Mission: Empowered by our founder Paul Allen's vision, our mission is to be catalysts for change and make a positive difference in our world."
I worked at Vulcan full-time (More than 5 years)
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. When people were interested in coming to work at Vulcan I told them, “It’s cool because you work on crazy stuff. It’s awful because you get to work on crazy stuff.”
I worked on some crazy stuff. Drones and VR and machine learning. It’s a tech playground. It was great for my career to dabble in cutting edge technology. It makes people notice my resume. It forced me to think outside the box. I am grateful for my time at Vulcan.
I’m also very happy to have left. Vulcan lacks paying customers. Without that simple but powerful force, it is hard to keep a company pointed toward true north.
In my five years in the tech department, it had about three name changes and 4-6 leadership changes. With each regime change I would feel a new sense of hope. “This guy (note: always a guy) seems like he understands business. He’s not just interested in creating a wacky invention, but he wants to make products for actual human beings.” Inevitably, users would fall to the wayside and we would ultimately build something for a white guy sitting in an ivory tower. While Mr. Allen had good intentions and creative ideas, he often wanted a cutting edge engineering solution to a big humanitarian problem. The non-engineering solutions were too dull. But the engineering solutions were often out of touch.
One thing was consistent: the worker bees were passionate about making something amazing and functional. Similar to Mr. Allen, they wanted to make a big impact in people’s’ lives. They researched ways to make science fiction come to life. They are smart, kind, creative, sharing people. However, the people who get promoted spout empty promises. They strut in like Donald Trump, fabricating business models and customer needs.
In some ways, it's hard to fault these leaders. When there is no business, then lying with flourish is the best way to personally survive. If they can’t be successful by making a sale, then success has to come from a bloated sense of self worth.
In the last regime change, things have gone slightly differently. The customer we designed for was no longer Paul Allen but instead a nonexistent customer who wants futuristic products at a reasonable price. In trying to productize Paul’s ideas, they are taking something developed in a lab and trying to make it a commodity, underfunding any R&D that would maintain differentiation.
Leadership isn’t taking a strong stance in any direction:
- If it truly wanted to build products, it would expand the team size to function comparably to a competitor. Right now, teams of 2-10 people are trying to create a full scale business.
- If it wanted to operate as a tech transfer office, it would partner with major companies. Instead, it keeps its tech development under wraps.
- If it wanted to be a Google X, it would focus on R&D and build truly futuristic product prototypes and not worry about making a sale.
Vulcan doesn’t know what it is. It never has. It always sat in a technological purgatory, partially because I don’t think Mr. Allen cared enough to commercialize. Without Paul Allen, it loses a leader that had a sci-fi imagination. That might be a good thing since his ideas never touched the ground. It might be a bad thing because there are no longer any ideas.
Right now, it is trying to commoditize futuristic ideas for an imaginary customer. Best of luck.
Advice to Management
You have a bias against women and non-egotistical men. Get some training to figure out why you favor the opinions of loud mouth men. Find someone to point out your biases. The company is bleeding women in particular.
I applied through an employee referral. The process took 4+ weeks. I interviewed at Vulcan (Seattle, WA (US)) in May 2009.
I was recruited to the position by an old friend who I had worked with before. He pushed my name through the interview process, but I still had to jump through a lot of hoops with HR who were adamant on maintaining their control over hiring. Job required a thorough background check, which was no problem for me.
Simple - they offered me more than I was asking, and I took it.
Today we took time to observe International Women's Day. And tell the stories of women doing inspiring work.
"Vulcan has charted a different path. And it's clear that the work inspired by Paul G. Allen will continue for a long time to come."