We all have certain events that we look back on in our professional career that we later realize had a profound impact on what we have been able to accomplish. While I’ve been in tech throughout my career these events had more to do with taking advantage of opportunities and working with great people than anything related to technology. The lessons learned as a result of these experiences are virtually impossible to fit into a traditional resume. More than likely these stories only come to light during a conversation with a colleague over a beer while waiting for a flight home after a trade show.
So here’s my list of cool things I’ve done. If you happen to read this and we end up having a beer waiting for a flight home from a trade show I’d love to hear yours.
Talk About Starting Young
I was fortunate enough to begin my career in enterprise computing at the ripe old age of eighteen with the RCA Corporation (acquired by GE in 1986). This was at a time when the in-house training at companies like RCA far surpassed anything being offered by even the most prestigious academic institutions. By working at night and taking classes during the day I was able to get my career off to a great start.
Looking back at my time at RCA the memory that sticks out the most is the work I did in disaster recovery. In the 1980’s the mainframe was the system and if the system went down the company shut down. Thousands of people around the world would be doing little more than waiting for the system to come back up so failure was not an option. The disaster recovery plan required that on a moments notice we would be able to bring our entire system up on a mainframe at an off-site disaster recovery center using our daily backup tapes. My primary responsibility was to be one of the first to arrive at the off-site facility and start bring the system up while the other members of the team were still on their way. So at twenty two I found myself restoring “the system” (it was a “live test”) of one of the largest most recognized companies in the world at 3:00AM on a Sunday morning at a backup site in Philadelphia. Twenty Two!
Working with a team that moved a Data Center
Still early in my career I joined a small company that was just moving their IBM mainframe into our area. I was lucky enough to be part of the team that did everything from planning the move to firing up the new systems and successfully bringing everyone on-line at the new facility. Being involved in a project like this forced you to be very organized and methodical. It took a lot of work…but it was very cool.
Made the leap from being a hands-on techie to sales and marketing
In the 1990’s the type of Fortune 500 companies I had been working for were going through massive restructuring. This was the beginning of consolidation and outsourcing and I wanted to try something new. I was more outgoing than many of my techie peers so my transition went extraordinarily well. I also nearly doubled my salary which was very cool.
Went back to school
As noted earlier I started working full time straight out of high school. The lack of a college degree never held me back from my career aspirations but I really loved learning and it was important to me. Going to school full-time was not an option so I took classes part-time at night. After eight years I earned a B.S. in Business Administration from Rutgers University. It was definitely worth the effort.
Joined a successful tech startup
In the late 1990’s as the internet started to heat up I joined a small local tech startup called Bluestone Software. Bluestone was one of the first companies to develop rapid application development tools and a Java Application Server platform. My primary responsibility was to manage our relationships with technology alliance partners like IBM, Sun Microsystems, Oracle, HP, SAP, and PeopleSoft. I also worked directly with the sales team to help recruit systems integrators and generate revenue through indirect sales channels. I spent a lot of time traveling to meet with partners, speak at conferences, support sales calls, recruit and train resellers, and a whole bunch of other things…and it was awesome!
Bluestone was a great company with a lot of really great people. It was a wonderful learning experience where I met some life-long friends. The company successfully went public in 1999 and was acquired by HP in 2001. After HP shut the group down in 2002 Oracle came in and hired several of the original product development team who are still among the best in the business.
Joined several failed startups
After the tech bubble burst in the early 2000’s times were tough. Fortunately my background at Bluestone Software gave me a leg up with the handful of local startups that were actually getting funded. Unfortunately those companies did not last very long. You would be surprised how much you can learn as a company burns through money developing technology that no one wanted to buy. Gone were the days where you could tell a good story and flip the company within a few years. It turns out that paying customers are pretty important…and they were in short supply.
Hung out my shingle
As the tech industry had yet to fully recover from the dot.com bubble I took the time for a bit of self reflection. I decided that what I was really good at was bring new technology products to market in the enterprise computing industry. So I hung out my shingle and landed a consulting contract to help a company build a go-to-market strategy in the emerging Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) industry. The fact that I knew nothing about RFID was irrelevant. I knew how to analyze the market, develop value propositions, create channels programs, recruit partners, develop marketing content and articles, speak at conferences, engage customers, the list goes on.
Over the next thirty six months we were able to position that company as an industry leader and land several contracts with Fortune 500 companies for services that did not exist before I had arrived. That consulting engagement enabled me to tap into my inner entrepreneur so I…
Started a Company
Through the aforementioned consulting engagement I become a “known guy” in the RFID industry. At the time the RFID industry was focused on supply chain applications for Wal-Mart. I saw that there was an untapped market for using RFID for managing enterprise assets so I went out on my own and started RFID TagSource, a specialty distributor of RFID tags for asset management applications.
Founding a company is hard, really hard. There are a lot of things that need to be done that have absolutely nothing to do with whatever you are selling. Business plans, accounting software, insurance, legal fees, office space, hiring, blah, blah, blah. Identifying suppliers, recruiting partners, building sales channels, and getting customers was the easy part.
After starting the company in 2006 we were named among the Top Five Fastest Growing Businesses in South Jersey by Philadelphia Business Journal for 2010 and 2011. Our customers are primarily systems integrators and vertically aligned solution providers although we do work directly with a handful of Fortune 100 companies and government agencies.
Developed Technology that went on Airplanes
File this one under “Who’Da Thunk It”. I am not an RFID engineer nor am I an aerospace engineer. However, because of the reputation that we had developed in the RFID industry and the fact that Boeing was a customer we were contracted to build an RFID tag for a United States Air Force F-16 fighter aircraft…AN F-16! I was able to reach out to some really smart people who pulled off some amazing things to make this happen. Heres a story about the project from the Edwards Air Force Base Website. Yup, COOL!
In a related story we were also able to enter into a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRDA) with the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). A CRDA provides small business with access to government resources that they would not otherwise have. There is no funding provided under a CRDA but we got full access to the FAA labs at no cost. The coolest part is that the FAA has aircraft they refer to as Flying Labs. Here’s a link to the story
Contributed to a Patent
I was part of a team lead by United Technologies Corporation (they own the patent) that developed a patent for an RFID Tag System. This came out of some of the work we did at the FAA Technical Center.
Pitched to Investors
The process of pitching potential investors for funding is an eye awakening experience. Staying on top of your business plan and investor presentation, attending networking events and investor fairs, and getting to the point where you are actually pitching to qualified investors takes a lot of effort. Oh, and you still need to run your business.
We had a specific customer project underway that, if it went forward, would open us up to a significant new market opportunity. It would also require significant ramp up expenses so we went looking for funding. We had gotten to the point where we had a verbal offer on the table that was contingent upon the initial customer project moving forward. Unfortunately that did not happen so we never made it to a term sheet. I did learn a great deal by going through this process. In short, know your stuff and be succinct. ‘Nuff said.
Over the years I have done numerous speaking engagements and have been quoted and references in several trade journals and news publications. “Getting Published” by a globally recognized industry standards organization where your content is meticulously reviewed by respected experts to me is a little more impressive. In 2011 I wrote a paper the was published by SAE International which I then presented at a conference hosted by Airbus in Toulouse France. That was cool.
Started a Blog about The Internet of Things (IoT)
Well this one is pretty obvious. Thanks for making it this far ;).
Throughout my career I have done many of the traditional speaking engagements, written articles and white papers, made videos, and dabbled in social media. I have not however made a significant attempt at blogging until now.
The emergence of IoT is the most exciting thing in tech since the Mosiac Web Browser. It touches on just about everything I have done throughout my career. I thrive on sorting through the hype and creating real business value in emerging markets. IoT gives me another opportunity to immerse myself in bringing new technology products to the enterprise computing market.
New applications becomes a legacy applications as soon as they are deployed, and legacy systems never really go away. With the advent of advanced mobile devices and ubiquitous communications, smart sensors, cloud computing, and an emerging crop of IoT centric rapid application development platforms, forward thinking organizations can dramatically extend the value of these legacy applications by planning a pragmatic path toward what ultimately becomes enterprise IoT.
This is very cool stuff…I can talk about this all day!