In Reddit’s ‘Formative’ series, various software engineers, CEOs and company founders reveal the formative moments that helped shape their venture. What made them want to follow their career path? And what hardships did they face?
There are patterns in each story that are worth noting:
- Not everyone knows what they want to do, they only know what they like doing.
- Problems spark ideas. These ideas are a product of a passionate need to change, create or help.
- Anyone can create something and form a business. (Believe it or not, degrees and PhDs aren’t always necessary!)
I have chosen three important interviews to share with you.
Steve Wozinak, Apple co-founder
‘What is my talent? My talent is designing computers. That was a goal that was so deep in my core, it doesn’t go away.’
Wozinak’s formative moment came from an interest in engineering and coding. From a young age, with the encouragement of his parents and teachers, he taught himself how to build his own transistor radios and small computers. His passion grew until eventually he pitched the idea of the ‘personal computer’ to HP. They rejected him six times.
In spite of this, he and his co-founders (Steve Jobs and Ronald Wayne) continued to create ideas. This passion, creativity and desire for change was the beginning of one of the world’s largest companies: Apple. I think it’s safe to say that he’s done fairly well for himself.
Tracey Chou, Pinterest software engineer
‘Pinterest was the first place where I walked in and felt like I was treated as an engineer, not a female engineer […] I never felt that I was so empowered just to go do awesome stuff.’
Like many of us, Chou never had a ‘career calling’. She took a course in Electrical Engineering at university simply because her parents were engineers too. Luckily for her, she was extremely talented and passionate about the subject.
Not only has Chou helped to scale Pinterest to the size it is today, she also fights diversity issues within the technology industry. After public pressure from Chou in 2013, large companies, such as Google and Microsoft, have released their own diversity reports, and she continues to encourage tech businesses to employee more women.
Rana el Kaliouby, Chief Science Officer of Affectiva
‘I had this kind of ‘aha!’ moment that made me realise that my research and PHD was not just going to be about improving how humans and machines interact, but ultimately it was about how humans connect with other humans.’
Kaliouby’s formative moment came from a personal inability to communicate her feelings through technology. While studying for her PhD at Cambridge University, she often messaged her family through ICQ’s instant messaging platform. ‘It felt like it was very transactional’, she says in the interview. This is where her venture into emotion recognition software started.
In 2006, she and her team began developing wearable glasses for individuals on the autism spectrum. As more and more companies expressed interest in incorporating the technology, Kaliouby realised that this software wasn’t just for academic research: it was for the everyday person.
Some words of advice
All of the figures interviewed faced some resistance on the journey to success. Whether it was pushing for technological change in an industry unwilling to adapt, facing gender discrimination or simply feeling like quitting – they all had a hard time breathing life into their ideas.
So what can your business learn from this?
A formative moment is a gut feeling for creating change. Firstly, if your business is heading in a certain, unified direction – push for the change you want to see. Then create a culture in your business that centres on what you want to construct, provide and solve for both yourselves and others. Make this your goal and, no matter how hard it gets, always strive to achieve it.