posted: November 21, 2020
tl;dr: Final ruminations on the type of company that is the best fit for me...
(continued from part one):
A product I can believe in
I’ve been fortunate: I’ve never had to take a job just to feed myself and my family. I’ve always been in a position to choose where I work, and I’ve chosen to work at companies and on products that I believe will make the world a better place. Engineering can be defined as the application of science for the betterment of mankind, and I’ve tried to adhere to that definition. See my take on Samuel C. Florman’s book The Existential Pleasures of Engineering. We spend a significant portion of our adult lives in the workplace, and it’s satisfying to feel that your efforts are contributing to a better world. It can also help provide motivation to get up in the morning and get going.
For many years I worked at networking companies which were helping to build out the Internet. Even though communication can be used for harmful actions, I do believe that, on balance, the world is much better off with the Internet than it would be without it. To cite just one example: if we were going through the COVID-19 pandemic with nothing better than the networks that we had in place at the beginning of my career, it would be far, far worse. Remote work and remote schooling would have been so deficient that we might not even have attempted them.
At my current company and my previous employer, the product focus has been on applications and content delivered over the Internet for important industries that I support, including healthcare and higher education. I’ve been offered opportunities at other companies whose products I did not use, or whose industries were not ones that I felt contributed to the betterment of society; I’ve politely turned those down.
No hardware or physical product
My career has spanned the period in which the United States went from a leader in electronics manufacturing to a laggard. For a variety of reasons, the U.S. has chosen to outsource much of its manufacturing capability, and I’ve participated in that transition. Today China and other countries in Asia possess more efficient and sophisticated manufacturing capabilities. All you need to do to realize this is to tour some factories in the U.S. and Asia. The U.S. is no longer the best place to build hardware products. This also impacts where the design of the products should take place. All other things being equal, it is best to design hardware products in the same building or very close by where they are manufactured. That way the hardware designers can optimize their designs for the manufacturing processes.
Starting with my last employer, Uprising Technology, I’ve only worked at companies that were 100% in the software and services business. I may never again work at a company whose products have a hardware component to them. The primary reason for this is not a desire to avoid competing with Asian companies, or a desire to avoid having to travel to Asia. It’s just that I truly enjoy doing software more, which I wrote about in my Nothing but icing post.
I also joke with my wife that, by focusing entirely on software, I will never lack employment opportunities, because there is so much bad software out there that needs fixing and improving.
I not only want to focus entirely on software, but more specifically cloud-based software. That’s why I joined Uprising Technology in 2015, and why I am at meltmedia today. I view the cloud not only as a great way to distribute and deploy software, but also in some sense the culmination of the first portion of my career when I was involved in the networking industry. The cloud wouldn’t be possible without ubiquitous, advanced, broadband networks connecting the billions of client devices in the world, as well as providing backbones between data centers. Now that we’ve built this amazing network, cloud computing is possible, and I get to enjoy developing for the cloud. It sure beats the floppy disks and CD-ROMs we used to use.
Location matters. Even though many claim it is the epicenter of the technology industry, especially when it comes to startup companies, I’ve steered clear of Silicon Valley and the San Francisco Bay area my entire life. I’ve had recruiters and others trying to get me to move to the Bay area for more than thirty years, right up until the pandemic set in. I’ve always turned them down, primarily for quality-of-life reasons. I felt Bay area real estate was unaffordable in the 1990s, and it only got worse from there.
I chose Portland, Oregon in the late 1980s when I was starting out in my career, because I was attracted to the city and the geography of the Pacific Northwest. It ended up being where I met my wife, got married, and started a family. The Chicagoland area was a great place to raise our likds because the schools were good and there were so many other people raising families. Now that the family unit is again just my wife and me, we’ve chosen Arizona for reasons of climate, geography, and closeness to our adult children, and we’re loving it. The Valley of the Sun is also a growing technology center, although the Bay Area still is the country’s largest. I’m proof that you can have a perfectly fine career in high tech without ever working in the Bay Area.
That completes my thoughts on the main qualities I seek in an employer. I can’t guarantee things won’t change in the future, however.