Tech Startups & Aviation – Or How I Embraced My Inner Schizo

Navigating Between the Clouds in the Sky and Cloud Computing

Tech Startups & Aviation – Or How I Embraced My Inner Schizo

In today's world of hyper-focus, most would claim that mastering one domain is a Herculean task. Juggling the turbulence of tech startups while soaring the skies of aviation? It might seem like I've got a foot in two different worlds, or as some of my friends joke, "a mild case of career schizophrenia". But here's the kicker: both these pursuits, as wildly different as they may appear, have helped carve out a unique path for me.

Sure, on the surface, it might seem like I'm in a perpetual identity crisis – am I a tech entrepreneur today or a pilot? But dig a little deeper, and it's clear: these dual disciplines aren't signs of confusion, but rather a testament to the magic of differentiation.

Are you pushed to cut your wings of passion and live for a profession that doesn't bring you more joy? Can I defend my feelings as well as yours, when pointed at with "Doesn't this suggest a lack of focus?" For those who've ever been told to "pick a lane", I say, why not build a runway instead?

Here are my learnings about Diverse Skill Acquisition

Navigating the skies in a small two-seater, I've gained insights that astonishingly parallel the dynamics of running a tech startup. Here's how the aviation world has subtly sculpted my approach to product management and startup leadership:

  • Alternate Plans: Much like filing a flight plan in aviation, where a pilot always needs an alternate destination, building a startup requires foresight and preparation for the unexpected. Whether it's pivoting a product strategy or adjusting to market changes, having a well-thought-out "Plan B" ensures uninterrupted journeys in both realms.

  • Fuel Burn Rate vs. Cash Burn Rate: In aviation, meticulous fuel management ensures a safe flight, while in the startup world, keeping an eye on the cash burn rate - how quickly a company uses its venture capital - is crucial. Running out of "fuel" in either scenario can be disastrous. Both demand a perfect balance: ensuring you reach your destination without unnecessary excesses.

  • Pre-Flight Checks and Product Launches: Before taking off, pilots adhere to a strict pre-flight checklist, ensuring everything's operational. Similarly, before launching a new product or feature, thorough testing and quality checks are essential. Both are about minimizing risk and ensuring a smooth "takeoff."

  • Turbulence and Market Fluctuations: Just as a pilot faces turbulence and must adjust the aircraft's altitude or speed for a smoother journey, startups too face market fluctuations. Agility, quick decision-making, and staying calm under pressure are crucial traits honed in both scenarios.

  • Clear Communication: In the skies, clear communication with air traffic control can be the difference between safety and disaster. Similarly, in startups, effective communication with team members, stakeholders, and users ensures alignment of vision and smooth operations.

Merging these learnings from the cockpit into the boardroom, the parallels between aviation and startups aren't just coincidental. They've been instrumental in shaping my approach, mindset, and strategies, proving that skills from one domain can profoundly influence another.

Also, I learned that (some) HR specialists and even investors are not comfortable with Flexible Career Paths

Okay, it’s not accurate to say that HR professionals or investors "hate" people with flexible (or more academically said) protean career paths. However, I met A LOT of hesitations or concerns for several reasons:

  • Perceived Lack of Commitment: Traditional organizations often value long-term loyalty and dedication. People who have a history of changing roles, industries, or jobs frequently might be perceived as lacking commitment or not staying long enough to fully contribute to a company.

  • Training and Development Costs: Companies invest significant resources in training and developing employees. If an individual has a pattern of leaving positions after short periods, there might be concerns about not recouping these investments.

  • Cultural Fit: HR might wonder if someone with a protean career path will fit into the company culture, especially if it's a more traditional or hierarchical one.

  • Predictability: Investors and businesses like predictability. Someone with a protean career might be seen as a wildcard, making it harder to predict their actions or decisions, especially in leadership roles.

  • Understanding ROI: For investors, especially, the return on investment (ROI) is crucial. If they're looking to invest in a company or startup led by someone with a protean career, they might have concerns about that person's ability to steer the company towards long-term profitability and growth.

  • Gap in Specific Expertise: If someone has moved through various roles or industries, they might be perceived as lacking in-depth knowledge or expertise in any one area.

All these perceived drawbacks, in the eyes of strict judges, can be seen as valuable assets if approached with an open mind and a focus on the benefits. Just imagine: If you've spent 3 to 5 years or more in each of your roles, it's a substantial amount of time to accumulate skills, knowledge, and expertise in each of those areas.

Here I defend the benefits of having a protean career like mine, especially when each role has lasted for several years:

  • Deep Diversified Expertise: While someone with a traditional career might have in-depth knowledge in one particular area, a person with a protean career spanning 3-5 years in each role accumulates deep knowledge across a diverse range of fields. This can be invaluable in roles or industries that benefit from interdisciplinary thinking.

  • Adaptability: Throughout these varied roles, you have most likely faced different challenges, worked under various management styles, and adapted to diverse corporate cultures. This adaptability can make you a valuable asset to teams and projects that face uncertain or changing circumstances.

  • Holistic Viewpoint: Your experience in multiple roles can give you a more holistic view of projects and businesses. For instance, if you've worked in both sales and product development, you can understand how changes in one area might impact the other.

  • Leadership and Collaboration: Switching roles and industries often means you've had to frequently establish credibility, build relationships, and navigate different group dynamics. This experience can enhance your leadership and collaborative skills.

  • Problem-Solving: Having a varied background means you've encountered and solved a diverse set of problems. This experience can make you more creative and versatile in your problem-solving approach, as you can draw from a broader set of past experiences.

  • Continuous Learning: A flexible career path shows a commitment to continuous learning and self-improvement. Not everyone can successfully transition between roles or industries; doing so demonstrates a keen ability to learn and grow.

  • Networking: Having worked in various roles or industries, your network is likely more diverse than someone who's spent their entire career in one field. This network can be a rich resource for collaborations, partnerships, or business opportunities.

When framed in the right way, a protean career, especially with significant time spent in each role, can be a considerable strength. It showcases a combination of depth and breadth in your experience, making you a uniquely qualified professional in many situations.

The Gentle Dance of Dual Passions

Life is full of delightful surprises. For me, it's been discovering the seamless harmony of my dual passions for tech startups and aviation. Rather than juggling them as separate entities, it feels like they're partners in a gentle dance, each step and turn complementing the other. Let me share how:

  • Time Management: Juggling two passions? It's like having two good friends. When one needs a break, the other's right there to chat with. This rhythm ensures I’m always engaged, but never overwhelmed.

  • Refreshing Role Changes: Shifting between two realms feels like taking a stroll from one room to another in my own home. Each offers a change of scenery and mood, but both feel familiar and comforting. It’s rejuvenating for the soul.

  • Valuable Perspectives: I get that some might scratch their heads at my dual passions. But I've also met folks who find it fascinating. It's all about embracing different shades of ourselves, isn't it? What's your passion though?

  • Quiet Confidence: Having two passions is like having two pillars of support. When doubts creep in one area, the success and joy from the other offer comfort and encouragement.

  • Resource Sharing: Each of my passions gifts me little nuggets – be it skills or insights – that surprisingly enrich the other. It's like borrowing sugar from one neighbor to make a dessert for another. Everything comes full circle.

  • Blending Passions: Over time, it feels less like I'm balancing two separate worlds and more like I'm weaving them into a single tapestry. They complement each other in ways I could've never imagined.

Trying my hand at two things wasn't about becoming the best in either. It's about the small moments, learning quietly, and the happiness of seeing one interest reflect the other. If you’ve ever felt the same, I'd love to hear your story too!