It doesn’t matter if you are reading this from the cube farm of corporate America, or the ball-pit and bean-bag insanity of Silicon Valley; I ask that you take a moment for self reflection.
What is your Mission in life? Why are you on this planet? Why did you get into this industry? Who are you helping? What are your passions?
At the beginning of our professional lives we often have to chase our occupation in a quest to reach a comfortable level of income. My first company that I worked at was Arkwin Industries on Long Island, they engineer and manufacture aerospace hydraulics for military and civilian aircraft. Aerospace is not my passion and the mission behind what we were doing was always abstracted through many layers, the closer you get in aerospace to the big-picture system-level engineering the clearer the mission becomes. At the component level it’s difficult to see the end-user and relate, we knew our job was important but we had no direct connection or relationship with the end-user.
I was fortunate enough to have been born into a machine shop and got a very early start. Even so it was important early on in my career to work for companies that I could learn from, even if their mission did not precisely align with my own. Aerospace was not my passion, but Arkwin was a tight knit small family owned company and let me run wild. It didn’t matter if I was developing new manufacturing techniques, assembly robotics, or automated testing equipment they never asked if I “could” do it; They just knew that I would’t give up until I succeeded.
At the beginning of your career you will fail, over and over again, but you will get back up and you will have become better for it. No matter what company you are working for always keep your eye on your mission. Every company you work for will provide a host of lessons, in the past I was guilty of neglecting the importance of these lessons. One day I woke up, dusted off the corporate drama I had been buried in, and took up the mantra:
Learn — Grow — Advance
So…. What is your mission?
You have been reading this for a few minutes now, did you take time at the beginning to answer those questions for yourself? What answers did you arrive at?
Have you ever climbed a mountain? I’ve sat at the top of Camelback or the Flat iron on many occasions thinking to myself:
How many people have been born, lived, and died without ever seeing the world from a mountain?
Not even THE mountain I was sitting on but ANY mountain. There are people sitting right around you now that have never even considered climbing a mountain in the first place, let alone do it. Do you know how long it takes to climb Camelback? It takes me 30 minutes to get to the top and another 30 down, for first time climbers it’s not hard for you to summit and return in under 2 hours. 2 Hours of your life is all it takes to take in one of the best views of Phoenix.
Think of this now in the context of your mission, how many people around you have worked 10/20/30 years without ever attempting to progress towards a mission at all. Often times I find engineers who have been broken by the corporate system and have given up all aspirations of greater things, working 9–5 and taking 2 weeks of vacations a year until they retire. You can choose the comfortable path, like many others, or you can choose to embrace the pressure of forging forward on your personal mission….. I choose the latter.
Taking the first step
While it should come to no surprise to anyone who has read my previous articles, I am an advocate of startups. If you are truly passionate about your mission at some point (Not just yet) you are going to have to forge your own path. Before you jump in head first into a startup of your own, I highly encourage you to find startups already out there who have a similar mission and work with them first.
I summarize my mission as follows:
I believe the responsibility of an engineer transcends a 9–5 job, it is our calling to seek out problems and create solutions no matter how monumental the challenge. I seek these challenges as a way to continually improve my skillset, expand my professional network; And as my method of leaving a positive mark on society.
Many of the challenges I seek to tackle are not glamorous, I’m never going to end up on a morning or late night talk show. 99.999% of the people who use the products I design will never know my name, they will never know the struggle and personal sacrifice of the teams who toiled to bring the technology they take for granted to market. We don’t get to sign 40 million dollar annual contracts to throw inflated balls to one another, we work because we have a mission. I personally work to solve challenges that I feel are important:
Laser Training targets to help train Military, Law Enforcement, and Civilian first responders.
Medical Wearables that help people suffering from the effects of PTSD, Autism, chronic stress, depression, etc.
IoT interactive toys that teach children new languages, or help children with learning disabilities to grow.
An indoor gun-shot detection and differentiation platform to give expedient intel to 911 and SWAT during an active-shooter situation.
Hospital building automation for more efficient operations and better patient care.
Advanced robotic Prosthetic hands and arms to give amputees back their lives
Each one of these products is in a completely different industry, and I listed them to show just that. Your Mission does not have to be specific to one industry, or helping one type of person. What matters is that you keep your mission in mind always.
Find companies that align with your mission
This can be a challenge, in the current world of startups and corporations most groups are run into the ground in the quest of becoming the next “Unicorn.” Companies that start out wholesome with great values and ethics often cave to investor pressure once the reality of running a startup sets in. All basic human emotions rear their ugly head in spectacular fashion in the startup world.
However there are gems out there and I recently got the chance to join two teams that I feel are truly going to change the world. If you are not familiar with the Touch Point Solution i encourage you to take a look at their website. Founded by Vicki Mayo (A seasoned “Momtrepreneur” as she calls it) and Dr.Amy Sarin (Neuropsychologist) they are committed to bringing products to market that help people suffering from PTSD, Autism, Depression, Anxiety, Addiction, etc. I have not in my entire career met a team as passionate as Vicki and Dr.Sarin. With multiple offers on the table from large well established (And well bank-rolled) companies I choose Touch points because their mission really resonated with me.
Touch Points is run by a team with big hearts and it shows through their work. They have a policy for donating product, for every 2 devices sold they donate 1 device. They have a scholarship program to help get these products into the hands of people who need it, and a generous ambassador program that gets the community involved in the growth of the company. If you have read any of my previous articles on hardware startups you will know how difficult the process can be, and for a company to have such high ethics and moral standards throughout that process speaks volumes for the management and employees.
At one point in my career I was highly motivated by ego, stressing more on being able to tell people how “cool” my job was or the “awesome” things I got to work on. Designing off-road/on-road supercars or parts for military aircraft will get a good reaction at a party, but they have no real impact on society as a whole.
That is what I loved so much about Touch Points, seeing the look on peoples faces when they try the product for the first time, listening to all of the testimonials relayed from tearful parents to our customer support team thanking us makes this project extremely personal. I will most likely write up another entire article on why mission values are important to engineering performance, but I will say this on the matter:
Engineers that have a clear mission, one that resonates with them on a personal level; Will outperform and out-innovate the most well funded teams on the planet.
My mission is to leave this world a better place than I found it
And I’m sure if we all listed our missions in the comment section we would find that most of us share a commonality; we see a problem in the world and we want to fix it. My advice moving forward would be:
- Identify your mission and lay out the steps you can take to move forward
- Identify your 2 year, 5 year, and 10 year goals. Write them down
- Learn to roll with the punches, every lesson has value
- Read up on everything relating to your mission, never stop learning
- Time is the most precious resource