I owe, I owe, so off to work I go.....

Gene BrenimanDecember 23, 2009

The economy hit my start-up plans pretty toughly.  My step-daughter and I were working out of a common pool of money (our savings account), and in the end, she won out.  She is in her third year at San Jose State and with rising tuition and student housing costs, etc., money was beginning to get a little tight in our savings account.  So, I did the right thing, I got a paying job.  My initial plan was to find some consulting work to bring in some money, but this economy made that a tough call.  After a lot of looking and a lot of bidding on jobs, nothing of substance was to be found.  I did find a teaching job, at a local technical school, so I grabbed on to that.  Wanting to bring in more funds, I shifted my employment search to finding a fulltime gig to help build up the savings account.  Within a couple of weeks, I got a really good bite from a leader in the life sciences industry.  An interview later, and I soon found myself splitting time between two jobs, while still trying to keep my own company moving. Not too bad for a really tough employment market!

Teaching was a new thing for me.  For many years, I have been working as a senior level contributor at the companies that I have worked for.  I have enjoyed taking junior members under my wing and helping them grow in their careers.  But teaching students (maybe some of our future engineers), the very basics of electronics, this was rather exciting.  Some nights the lessons would go through, from start to finish, without any real sign that anything sunk in with the students.  Then one by one, the students started to see the light (sure the demonstrations, like building a battery out of pennies, aluminum foil and Coke helped, by lighting a LED).  The questions started showing some insights.  The students started to be able to see past the formulas, and began to show the understanding and enjoyment of the puzzles of electronics.

As fun as it was to be teaching, it didn't take too long to figure out that there was not enough money in it, and not enough time in the day to work and teach.  The teaching gig was evenings and while my new boss was understanding and flexible enough to allow me to flex my schedule to get both done, it wasn’t too long before I was counting the number of remaining lessons, until I could get through with the quarter and then gracefully bow out of the teaching.

The real surprise in the whole process was how much I was enjoying my new job.  It was surprising how enjoyable it was to spend 100% of my time doing real engineering work.  When I started my own company, I was pretty sure that I had found my true calling. I could dig into the areas that I found most interesting and allow myself to follow my designs thorough to the ultimate outcome.  What I had not prepared myself for was all the other jobs that I would also have to perform and all the other hats that I would have to wear. Not to mention all the stress that I was having to face by not having anyone else to help share the burden and challenges of each new step down the road to bring a new product to life.  Sure, my lovely and supportive wife was there to help guide me along, but I soon began to realize the true importance of all the supporting folks that operate within a company, working with a common goal of bringing products and solutions to market.

The job has turned out to be a real dream come true position for me.  Although the current project was well under way, I was able to hit the ground running and soon found plenty of very interesting work to do.  In addition to the work I was doing, I was also extremely pleased with all of the work that had been done before I arrived on-site.  The hardware and firmware were in real good shape, the overall design was pretty cool (ARM9, FPGA/CPLD co-processor, with tons of memory and fully stacked with peripherals).

While I came on-board to assist in making hardware/software tradeoffs and to identify opportunities to leverage the existing FPGA/CPLD to improve system performance (sort of my specialty), I ended up adding other performance improvements through software only features. I am currently digging into some very interesting work in image processing and object recognition algorithms (hopefully I can make use of the FPGA/CPLD in this area in the near future).  This was a new twist for me, but proved to be very interesting.

For the first time in a while, I am approaching each new day of work as an opportunity to learn and grow.  I am happier in this position than I have been for a long time in my career.  Not only am I happy at work, but I am happier at home too.  I still plan on continuing my quest for my own company and developing my own products, but for now, those plans will have to happen in the background.  I will need to re-focus these plans aiming towards wrapping up my current product and finding a low effort approach to push them into the market.


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