanford University campus

Sunday, March 8, 2015

advice about law school and legal careers

[From a talk given at San Jose State University in March 2015]

Hi, I'm Travis Wise. I graduated from San Jose State with a degree in political science. 12 years after I graduated, I was hired into my dream job as senior legal counsel at Google.

I'll share a bit of my background and career progress, and then share my top ten list of suggestions on how to get your dream job after you graduate, and then I'm happy to answer any questions you might have.

I was originally a psychology major here at SJSU, but I decided I wanted to go to law school. So I switched to political science, wrongly thinking that was the only way to get into law school.

I loved the poly sci program here, and I loved law school at Santa Clara. But I had no idea what legal field I wanted to work in. When I graduated from law school, I got hired by PricewaterhouseCoopers, one of the big-4 accounting firms, to do tax stuff.  I had no idea what that involved.  But I kept showing up to work, for 9 years. During that time I specialized in international corporate tax, which is basically helping global companies figure out the best tax way to structure their business.

In 2009, Google offered me a job as senior legal counsel for international tax, and I have been doing that now for 6 years.

For those of you thinking about law school, I have four comments:

1. The LSAT. Unless you are really struggling, you do not need an expensive prep class.  You need to do a around a thousand practice questions, from prep books you can get on Amazon. Study your mistakes. You need to be scoring something very close or higher to the score your target schools are looking for.

2. Law school for many students is fairly easy because they find the material really interesting. The exams are painful of course. But the actual coursework is not difficult if you are really interested in the law.

3. The bar exam is a bit of a nightmare. But the good news is that the vast majority of law students who go to ABA law schools pass. So it is very achievable, and not something that should prevent someone from going to law school.

4. Law school is very expensive, in addition to a three-year opportunity cost.  Don't go unless you're very certain you want to be a lawyer, and have a financial plan for how to handle the cost. But if you are certain you want to be a lawyer, then go to law school.

Switching gears a bit, let's talk about jobs.  In my time working at PricewaterhouseCoopers and Google, I've interviewed hundreds of candidates for jobs, many of whom went to SJSU.  It's very clear after interviewing hundreds of people what makes a successful candidate vs. a not successful candidate, so I'd like to share that with you.

This is important, because as great as SJSU is, it is surrounded geographically by  higher tier schools. And that makes for a lot of strong competition when applying for jobs.

1. You almost certainly will not get your dream job right out of school.  Your first job will probably be low paying, with long hours, and not much long-term career potential.  You need to embrace that job.  That is where you learn, make mistakes, and scope out your future.

2. You need to do your best at every single task you are given, no matter how boring the task is.  Someone who does a poor job at the menial tasks will never be given an opportunity to do the glamorous projects.

3. Find a career mentor, who can help guide you from your first job, to a meaningful career.  Having at least one good mentor in your field is critically important to career success.

4. Stick with each job as long as you can, until something comes along that makes you say "wow."  Don't run away from a job.  Run towards opportunities.

5. Five year plans are nice in concept, but this is Silicon Valley.  Your five year plan should be doing something that does not exist today.  What is useful is having a vision of the types of work you want to do in the future, based on your skills and weaknesses, and a plan for how do you realistically get yourself from here to there.

6. Graduate degrees are important. A bachelor's degree in any major is  going to be increasingly difficult from an employment standpoint, because you are competing with people who do have graduate degrees from higher tier schools.  If you don't go to a full time graduate degree program, think about a part time master's degree at SJSU while you are working, and your employer may pay for it.

Ok, now for the important stuff - key take-aways:

7. Leadership - being a member of a club or organization is not resume-worthy - you need to be a leader for it to be on your resume.  Ideally, an officer or founder.  You can show leadership in lots of ways, from social organizations outside of school, to school organizations, part time jobs, etc.  But your resume needs to show you are a leader, not just a do-er.

8. Entrepreneurship - Co-found a company or an organization. You don't have to make money or have a successful product.  You don't have to build an app.  You don't have to succeed at all.  In fact, learning from failure is more important.  But demonstrate you can lead, you can think outside the box, and you can take risks.  Start a business or an organization with some classmates, get some publicity, have a website.  Put that on your resume. Most of the people we hire at Google have *started something*.  Grads from top-tier school have all started something. They have all demonstrated their ability to be entrepreneurs and take risks.  That is important in any organization, whether it is a startup or a massive company.

9. Have a story to tell.  When you interview for a job, you need to tell your story.  Your story should tie together your personal interests, why you came to SJSU, your choice of major, your part time and full time jobs, and what you want your future to be.  Your story should tell the interviewer why you are perfect for that position they are interviewing you for.  If your resume is just a bunch of puzzle pieces that do not fit into a narrative, then you look very lost.  When you go to an interview, take control of the interview, and tell your story.

Q&A

advise about school


  • Good grades are necessary, but a perfect GPA will not offset a lack of the items below. 
  • Demonstrate leadership. Being a “member” of a club is nearly worthless in resume value. Be the president of the organization, or start up a new organization. Leading people and ideas, and managing projects, is important. 
  •  Demonstrate entrepreneurship. Come up with an idea, and start a company or website to implement it. Learn how to code and write a program or app, even if it’s simple, and publish it. Making money is not important - taking the entrepreneurial risk is important. 
  • Publish. Get your name out there. Whether it’s a blog, a v-log on YouTube, photography portfolio, code on GitHub … put yourself out there. Just keep it professional - your future employers will find it. 
  •  Think broad, and outside the box. The job you do or the company you work for five years from now likely does not exist today. Certainly the task you do in your job will not resemble anything that exists today. Don’t pigeonhole yourself into thinking about a narrow career path. 
  • Find a mentor.

Monday, February 23, 2015

invisalign experience

This page will be updated chronologically as I progress with my Invisalign treatment from January 2015 until approx. June 2015. I have no affiliation with Invisalign other than as a full-paying patient.

Pro Tips
  1. Prepare a small bag with the necessary supplies to carry everywhere: Toothbrush, toothpaste, floss, pain killers, lip balm, and tray for aligners during meals.
  2. Brush teeth after every meal, before replacing aligners.
  3. Get a bulk quantity of denture cleanser tablets (“Retainer Brite” seems to be popular) from Amazon or Costco.  An ultrasonic cleaning machine might be useful too.
  4. Drink a lot of water. Dry mouth encourages bacteria growth.
  5. Do not eat, drink, or chew gum with the aligners in, other than drinking water.
  6. Do not throw out old aligners. Keep them, sterilized in the original bags, in case they are needed as back-ups.
  7. Changing trays will be uncomfortable, so pick a day to do the change that won’t be high stress.  Friday night is a good night to do this, along with a pain killer.
  8. Taking trays out can be challenging depending on the number and placement of buttons. Try a few different approaches to see what works best.
January 19, 2015 - Making the Decision

I was at my dentist (Dr. Mary Jane Fuster, in Milpitas California) for my regular cleaning, and I was talking with my dentist about how I had traditional braces as a kid, and how my teeth (mainly lower teeth) had become un-aligned as a result of not wearing my retainer after my braces.  My dentist pointed out a few other teeth issues that she said would continue to get worse with time.  I asked about Invisalign, and how much my insurance would cover. To my surprise, my insurance would cover a large portion of the cost, so I signed up. 

My dentist took several mold impressions of my teeth (upper, lower, and bite), and took photos of my teeth. I already had x-rays on file.

February 23, 2015 - Receiving my Aligners

It took about 3 weeks for the dentist to call me and tell me that my aligners had arrived.  Due to schedule conflicts, I wasn't able to visit the dentist until February 23. I took some pain killer on the way to the dentist.  The dentist applied five buttons to my upper and lower teeth, and shaved down about four of my teeth to make room for them to move. Then we put in the aligners, and I did a few tries at removing and inserting them to get the feel for the process. The kit I received included two trays (red and blue), and 3 pairs of aligners.  Because I don't have a difficult treatment, I will only have 5 pairs of aligners total, spanning 10 weeks of treatment, before I receive the final retainer.

February 24, 2015 - First 24 Hours

I woke up a few times during the night with mild discomfort, but nothing resembling pain or requiring medication.  There is enough sensitivity though that I can't eat hard foods, so I'll be sticking with softer foods.

My morning cleaning routine is to put the aligners in my ultrasonic cleaning device along with a Retainer Brite tablet while I shower.

In order to achieve 22 hours, I realized that when eating at a restaurant, I need to leave the aligners in until the food arrives, and then put them back in right after I'm done eating. I also realized that rather than eating long drawn-out meals, I need to eat a bit more quickly.

March 2, 2015

The roughness of the edges of the aligners bothered me for a few days, but after about 4 days the edges had become smooth enough that they did not irritate my mouth.  The aligners aren't uncomfortable at all at this point.  I've gotten in to a standard routine around removing the aligners for meals, brushing my teeth after meals, and cleaning the aligners every morning.

March 8, 2015

I'm starting week #3 of aligner tray #1 (I'm on three week cycles, not the normal two week cycles).  I've gotten really good at removing and inserting the trays - I can even do it one handed now.  I realized that removing them from the left works much better than the right, just due to the button placements.  I've also realized the importance of brushing the aligners to remove plaque - in addition to soaking in Retainer Brite.

March 16, 2015

My first aligner change.  I took out the first set of aligners and cleaned them with brushing and Retainer Brite, and put them in the zip-lock bag for safe keeping in case I need a backup set.  The new set (set #2) went in smoothly, but I immediately felt the pressure.  Not pain that required medication, but pressure throughout the day.  It's actually a nice feeling because I had set #1 in for three weeks, so it's nice to feel some movement again.  I've now become an expert at getting the aligners out of my mouth - I've found using the left side is much easier than the right side.

April 6, 2015

Second aligner change. I can see and feel movement of my teeth. Putting in a new aligner is a bit tender for the first few days, but no pain necessitating pain killers. I think I'm averaging about 21 hours a day of wear time, which is slightly less than recommended. The increased brushing has definitely improved my oral hygiene, new habits that I will maintain after this is all over.

April 27, 2015

Just finished my third tray, visited the dentist to pick up my fourth and fifth trays. Dentist said things are looking good. I popped in the fourth tray, and felt a day or two of discomfort. My dentist said that towards the end of my fifth tray I will come back in for another visit, and they will give me my retainer.

May 7, 2015

Travelling with Invisalign is complicated, and not ideal. It isn't always possible to brush one's teeth while sightseeing or on an airplane.  As a result of some recent travels where I wasn't able to brush my teeth right away after each meal, my aligners got a bit stained (I think it was tomato sauce).

June 2, 2015

Checkup with the dentist. I was supposed to have my buttons removed and aligner swapped out for my retainer, but one tooth hadn't quite finished moving as much as I would like, so the dentist shaved a bit off the side of the tooth and had me wear the last aligner for one more week.

June 22, 2015

Finally! The teeth are in full alignment.  There is still one on the bottom that could use a bit more nudging, but it looks perfect and I'm ready to be done.  The dentist removed the buttons with a drill (very nerve racking but completely painless), and took new mold impressions, and I was told to keep wearing my last trays for 2 more weeks until my regular cleaning when I'll get my retainer.

A few notes reflecting on the experience:

  • I stopped worrying about exactly how many hours a day I wore my aligners. I wore them except to eat. Sometimes that was 22 hours a day, sometimes less. I didn't really worry about it.
  • I occasionally drank diet 7-up, carbonated water, and even ate oatmeal with my aligners in. I would always brush them and my teeth after.
  • Travel was the hardest part - it's not easy to eat on an airplane, for example.
  • The best thing I learned from the whole process is maintaining dental hygiene throughout the day. I will continue brushing after every meal.