Thursday, July 28, 2011

The Book of Jacob: Part 1

Hallelujah! One fateful day, Quanser Founder, Jacob Apkarian and I managed to find a common morning together with nothing else to do but to argue about education and raising teenagers. If you are a Quanser user, what you see is the technical ingenuity, the elegance of the modular components, and the slick set of ancillary models and docs that come with the products. Indeed such qualities are the hallmarks of the Quanser solution line and the core of the company's market reputation. But one thing that I had noticed was missing in our literature was a rich and satisfyingly deep treatment of the educational philosophy behind the products.

Surely such design elegance was the direct result of an equally elegant and ambitious educational concept and surely there must be a white paper, document, or ancient scroll somewhere articulating the seminal ideas using pretentious words like pedagogy, experiential, and Jungian. And surely Jacob would know where these scriptures lay. "Surely you jest" was the essence of Jacob's answer to my request. The reality is, like most brilliant products, the success isn't the result of careful planning and processes but by a lot of non-linear right-brain activity, caffeine, and all-night sessions with occasional naps on ratty old couches in the corner of the office.

So we spent a good morning chatting away, and debating the hidden pedagogical framework that I was certain was somewhere within our technology. In the end, we didn't get to the finish line but we did get to a remarkable whiteboard full of scribbles that started telling an amazing story. The photo of the whiteboard is below. The essence of it is the mapping of the continuum of related courses in the modern curriculum, starting from the first year design courses, through to modeling, to control, robotics/mechatronics, and ultimately to senior design (capstone course), to the various aspects of our product line, and ultimately to a very cool treatment of the modern engineering design process. This is when we paused, stared at the board, looked at each other and innocently commented to each other … "I think this is it". Unfortunately, it was horribly incomplete and illegible. But the good news is, this was clearly the start of something very, very good.

Like most successful technology, the first phase of its history is directed at convincing as many customers as possible to invest in a crazy idea. The good companies generally manage to do this by sheer will and the mojo that the core offerings were born with. The best companies then take this energy and begin applying input from the first generations of users and mix with a few more sleepless nights, to refine and clarify and support. In my experience this stage generally starts with a great story and my session with Jacob, I believe was a key milestone in fully articulating ours.

I am looking forward to running with the concepts scribbled on that whiteboard. You will hear a lot more about this in the not too distant future. And I'm looking forward to many more similar sessions with Jacob as we explore the nuances of all of its dimensions. My head is hurting already.

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