On Monday I learned that my application for the Founder Institute’s spring 2015 Seattle program was accepted (http://fi.co). For me this is a small personal victory; a microgram of validation for a set of ideas about software I have voiced to anyone willing to listen for fifteen years now.
I had all but given up convinced that the software industry was human-system-bound to the extent that mortal men would simply go mad before finding an ingress.
But then I started paying attention to the traffic on npmjs.org and GitHub.com, and watching “normal” people build things with integrated circuit board modules _on weekends_, for fun and began to think that maybe this could be fun again.
The Founder Institute application essays gave me an opportunity to explain myself, my motivation, my dream, and why it matters. In not so many words this proved to be more difficult for me than I had first imagined.
I’m sharing my FI application essays here because I believe some of you will find these ideas interesting and worthy of further discussion with your colleagues.
Field 1: Write 2–4 paragraphs on why you want to be an entrepreneur:
I don’t believe the decision to become an entrepreneur was ever a conscious one for me. I am from an enterprising family and grew up in a house that was more my father’s R&D and light manufacturing facility than a typical Boston suburban home. Self-reliance and ingenuity were required skills in my house. I won a contest for selling the most Boy Scout pancake breakfast tickets, talked my neighbors into subscribing to the Boston Globe and wowed them with computer-generated invoices in 1978. I left public high school because I felt I was losing my way, went on Outward Bound, and then finished off in prep school before going on to study electrical engineering.
I have had many jobs across disciplines and industries, and worked on many different types of product. The theme has always been what’s next. The mode has always been whatever it takes to find it. For years I was happy working in an engineering role out in advance of the rest of the team exploring the boundaries of our next big push. But when I started voicing strong opinions about strategy, asserting budget priorities, and asking for the same transparency from the business units as is demanded of engineering, I hit a wall. This forced me to make a choice: peace and a paycheck or stress and hope for a better tomorrow. Not a simple choice.
I have straddled that line for the past fifteen years. I tried to start my own business and failed. I went to Microsoft and worked for the Windows team but found them quick to tire of my incessant questions about long-term strategy. I retrained myself and joined a start-up. But still I haven’t found a company that shares my vision and values. So I must create it.
As a child, the inventors Bell, Edison, Ford, and the Wright brothers were my heroes. Their stories inspired me to believe in the power of critical independent thinking, debate, and singular perseverance towards a seemingly unattainable goal. I use this inspiration to keep setbacks in perspective, and deal with the isolation I sometimes feel. But I also recall that none of what they did would have been possible had they not been master salesmen. I too must become a master salesman or nothing that I care about will matter ultimately.
Field 2: Provide 2–4 paragraphs on a field that you are passionate about:
I want to lead the software industry in a new direction based on the notion that computers programs are not something that humans create. Rather, humans should communicate with one another and capture information in a form that can be translated by machine into programs that conform to the constraints.
This sounds a little crazy; it’s very abstract. But it’s not unprecedented. This is precisely how semiconductors, and System-on-Chip devices are designed, simulated, and tested before they are actually manufactured. VLSI designers typically work at a conceptual level using sophisticated CAD tools to synthesize the low level logic based on complex rule sets, and deep collections of re-usable intellectual property called standard cell libraries.
Instead, selection and evaluation are done by hand at great cost and risk. And, then the business requirements are transcribed to code that will be invalidated when the business requirements change. Essentially human systems are the software industry’s CAD tool set. And it’s not working well for anyone.
Imagine an alternative that allowed you to define the dimensions of your problem, and a set of business imperatives and test a new software application immediately. Such a system would manifest as a software system-on-chip factory in the browser backed by hundreds of thousands of carefully packaged and tested software components at the ready. Essentially the Internet version of the VLSI designer’s standard cell library and CAD tools.
This is very hard. But, imagine assembling the tech stack behind your average series A in a day without developers. I believe that broadly enabling the creation of reliable large-scale custom software will be an important step towards gaining control of an increasingly complex world.
Thank you for reading - ChrisRus (GitHub) // @AlpineLakes (Twitter)