Chris Gammell's Analog Life

Analog electronics and everything else between 1 and 0

Category: Work (page 2 of 13)

On Having Co-workers

I thought the thing I wanted more than anything else was to work alone. By myself. With myself. For myself.

Quit my job. Strike out on my own.

Sure, no job actually exists in a vacuum. The basis of commerce is one entity paying another, which sets up a power structure. So I assumed I would be working for my customers. That continues to be a very rewarding part of Contextual Electronics (CE). Hearing about the problems they’re having and working to solve those problems tickles my teaching nerve and my engineering nerve (the one the rewards me when I solve problems).

But I thought I’d be on my own and that’s what I really wanted. I was kind of wrong.

Shortly after leaving my last job to work on CE, I joined Supplyframe part time. We have been doing exciting things like the Hackaday Prize (now in its third year) and building tools I’ve always wanted for myself as an engineer. That has become a bigger part of my life and I really like where the company is right now and where it’s going. Today marks the two year anniversary of that decision. Also along the way, the direction of CE has also taken a turn towards embedded, so I brought on two part time instructors, who also act as advisors for both the content and the site.

Co-workers challenge me.  They keep tabs on me. They inspire new ideas during our discussions. They prevent me from getting lonely, even working remotely in a basement in Cleveland (the “Co” in “Co-workers” meaning working on the same stuff, not necessarily in the same location).

In both of my jobs, I now work with people on a daily basis. Engineers aren’t supposed to like that. I’m supposed to be a lone wolf. I’m either a bad engineer or a true pack animal, because I enjoy having co-workers again.

Thanks to Lex Photographic for the picture of the Lone Wolf

As big as…space

Last week on my electronics podcast, The Amp Hour, I did something uncharacteristic: I mentioned where I’m working, while I’m working there. Normally I don’t talk about my place of employment until after I have left, which has always served me well. There is no conflict of interest in talking about work that protected by non-disclosure agreements (NDAs).  This time is different though, because the nature of the company is different (and my role will be more public facing than my normal role as an engineer).

I’ve been working with Supply Frame part time, in addition to my work on Contextual Electronics. It has been great working with a team dedicated to making the supply chain (the complex system of vendors and distributors) a bit easier to navigate. As it so happens, Supply Frame also purchased a popular blog site a while back that I have always been a fan of, Hackaday. That site highlights fun projects from around the web and is a great way to keep up on recent innovations in personal projects.

So why all this explaining and build-up? Well I’ve also been asked to help out on a project as part of Hackaday. In fact, it falls in line with my past experience of running the 555 contest back in 2011.

Hackaday is sending the grand prize winner of a new design contest to space. Whoa.

When they first told me about this idea, I figured they must be joking. How the hell would this be possible? Well, it turns out there are more and more commercial space flight options opening up. These days with enough money (and yeah, it’s a lot of money), you can buy a ticket to ride. So that’s how we’re doing it.

The contest itself is really exciting as well. The goal is for people to build “open, connected hardware”. In my experience (with the 555 contest), you need a constraint to base the contest around; openness as a constraint is particularly interesting. Not only does it encourage people to design something cool (like an open source Nest Thermostat or similar), but it also then allows that hard work to be built upon later. I’m a huge fan of open source hardware and up until this point, the way most people are rewarded for their openness has been a community building up around their project (a prize unto itself); now they can also win a trip to space (or other prizes).

I put in a couple emails to friends and acquaintances and we’re going to have a killer judges panel as well; they’re all as interested in sending open hardware experts to space as we are. Bunnie, Limor, Dave Jones, Elecia, Jack Ganssle, Ian of Dangerous Proto, Joe Grand, Sprite_tm. We’re also announcing the final winner in Germany at the huge tradeshow Electronica.

Anyway, I’m super pumped and I hope you are too. I feel very lucky to be involved with such a fun project and hope lots of people will be interested in submitting an entry.

Don’t Wait For Permission

I have corresponded with a international student for a few years now. I honestly can’t even remember how we met online and it doesn’t matter. He showed interest in my work and we started talking and have continued as he has graduated from US university and found a job locally. Recently he asked me:

I don’t like my current job. How can I get a job at Google?

I asked him why he wanted to move to Google. High pay? Exciting work? Big challenges? A recognizable name on a resume? All of these things can be had at other companies, many that are easier to get to than Google. Without having someone on the inside of Google that knows his work, I told him that he will be forced to go through the same process that every other interviewee does when applying to jobs posted online…and that’s a lot of competition. Not that competition is bad, just that there are so many better ways to find interesting, rewarding, high paid work.

So here’s the advice I give him and to all of you and any other recent graduates or young people looking for work:

I recommend you pick an open source project you think that Google would work on (or any other target company you’d like to work with). Maybe it’s a robot. Or a new API. Or a delivery service for soggy cereal milk (really?!?).

Next, start working on that project. If you can’t find an existing project, start your own (I started the BenchBudEE as part of Contextual Electronics because I didn’t see anything else in the marketplace). If you can’t do it alone, find some others that might be interested in the same topic. Find discussion boards or subreddits around the topic to find like minded people (hopefully with complementary skill sets)

Finally, spend all of your waking moments not at your job or school working on this project. You won’t be paid at all and likely never will be for this project. Work really really hard on it. At the end, you’ll either have one of two things

  1. A job offer from Google (or whichever company you were targeting)
  2. A great project and great experience.

If you don’t want to do the hard work when you’re not already working for Google, they likely won’t want to hire you in the first place.

Don’t wait for a company to give you permission to do interesting work. Go out there and find it and do it. The world is a playground!

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