Wednesday, February 27, 2008

interview with ian kitajima

ian is the leader of the dual use group: A grassroots industry group for Hawaii's defense and dual-use companies. he is also a marketing manager at oceanit.

ian is a really cool dude. i met at local business function after work. its kind of a classic networking example (which by the way is really really important in hawaii). from that meeting we worked on a few events together.

i've learned a lot from ian in the short time that i've known him. we have had twitter discussions, chats, and even complained profusely about our jobs over lunch (just joking). i hope to learn a lot more from him. we both have similar goals.

the moral of the story is you should go to all business events, no matter how boring. cause you might meet people. people that you can learn a lot from. haha. :)

i've mentioned before in my blog that hawaii needs stronger tech leaders. let me put it another way, we need more ian's.

here is how this interview works. the questions that i ask are highlighted in bold. ian's responses are in italics.

I've been an admirer of Oceanit for a long time, yet I know relatively little about your company. Can you give a brief explanation of what your company does? Also, (and almost more importantly) can you explain how Oceanit accomplishes your goals? In other words, what is your company's culture?

Oceanit. It's definitely a culture of innovation. Easy to say, hard to do. From an employee perspective, I think culture is something you pickup daily. For example, it's something I pickup from the people at Oceanit - which is why the people you work with are so important, but that's for another story. From a corporate perspective on how to create a culture of innovation, it's something we (as leaders...i'm talking about a way of being that's not a result of a title) have to live on a daily basis. It starts with Dr. Patrick Sullivan, the founder of Oceanit, and flows to all parts of the company. For example, one way the cultural context gets set is during the Monday business review sessions. For example, I throw out a radical idea, then realize people are going to think I'm crazy and that was stupid of me to stick my neck out, but it's safe to do because 2 minutes later Pat will throw out an even crazier idea, and with that simple act he sets the context or culture. You start to feel like you're not so crazy and that feels great. Pat sets the context (in various ways) that it's safe to think innovatively. Very very important. You once asked me what is our mantra? I said one word, "innovation". But creating a safe environment to innovate is just the beginning. We have to live innovation not just in the research stuff but in all areas of the business. I head up the marketing group and i tell my guys if i get hit by a bus tomorrow just remember the message or theme is "innovation". So if you're wondering what should the the theme for the corporate christmas gift, or the theme of our nano lab open house, or the mesage for a story on the KGMB9 evening news, you already know it.

As to what our company does, we focus in four areas: life science, aerospace, IT, and consulting engineering. The Star Trek sick bay bed, the Star Trek tricorder, Superman vision that can track where a bullet is coming from, Spiderman-like abilities to climb walls, etc.. Put another way, we're like an idea factory that creates all kinds of innovations, and the best ones are spun off into new companies so they can focus and get to market. Put in another way, we're trying to change the world by building a technology industry in Hawaii, even if it means building it one startup at a time.

Now how do we accomplish this? I would say that what we do and who we become in 5 years or in 50 years is determined by the pains/problems in 5 years, in 50 years. What we do as a business also depends on the people we're able to attract and grow here at Oceanit. And the third thing that determines what we do in the future (which is key but is so subtle), is we don't let our past or who we are today, determine what we will become in the future. Ten years ago we knew nothing about space situational awareness (SSA). Today, SSA is the number one problem for Space Command, and we're right in the middle of it, as we deploy our worldwide network of small autonomous stations. That's liberating but with it comes the challenge of managing diversity...I could go on and on but hopefully that gives your readers a sense of our culture and philosophy. Here is a link to a Pacific Business News article about our internal innovation fund which is just another example of how we live a culture of innovation at Oceanit.

Tech firm pays workers to dream
(BTW, the PBN story was inspired by you and your blog in a way. I had previously pitched the story of our innovation fund at the end of last year, and your blog got me inspired to pitch it again.)

Wow, thats cool.

Your explanation of how crazy is accepted is really funny. At times I think I'm going crazy... But, I don't think people quite understand my craziness. Haha. So, its really amazing to hear your explanation of a "safe environment to innovate" and "idea factory that creates all kinds of innovation". That all sounds really fantastic. I also think its awesome that Oceanit shares its philosophy and culture with the rest of the industry.

But...(here come the hard questions)... but, what does this all mean for computer science students? Here come a series of questions: If I was a computer science student reading about Oceanit, I'd think Oceanit is awesome, but with 30 PhDs, why would Oceanit care about little old me? How do CS students prepare for a career in Oceanit? Oceanit seems like a great engineering company, but how does the software developers fit into the innovation?

CS is the glue. Look at any of the big prime defense contractors. Out of 50K employees, maybe half are CS, because CS is the way you glue/integrate systems together. CS is critical, and that's why CS would make someone valuable at Oceanit, even if you don't have a Ph.D. Oceanit started off as an engineering company, doing ocean, environmental, and coastal engineering, evolving into R&D for the federal government, evolving to become an incubator of spin off companies. Noah's Ark had two of everything, we're trying for at least one of everything!

Finally, do you have a list of books, articles, websites, activities, and groups that students can begin to utilize to grow?

As for books, articles, websites, etc...Here are some of my thoughts for maximum growth

1. Internships. Get hands on experience now. Always take on the toughest assignment.

2. Find a mentor. Pick someone who's 20 years older who you want to be like. If you can't find a mentor, it's probably because you're not ready. There is a saying, "when the student is ready, the teacher will appear." Get a mentor, and be coachable.

3. Books: Deep Survival (very good book about why we fail and ultimately succeed), Tipping Point/Blink, Corporate Lifecycles, The Starfish and the Spider (about decentralized networks), Positioning (anything by Ries and Trout), Information Rules, Art of the Start (anything by Guy Kawasaki), Win Friends and Influence People, Think and Grow Rich,'ve got to get specific because i read a lot.

4. Personal development. Learn about yourself so you can get out of your own way. This has been my secret. I'm not the smartest but I work hard, and I try to stay out of my own way. Does that make sense. So do some serious personal development workshops, like the one Burt Lum and I are bringing to Hawaii in early March. Visit

5. Peers: Choose them carefully. You become like the people you hangout with.

6. Company. Choose this one carefully as well. If you want to get a lot of experience, work for a small company. Learn what it takes to make payroll!

7. Pain. Take the pain when you're young. Work the toughest assignments, and work a lot of them. Get as much experience as you can.

8. Values. What are our personal values? Humbleness or arrogance? Giving or taking? Integrity or deception? Building or destroying?

9. Alignment. Align your personal and career goals. If you want a career to take you around the world, e.g., work 2 years in Tokyo, 2 years in Paris, 2 years in NY, etc...that's all very possible but don't set a personal goal of wanting a house with the white picket fence and your spouse and child waiting at the door welcoming you home for dinner at 6pm. You will be stress knowing they are waiting for you, and they will be unhappy...what's real is showing up 2 hours late will be just as devastating.

10. Life partner: Though this is #10, this should be #1 on your list. Who you make your life with, will determine your future happiness and success, or misery! This is so important, because this is about alignment again. Are you and your spouse going in the same direction? Do you want the same things? Would you be good friends even if you weren't married? So i need to repeat it again - the #1 thing you can do to be successful and happy is to marry the right person! Listen to your mother and friends if you're proven to be a poor partner picker! Say that 3 times really fast.

[end interview]
i'm not sure i asked the right CS questions to ian. my basic point to him was that i saw a lot of hardware related innovation from oceanit. not too much software stuff. so, the question was basically... how does your software people get involved in innovation when most of the work is on the hard sciences side? anyway, i'll ask him that later.

here is a blog that i wrote in the dual use NING space:
someone sent this article to me the other day, "Hire Learning",

i have been discussing with anyone that will listen about the problems that i have been noticing in technical education. its very interesting that the problem is bigger than any one solution. problems like this needs to be attacked in a coordinated fashion. it takes the involvement from government, industry, and most importantly people. mentor someone, give them hope, show them what is possible, and help them do it.

i often feel overwhelmed by how i can make a difference. but, i so desperately want to. i know i'll figure it out.

and this is why ian is a really cool guy... here is his response:
Right on Aaron! And yes, you will. Remember, making a difference is about the daily small things that add up over time. Yes, swing for the fences when it makes sense, but this is also a marathon more than it is a sprint.

I just read a very nice quote, "grow a leader, grow an organization." I think the same would apply here. Let me know how i can support you.


austen.ito said...

As a software engineer, I'm curious what type of software dev Oceanit does.

Good interview. I want to go to the Samurai Game!

aaron said...

Samurai Game! Ha!