An Obligation to Use Your Talents

An Obligation to Use Your Talents

Whenever the subject of careers comes up I have always said to my kids:

"It's easy! Just find what you love, become as good at it as you can and share what you learn. Then the money will find you." 

The logic behind it is simple, that money is a byproduct of doing something great not the reason for doing it. Unfortunately, it's a lot more challenging to put in to practice. Just ask anyone who hates their job.

But there may be more to it than working at a job just for the money. What is it you are NOT doing that could help society because it doesn't pay enough to suit your current lifestyle? I understand people have to eat and put a roof over their heads, but there is more to it than that. Nor is it about the pointless circle of working in a job you hate, to buy things you don't need, to impress people you don't like. It's about being selfish and depriving the world of your true talents.

I started Northbound Networks in 2015 because I had created something that I wanted to share, the Zodiac FX. I created it for myself because there were no small, affordable OpenFlow switches available. But when I showed people what I had created, I found there were others just like me who were looking for the same thing. Only they didn't have the time or skills to build their own. So Northbound was born and with the help of a Kickstarter campaign I was able to share my creation with the world.

Over the next three years, I created a range of products designed for students, researchers and hobbyists. It was never a big business, in fact, I had to continue working 3-4 days a week elsewhere to support myself and my family. But by the end of 2018, the price of components and shipping had become so high that I was barely breaking even. Tired of working 70 hour weeks I decided I couldn't keep it up any longer and that was the end. I sold off the stock I had left, packed up all my gear and moved out of my little factory.

The following months were difficult. I continued providing support for my existing customers because I wasn't going to abandon the people who had been supporting me all these years. But what made it hard was the hundreds of emails I received from people asking for devices, sometimes pleading for me to build just one more because they needed it to finish their thesis or research project. They often asked if I knew of anything similar, but unfortunately, there isn't anything like it.

The main reason there isn't anything like the Zodiacs is that it's not a market that the big networking companies have an interest in, it's not profitable for them at a scale they usually want. So if I don't build this type of product then who will? If that means I have to add a little bit to the price to cover costs because I don't have the volume the big guys have, that's got to be better than not having them available at all.

“The great aim of education is not knowledge but action.”
― Herbert Spencer

So that's when I realised there is more to this than just money, gained or lost. I have an obligation to share what I've created. Was it wrong of me to not find a way to continue providing a product that people needed? Granted, I'm not saving lives here, but I'm depriving people of something that may be important to them. I have read dozens of research papers and blog posts and even PhD theses that use my devices. They have helped people achieve something meaningful to them, and that's enough for me.

As I write this post, parts are arriving for more Zodiacs, and they should be just about ready by the time you read it. So do something great with them and make sure you tell me all about it because I miss hearing your stories.

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