Welcome to my first blog entry for XESS Corp. Ever. For over twenty years I never had a company blog, but now I see the need for a channel to post about ongoing projects and upcoming events. And I'll also meander down other paths of discourse.
So, who am I? I'm Dave Vandenbout and I've been with XESS since 1990. We started off as three university professors with a native UNIX/linux spreadsheet program we wrote for workstations. For a variety of reasons that didn't pan out. Now, I'm the only one left and the company pumps out FPGA prototyping boards. I handle all the technical and business stuff for XESS (sometimes successfully, sometimes not), and the manufacturing is farmed out to various PCB fabricators and assemblers (Thanks, guys!). It has been a long and rocky road, but I still enjoy it.
In the late 80's, I had a friend who won a best-paper award at a major academic conference on computer design. He was just switching into a manager's role in his organization. I asked him why. He said "I just don't want to keep up with all the technology any more." So why, twenty-five years later, am I still doing just that?
As often happens, I get cues about how to live my life from dogs. (And no, that does not include the butt sniffing thing.) The second dog I ever owned as an adult I got as a puppy from the pound. She was a combination of many things, but mostly Golden Retriever and Lab. Biscuit had a big, barrel-shaped body and skinny little legs. She looked like something you would make from a cocktail weenie and toothpicks. As a result of the load she placed on her legs, she developed a bad knee at age seven or eight. The vet strengthened the knee with surgically-implanted, criss-crossed plastic straps, but she blew that out within a year. So then they went in and started adding metal. By the time they were done, you could have hung a kitchen magnet off her ass. She wasn't exactly moving like a ballerina, either.
Despite her bad knee, Biscuit never lost interest in her singular passion: chasing vehicles. But she was quite discriminating in her pursuits; no car or pick-up truck could ever make tracks into Biscuit's heart. Her interest was solely reserved for one thing: UPS trucks. Big, brown, and 20,000-lbs. She would lie on her side at the end of the driveway, waiting for the UPS truck to make its daily run up our street. She didn't move as it went by because she knew it would have to turn around in our cul-de-sac. When the truck turned and began to grind its way back, Biscuit would roll onto her stomach. As the UPS truck crested the hill and got a good head of speed, she would bring her legs beneath her and tense up. Once the truck was ten yards past her, she would go. And for the next fifty yards she pulled out all the stops trying to catch that truck. Then she would limp back to the driveway and lie down for the rest of the afternoon, content to wait for the next day's contest. But for those fifty yards, she looked as young as a two-year old. Everything was working, everything was turned full on.
I learned four things from watching this play out day after day:
Be true to your nature. Biscuit wanted to chase UPS trucks, so she did. I want to solve technical problems, so I do. I couldn't have a fulfilling life if I didn't recognize what I was meant to do.
Find a good spot. Biscuit knew she had to be at the end of the driveway if she wanted to catch the UPS truck; it was not going to come cruising by the living-room couch. (That's not exactly true - my ex-wife once tried to ram a car through my house.) So once I figured out my true nature, I built a business that supported it instead of working against it. Think of it as impedance matching.
Be selective. Biscuit knew she didn't have the knees to chase everything that came down the block, so she chose UPS trucks as her target. In the same way, I don't have the time or energy to pursue the advancements in every technical field. I've picked some things I think are important. I've missed some hot topics over the years, but I've also missed a lot of over-hyped fads. (Yes, I'm looking at you, Rotating Magnetic Bubble Memory.)
Don't leave anything on the table. When Biscuit took off after that UPS truck, she knew she only had fifty good yards in her, but she made it the best fifty yards she had. She wasn't saving anything for later. In the same way, once I pick something to do, I want to put everything I have into it. I don't want to get to the end and say "Well, it would have worked if I'd put in more effort." If it doesn't work, I want it to not work because I can't make it work, not because I was lazy or disinterested.
When I've gotten in trouble in life, it's usually because I got stupid and ignored one of these four rules. I took on work that didn't fit my abilities, or I worked with the wrong people, or I grabbed too much work and couldn't muster the required effort, or something like that. I'll try not to make those mistakes with this blog. I'll try to be honest, even when it makes me look foolish. I'll try to write about things that interest me and which, therefore, might interest you. And, although I might not post frequently, I'll put my best effort into it when I do.
In closing, I'll mention one more thing I learned from Biscuit, but I've never been able to process it. One day, she got an early jump on the UPS truck and actually caught it.
The truck ran her slam over.