Yes, I’m just an engineer!

Several weeks ago, a local VC pronounced to me: “Sorry, not interested – you’re just an engineer… We want a Ph. D.”

What? I was asking for a few hundred thousand to churn out a proof of concept for a software product idea of mine. My reception was somewhat icy cold, and the partners assembled apologized for their sour demeanor and explained that the economy had dealt them one failure after another lately. Following my upbeat “pitch”, the overwhelming criticism of my proposal, business plan and idea in general was that it was not being delivered by a scientist – a lofty Ph. D. – rather, by “just an engineer…”. I replied, “How many of you took the elevator up from the lobby this morning? You all “risked life and limb” to use the product of engineers, not scientists.” “How many of you use a cell phone? Order from Amazon.com?” All the inventions of engineers…”

I went just a little further to explain that, “Scientists discover the underpinnings of something that is new. Engineers build it, and more importantly, make it work!” This sadly went over their heads. My opportunity would not be forthcoming from this group this morning. I might return later, but for now they were not receptive – sometime, you have to take your lumps and move on.

I was going to take my lumps and move on without a second thought until this morning when I listened to an IEEE Spectrum podcast featuring an interview with Judith Estrin who I know from her brief stint at Cisco Systems ten years or so ago.

Closing the Innovation Gap

Her message: we are not focussed on innovation today – we are focused on “flipping” which is ultimately just transferring ownership and is not productive or sustainable in the long term. This podcast is worthwhile to listen to. It resonates so closely with my parting message to these VC’s…

Yes, I’m just an engineer – a good one – and I focus on innovation. Want to make money in a few years with less risk? Invest in innovation – not just discovery. While investing in discovery, invest too in building and creating – invest too in small starts – make the best use of your engineers! Engineers will build your future and make it work!

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