In 1993, when Axon (formerly known as Taser International) was founded, I was just beginning my undergraduate program at New Mexico State studying Electrical Engineering with a focus on Computer Engineering. I had dreamt that one day I would be designing products in which I could apply technical skills to creatively solve problems. Non-technical courses were a drag… “Of what value is MUS101?”, I would ask myself. It did not factor clearly into my career goals of designing high-tech electronics. I had a conscious burning desire to create products. That desire provided direction for my early career choices and it led to my career at Axon.
I am a strong believer that the experiences that life brings us, good or bad, are largely a result of the choices we’ve made in the past. Choices and decision making are inevitable. Whether we choose inaction or action, there are impacts, both positive and negative. I’ve found that over time, the effects of our choices become much more apparent. It is interesting to trace the path that got me from where I was to where I am today; to be part of an awesome company, working with great people, designing cool products that are changing the world. Perhaps I am just lucky, perhaps my choices played a role!
Career choices are pretty big ones. In making these choices, items I considered included: how my abilities fit with the role, will I be challenged to grow in this role, can my skill provide value to the organization, will I be happy working there over the long term, is the business providing value to society?
Sometimes it seems like out of the blue, opportunities come knocking at the door. That is how I felt when my college buddy called to see if I would be interested in interviewing with a medical device startup. I was working on my Masters in Electrical Engineering at the time and had received an offer from IBM to work in their computer chip design group when I was to graduate a year later. The exciting unknown startup, or a large prestigious company- this was my first major career choice (small vs large, highly focused role vs multiple subsystems, risky vs mature and secure). In the summer of 1998, I made the decision to take the startup opportunity, and never looked back.
Fast forward 5 years later to March of 2004, I had accomplished many of the things I wanted to at the startup. We successfully miniaturized the hardware of the medical device, while simultaneously improving the performance. Although improvements were achieved in hardware, the predictive algorithms of the device were still in development, and it seemed like it would be another 10 years before we would have a product that could be used in the field. It felt like the startup no longer aligned with my goals. I wanted to accomplish more. I wanted the products that I developed to have a tangible impact, and I did not want to wait a decade for the algorithm refinement and clinical studies. To avoid being a complacent employee, I decided that it was time to leave.
I found an article about a local company called TASER International that was developing an interesting law enforcement product. Though I was not experienced in high voltage design, I did have some applicable experience, and most importantly, I felt that a career here would meet my goal of working on products that would have an immediate impact on society. The company at the time had a small engineering team of three full-time guys, one VP of engineering, one Mechanical Engineer and one Electrical Engineering manager, and an additional firmware contractor. What was amazing about the company was the passion of the people that I met; it felt like a startup company at the verge of exponential growth. Everyone at the company, it seemed like, was highly skilled and indispensable; it was fun and contagious. Much of this dynamic is still present today despite having grown quite a bit. We continue to drive ourselves as we evolve as a company, pushing technology even further with every iteration.
Today at Axon, I lead our video engineering team. I am involved in many of the design choices that our team members make, though each engineer is empowered to suggest and make key design decisions every single day. Their choices contribute to the whole. Every circuit component, every line of code, and every mechanical draft angle matters. As we grow, the stakes are higher. We are constantly having to make decisions that impact performance, size, cost, reliability, and time to market; the results of which, in turn, impact our customers and the communities they serve. Because this impact is incredibly important and truly saves lives; our day to day work is rewarding. To help fuel our growth, hiring choices have been critical for us as we look for talented individuals to join our team and drive creation of the next round of revolutionary products. In engineering, details matter.
Today, we are working on our next-generation in-car system that will be one of the best, if not the best, systems on the market. This is due to the thoughtful decisions that have been made in its definition and design. We continue to learn from the past and challenge our thinking of the future, making impactful choices along the way as we design new technologies that enhance our customers’ experience. We desire to continue designing more compelling products that meet and exceed the needs of the present time. At Axon, we empower the team with the ability to make decisions and strive to create an environment where every engineer can contribute towards and reap the rewards of success of the company as they continue to build up. This is a part of who we are, reflected in several of our core values: “Own It” and “Aim Far.”
Life is too short to have yet another job, with only so many working years. It’s an opportunity cost, and you should seek to find meaningful careers that align with your goals. The choices you make are key to a fulfilling and rewarding career. I hope that this helps you focus on the importance of your choices, and I would love to hear your thoughts. What critical choices have you made and what are their impacts on you today?