5 Years Into My Career: Lesson Learned, Tech Moves Faster Than I Thought

Last year I decided that I wanted to make a major change to the trajectory of my career. I graduated college in December 2011, and I am now about 5 years into my career. I remember when I graduated I felt the ideas I had for business were not possible given the technology at the time. I failed to account for one obvious thing, technology changes. It sounds obvious now, but when I was fresh out of engineering school I could not have imagined what would happen over the next 5 years. I have missed several business opportunities over this time because I didn’t have the money, or the expertise or one of a million other excuses. I don’t want to make that mistake again.

In engineering and mathematics, you are very often interested in the “initial conditions” of a problem. This is the starting point of your calculations or simulations. You learn that very small changes in the initial conditions can have a huge impact on the outcome. This was something I had completely missed when I made the jump from engineering to business. As time has passed, the initial conditions of the market have shifted as well. The same idea that was impossible 5 years ago, is now possible given today’s world. The technology, finance opportunities, even the way things are marketed have all changed DRASTICALLY in the past 5 years. The economy has improved, the power of computers has grown exponentially and ideas that were stuck fully in the realm of science fiction just 5 years ago are now happening every day.

What really amazed me were the number of things that have gone from “not anywhere on the map” to “literally available to anyone”.

5 years ago, drones were still called “quad-copters”. These were advanced 4 rotor remote controlled helicopters that were primarily built by engineers or hobbyists willing to construct every piece by hand. They didn’t have GPS or remote flying capabilities. A remote operated air vehicle was most commonly called a UAV and referred to what the military was using in war zones. Everything you see or hear about drones in the consumer driven sense of the word started in the past 3–4 years. In the next 3 years, I believe they will be everywhere (assuming a receptive FAA and the proper laws in places). That means 7 years from nowhere to everywhere.

We saw this with phones too. Think about how fast we went from cell phones being something you used in an emergency to call home to every child demanding the newest, fastest iPhone. The adoption rate is astonishing.

In September 2011, SpaceX had the audacity to say they would work on recovering their rockets for reuse. They planned to return used boosters to earth under power and land on a launch pad. I was finishing my final semester of college when they announced this. Now they have successfully landed rockets on the ground several times, and even on a floating platform at sea. This is something that very few thought was possible 5 years ago, but is becoming common place. What is really fun is the effect this has on the next 5, 10 or 15 years of innovation.

In September 2016 Elon Musk introduced a concept for their Interplanetary Transport System, part of which is a huge booster that is only possible when it is reusable. The booster uses proven engines, but many more of them. Then the whole thing returns after launch allowing the cost to be spread out over many missions. The result is a much lower cost per pound of cargo over the long term. It’s brilliant! The best part is that it’s also scalable. You could use the same basic concept to build even larger and cheaper rockets over the next 20, 30, 40 years.

We have technology that didn’t exist 5 years ago, being built upon and expanding into concepts that were pure science fiction a few months ago! New technology is being utilized to dream up bigger breakthroughs than were even thought possible. There is a compounding effect of technology.

I see this sort of progress in a lot of the areas I have been interested in. I followed these areas for the past 15 years, since I was a young kid in grade school reading Popular Science on the bus. I thought that maybe one day in the far future self-driving cars would be possible. I remember watching the cars from the DARPA Grand Challenge bump into rocks and over cones and now I expect full autonomous cars to be available within the next 5 years. The image below shows the cars from the DARPA Urban Challenge in 2007 and a Tesla Model X that has many of the same capabilities and might soon be fully autonomous.

I had heard the quote “Most people over estimate what they can do in a year and under estimate what the can accomplish in 10 years”, but it never really sank in. I now look back at what has happened in the past 5 years, much less the last decade, and I’m amazed. I have missed so many opportunities but I will not allow this to happen again. Life is about learning lessons and I feel I have uncovered a huge one here.

In 5 years, I will be 33 years old. I want to understand how technology will change over that time and take advantage of it. I’ve always had big dreams but I thought they were too far away and felt trapped by the technology our time. As I look at the trends and project them forward, I get a vision of what is possible and it’s far beyond what I would have expected. It looks like the technology coming our way over the next 10 years is straight out of a science fiction book from 20 years ago. There is no limit anymore. Now I see even the most off the wall ideas I’ve had might actually have paths to existence. I can’t wait to see what is possible.