As the song goes, it don’t pay my bills. So I signed on with a startup that does. Hopefully, I can do both (time permitting). But talk about two different worlds . . . Hardware, not software. Distinctly un-social (for now). Government, not commercial. Business, not consumer. And funded, not — well, self-funded.
I’m working in semiconductors again (you may recall I cut my teeth there)– and very next-generation. And managing programs for a company working (for now) on government contracts may not sound sexy. . . but the work we’re doing is awesome in every sense. Eons away from the silicon chips found in laptops and phones, what we build is for big power switching. We’re talking big.
And did I mention that it’s well funded? Primarily through SBIR grants, a thought-provoking (read: nondilutive) alternative to VC funding — even in good times — if you’ve got some unique IP.
In times like these, it seems like a godsend.
But my reorientation was (still is, in fact) intense. It’s the main reason for my blogging hiatus. Coming up to speed on nearly a dozen programs. Managing them using MSFT Project . . . which threw me back onto Windows XP . . . on a Lenovo laptop . . . and got my introduction to (drum roll): Sharepoint! We social-network app developers spend most of our time trying to make our interfaces intuitive and user friendly — it’s about love, not money — and a company with more money than Croesus creates the most convoluted, nonintuitive and just plane murky interface. Did they put a sadist in charge of navigation?
Still, I believe it will all be worthwhile. Why? Because we’re working on something that will be a game changer. In a non-technical word, we’re building — inventing — devices that will be the key enablers of alternative energy systems. Large scale adaptation of wind, solar, and energy storage systems — and their efficient connection to the grid — will absolutely require the kind of super semiconductor devices we’re producing.
That makes me feel good.
Okay, a paycheck makes me feel good, too. But I’m really trying to be deeper here. It goes back to when I saw Tim O’Reilly’s keynote. Not the one at Web 2.0 Expo in San Francisco in April. That was all good times. But Tim’s tune changed after that. By Web 2.0 Expo New York in September, O’Reilly was downright somber (and news hadn’t even broken about the financial meltdown). Global warming. The U.S. losing its edge in science and technology. A growing income gap. “And what are the best and the brightest working on?” he asked, displaying slides of SuperPoke on Facebook, and the iPhone application iBeer. “Do you see a problem here?”
I did. In fact, it been brewing (sorry) in me for a while.
I consoled myself saying sure, the best and the brightest should be working on world-changing things . . . good thing I’m not one of them.
Then, eerily, I was sitting in church, and heard it again. (A calling?) Not to get all ‘religious’ here . . . but for someone who doesn’t, ahem, make it every week, last Sunday I was there to hear the Parable of the Talents. (I learned, too, that talent originally referred to a unit of weight of silver — value, as in money, like fractions of shekels). But the message was clear: it’s a sin not to use your God-given gifts.
I’ll be doing that. But I’ll still be applying some other skills to make the world a better (funner?) place with CHALLENJ. Just in my off hours.