Tuesday, August 23, 2011

You’re Doing What With Your Major?

As a new blog initiative, we will periodically spotlight UK alumni who are doing something unusual or out-of-the ordinary with their major. We hope you will enjoy these alumni spotlight features.

Spotlight on UK Alumni Nick Such

Major: BS Mechanical Engineering, Mathematics [minor] (2009)

Current Career: Co-Founder Awesome Touch
Since graduation, I have worked in venture capital, started a touchscreen software company (a spinout from a friends' senior design project at UK), helped launch the Kentucky Entrepreneur Hall of Fame, and was accepted to Stanford’s MBA program.

Brief Description of Career Path:
While working at GE and Toyota as an engineering co-op student, I discovered that I loved solving problems and making systems more efficient. Leading UK’s Solar Car Team during my senior year, I got a taste of the world of technology-based entrepreneurship, and decided I wanted more.

Favorite UK memory:
Running across the finish line in Calgary, Alberta, Canada next to Gato del Sol III, the University of Kentucky’s solar-powered car. We started in Plano, Texas and covered 2400 miles in 9 days. The team was founded in 1999, and that year, 2008, was the first time a UK Solar Car Team vehicle ever completed a cross-country race. After nearly a decade of R&D, two fully-constructed vehicles, hundreds of student team members, and thousands of extracurricular hours, it felt pretty good for my teammates and I to finally see the checkered flag.

Class I wish I would have taken at UK:
Psychology or anthropology. When running a business, I’m always trying to understand what motivates people to make decisions. As an engineer, I think I overlooked many human aspects of creating new technologies. Perception is reality, more often than I expected. A new gadget is only as good as the ability of people to understand how to use it.

Future Dream Job:
Exactly what I’m doing right now. It’s not uncommon for technology entrepreneurs to start one company, sell it, and start another. There are a few ideas I’d like to pursue after we build AwesomeTouch into something of significant value.

What I know now that I didn’t know as a student:
You don’t need a degree to start a business. In fact, there are several advantages to starting a business while still in school, including easy access to a broad alumni network, and being surrounded by lots of smart people who are potential co-founders. The UK Entrepreneurs Club is making it a lot easier to learn about these resources, and helping more students try their hand at starting a business.

I also never realized that a business is just a malleable vehicle for pursuing a passion. I didn’t really start off liking “business”, but I did like solving hard problems by creating new technologies. I eventually realized that if I found a problem that a lot of people were experiencing, and solved it for them; they would be willing to exchange money for that solution. All of a sudden, a fun project had become a business!

Advice to others considering a job or career change:
The best time to find a great option is when you have a good option on the table.

An MBA is a great way to make a functional or industry career change. And don’t write off top programs like Stanford and Harvard. They are well within the reach of UK graduates, and it really strengthens your application if you’re pursuing interesting projects on top of your normal role at work.
Consider learning how to write software. It’s a hot skill set, as demand is super-high right now for people who are decent programmers. Thanks to the internet, there are some quick and easy ways to become a decent programmer. Even if you don’t pursue it as a career, it will help when that day comes along that you inevitably will work on some project with a programmer. And with all the things that run on software today, from refrigerators, iPhones, our financial system, and even your car, it might offer some perspective on the very human logic that operates the world around you.

Favorite books:
I'm a huge Michael Crichton fan. He's a great example of someone who pursued his passion instead of more obvious career choices (how many Sci-Fi authors have Harvard MD's?). I recently finished Atlas Shrugged, and learned a lot from its perspective on the balance between profit and social good. Malcolm Gladwell's books all seem to have a way of turning my brain on. The whole list is here: www.shelfari.com/nicksuch/shelf

Favorite blogs:
Some entrepreneurs and investors I've learned from: steveblank.com, avc.com, jasonlbaptiste.com

The "news" in the tech startup world: techcrunch.com

Where I go to relax: xkcd.com (ok, it's a webcomic, but it's brilliant!)