Blog_JackOfAllTrades

Working this morning on a one-pager explanation of how SPD leverages its expertise in System Integration.

 

“So you’re a electrical engineer?” the interviewer asks quizzically, squinting at my resume. Not exactly.

I’ve been getting this kind of question for all of my adult life. It started at college career fairs – the unlucky recruiters at booths for companies like Lockheed Martin and Caterpillar would be stumped, not knowing how to triage me. You see, I’ve always been interested in making things – achieving the kind of end result that is only reached when all the relevant tech and design come together in a working solution. So in college I set out to get the education and experience to do that, which at Carnegie Mellon meant pursuing the student defined major program. Actually more of a loophole than a program, this allowed me to keep one foot in the College of Fine Arts as an industrial designer, and the other in the Robotics Institute, a graduate research center within the School of Computer Science.

While still rigorously academic, these were also the most hands-on of any programs in the university at the time. In robotics, I built robots to test mine-sweeping algorithms for the US Navy, and in the design program I developed product concepts for Compeq (acquired by HP) resembling the feature set of a ruggedized iPad (dismissed as silly in 1999). I got more mech-e than the EE majors, more EE than the mechanical majors, and I wrote more code than anyone but the CS majors. I didn’t have a name for it at the time, but what I was really learning was system integration.

I got more mech-e than the EE majors, more EE than the mechanical majors, and I wrote more code than anyone but the CS majors. I didn’t have a name for it at the time, but what I was really learning was system integration.

Fast forward 2 years (and one masters degree from the MIT Media Lab in a similarly multidisciplinary program), and in 2003 I was ready to apply my skills in the real world, only to find that I might have set myself up for a lifetime of complexity in explaining my skill set.

Although I’ve had a number of pretty neat jobs (Apple, Samsung, running startups, etc.), I’ve always dodged the question of “what are you,” steering the conversation toward what I can do in practical terms. I’ve even been called a “jack-of-all-trades” which in this employment economy isn’t always viewed as a positive attribute.

Now, as we are ramping SPD back up, I feel more compelled than previously to address this question head on, and I’ll do so with this statement:

The world needs more expert jacks-of-all-trades.

First, I want to establish that this is an expertise. It’s not about being a little bit good at everything, it’s about being great at how all those skills, components, and challenges get leveraged into working solutions. You develop that expertise by having a strong working knowledge of the relevant disciplines, state-of-the-art in relevant fields, and cultivating design, or solution-level, thinking.

It’s not about being a little bit good at everything, it’s about being great at how all those skills, components, and challenges get leveraged into working solutions.
Second, the reason why the world needs these experts is simple – the problems facing the world today are no longer mousetrap-solution problems that can be solved by a focused individual or narrowly trained team, they are complex, multifaceted issues that require holistic thinking and multiple branches of expertise to solve. I believe the same is true in the commercial space where the most valuable product differentiations are created through similarly holistic thinking and diverse teams of skills. We need people who are expert in creating these complex solutions, and assembling and leading teams to deliver those solutions.

I’ll expand on these points in future posts, but to close this one, we built Seamless Product Development to be that expert Jack – an expert in system integration. We create elegant integrated solutions to complex problems, we bring in area experts as needed, and we have an all-to-uncommon ability to connect the dots across mechanical, electrical and software systems in ways that more narrowly trained teams often don’t see.

Here’s a download of the document in the featured image:  SPD_Core_Strengths [pdf 2mb]

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