Carl Calabria is entering his third month here at Formlabs as our Head of Engineering. He spent the prior year mentoring and consulting part-time with the leadership team. Carl’s first goal is to learn about the people, products, culture, and systems of the company.
During the day, Carl is engaging employees in conversation, sketching out an idea at the whiteboard, looking over the shoulder of an engineer and asking questions about a design, or catching up on email at his desk.
I asked Carl some questions to learn more about his engineering experience, leadership style, and why he came to Formlabs. Here’s what he had to say.
You’ve worked for a variety of companies. Can you share what you accomplished at some of them?
I co-founded Truevision in my twenties and built a team that helped change an industry. At the time, video and computer equipment didn’t interface with each other. We created a product that bridged the divide between personal computers and the world of video and film production. Our work was recognized with an Emmy award.
At iRobot, I helped the engineering team focus on product quality and reliability which drove growth of the robotic floor care line. When I joined, the line represented 5% of revenue. Five years later, it represented 95%.
At Sonos, they had been considering an acoustic product for many years and hadn’t moved on it. I took up the challenge and managed the company’s first “cloud speaker” project, which proved to be very successful.
Why did you choose Formlabs?
I have always been drawn to creating innovative works of enduring value. 3D printing opened up and forever changed the way things are made. As someone who likes to build things myself, nothing could be more exciting. I’m an electrical engineer by training but a mechanical engineer by genetic programming. I taught myself 3D CAD just so I could take advantage of 3D printing.
I also had the luxury of consulting with Formlabs before joining. That gave me a front row seat to see the exciting work, the innovation that was taking place, and the caliber of the people here.
Who opened doors for you?
I feel that what I’ve achieved was done by pushing on doors that weren’t opened for me. Over the course of my career, I’ve been more motivated by pursuing my passion rather than following the most logical career path. Along the way, I learned how to spot interesting doors and figure out how to open them.
How do you keep innovating and inspiring in a large organization?
As companies get larger, they tend to identify people who are responsible for innovation, which is counterintuitive to me. I believe that great ideas can come from anyone. Fortunately, that culture already exists at Formlabs. What keeps me motivated is solving hard problems that are worth solving. I think most engineers feel that way as well and draw inspiration from doing so.
Do you have advice for an engineer who is thinking of joining Formlabs?
This is a company that has an unusually high number of truly outstanding engineers. If you are the best at what you do, you will love it here.
Can you talk about a failure and what you learned from it?
My biggest failures have been missed opportunities for personal growth: when I haven’t been open to new ideas and thinking. Some of the most important lessons I have learned have required me to change old habits. That is both scary and exhilarating at the same time.
What is your leadership philosophy? Can you share a lesson that you’ve learned?
I try to model the behavior I expect of my team in the way I treat others, my work rate, and my tenacity.
I like to ask difficult questions that help people discover optimal solutions: their solutions, not mine.
A lesson I learned is how to make self-guided missiles. If you can align someone’s passion and ability with the needs of a company, you can point them in the right direction and stand out of the way.
Absent direction or in a crisis, I will lead from the front. When things are running smoothly, I prefer to lead from the back and allow my team to take charge.
What do you do to take care of your team?
I treat my team with respect, challenge them to be their best, recognize accomplishments, encourage them to find balance, and help them pursue their dreams.
What are a few resources you recommend to someone looking to gain insight into becoming a better leader or engineer?
Roll up your sleeves and take a leadership role in a volunteer organization. You will learn to harness intrinsic motivation and have a chance to take a measure of your effectiveness.
Learn to be a great parent. I find the skills highly transferable to management.
What’s the biggest risk you’ve ever taken?
I made a twenty-one day solo trek through the Himalaya. I’m extremely afraid of heights and had to traverse several highly exposed mountain trails that left me nearly paralyzed with fear. You either take the next step or you freeze to death. Turning back and accepting defeat is not in my DNA.
You blog daily and seem to have many interests: photography, adventure travel, soccer. How do you do it all?
They are all inter-related. Even though I am an engineer to the core, I have an artistic side. Photography is a medium that lets me express that. I love the outdoors and photography takes me all over the world in search of beauty and adventure. The soccer team I play for competes internationally in our age group so that ties in as well.
How will you maintain work-life balance in your new role?
I have a work hard, play hard approach to life. During my first months here at Formlabs, I put in 12-to 14-hour work days so I could quickly come up to speed. Next month, I head to Argentina for 11 days to hike with my son in Patagonia and play soccer with my team in Buenos Aires. I always put my family ahead of the job but never give the company anything less than my best.
What are you interested to print to take advantage of unlimited 3D printing at Formlabs?
That’s easy. I like building tripods.
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