CMC Silicon Valley Trip: Wednesday. “Drive the boat, don’t let the boat drive you.”

Lockheed Martin
  • Lockheed Martin's only customer is the government, and they don't have much competition, so I knew their facilities and company paraphernalia were going to be outdated and corny, but I didn't expect them to be so outdated and corny. Walking into Lockheed Martin was like walking into a time machine. I doubt anyone at the company will ever check this blog, so I'll say what I feel.
  • At the start of our visit we were ushered into a conference room, where a woman named Connie joked with us about acronyms. "What does POS mean?" she asked. The adults volunteered point-of-sale. "What else?" We all think it means "piece of shit," but we weren't about to say that. Connie says, "Parent over shouder! Right?" I thought this was funny, but we'd soon realize Connie had no idea of the other meaning of POS.
  • We then were played a series of Powerpoint slides with a voice-over. The voice over said things like, "At Lockheed we care about freedom, integrity, and ethics. We uphold the highest ethics and work to keep America free." Clearly, Lockheed missed the presentation in third grade that explained you need to show that these things are true, instead of telling people about them. Hell, Soviet Russia wrote all sorts of beautiful things about the proletariat and the values of socialism, but when it comes down to it, Stalin killed over 30 million people through mismanagement. My point is that actions speak much, much louder than words. If you want to convince us you're an ethical company tell us a story about some government official who wanted you to do something slightly unethical, and how LM refused to do it, or how LM debates the morality behind every new project it takes, or relate to your colleagues in a way that exudes trust and confidence. Don't put that shit on a Powerpoint slide, because no one believes it.
  • Connie started talking about how she left the company but came back to it because of its superior ethics. I asked her to be more specific about the ethics involved at Lockheed Martin, because I was curious about the answer, considering that many people would consider it unethical to have an inherent interest in the growth of the defense industry, the placement of production facilities in many different politically states, and the production of weapons and systems that are used to kill innocent people. I'm not kidding, Connie was unable to produce an answer better than "The ethics here are good," and this is the person you put in the front of the room to introduce the company to prospective hires? I just checked out their website, which is significantly better, but the whole thing reeked of a company that hasn't faced much competitive pressure in some time.
  • We were taken on a tour of two separate facilities. The first was a giant room that tests optics for giant lenses like the kind that get put in telescopes like the Hubble. Pretty technologically impressive although I wondered about the cost and other things and the questions could not be answered, of course, because of confidentiality.
  • The second one was a facility that makes solar panels of the sort that get put on the wings of the Space Station and most satellites. I was amazed to learn that one panel, 15 feet x 5 feet, produces about 1000 watts, or slightly more than enough power for the average lightbulb. Power in space is at an extreme premium. Apparently you can't just load the ship with lots of batteries, because they're heavy and don't last as long as the satellite's expected life. The technology here was impressive as well.
  • Almost all of the CMC alums we've met so far have been white, and the vast majority have been men. The successful alums will mirror the composition of the school 20 to 30 years ago, which was overwhelmingly white and male. This doesn't look so good today but I don't know a good way around the problem. Hopefully people will understand that change is slow.
  • One CMC alum at LM spoke very slowly and idiosyncratically, which affected the way we thought about the things he was saying, and probably our initial opinion of his competence. I wonder why people like that do not hire speech coaches. Perhaps they are unaware of the problem, or the way they come off to others? Obtaining reliable feedback is difficult. He may be doing fine with his current speech patterns but he could be doing much better if he learned to speak in a natural way, pausing in appropriate places, putting the accents on the right words and raising and lowering his voice appropriately. Marshall McLuhan is still alive.
  • In the Q&A I tried to ask about the competition, to get the execs to speak about their business and the inherent inefficiencies, and Chris Jones asked about fixed-rate contracts vs. cost-plus contracts. The principal agent problem is alive and well in government contracting, and many rationalizations were floated, from providing a quality product for a high price to protecting America to being a 'boutique' client, who charges high prices but delivers a quality product as well. Currently government officials cannot do fixed-price contracts because they make too many changes to the products they ask for. This is unfortunate.
  • I could never work for Lockheed Martin.
  • EMC brought a bunch of employees from all different areas of the business in front of us to tell their story and answer questions. While it's entertaining to hear about people's life stories, they only had a short amount of time in front of us and I wish we could have made more of it. For example, one sales executive started talking about how he set the record in Nordstrom single-day shoe sales with more than $10K in sales in one day. That's outstanding, and since we've figured out the most interesting conversation we can have, let's discuss sales for the next 20 minutes; I don't need to hear about three other companies that you went to where you also were outstanding at selling products. Unfortunately most of my colleagues disagreed with me.
  • It was nice to hear from a bunch of different employees about what they did at EMC and what their jobs entailed. However it's difficult to get a sense of how someone is as a manager from listening to them speak. Some people are good at speaking and could be bad bosses. Others are probably not very good public speakers but know exactly how to motivate people. I'm not sure the halo effect applies here - if being good at speaking means you're probably also an effective manager.
  • Marketing differed by the age of the company, throughout the week. The newest companies we went to were the most interested and the most effective at using Twitter and Facebook to put their message out. Other companies were not able to do this so much. This could also be because the old companies are generally bigger companies.
  • There's no such thing as a common acquisition; each acquisition is unique and each company is unique.
  • Are Australians really cooler than the rest of us or is a selection bias at play? Maybe all of the boring, uncouth Australians don't make it offshore.
  • Repeating Peter Diamandis's theme from yesterday, one of the key ways to contribute as a young person is to be extraordinarily enthusiastic. You need to give people a reason to recommend you and being enthusiastic is the best way to do it. If you do every task assigned to you extremely well, and ask for more work and do that extremely well then you're someone that people are going to recommend to future employers. At our young age, we don't know much about anything. Enthusiasm is key.
  • Several people at EMC told us that we should engage in more informational interviews. Hardly anyone says no to an informational interview (if you frame it in terms of "I need your help"), and you get to advertise yourself for free, plus I really like talking to people about what they do and what types of problems they solve.
  • One executive told a story about an acquisition that was almost complete, until the EMC execs and the company's execs had a party, and it went "like a junior high dance, with all the EMC people on one side and the other company's people on the other." This emphasizes the importance of being likable, and selling yourself to people. If you are likable, and you can make other people feel good when they're around you, doors are going to open. If not, you might succeed by sheer force but the odds are strongly not in your favor.
  • More good advice was to be extremely flexible. Prove you can do the work they assign you to and then you'll be given better work and more responsibility. The key is to get in the door.
  • EMC gets points for staying away from slides and telling stories. Most of the speakers were very good at telling stories. Almost all said "That's a good question" after the question asker wrapped up. I don't know if they practiced that sort of thing but it makes the question asker feel very good, and it's a good habit to develop.
  • It's important to develop mentors that are outside of your direct company line, so that you have someone to turn to when you have an ethical decision that does not have a vested interest in the answer.
  • EMC had high cubicles and corner offices. I understand the company's big but I think the open office is a much better solution. Cubicles serve mostly to preserve and reaffirm the status of the cubicle dweller.
  • One person who came and spoke to us found every single job he'd been at because a friend recommended him to the boss. Nepotism is alive and well. Networking is an important skill; everyone needs to get people in their corner, who would be willing to go to war for them. This is much harder than getting good grades.

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One thought on “CMC Silicon Valley Trip: Wednesday. “Drive the boat, don’t let the boat drive you.”

  1. josh

    The time it takes to say “that’s a good question” = time to think and structure the answer

    thanks for typing all this up


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