Innovation Can Often Lead Us To Reinvent Ourselves
Innovation Can Often Lead Us To Reinvent Ourselves
Two decades ago, I lead a very different life. I was living in a North East metropolitan area and working for a major telecommunications company. My job was in R & D in what was then referred to as a "speech portal." Before the world of Siri, that is what we called voice enabled applications.
Life was good. The Dot Com Boom was in full effect. I loved my job. The work was rewarding, as was the pay. I was young and single. I had discretionary income.
At this time, I began visiting Las Vegas. I discovered that I had a huge affinity for the dice game -- craps. I turned into quite the dice player. The game fascinated me. On some trips to Vegas the game could be quite lucrative as well.
I began frequenting a place called, The Gambler's Book Club. For those who haven't heard of it, The Gambler's Book Club was a bookstore that specialized in books and software dedicated to casino gambling. Shopping there was always an amazing experience. I purchased books to learn my favorite game, craps, even better. I quickly became proficient in all of the rules, and specialty bets. (The store is still around, but in a reduced capacity.)
Sadly, all good things must come to an end. The Dot Com Bubble burst. The Dot Com Boom became the Dot Com Bust. High tech companies were laying off staff left and right. My employer's stock dropped from $150 a share to around $15 within weeks. Shortly thereafter, 500 members of staff were let go in a massive layoff. (Myself included.)
The layoffs didn't stop at my employer. The entire metropolitan area began dropping employees. Suddenly, the market was flooded with engineers. The prospects of landing a new job were not good.
I found myself on unemployment. I spent weeks, which later turned into monthsm looking for work. There was no work to be found. The market had been flooded with engineers.
However, I decided to use my downtime as an opportunity. I had a small spark of innovation. I decided to write a video game. Not just any video game... a video game that played casino craps, allowed you to run automated betting systems, and had a cartoon avatar that hurled insults at you while you played. I decided to write a piece of software that would totally indulge all my personal interests.
I found the writing code for my own purposes gave me new direction and a sense of purpose. I got up every morning like I was going to work. I spent about 8 hours a day coding. Suddenly, I was enjoying the act of writing software again. In short: The experience was extremely gratifying.
Working on a passion project can often reinvigorate us. It gave me focus, and something to rally behind as the months of unemployment progressed. The job prospects were between slim and none.
More importantly, the experience was extremely enriching. I was able to draw from my speech portal experience and used a highly advanced TTS (text to speech engine) to provide the game dealer's voice. I learned to work with a graphic artist to design the craps table. I learned Photoshop to design the game's user interface. I was able to draw upon my background in film and animation to work on the cartoon avatar, and design the game's sound effects.
As luck would have it, members of my family were living in the Las Vegas area. They sent me a copy of the local newspaper, The Review Journal. I opened up the job opportunities page, and companies were looking for engineers to design software for slot machines.
I quickly drafted a letter. I took screenshots of my prototype video game and printed them. I printed an updated copy of my resume. I put it all in the mail an crossed my fingers.
Within a week, I was on plane to Vegas for a job interview! I demo'ed my video game. I had expressed interest in using the knowledge I had gained to make games for slot machines. Low and behold I got a job and relocated to Vegas.
Within eight months I re-invented myself as a slot machine developer. I went from a speech recognition engineer to a slot game developer. As part of my new job I utilized my video game experience and helped the company develop a new engine to allow their games to act much more like video games than just static pick'em screens.
More importantly, my newly found knowledge from video game design helped improve the company's capabilities. I used my new skills to help increase the company's productivity. When I arrived, the company was building 1 new slot game a year. By the time I was done, I was able to help scale it to 10 (with the same amount of staff!)
My little home coding project, my spark of innovation, changed my life. A single spark of innovation, even if it is for self fulfillment, can result in brand new opportunities.
Hobby projects are not just fulfilling, and a catalyst for innovation, they can lead to new opportunities. In my specific case, I was able to reinvent myself as well and put my career back on track. In future issues, I will talk about my numerous hobby projects that positively impacted my professional career and lead to innovation.
About Mark Ross
Mark holds multiple industry patents. He is currently the technical director at an iGaming company based out of Las Vegas. He is the author of books, technical whitepapers, and an accomplished film director as well. Linked In.