Alex Lebrun

Cofounder and CEO at Wit.ai (Facebook)

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YC Interview when English is not your first language

Interviewing at YC is hard – but interviewing at YC when you’re not a native English speaker is harder. Here are a few tricks that worked for us at Wit.ai (W14).

1- Speak slowly, articulate. It’s OK to have a strong accent (I do), but it makes it harder for the partners to understand what you say. They’re sitting in a room, listening to hundreds of pitches in a row for days. They are tired. Help them. As PG says if you don’t feel you’re speaking too slowly, you’re probably speaking too fast.

2 - Expect to be cut short about 10 seconds after you start to answer each question. Remove the bullshit preamble, the introductory parts of your sentences like “Yeah, actually, we’ve thought about this for a while, and that’s not an easy decision, ….” etc. Otherwise you’ll be cut before you start to really answer. These 10 minutes feel like 2. You don’t have time.

3 - Prepare your introduction.

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Alexander Grothendieck, the secret genius of mathematics

This is an English translation of a post written in French by my father Gérard Lebrun. The pages numbers refer to the original text of Grothendieck’s work Récoltes et Semailles (“Crops and Seeds”).

I was intrigued by the unusual path of Grothendieck, the recently deceased mathematician genius who, after twenty years of work that garnered him the 1966 Field Medal (the Nobel Prize for mathematicians) brutally severed all links with the mathematical community and lived for 45 years in seclusion and solitude, devoting himself to meditation, the search for meaning, and introspection. I tried to understand.

Outside the circle of mathematicians who are still exploring the paths opened by this visionary, there is little documentation on Grothendieck, except for an account written by his own hand, a kind of a diary that he kept (intimate and at the same time “extimate”, since he sent a few

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On Chinese Writing: When Mao Reinvents Writing

In 1949 the Communists, led by Mao Ze Dong, defeat the Nationalists of Chiang Kai-Shek. After three thousand years of Empire, followed by 38 years of military dictatorship, Japanese invasion and civil war, China feels the wind of renaissance - I can’t blame them. In these moments, you want to hard reset everything. Mao wants to reinvent writing.

(continued from On Chinese Writing: Evolution)

Why writing? I see two reasons:

  • The Great Leader wants a reform that symbolizes a breakup with the past. What would be a better choice than the system invented by the very first and the most mythical Emperor Qin Shi Huang in [did you read the first episode of this series?] year 221 B.C.
  • For centuries, the main barrier between the well-read upper classes and the illiterate proletarians has been writing. Making the process of learning characters easier and more accessible to the People, that’s a

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On Chinese Writing: Evolution

You can imagine how disappointed I was when I learned this story. I was secretly hoping that the Chinese had invented their writing in order to remember how, during a fatal and romantic night, the great poet Li Bai, somewhat drunk, drowned to his death while trying to embrace the reflection of the moon on the surface of a lake. No. It was invented by bureaucrats for bureaucratic purposes.

(continued from On Chinese Writing: Birth)

Let’s get back to our pictograms. Systems used on shells and bones are already sophisticated. Out of 4000 ancient characters, no more than 1000 are understood today. If you like brain twisters, go to the National Palace Museum in Taipeh and ask the shells [yeah, most of them have left Mainland China because the Nationalists took everything with them when they flew to Taiwan in 1949 – as a result, the Museum has so many items that they change the display every

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On Chinese Writing: Birth

I’ve always been fascinated with Chinese writing. When I started my military service on an air force base in cold North-East France, spending long nights “supervising” the nuclear base security (i.e. watching porn with the officers while the soldiers were patrolling), I decided that I could make better use of all this wasted time and learn something very bizarre. So I chose Chinese and bought a book.

I did not know then that I was starting a ten-year love affair with China.

My first date was with the writing. In this small series of posts, I’ll try to summarize about 8000 years of the evolution of 45,035 characters into a few pages.

Around 6000 B.C., the very first pictograms appear. They look like this one:
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Can you see the sun on the top, the mountain below, a cloud in between? Most people agree that its meaning is dawn. A complete poem embedded in a single character, right?

But

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