Out of the armchair and onto the field…


Karma (Sanskrit: कर्म; IPA: [ˈkərmə] ( listen); Pali: kamma) means action, work or deed; it also refers to the spiritual principle of cause and effect where intent and actions of an individual (cause) influence the future of that individual (effect).

When I was younger I should have thought about this more but fortunately I hit a point in my life where I started to grasp cause and effect. I wish I hit this self realisation sooner – but no such luck.

The basic principle for me is that you will do good and bad things in your life and those actions will someday come back to you. Its a simple concept and if you grasp it then the meaning is also simple – do as much good as possible. Empathize. Be nice.

I can recall in my early career not always being nice. I wish I could take those moments back. I can also recall lots of good interactions that years later came back to me in good ways.

I always remind people that everything is about people. Everything. Be good to people and they, plus the earth, will be good to you.

I feel like my career is finally where I want it to be. Yes – I am 44 and some people reach their career goals earlier. Some later but I had ideas of where I wanted to be and I think I have finally found the sweet spot. My nirvana. I owe a lot of it to karma. And sheer luck.

Let me touch base on this luck thing since many times you read about or meet successful people and never hear them talk about luck. I am sure you have also met or read about people who are not so successful. Guess what? It might be that only luck is the dividing line between success and not having success.

I try to think that karma helps to increase my chances of getting lucky.

I feel lucky.

My first gig was a dishwasher at the local restaurant where I grew up in Alta, CA. The job sucked but I got a free meal, got paid and I could ride my bicycle or walk to work. I learned a lot.

After that I worked with my parents at a camp ground they managed – cooking, cleaning, helping with events and doing whatever was needed. It was fun. Learned more.

During one of the summers in my teenage years I worked cooking breakfast for male and female prisoners who were fighting California’s largest forest fires at the time. I cracked a lot of eggs. Fried a ton of bacon. I served the food behind bars. I was freaked out. I learned things.

As I was closing out my home school final years, I started working as a dishwasher at Dingus McGees. Used to be a famous steak joint in Colfax that folks heading up to Tahoe to ski would stop at to chow down. After a few years there I was a prep cook and working the line. Ever read Kitchen Confidential? Yeah – that world is true. That was my school of hard knocks. After that I wanted out of the kitchen forever.

After the kitchen I went semi-corporate. I started working at a small regional bank in the warehouse and drove around to the branches delivering stuff and helping the maintenance guy. In between doing grunt work I would hang with the IT guys learing foxPro and Clipper. This gig mostly got me through my A.A. degree in Computer Science.

With the banking career over I went for a help desk job at State Net, at the time the leading provider of legislative data for all 50 states in America. I answered the phones and email, helping customers reset their modems and debug their SQL queries. During my shifts I started coding more and was given random Perl and Ansi C work. This grew into being a full time dev doing everything from Visual Basic to Emacs to C. I learned a ton. I also discovered I loved computers but sucked at coding. Sucked. They used to keep coding samples around to showcase horrible work – it was my code.

I went to the Sun Microsystems Java Day and from that moment on I wanted to code Java – so I left State Net and went to work at a marketing agency as their first coder. I made websites and applets. It was fun. I learned a lot about marketing.

I got bored and decided to take another job that required me to be the resident Java expert at company using data to help large corporations lower their legal bills. Of course since I ran the Sacramento Java Users Group – I was the Java expert. 😉 The good part was I was able to hire people who could code and away we went. That gig lead to me speaking to a VC about a round in WebLogic, who was raising at the time, and then that got me an interview, full days worth, which landed me a job as a Sales Engineer. I covered half the globe. I didn’t need to code anymore. Just pretend I could and talk about tech and – sell. I am a firm believer in the Mark Suster view of the world that everyone should carry a bag once in their corporate life. Why – you learn about convincing someone to part with their money in exchange for a service or product. Training ground for any entrepreneur.

My WebLogic run was the best startup experience of my life. Bar none. 

I should have never have left WebLogic but I got cocky and thought I could go play startup CTO at a place called MetaMarkets. Helped the founders to burn through 17 mil USD in capital building product, data center and a customer base. Dot com crash hit and I was out. But I got an Aeron chair out of it.

Fortunately BEA, the company who bought WebLogic, took me back. Offered to move me to London or Hong Kong. Of course Asia is where it is at and boom. My 1 year assignment turned into 4.5 years in Hong Kong with some months spent in China. I didn’t want to stay in China so I bailed on the job and moved to Bangkok.

I think my Bangkok years were my mid life crisis in my 30’s. I went into the F&B business. Was terrible at it but again I learned a ton. People management, crisis management, dealing with the mafia and all the nutty stuff that comes with doing a nightlife business in a crazy city. Fortunately, I survived it.

This is where I cashed in some Karma points. I was lucky to get called by a recruiter who knew me about a Yahoo role and then I called ex WebLogic people who were working at Yahoo to help get me over the hump. Within weeks I went from the unemployment line to a great gig.

At Yahoo I met one of the founders at Spuul who offered me a great, flexible role working on video. I learned a ton there and met some great people. That experience lead me to HOOQ which again, might not have been the best spot for me, but I learned a ton about management and big company politics. Which is certainly very valuable.

Then over a lunch one day I was talking with David Gowdey, who I did the Koprol deal with at Yahoo, about Jungle and suddenly I was interviewing again. Did I think I would become a VC? Not really but I did get a taste of things while I was advising for Hian GoH and his crew at NSI which made me think that I might like to be an investor versus being a product guy.

So life is one strange trip. I am lucky to be here. I am thankful to everyone who helped get me here. I am back to learning and I hope to make my mark in this space. Stay tuned for more.

Long read. I know.

8 thoughts on “Out of the armchair and onto the field…

  1. Awesome piece, Smitty. Life has a strange way of working out — I guess if we treat every good and bad thing as learning experiences. Really happy for you. I remember your stories about your Kitchen Confidential years. You’ve worked hard and I’m glad you’re where you want to be.


  2. enjoying the updates. Sounds like a great gig for you. I hope to see you when I’m next in Singapore


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