Founder of Techcyte, a medical imaging startup in Provo, Utah. I enjoy business, managers that aren’t stupid, programming (especially Google Go), robotics, improv piano, the outdoors, basketball, and my wife and kids.
When I was in college, I was also a web development intern at a large software company. I walked in enamored with the flashy designs on the walls, the gym, the food court, and all of the perks of a (I thought) sexy software company. For a while this was enough to distract me from several weird practices that kept me from discovering a strange truth…our company was a software company run by people that didn’t understand engineers. This baffled me at first, but since then I have come to expect this as the rule rather than the exception.
The apex of my time there came while I was taking a class on product management and another one on organization behavior (required for my business minor). As synchronicity would have it, my company underwent a massive corporate restructuring at the same time. I was learning the theory of how to manage engineers well, how to business people were taught to manage well, and how management was actually happening at a large software company…it was fascinating.
It seemed the company did almost nothing right. Everyday I got emails from the office of people saying their goodbyes; all I could see was irreplaceable knowledge walking out the door. People and projects were shuffled like a deck of cards, losing immense amounts of domain knowledge in the process. Perhaps worst of all was the system where “developers” and “maintainers” were split into two groups. Developers would build something then dump it off onto my group of maintainers when “it was finished”. None of these actions made any sense to me…until I realized it only made sense if we were viewed as cogs…interchangeable, non-creative, drones that could be swapped out without consequence. I am not a cog.
I quit when I graduated and ended up working for a fantastic smaller company where the management almost entirely came out of engineering. I enjoyed my life a lot but with the economy downfall my wife fell victim to a corporate layoff. My company later got bought out by a large defense company and my lovely work environment was smashed to pieces. Again, the actions surrounding both of these events made the most sense when I realized management viewed their employees as cogs.
It seemed to me at the time that upper management was out of touch with its workers and especially its engineers. It seemed to me that there was an exclusive club of MBAs at the top of the company making policies that rained crap on everyone else. In my company, we even called our best middle managers ‘crap umbrellas’ because they shielded us from the constant stream stupidity that seemed to appear out of nowhere. I needed to get closer to the top of the company to stop the madness at its source…but I’d never make it there as an engineer. I decided to go to the dark side and get an MBA so that I could get behind enemy lines.
It didn’t take me long to find out that MBAs disliked many of the same problems I did. They didn’t call it treating people like cogs, they called it spreadsheet management. It’s when someone goes into Excel and creates a financial model to create a new policy (they usually call it a strategy) without talking to the people that it affects. Low and behold it almost always fails, bad assumptions are made that could have been thwarted with a few 5 minute conversations. When I was pursuing jobs in corporate finance, the best advice I was given was to spend 2 hours on the floor with the workers for every hour you spend creating your financial models. The enemy is not an exclusive club of MBAs, good MBAs tend to be a part of the solution, the enemy is bad management.
When I started business school, I applied to several big tech companies in hopes that I could “bridge the gap between business and engineering.” That was something I wanted as an engineer, but I found it wasn’t something business people were trying to improve. I found that even at software companies my coding background made me a black sheep and my applications were quickly rejected. I realized I couldn’t make a difference if I couldn’t get in.
I ending finding my niche in software startups when I went to an entrepreneurial event on campus and realized everyone wanted a coder. I’ve also learned that company founders have some of the biggest impact on company culture and values. I can’t get into a big company and change it, but I can create a new one.
Follow me on twitter: @ricochet2200