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Engineers work with nature. Businessmen control nature.

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I posted this just now on redflagdeals, but will repost here:

I graduated from electrical engineering at U of T in 2004 and now I own and run my own business.

If I had to do it all over again, I would have chosen a business program (with a couple of elective software dev courses) over an engineering program. The reason for this hind-sight decision is also the answer to a question I’m frequently asked, “Why did I start my own IT business”. The answer is as follows:

Imagine you’re an engineeer and this month, you have to design a house in Canada. You’d design it with a good heating system, good insulation, carpeted floors because it gets cold in Canada. Next month, you have to design a house in Iran. You’d design it with a good air-conditioning system, less insulation, stone floors because it gets hot in Iran. Each time you have to build a house in a new location, you have to re-evaluate your existing tools and technology to see if they are applicable.

A well trained engineer will eventually ask, “Isn’t there a way to design a one-size-fits all solution?” Regardless of whether it’s possible or not, a good engineer will ask the question in hopes of devising an efficient and re-useable solution. But of course, within the realm of engineering, a one-house-fits all for all geographies, terrains, seasons and weathers is impossible.

The solution to a one-size-fits all problem requires a business/finance/economic solution. That is, this engineering problem can only be solved with a non-engineering solution.

Through economics, you can drive up the property value in Canada so that no one wants to build there. You can also destroy the economy in Iran so that the builders can’t afford to build houses. Businesses can control the price of raw materials, making certain types of buildings feasible and others not feasible. With capital, you can eliminate all the competing variables that engineers need to deal with such that the word “all” in the phrase “one-size-fits all”  becomes “one”. Hence, making it possible for engineers to realize a one-size-fits all solution.

The reason I left working as an engineer for an engineering company is because I realized I can’t develop a one-size-fits all solution if the business people managing me don’t know what the hell they are doing. Everyday, I would create something, then the execs, sales, marketers change their mind, and back to the drawing board I go. I realized the only way to do things properly is to run my own show. So I started my own business, defined and simplified “problems” properly so that my engineers can have a better time.

Engineers build products. Businessmen control nature. Engineers can only build the products business people tell them to build.

So in the end, I went into business because engineering did not give me the skills to build what I want to build. If I had to do it all over again, I would have went straight into business.

Written by John Lai

March 16th, 2010 at 6:49 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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