Want to read a

Story?

Because if not, you should totally just click on my LinkedIn profile instead! It's got numbers and dates and my references and all that jazz. But if you're the sort who prefers the narrative version, keep going! I promise I've done at least a few interesting things.

space travel is

God-Damn Beautiful

You ever look up at the moon and realize that people walked on that? Feel like the Saturn V rocket is the most gorgeous thing mankind has ever produced? Because I did those things a lot when I was younger. Working for NASA was my dream, and so I started studying Physics at Wake Forest University when I was twelve, then applied to Cornell at eighteen to study Aerospace Engineering and Spacecraft Design.

Unfortunately, I was still studying when the 2008 apocalyptic budget cuts came, and all NASA hiring was suspended. I applied to Space X, but with all the ex-NASA staff floating around, I don't think you could get a job there without knife-fighting the other engineers.

turns out finance can be

Exciting

So with an aerospace degree in hand and no idea what to do with my life, I bummed around as a systems engineer in upstate NY for a bit, working on distributed power systems in rural areas. The way power systems are financed is weird and inefficient, and I saw a lot of high-ROI projects get canned because funding was not available. Eventually, I got frustrated by how much money was being left on the table, and shouted: "Screw it! Fine! I'll do it myself!" That's how I started EcoLight, my energy tech financing company.

That's our startup team on the right. I'm in the center, plus Ben and Miles, my partners in crime. I ran EcoLight for just under two years, growing it from tiny jobs financed with my credit card to providing backing for major overhauls for academic institutions. It made good money, and I ended up selling it to our parts supplier who wanted to bring the financing in-house.

war is hell, but so is trying to sell

Little Army Men

Everything you see on the left was 3D printed in ultra-high detail plastic, for a fraction of traditional manufacturing costs. I'm a hobbyist. I love building and painting little models, and I hate paying $30 in the store for what is clearly ten cents of plastic. That's why I started messing around with 3D printing my own parts, a hobby project that eventually turned into my next startup, Proxy Army Games.

The technology worked great, but I was in for a harsh lesson about the importance of doing your market research, and the first time I heard, "Sorry, we have an exclusivity agreement," from a distributor, the creeping feeling of doom set in. We tried to pivot to Kickstarter, but the market wasn't there, and in the end we had to exit for $120k to get as much of the seed money back as we could.

in which a serious BUSINESS whitepaper references

LSD Flashbacks

So, I went to get my MBA, and learn how to do my market research properly, and it went great, because Cornell is a great school. But I couldn't quite manage to stay out of the tech scene for a full year, so my "job hunting trips" tended to involve less consulting and Fortune 500 firms and more time in Silicon Valley. One of those trips was to little developers event called Oculus Connect, to see if this VR thing was as big a deal as advertised.

What can I say? I fell in love. VR isn't space travel, but it's a beautiful piece of human ingenuity that's going to transform the world. It was a crazy event. Everyone was blown away, and the sense of possibility was electric. One of my traveling companions had LSD flashbacks. The sense that he was not in the room was apparently too much for him.

Big company projects can take you in

Unexpected Directions

So I ended up working at AOL in R&D (because I needed money), promoting VR whenever I could (because it's awesome). You might think it would be a poor fit, but AOL is mostly a media company these days, and the media teams are always looking for new ways to differentiate their products. I met a bunch of other engineers at the company, we made up some internal demos that went very well, and next thing I know I'm face to face with the Global CTO. "So, you're that VR guy, right?"

I did not anticipate a friendly conversation. I half expected some stern words on wasting company time on side projects. But as it turned out, Bill is a great guy. And as it also turned out, he was putting together a new research team and wanted some fresh blood. And that's how I ended up as the acting Director of Product for Area 51.

Tell me about your

Threat Model

When I first joined the Samsung Knox security team, I admit I had some doubts. I looked at the engineering and security teams and saw a lot of PHDs, and I wondered what I could possibly be expected to contribute. I mean, I don't have a PHD.

What I do have, as it turns out, is an internally consistent threat model. One that defines specifically what testable security claims we do and (more importantly) do not make. While the engineering teams make the ground-level technical calls, understanding the bigger picture of how our specific security claims benefit our customers is critical information, and it informs their decision-making process. It's a perfect little microcosm for the value of product management in tech overall, and security is a field I'd highly recommend to anyone getting into PM.

Plus, how many product managers get to list "attack by hostile foreign intelligence agencies" as a use case? Not the candy crush guys, that's for sure.