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Chapter Something: The Big Leap

The following is an excerpt from a book I haven’t written yet, about my first big plunge as an entrepreneur, and the difficulties in leaving a stable job for the unknown. Enjoy!

———————————————-

As I stared at my resignation letter, many thoughts and feelings rushed through my head. Should I hit send? Is now the right time? Will it ever be the right time?

I had been thinking about it for weeks, months, or maybe even the entire time I’ve been here. It was always the plan to eventually leave — the only question was when. But until now it had always just been a little itch in the back of my head. It was always a few months away, maybe even years. But in the past few weeks I had hit a point of desperation, where it seemed like my only step forward.

So why is it I was having such a hard time hitting the send button?
I had toyed with setting up the email to automatically deliver on a certain date, at a certain time. That way my inaction to cancel the script would result in my resignation. A cheap trick to see how serious I really am about the whole thing. But I never set up the script. Yet now, as I sit at my desk, mouse hovering over the send button I still have my doubts. 

My hand slipped. 

The mouse skittered away from the send button, as erratic as a fruit fly. 

Why couldn’t I do it? I read the letter again. Did I phrase it right? I didn’t want to burn any bridges. I doubt it would’ve mattered if I did. But as a matter of principle, I wanted to leave on good terms. Even though I doubt I’ll ever come back. 

Two weeks notice would set me free in early November. What would I do for those two weeks? Can I even put in two weeks of work in my current state? As I saw it, no. But if I don’t hand in the resignation, I’m just wasting my time here anyway — and the company’s time. Maybe I owe it to them to leave.

Maybe they’d accept only a one week notice.

As I pondered my options my eyes drifted up the grey cubicle walls. I used to have them covered in certificates, pictures, and reference materials, but ever since I moved desks a few months ago I had never got around to putting them back up. All but one. I had my newspaper article posted as a reminder of what I could be capable of, if I only tried. The headline read:

“Far-out engineering projects energize him”. 

It wasn’t like we didn’t do cool projects here at work. But I was never a real part of them — it’s just the nature of big companies — can’t make everyone happy. I always volunteered to run tours through the company though. As I would lead groups of professionals or students through the halls I’d explain energetically about all the wonderful technology we were creating and the power of innovation. 

Was it a lie? 

No. I really did love this company — ever since I had my first co-op here I had thought, this is a great place to work. And it has been. I guess it’s just not for me anymore. 

My hand shifted. My eyes refocused. The mouse hovered over the send button once again.

I pressed down on the mouse. It made a satisfying *click*.

The decision was made.

———————————————-
My last day of working for “the man” was November 11th, 2015.  My friends and coworkers were very supportive of my decision, recognizing I can and will do more working for myself — and maybe even make a difference in this world:


Since my last day, I’ve focused on expanding my own business ventures, and things have gone surprisingly well.

I look forward to 2016 and what new adventures it will bring me! Happy Holidays!

Keynote Presentation at CEC 2015

This year I was asked to speak at the Career Education Council’s Annual Business & Education Partnership Breakfast, where I gave one of my biggest speeches yet — on the topic of Innovation and Inspiration!

It was my first serious speech in front of a big audience, and I think it went quite well!

I definitely have lots to improve on for public speaking, but the audience response was fantastic.

And since I vlog everything… I  actually had the keynote recorded and have also included the transcript with graphics below for everyone else to check it out!

Enjoy, and let me know what you think!


Good morning everyone! Thanks for the kind introduction Stephen. In case you haven’t guessed yet – I’m a bit eccentric. In my free time I run a company called Hacksmith Industries — Because, sometimes I do things for shits and giggles. In fact — that’s my companies tag line. Who would of thought that could be profitable.



Anyway, let’s see a show of hands – who actually knows who I am? Haha, I guessed as much. Well if you search “Kitchener’s Mad Scientist” on Google, you’ll see anarticle the Record wrote about a project I did recently…


But first I’d like to clear something up – the paper might have been a bit overzealous in describing me as a mad scientist. I think this comic sums it up nicely. 
You see, I’d kind of consider myself a poor-man’s Tony Stark crossed with MacGyver. I’m an entrepreneur, an innovator, a writer, and I guess, a Mad Engineer. I’m not saying I want to take over the world… yet… But I do love technology. I can hardly separate myself from it — I’ve even got one of those smart watches — which is how I can tell you that my heart rate is only 89BPM and my perspiration levels are normal! For now… anyway — I mean the presentation has only just started… I’m also wearing a state of the art gesture control device. It’s called the Myo, and it’s from a Kitchener company called Thalmic Labs. 

It has EMG sensors that can tell what I’m doing with my arm and turn that into digital signals to control just about anything. But I’m not here to talk about the Myo. I’m just Beta testing a new presentation app for it. Which in case you’re interested, can be purchased on Amazon.

The reason I’m here to talk to you about is how to inspire innovation through passion for your work. 

It seems like a lot of people shy away from having big ideas because they’re stuck in the mindset that they don’t have what it takes or think they don’t have the right resources to become an inventor. But that’s a terribly negative mindset to have. Anyone can innovate. You just have to start somewhere. It doesn’t matter how small. I’ve never heard anyone say they wasted their life innovating and wished they had watched more TV. The point is — find your passion and do it.

I hear a lot of “well, I can’t re-invent the wheel” and you know what, you’re right. But you can innovate the wheel. 


Here’s an expanding wheel, here’s a wheel with no air and can’t be punctured… here’s a paddle tire for marine applications — the list goes on. We live in a day and age where so much technology already exists — many of the basic elements of technology have already been invented — but that’s not what you’re trying to invent. Never before has the human race had so much access to knowledge, ideas, and designs as we do now thanks to the internet. This means we’re all in the right place in order to innovate.

And that also means you don’t have to be backed by a multi-million-dollar company to do so, either! Let’s watch a quick clip about my exoskeleton.


Pretty cool right? Eh, I’ll be the first to tell you that this exoskeleton I made is nothing special. Seriously. It’s made from components and technology that has been around for well over 50 years. Many better prototypes exist. But for whatever reason, it caught people’s attention. A lot of people’s attention. 

I even ended up on the Daily Planet where I lifted almost twice as much weight as my original test — a 275lb barbell curl! Which I think is pretty close to the world record for a human.

Is it because it’s a revolutionary design? No — it’s literally something I threw together in my small garage. But that’s what makes it special. I’m bridging that gap where people think “I can’t do that — only big companies can do that!” and proving it is possible. The amount of kids on YouTube who have told me I’ve inspired them to become engineers is amazing — it seems to be working.

I guess the point I’m trying to make is that you don’t have to invent the next big thing to make a splash — you just have to take something and repurpose it. It’s not about reinventing the wheel — it’s about slapping some new things on the wheel and seeing if it works any better.

The frustrating part is, you can’t expect to succeed with your first try, or even your second. It’s important to be confident in yourself, while at the same time it’s also important to be realistic and to entertain the idea of failure.

Confidence is great. It helps you take bigger risks, step outside of your comfort zone, and generally, achieve more – but confidence is a double-edged sword.  Over-confidence is one of the most common reasons for failure.

I learned this the hard way about 8 years ago. I co-lead my high school’s robotics team for Skills Canada. It was the first year we competed. We built this remote controlled soccer playing robot that would have to face off against two other robots per match. 

We won the regional competition… then the provincial… and then absolutely demolished the competition at nationals.

The following year, we competed again. We built an even better robot with the knowledge we gained from our first competitions. It was a tank. No seriously, it was literally a tank. 

We won Regionals, and went on to Provincials. Our robot was easily one of the most capable robots at the competition.

But at the end the day, we didn’t practice as much as we should have – it is remote controlled after all. We were eliminated in one of the final matches due to human error – on our part. It didn’t matter how good our robot was if we didn’t practice everything together. Were we arrogant? Possibly.
At the time, it sucked. But I learned first-hand the dangers of arrogance and over-confidence. It’s okay to be confident. But make sure that confidence is rooted in both yourself and your environment – not just in things you can control — there’s always the unknown.

That’s another thing about failure. Before considering any opportunity, consider the worst case outcome. 

Does anyone here remember Prison Break? It was a great show about a structural engineer who intentionally gets himself incarcerated to prison, to save his innocent brother on death row. He planned out the whole thing beforehand, complete with contingency plans for almost every possibility. You have your main plan, which you hope succeeds – it’s the preferable one. But then you have your fallback plan. If Plan A fails, Plan B takes over.


What most people don’t realize is that it is important to treat both your education and career with contingency plans. Doing this creates immense confidence in yourself – it reduces the risk, and in turn, encourages you to take those bigger risks, which can lead to bigger rewards, more easily.

Failure is just another hard lesson, but it’s one that will stick with you for life. But trust me, if you plan for it — it won’t be nearly as bad.

Over-confidence and contingency planning aside I guess the real question is how can you, as local business leaders and educators, help promote innovation and support the next generation of thinkers? 
Did anyone see this video clip in the news recently? 

There’s a movement of makers in the US that make prosthetics for children using 3D printing technology. Sometimes they make the prosthetics superhero themed. When Robert Downey Jr.’s people heard about an Iron Man themed prosthetic for a 7 year old boy named Alex, they orchestrated Tony Stark himself to give Alex his new arm. Talk about inspiring!


Now obviously we can’t all be Robert Downey Jr. and inspire people just by acting like a fictional character — and of course taking credit for some engineer’s work behind the scenes… but we can help promote innovation through education. Which is why I’d like to talk to you a bit about the company that I work for, and why I think they’re doing just that.


Ever heard of Christie Digital? No? I think we’re one of Kitchener’s best kept secrets, we’re actually a world-leader in digital projection and display technology. And one of the largest employers in Kitchener. All engineering and manufacturing is done on Wellington street with around 800 employees. It’s where Electrohome used to be — in fact, Christie bought Electrohome back in the 90s.


Galaxy cinemas uses Christie Digital exclusively, many of the universities and colleges do — theme parks, training facilities and huge outdoor venues too.

Any Star Trek buffs in the audience? We actually manufacture something we call the Cave —  you might be more familiar with the term Holodeck. Yup. We make that too. 

We also do projection mapping, where we can turn almost anything into a projection surface — like buildings or even cars!

But enough talking about it — how about I show you a little clip of some of our coolest tech?

We even have a medical department and produce a device called the VeinViewer — it can actually see under your skin — x-ray vision? Not quite. 


You see, how it works is actually quite simple. Skin reflects infrared light, but the hemoglobin in your blood absorbs it. This means if you take an infrared image of someone’s skin — the skin will actually appear kind of transparent. What we’ve done is created a device with an infrared camera that can project a real-time image of what it’s seeing — on your skin. Quite literally giving you that x-ray effect we used to see in old cartoons — here stand behind this screen…

Now as you can imagine, Christie is a pretty innovative company — but not just in what they manufacture, but in their workforce too. Christie has had a co-op program since 2006, hiring over 100 post-secondary students a year into our workforce. We’re highly involved in the co-op experience. We go to job fairs, do networking events, and even host mock interviews to help students hone their skills. And it’s not just for engineering students. We also hire business, finance, and even marketing students in the company. Most recently we’ve even opened up the co-op program to include high school students! Co-op learning is integral to preparing students for the real world, with real job experience. An actual taste of your potential future career.

We don’t stop there either. Like universities’ co-op programs, we also have our own internal lesson plan for our students. We provide training and multiple check in points during the term — not to mention a final presentation the students are required to give the company and upper management on the projects they have worked on and what they have learned during the term. It puts a name to a face working on a particular project. It also allows the company to benefit from the co-ops work experience and lessons learned. It’s an excellent opportunity for learning — and if the students impress management in their presentations, they might even get a permanent position out of it — like I did.

So what about that exoskeleton? 

Well, besides being used for promotional media for Conestoga College — where I did my engineering degree — my 15-minutes of internet fame actually helped get some funding towards developing an exoskeleton that I might eventually commercialize. I also hope to get into more medical applications for this kind of technology. I’m actually going to be working with someone I met through YouTube from BC who has muscular atrophy — we’re starting work on a kind of exoskeleton-neck upgrade for his wheelchair. And I’m also happy to announce I just mortgaged my very first garage  — I mean house… Well, I bought it for the garage. 

So if you’re interested future exoskeleton development, and seeing the transformation of this slightly run down building into what I hope will be a world-class engineering facility  — in my very own backyard — I’m thinking it’ll be a cross between Tony Stark’s basement and the Batcave, as you can see, I’ve already started designing it… 

Please follow me on YouTube for updates — there’s a link on my website at www.thehacksmith.ca

So, to recap — don’t be afraid to innovate — you can do it. Have confidence in yourself, but be prepared for a few surprises. I hope I’ve helped you realize that it doesn’t matter what your passion is — as long as you’re doing it. Just as I hope my creativity has inspired you, allow your creativity and energy to inspire and educate others and we’ll have a world full of innovators.   

I would like to leave you with a quote by T.E. Laurence which I believe very strongly in.



Don’t be afraid to dream big. Relish in your daydreams and fantasies of the future. If you truly believe in the dream, and yourself, you might just find the universe will bend to your will and make it happen.

Thank you for your time and attention.

New beginnings…

As I stared at my resignation letter, many thoughts and feelings rushed through my head. Should I hit send? Is now the right time? Will it ever be the right time?

I had been thinking about it for weeks, months, or maybe even the entire time I’ve been here. It was always the plan to eventually leave — the only question was when. But until now it had always just been a little itch in the back of my head. It was always a few months away, maybe even years. But in the past few weeks I had hit a point of desperation, where it seemed like my only step forward.


So why is it I was having such a hard time hitting the send button?

I had toyed with setting up the email to automatically deliver on a certain date, at a certain time. That way my inaction to cancel the script would result in my resignation. A cheap trick to see how serious I really am about the whole thing. But I never set up the script. Yet now, as I sit at my desk, mouse hovering over the send button I still have my doubts. Depression’s a fickle thing.


My hand slipped.


The mouse skittered away from the send button, as erratic as a fruit fly.

Why couldn’t I do it? I read the letter again. Did I phrase it right? I didn’t want to burn any bridges. I doubt it would’ve mattered if I did. But as a matter of principle, I wanted to leave on good terms. Even though I doubt I’ll ever come back.


Two weeks notice would set me free in early November. What would I do for those two weeks? Can I even put in two weeks of work in my current state? As I saw it, no. But if I don’t hand in the resignation, I’m just wasting my time here anyway — and the company’s time. Maybe I owe it to them to leave.


Maybe they’d accept only a one week notice…


As I pondered my options my eyes drifted up the grey cubicle walls. I used to have them covered in certificates, pictures, and reference materials, but ever since I moved desks a few months ago I had never got around to putting them back up. All but one. I had my newspaper article posted as a reminder of what I could be capable of, if I only tried. The headline read:


“Far-out engineering projects energize him”.


It wasn’t like we didn’t do cool projects here at work. But I was never a real part of them — it’s just the nature of big companies — can’t make everyone happy. I always volunteered to run tours through the company though. As I would lead groups of professionals or students through the halls I’d explain energetically about all the wonderful technology we were creating and the power of innovation.


Was it a lie?


No. I really did love this company — ever since I had my first co-op here I had thought, this is a great place to work. And it has been. It’s just not for me anymore.


My hand shifted. My eyes refocused. The mouse hovered over the send button once again.


I pressed down on the mouse. It made a satisfying click.


The decision was made.
 
……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..
 
FOOTNOTE:
 
I’m excited to announce I will be focusing my full attention on Hacksmith Industries from this point forward.
 
Wish me luck.

Investment casting using a 3D printer!

This is awesome — looks like I’ll be needing to make a backyard forge now… http://3dtopo.com/lostPLA/ 

Click the link for all information (and a video!) — but to sum it up for you…

  1. 3D print part in PLA
  2. Pack in sand/plaster of paris with sprues
  3. Heat up — melt plastic out
  4. Pour metal in

This opens up a huge new realm of possibilities…

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