Monday, October 03, 2005

BOOK REVIEW!!! "Code Name: Ginger"

By Steve Kemper

This is a book about Dean Kamen and the development of the Segway “human transporter”. My boss gave it to me to read, because in many ways it’s a parallel (albeit on a larger scale) to the life of Vigil Systems (the company I work for). It’s about developing a great idea, about dealing with technical problems, egos, money hungry venture capitalists and trying to do something that is going to have a positive impact on the world.

As an engineer, I can see that many of issues and quotes are VERY relevant to my work at Vigil:

“I don’t have to invent anything. It’s out there somewhere if I can just find it and integrate it. Inventing is frustrating, it’s dangerous, it’s expensive, and inventors should avoid it whenever possible. Be a systems integrator” – Dean Kamen

Dean Kamen is an extremely interesting individual. A classic eccentric, self-made American billionaire. A REALLY smart guy, with a real desire to do great things for the world.

"I don't work on a project unless I believe that it will dramatically improve life for a bunch of people." – Dean Kamen

This desire to do good is matched by a massive ego and indulgent spending on items such as a expensive cars, huge estate with whacky technical house, private jet, helicopters (that he flies himself). He once thought of some improvements that could be made to his helicopter, so bought the helicopter company... He also holds on to power and ownership of his company with an iron fist, paying his staff little and working them hard… (that’s not as paralleled at Vigil)

He, and many other billionaires such as Steve Jobs in the book, seem to be so naïve in many ways. They believed, without ANY historical precedent, that the Segway was going to radically change the world within a year of their launch, that it would be the fastest growing startup in history and that they were all going to make billions and billions of dollars. None of that has happened and it’s been out for about 3 years now.

It should be compulsory reading for all engineers. A great case study on how to (and how not to) bring ideas into reality.

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