Introducing Seth Baughman
Excellent. All interviews should be this way.
No, they moved there after I went to college. I’m originally from Zionsville. That’s why I’ve managed to avoid the southern twang that my youngest sister is afflicted with.
Chemistry in general for undergrad. Then in grad school I specialized more in organic chemistry—particularly bio-synthetic chemistry, using bacteria and enzymes to catalyze difficult reactions.
I can give it a shot!
Mostly pharmaceuticals. A lot of molecules that are effective medicines can be pretty complex, and synthesizing them on a large scale in the correct enantiomeric configurations can be extremely difficult. So modifying and using bacteria and enzymes to do the hard stuff for you can be quite helpful.
There were about three years between undergrad and grad school where I tried a bunch of potential “careers.” I moved to Florida, pursued professional wakeboarding, did a stint as a UPS driver, QA for a pharmaceutical company, then R&D designing blood glucose meters.
Saving lives one boat dock at a time.
It became apparent pretty quickly that to do anything fun in the chemistry world you needed an advanced degree. Most bachelor-degree level jobs are actually pretty mundane, but with FDA regulations they have to have someone with an actual degree fill those roles. A reasonable precaution, to be sure. Just not great for job satisfaction.
Yes. About a third of the time was teaching undergrad labs and classes, then two-thirds doing my own classes and research.
No, I realized about two years in that I couldn’t really see myself enjoying that career long-term either. There were some people in school with me that really loved chemistry, and I knew I wasn’t one of them.
I think it hit me when I had spent months synthesizing a molecule called Epothilone B, and the end result of all that work was a tiny smudge of oil on the inside of a 50ml beaker. I realized I enjoy doing things with shorter development cycles and more tangible results.
Yes, developing biomass furnaces.
They brought me on because they already had some actual mechanical engineers on the project, and they needed my biochem knowledge. I learned the rest as we went along.
A little over a year, I think. It’s a little fuzzy, because I was working two jobs and didn’t have time for anything else—like remembering things.
I started working part time at the Apple Store in Indianapolis due to the recommendation of my roommate. That was a magical place in 2007. Everybody had iPods, the iPhone had just come out, Steve Jobs and crew were innovating like crazy. And it wasn’t wall-to-wall packed yet. It was just really fun to be there.
Well, the 2008 recession hit. The product we were working on at the engineering place was experimental, so I could tell it was going to be put on hiatus. It didn’t make sense for the company to keep pouring money into it when they were just trying to stay afloat.
They were going to have to make some cuts, and I already had another job that I liked, so I just volunteered to leave and Apple took me full-time. It worked out well for everybody.
Yes, much longer than I expected, especially considering my previous record anywhere had been a shade under two years.
I think it’s important to try a variety until you learn what really motivates you.
I learned that my primary drive is constant improvement. I knew nothing about Apple products when I got hired there. I had owned an iPhone for less than a week. I studied everything I could get my hands on and worked my way up to leading the technical support team within two years.
Then, what kept me there for the next five years was learning how to motivate and manage people. Like many technically-inclined people, that was not my forte. It took a long time and a lot of effort to feel like I was finally getting the hang of it.
It’s something I’ve always been interested in. I think it became obvious to me that I needed to pursue it once I realized that it hit all of my ideal criteria: constant challenge, fast iterations, tangible results, and smart/fun people to work with.
Also, I think it’s an incredibly important pursuit considering the point we are at in human history. Through technology, we’re actually on the verge of reaching a point where all basic human needs can be provided through automated processes. So anything we can do to hasten that seems like a good idea.
Well, we can always find a different planet, right?
I expect my body to be primarily robotic parts within the next 30, so my lifetime will be indefinite. So yes.
It would be an understatement to say “yes.”
Excellent! I didn’t get fired during the post-hiring interview!
It’s been a while since I’ve read it, but the Foundation series by Isaac Asimov is my all-time favorite, probably because it caters to my belief in being able to solve universe-wide problems through mathematical calculation.
Yes! On both sides of the table.
It’s an interesting question. I have a lot of years of traditional education, and looking back I can definitely see the advantages of being well-rounded. But it’s really hard to beat a bootcamp environment for learning something at maximum speed. Personally, I enjoy the pace of it and how quickly you see results in your work.
Agreed. I almost think the first three years of a college program should just be general education, and then deep dive into your actual profession full-time for the last year. At least in the technology arena. Everything changes so fast that stuff you learn freshman year could be completely useless by graduation.
Really, I think the bootcamp model is great for the industry we’re in. Learning how to learn programming languages and frameworks is incredibly valuable. I feel like I haven’t left, to be honest.
Based on conversations with my classmates [from The Iron Yard], I’m sure a lot of that is due to where I work. But I specifically wanted to continue learning at maximum possible rate, so I’m incredibly happy with it.
Yeah, that’s what drew me here. I feel really grateful for the opportunity. And I’m not just saying that because you sign the paychecks.
Preaching to the choir, Davey.
Yeah, I think immediately after college I shied away from using my brain for a while. I did a lot of skateboarding/wakeboarding/snowboarding.
Yes! I totally forgot about that stuff.
I’m trying to find a picture of it. Best I can come up with is a picture of the mullet I had right after I cut the top part shorter.