Experience with Manufacturing

When I was interviewing for PM positions a couple of years ago, I wanted to do what I do now – build exciting real-world products soup to nuts, concept to manufacturing to deployment, algorithms to software and hardware design to manufacturing and to operations. Yet, when I interviewed for such roles, my lack of experience with one particular aspects of this – manufacturing – was oftentimes the ultimate deal breaker. Luckily, for my current role my experience in successfully running interdisciplinary research software-hardware projects outweighed this particular missing part of my background, and I got a chance to learn, on the job, the negotiations, vendor relationships, and manufacturing.

And, knowing what I know now, I see 100% why companies see the experience with manufacturing as supremely important. Hardware is hard. Manufacturing is hard. While it may be relatively straightforward to reason through how that would be the case and how hardware is different from software (e.g., you’ll clearly need more up-front investments and more planning), it is equally easy to not zoom in on important considerations and pay for it later. Thankfully, people who have been burned – or have succeeded – in this are oftentimes prepared to share their experiences.

Great articles that drive home the points that are important to keep in mind when building real-world products:

  • Nest CEO: New-school hardware startups still carry old-school baggage – Nest Founder’s comments about what it takes to pull off a product similar to Nest thermostat – “You cannot roll out a mere beta, fixing bugs and adding features as it goes along“.
  • Hardware is Hard: Getting a Kickstarter project out the door – the troubles of Triggertrap Ada, a hardware start-up that ultimately failed after raising more than $400K (which is not much in hardware terms, as the founder himself notes in the related article: Towards the end of the project, we engaged an extremely experienced hardware project manager, both to discuss how things were looking, and to see if we could salvage the project. To kick it off, I figured I’d ask him how we should have run this project. The challenge we set him: “If you have £300k to develop a consumer electronics product, how would you go about it?” He looked me straight in the eye, blinked twice, and said “I wouldn’t. Not with a budget of under £1m.”)
  • ZPM Espresso and the Rage of the Jilted Crowdfunder – New York Times Magazine story of another failed Kickstarter start-up, ZPM Espresso, “Despite all the advances of the maker-revolution age (off-the-shelf, open-source, programmable microcontrollers; rapid prototyping; 3-D printing; “AutoCAD for Dummies”), manufacturing remains a supremely difficult process, the success of which continues to rely on marshaling a lot of resources: development money, an extensive network of trusted vendors, the dedicated personnel to sit in conference rooms in concrete campuses in Shenzhen and Dongguan and refuse to budge until the product is streaming off the assembly line in the right amounts, at the right quality and at the agreed-upon price”.


I am an engineering program manager at D. E. Shaw Research. The views expressed on this blog are my own and do not represent my employer.

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