I’ve been flooded with congratulatory messages since announcing my latest career change on LinkedIn a couple weeks ago. Thanks to everyone who reached out to encourage me in my new venture. It was powerful, humbling, and occasionally tear-jerking.
I’m excited to jump back into the startup world with CyDesign Labs. It’s a bit early for me to reveal too much, but watch this space. Details on cutting edge, seriously cool, innovative engineering technology will soon be unleashed.
Many of you asked how I went about finding this new home. CyDesign represents an amazingly good match for my professional history and interests. But, it didn’t just fall in my lap. I’ve been intentionally searching for this opportunity over the last five years. I thought I’d share my process in the hopes that it will inspire some of you to find a career that gets your blood pumping.
Start with a blank sheet
… or better yet, create a free-form mindmap. Write down all the things you like about your current job. Write down all the things you don’t like. Now, forget about your current job. Pretend it never existed. Brainstorm elements of a future job that sound enticing. Don’t edit this list. Just try to get as many ideas as possible on the paper. Be realistic. Be unrealistic.
Once I had all of these thoughts out of my head and on paper, I just stared at the grand mess for awhile. Don’t expect enlightenment in one sitting. Just pull out the list every so often and let your subconscious brain start to make random connections. Eventually, key elements will emerge.
My short list
I am hugely lucky. I love the CAE space. You may not be so lucky. If you work for a Duck Call Company and hate all forms of hunting, maybe it’s time to pick a better direction.
So, here’s what I came up with:
- CAE space
- Startup environment
- Some element of Open Source
- Fresh category
- Business critical value
- Ability to grow and mentor a team
Some details on my thinking:
I’ve often had this niggling worry that I’m selling myself short by staying in the Mechanical Engineering Software world. After all, the Armani wearing sales pros in other industries are pulling power moves and multi million dollar deals with much of the same professional toolset I’ve earned. After much soul searching, however, I realized that many of those industries just don’t interest me. I love the idea of CAE. I love helping people who create new products. Though I no longer have the skill to drive an FEA tool, I still find colorful 3D stress plots to be magical. I love the fact that those plots, conjured from thin air, can have a very real impact on the corporate bottom line.
There are people who love manufacturing and detailed design. I’m not one of them. As much as I love CAE, I despise its use near the end of a design process for verification. I’m interested in pushing simulation as far upfront as humanly possible on the GANTT chart. Ideally, I’d like to see tons of CAE done before CAD models exist in any form. Is that even possible?
Large, established companies can be great for stability, structure, and predictability. That may be the exact right environment for you. Having been in both, I feel more comfortable in the creative-anything-goes startup world. Red tape and bureaucracy suffocate me. They stifle my creativity and enjoyment of life. I enjoy wearing whatever hat it takes to get ‘r done.
I firmly believe that the future of all business software is on the cloud. I’m not just trying to make the right bet, though. I happily consume many cloud tools like Google Docs, Salesforce.com, Evernote, and Nirvana. It’s gotten to the point where the idea of some application being locked to a single device feels claustrophobic. So, you could say I truly love them there duck calls.
Software as a Service. No flame wars allowed on this one. I realize there are a few trolls who love to paint Cloud/SaaS as evil. We’ll agree to disagree.
To me, the idea of selling “seats” for a huge upfront cost is antiquated. It extends the sales cycle and forces customers to take on too much risk. It imposes a tough barrier to innovation- particularly with the SMB companies best poised to build something new.
Some Element of Open Source
I don’t eat enough granola to feel comfortable going full-on Open Source. I do, however, like some of the theory around it. It affords a much larger-than-normal development and QA staff than otherwise might be possible. It engenders a passionate community. All good things. But, this one was a nice-to-have in my mind. I’m a capitalist.
Jim Spann and Ed Williams opened my eyes to the beauty of a fresh category during my days at Blue Ridge Numerics. We were not selling CFD software. We were selling CFD software for non-specialists. We did not meet with the same people that high-end CFD (Fluent, CFX, Star CD, etc) sales teams met with. Therefore, the ideas we were presenting were brand new to our audience. That’s exciting for both parties in the meeting.
SpaceClaim was a similar experience. People would death march into the conference room expecting yet another CAD tool presentation. I’d lead off with a shocking statement: “SpaceClaim is not CAD. We’re not here to replace your CAD tool.” Suddenly people were on the edges of their seats learning how new people could be using 3D in new ways in much earlier concept phases.
Business critical value
Having happy customers is important. Yes, I want a customer to tell other customers how fun my widget is to use. It’s far more rewarding, however, for a customer to say, “We owe a lot of our success to your widget.” So, I definitely require a “cool” factor… but my widget needs to directly impact the bottom line.
Ability to mentor and grow a team
Kevin O’Shea infected me with the joy of teaching while at Blue Ridge Numerics. As he “remade” me professionally, it was obvious that he was also having fun. I took that same attitude when teaching my skills to later generations of sales people and application engineers. It feels so good to take a newbie from 0% to 80%. There is nothing better than watching a student master a new skill.
Speaking of teams: they can make or break any business. Good corporate culture doesn’t just happen. You have to hire positive people, nurture good corporate attitudes, and quickly excise cancer cells. Life is too short to work in a shitty environment.
Once you have such definition, you can begin your search. Google is your friend. That’s really all I did. Lots of keyword combinations, lots of deep articles and blog posts, and lots of potential candidates popped out.
Grab your balls and make some calls
This might be a tough one for some of you. I started off as a Mechanical Engineer. After inexplicably finding my way to sales, I learned that you can call anyone out of the blue so long as you are concise, respectful, and bring some value to the conversation.
When a candidate startup hit my radar, I used LinkedIn to research the company and find key contacts. I would usually send the CEO a short introduction email via Linkedin asking for a phone discussion. One key here: after all this thinking and searching, I was TRULY interested in what these companies were up to. You can’t fake that. Every CEO was happy to take my call. I wasn’t just some guy saying, “Uh, do you guys, like, uh, have any job openings? Oh, and, uh, what kind of products do you make?” I could talk confidently about the industry and ask intelligent questions.
From there, I either disqualified the company or arranged a deeper phone conversation or lunch/dinner. Simple as that.
In the end, I relied on gut feel and a bit of spiritual guidance.
Yikes. I just wrote over 1000 words and didn’t even tell you what CyDesign does! Let’s save that for another post. Meantime, here’s another resource to consider if you are struggling with the career thing: Dan Miller’s 48 Days to the Work you Love.
Do great things!