American inspiration comes from making things, together

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, February 6, 2018, 10:58 PM | comments: 0

Today was a big day for SpaceX, as it successfully launched its Falcon Heavy rocket, a device that can lift twice the mass into space at half the cost of its nearest competitor. If that weren't enough, they then landed two of the boosters, simultaneously, which is awesome in part because they had already been flown previously. The third booster failed to light two of its three engines to land on the drone ship at sea, but the cargo is now headed into an elliptical orbit that will intersect the Mars orbit at the far end. That's a whole lot of achievement for a test flight.

Falcon Heavy is a thing because there are 6,000 people working at SpaceX to make it happen. They're led by Elon Musk, an immigrant who changed the way we exchange money (PayPal), drive cars (Tesla), power islands and our homes (also Tesla) and now put stuff in space. In an era where it seems like America exists only to consume and not to create, to put down instead of lift up, we have this industrialist who continues to change the world and prove that we can in fact make things while making the world better. Today an American company put a sports car in space (instead of something generically heavy) just to prove it could be done.

I don't have much in common with Elon Musk, except perhaps my overly optimistic timelines. For the last year and change, I've been leading product development at a startup that is growing very quickly now. My initial mission has been to get it to a place where it could scale and be maintained, and it took longer than I expected.

Today, we put a customer on that new platform. It was a big day for us, too. When I started that effort, I decided we should code name the project "Gemini," because it was the second big release for us, just as it was the second major era of human spaceflight for NASA. We don't have 6,000 people working on it, but we do have around a dozen. We're not changing the world, but we're definitely changing the lives of our customers in ways that excite them every day. The impact is powerful and exciting. We're making things.

It seems like hate dominates our political and cultural discourse these days, and gets to be a drag. That's why I find the SpaceX story, and indeed my own, to be a source of inspiration. I've written many times about intrinsic motivators, the real things that compel us to achieve things. Spectacular outcomes are certainly one of those motivators, but so is the opportunity to work with excellent people. It's my favorite thing about my profession, that I get so many chances to work with smart people from all over the world. 

Ask yourself, every day, "What am I doing to create something great?" It's not all on you alone. Surround yourself with great people, encourage them and they will inspire you. That, to me, is the American dream.

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