A few weeks ago I was on a panel discussion at Cyberposium 2005.  The panel's moderator was Ken Morse, a lecturer and managing director of the MIT Entrepreneurship Center.  Professor Morse has quite a lot of experience with startups in the technology industry (having been involved in launching companies like 3COM, Aspen, and others) and is also a founder of the MIT center. 

In the closing of our panel Professor Morse offered some words of advice to the attendees (mostly students graduating from business school at Harvard and Sloan).  I think the advice was worth repeating as it is equally appropriate for those pursuing careers on the technical side of product development.  He suggested two key things (my paraphrase from memory):

  • First, get experience at a company that can "teach" and can help you to learn about how to get things done.  Building products and businesses is a lot harder than it looks.  He mentioned that while many companies have been started by people without much experience, that is not really the method that is repeatable.  Most companies that start do not achieve success, and most that achieve success do have a lot of people with experience from established companies.
  • Second, you really need to love what you're doing and you need to be in it for the right reasons.  The right reasons are being passionate about the product or service you are building and not just passionate about making money.  When you build a product, business, company it can take many years and you will need more than a desire to make money to keep you motivated and focused during that time.

Just wanted to pass that along.  I joined Microsoft because I wanted to learn how to make the things we were talking about in graduate school--make things for millions of people (you can read that in the recruiting brochure from 1990!)  The one thing that has changed the most is that we make things for hundreds of millions of people now.

--Steven