How did you decide to pursue an impact role in your career?
In part, I fell into it. I learned a little about global health as a product design consultant. I have a friend who worked in the field, and when I was thinking about finding a new job I called him up to find out what the opportunities were. I wanted to apply what I know about engineering and design to problems in the developing world. The answer was, there wasn’t that much going on in global health product development, except that he happened to be thinking about starting a company to commercialize a technology aimed at resource-poor settings. I got involved, nights and weekends, and it turned into Daktari.
As it turns out, here we are eight years after that conversation, and there still aren’t many opportunities to work on products development for global health applications! It’s a shame, because the demand is enormous, and opportunities for direct impact are real and gigantic. But the risks to the business are much higher, which makes it harder to find capital to sustain the development process. It’s the same challenge any tiny company has, magnified by the (possible) riskiness of the market, and (likely) lower profits.
What is the most interesting/challenging aspect of your work?
Designing a product for a global health setting is so interesting. The design and engineering trade-offs are much different than we would make for designing a product for, say, the U.S. market. Robustness of the product vs. it’s accuracy, for example. Everything in the developed world wants to be so quantitative, but the reality in the rest of the world is that simple “yes/no” may be completely adequate. On the other hand, I can pretty much count on the fact that my U.S. bound diagnostic device will never be operated in a canoe – not true for my global health product.
What is the best career advice you have received?
The best career advice I know is something nobody told me – that “career” doesn’t really mean anything. I started out with a picture of what I wanted to do, and I did that for a while, but the picture changed. Pretty soon I was doing something I hadn’t expected. A while after that, I was doing something I hadn’t even known existed! There have been times in my career when I was unhappy with my job, even though it seemed like the “perfect” position for me. Eventually I realized it was the perfect job for who I had been a few years ago, but I’d changed. So, the advice: follow your interests, and don’t get hung up on “that’s not my job” or “I wish I’d gone into that instead of this.” You should expect your interests to change, and you’re more valuable in the new position because of what you bring with you.
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