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Articles By Industry Professionals
Kathy Giori is a Senior Product Manager at Mozilla. In leading the Mozilla WebThings Project, her goal is to improve privacy and security in IoT, while lowering costs through better-connected Thing interoperability (driving convergence across standards). She promotes the benefits of open hardware and software and finds that bridging open communities with industry drives faster innovation. Prior to Mozilla, she held senior roles (mostly product) at Arduino.org, Qualcomm Atheros, Sputnik, Inc. (now Lokket), and more. She received her bachelor’s degree in Electrical Engineering from the University of Minnesota, and her master’s in EE from Stanford.
Tips for Women in Entrepreneurship
By: Kathy Giori
Senior Product Manager, Emerging Technologies, Mozilla IoT
The bias that exists that makes it harder for women entrepreneurs to obtain funding is real, so one way around it is to find "women-funding-women" focused investors. There may be far fewer of them but that's probably good because then you waste less time preparing and talking to potential investors. I highly recommend joining a group that caters to women entrepreneurs. When I ran a startup, I did exactly that. I didn't have an MBA, but I was able to learn on the job with the support of what was then called the Forum of Women Entrepreneurs (FWE). FWE later became FWE&E (plus executives) and then morphed again to grow and become The Watermark Conference for women entrepreneurs and executives in general. It is easier to get company sponsors when you also help the company's women executives. I also presented at the Springboard Silicon Valley pitch event back around 2004 and have been an alum ever since. Springboard has combined with Dell to do a Women Funding Women tour of events.
As far as networking goes, amazing women and women's groups are everywhere. Anita Borg Institute, Grace Hopper Local, IEEE WiE, SWE, TechWomen are a few options. Don't try to join them all, but rather test the waters and then seriously engage in the one or two you like best. I also recommend joining and volunteering at any number of wonderful women's focused non-profits.
Also don't just network externally. Seek out the person in your company who you can honestly look up to the most, male or female, and try to get to know them and try to get them to help you. They likely don't have time to be your mentor (unless your company has a formal program for that), but you want them to see themselves as your sponsor. You want them to understand your value, to know that you are motivated to grow and excel, and to look for opportunities to help you grow further, faster. Make sure they know the direction you want to go does not have to be "up" from the perspective of the social mirror. It could be horizontal or even what some might see as "down".
As I age, I have moved away from being a people manager on purpose, so I could have more technical fun. Your sponsors should help you navigate toward where you want to be in the next few years. And if you are an entrepreneur doing your own thing or in a very small company, you'll want to seek a sponsor or sponsors from your external network.
Dr. Patrick Marcus is the President of Marcus Engineering in Tucson Arizona. Marcus Engineering is a full-service electronics product development company specialized in high-end technologies for the medical device, military, and industrial markets. Dr. Marcus is an adjunct professor at the University of Arizona in Entrepreneurship and Engineering and frequently mentors startup technology companies from a technical and business perspective.
The End of a Project Is Always HARD
By Patrick Marcus
CEO, Markus Engineering
The last six months my team at Marcus Engineering has been working on a medium-sized electronic and embedded medical device development. The customer has been happy, we’ve been getting paid on time, the project team is working well together, and we are hitting all our milestones. In a meeting in December I reminded our customer, “Well I am glad things are going well, but it hasn’t gotten hard yet, the last 20% is where it gets hard.”
In February it finally hit our project team. Integrating all our subsystems turned up several bugs. The prototypes we sent to our customer didn’t work quite right and we’ve got more work to do. It’s making us a little late and a little over budget. Our customer gets it, and we’ll get it resolved, but not without a few bruises along the way. Have you ever encountered this? I’ve found this to be true not only in large-scale projects, but in my personal projects as well. Everything always goes well EXCEPT for that last lingering bug, that one thing that doesn’t work. It happens almost every time and often is a bear to bring to final satisfying completion.
It’s a frustrating aspect of design projects that plagues individual engineers and engineering teams alike. It often results in angry customers, angry managers, long weeks of overtime and really takes away from the FUN of engineering. I want to talk about how to get out of this cycle, but first we have to understand what’s going on.
You may not have heard of the Pareto principle, but you probably know what it is. The Pareto principle is the concept that 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes. Sometimes this is interpreted as 80% of the work is done by 20% of the people in a company, or for the purposes of this article, the last 20% of a project takes 80% of the work. The Pareto principle has been shown to be a pretty accurate model for how real life works and is definitely relevant to engineering projects.
So, what do we do about it?
Well, this is where acceptance and project management come into play. We have to accept that projects simply run this way. We can plan, test, design ourselves into a tizzy, and we will almost always still find that there are issues to resolve at the end of the project and at preliminary product release. The key here is acceptance. It doesn’t mean we are bad engineers; it doesn’t mean we are bad project managers UNLESS we don’t recognize that the Pareto principle will come into play.
Ultimately, we need to plan and use a few techniques to help buffer ourselves against the Pareto principle and the challenges of completing a project to 100%:
Budget Your Time and Cost
This is really a first step to a successful design effort and we often dislike the process. It will, however, be impossible to defeat the Pareto principle if we don’t do some initial planning. Make your best guess of what it is going to take to get the project done and then add some buffer.
Plan Your Buffer
Adding buffer to your project is NOT an excuse to take more time to get your work done. The buffer is exclusively reserved for unexpected challenges midstream or at the end of the project. Do not use it to have a more relaxed development effort, or the buffer won’t be there when you need it. This is where my own project teams struggle the most. Be sure to separate the buffer from your expected execution time.
Do It Right ONCE
Often when we hit problems and are running out of budgeted time or money, we’re eager for the quick fix or a patch to get us through our bug or defect rather than digging deeper, understanding our problem, and truly correcting our design foundation. More often than not, when we hack, patch, band-aid or blow through a problem, it comes back to haunt us and we get to fix it multiple times. Do yourself a favor and take the time to do it right and do it once.
Make Time for Testing
Give yourself and your customer ample time for testing. Don’t assume that pre-production prototypes will be ready to go to manufacturing. Don’t assume that the first prototype you give to your customer will work 100% as expected. Customers have an AMAZING ability to break things and to discover deficiencies you might have never thought of. Frustratingly, they often find these defects within the first minutes of using a prototype, even after you’ve been testing it for days.
Don’t Get Frustrated
It’s important to keep a good attitude. Solid engineers, customers and managers understand that things don’t always go as expected and getting frustrated doesn’t bring the project to conclusion any faster. Keep calm. Hopefully you’ve already planned for the buffer and have some room to wiggle. If not, push through and plan better next time.
Many of the above suggestions may seem to be, “Yeah DUH!”, or “Too much work for MY project.” But I assure you they will help. Give it a shot. At best, you will have smoother-running projects. At worst, you will end up where you started, but with some better, scalable techniques in your back pocket.
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