The POV Dispatch is our Autodesk internal newsletter, published monthly, where we discuss the big ideas that are important to us and our customers. It is published by our Corporate Strategy & Engagement (CS&E) team of which Autodesk Labs is a part. Jon Pittman is the VP of CS&E, so it should come as no surprise that Jon routinely makes submissions to issues of the POV Dispatch. Bill O'Connor is a Corporate Strategist and also provides a lion's share of the articles; however, we also include guest authors. Recently, Applied Innovation Engineer, Evan Atherton, and Technical Assistant to the CEO, Arthur Harsuvanakit, contributed this to a recent issue, and I thought I would share it with you. There youthful perspective was refreshing to old guys like me. This gives you one peek behind the curtain of Autodesk.
Two Young Autodesk Guys Talking About Autodesk
by Applied Innovation Engineer, Evan Atherton, and Technical Assistant to the CEO, Arthur Harsuvanakit
Arthur and Evan report to Maurice Conti, Director of Strategic Innovation
Arthur: When I started here two years ago, there was a strong feeling that I was the youngest person on the floor, and perhaps the whole building — the feeling was almost palpable. In a way it was a hurdle to adjust to the environment and relate to my co-workers because I wasn't middle-aged and married with kids. But I will say that this is changing, the company is hiring more young people, and we are living proof of it.
Evan: Yeah, I guess it's a little easier for us to be in the office late at night. And right out of school, we're used to staying up until all hours of the night working on projects. That's when some of the best bonding happens — at 3am!
Arthur: But maybe the issue isn't about age, and more about mentality. Young people just don't know any better, and with inexperience comes no perspective, which in a way is a new perspective. Since young people don't have that previous experience, they won't make assumptions based on past knowledge that may or may not be relevant anymore. I think some people call it "Beginner's Mind" and maybe that's just what we need.
Evan: Another point about experience: It actually took me two years to find a full-time job here because every job posting asked for "5-10" years of industry experience. By putting that limitation on every job descriptions, all we do is limit the pool of capable candidates. There are many people, some of them pretty young, who do work well beyond what their experience would indicate.
Arthur: Yeah, just look at the people going through the Artist-in-Residence program at Instructables.
Evan: Overall I think we need to hire more people right out of college. What they lack in experience, they make up for in new perspectives. I would consider it an investment in Autodesk's future.
Arthur: I think in many ways we're naturally more attuned to what's new, with things like social and mobile, and are constantly thinking about what's the next cool thing.
Evan: Yeah, and if we had hire more people who are living social and mobile every day, we might not have to do so much acquiring of companies that do social media, because it would be already ingrained more in our culture.
Arthur: And that's actually a good argument for why it's sometimes better to hire individuals than acquire teams, by buying companies. After all, are we making acquisitions to keep up with the industry or to lead it? I see hiring inspiring people with a wide range of experience levels as an investment in being a leader, in finding the next frontier in the industry.
Evan: Yeah, I guess if all we do is acquire, the best we can do is be a fast follower. We're relying on others to come up with new ideas and lead us, and then we react to them. Also, another reason to consider hiring people out of college is the fact that college student are our future customers. Why not have them make the tools their peers will eventually use?
Arthur: One lesson I learned in the design school was that you don't give the user/customers exactly what they want; you give them something they didn't know they wanted.
Evan: Like a saber tooth giraffe?
Evan: Never mind.
Arthur: If we create roles that allow people to explore and expand the company's goals, then we won't have to be too focused on legacy, and we can focus on other things that are important, too, like surprising ourselves and our customers.
Evan: To me it comes down to creating roles that would be really valuable to the company, rather than just filling holes in the organization. If we find an outstanding person, we should make a role for them. I was an intern twice, and it was still incredibly hard for me to find a full-time position. It seemed like most of the interns that got converted were MBA students who already had years of experience.
In my opinion, we seem to be able to come up with meaningful work for our interns, who are still in school, but we're often unable to provide them with entry-level jobs upon graduation. A good friend of mine also interned here and I think it was a huge loss to the company that we just let him go because there wasn't a job opening he fit at the time. If all we're looking to do is fill very specific roles, we are limiting our room for innovation.
Arthur: Ok, so I think what we are really talking about is not so much the value of being young, but the value of inexperience, or "Beginner's Mind," and what that can bring to the company. Is it fair to suggest that inexperience can provides new perspectives and we should make room for those perspectives?
Evan: I would say so.
Evan: Anyone who has walked from One Market to Pier 9 can feel the difference. Sure there's a state-of-the-art shop at Pier 9, but I think there's more than that. There's a community over there built on mutual interests and goals. 3D prints hanging from the rafters, group lunches, show-and-tells — these are all day-to-day occurrences. By contrast, One Market sometimes feels like a more sterile, corporate place.
Arthur: I think you are right, but I would argue that community is embedded into the DNA of Pier9's Instructables crew. Their product is to create this sense of community online, and it only makes sense that they do so in life as well. Though I agree with you — if Pier 9 feels like a home, than One Market feels kind of like a hotel.
Evan: And at Pier 9, there's also a good mix of the generations: you have a bunch of younger people and also a lot of people who have a lot of experience, and it seems to be a blend that just works.
Arthur: I feel that's what we are missing at One Market — that balance, that melting pot, that blending in. Our cubicle layout over at One Market seems very compartmentalized and in a sense so does our sense of community over there.
Evan: I've been on the 2nd floor for the past two years and I still don't know half the people that sit on the floor.
Arthur: One time when I forgot my badge at my desk, and was waiting in the hallway for someone to let me in, they had to ask me if I worked here. What was even more strange was that I knew who he was, but he didn't recognize me at all, and at the time I think he was the only other Asian guy on the floor.
Time (to play)
Arthur: I think the story of Sketchbook mobile proves that if you give your passion enough time to play and create, then it can lead to new business ventures for the company, like the consumer group.
Evan: Given the tools, and the time, people can do incredible things.
Arthur: That should be the company's new tag-line :)
Evan: [laughs] I've seen interesting projects get pushed aside in favor of meeting strict release schedules. Maybe our product road maps are too rigid, sometimes there's no room for creativity and disruptive change, only incremental advances (like bug fixes, or a few new features).
Arthur: Yeah, and maybe we carry this deadline mentality into our hiring process. We hire very specialized people to execute our product road map, instead of people with a broad range of skillsets with a wider foundation, who might not execute as quickly but are more flexible to adapt and be efficient when the product changes direction.
Evan: It's like what we're trying to do with our interns this summer. Instead of hiring a couple people with very specific backgrounds to tackle a fixed problem, we're looking for a diverse team and giving them a context in which to surprise us.
Arthur: I guess we'll see how well it works out for us.
Evan: Ha ha.
[Note: The opinions expressed in this conversation are just that, opinions.]
Thanks Arthur. Thanks Evan.
The youth perspective is alive in the lab.