Random Ramblings about stuff I see going on in biotech, internet and the stuff I read.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Succesful job search - someone else... CONGRATS!

From the comments two posts back, comes a successful job search and some advise of their own.


Dr. yes--

I first posted on your blog sometime in July, asking for advice for my job search. I have posted off and on since then (I am the "anonymous" who kept getting pretty far along before things fell through). As of this past friday, my search is over, and i am very happy with the result. I will be in Boston working as a capital-salesperson for a large diagnostics company. The technology fits very well with my dissertation, and i will be working with a variety of industries throughout new england. (it's a field position). I just wanted you to know I found your blog extremely helpful, and probably wouldn't have considered a sales position until i read your descriptions and opinions.

If I may supplement your advice with some of my own:

1. Don't limit your job search to any function or technology...I interviewed with consulting firms, a variety of biotech, drug, and research tool companies...I pretty much looked for anything that was at least tangetially related. As far as function: apply for consulting, field applications, sales, marketing, etc...anything that will get you out of lab. Try any and every company you can think of or that pops up in a google search.

2. BE PERSISTANT AND BELIEVE IN YOURSELF...This took me 6.5 months and 10 interviews, each with multiple rounds and stretched out over weeks...some of the best advice you gave was to decide what you want to do and keep trying until you get there.

3. It's very difficult, but if at all possible, having an offer (even one you won't take) in hand when you defend your thesis seems to help grease the wheels considerably. I had a pretty average BME thesis, but the offer letter seemed to help sway the committee (this was another offer that i didn't take...i got the sales offer 1 week after my defense). Just be aware this means you need to work very hard on both the disseratation and the job search process in the last few months of grad school.

4. Know what to expect. I would say my callback rate per submitted application was on the order of 7-8%. That is, for every 100 full applications i would fill out online, i'd get 7 chats with recruiters. And that was after carefully choosing each job i applied for and putting some effort into the cover letter/application. From others i've talked to, i think 7-8% was on the high end.

5. If you are later in the phd program and know you want a businessy role, try to take any business/mgt/entrepreneur classes you can. Get a certificate, if possible...attend seminars, and try to get something on the resume that shows your inclinations and motivation for the business side.

6. GET THE RESUME IN GREAT SHAPE. Mine was 1 page of descriptions and 1 page of publications/posters/business plan competitions/etc...worked really well. Format the sh*t out of it, and get many other people to look at it. Also, ask to look at others' resumes who have been successful at leaving the bench.

7. Network yourself as much as possible...be a wh*re. Talk to your school's alumni association...mine has a databse of alumni that have expressed interest in helping people....try to collect at least one business card/contact at every conference, meeting, semniar, etc you attend your last year of school. Call them all. Repeatedly.

OK, that's all...I just wanted to let the other readers know that it is possible, it is very difficult, and that Dr. Yes's blog is filled with valuable insights.

Thanks again,
Happy PhD Sales Guy

(BTW--from looking at various offers, i think this particular position will provide more $$$, benefits, and contacts with fewer hours/week and more flexibility than just about anything else...so i'd endorse sales jobs to anyone looking for an in on the business side)

What to do with your Ph.D. -> Patent Attorney / Examiner

In a comment WAY back... I was asked about being a patent attorney. The commenter noticed that there are some firms that pay for you to go to law school etc... and wondered what was up with that.

I think you make a lot of money.

I know I value GOOD patent attorneys a lot.

We pay them a lot.

I don't want to be one.

That was the short version. A little more description on what they do (from my point of view not being one). These people listen to the inventors, the business people, and assorted by standers and then write up the invention as a patent. They translate the hard core technical in to the hard core legal, which are completely seperate languages. In addition, the good ones write the patent in such a way as to be maximally useful for the business. Translated loosly that means that people like me can take it and enforce it against other people and either exclude them from the market or derived some license revenue.

I think almost anyone could write claims that cover ONLY the invention. The good attorneys have enough of a technical background that they understand enough, poke enough, and write well enough in order to make sure that you get coverage on what was really invented.

Really good attorneys are also able to read the patent landscape and see options about where things can be invented, or where coverage of your competitors are weak. This requires both the deep legal understanding and the deep technical understanding to see the holes in coverage. These people are worth their weight in gold.

Legal, at most places, works closely with the business really as a support function. For those attorneys that I don't think are that good, they are treated really as support people. For those that are good, they are brought fully in to the strategic teams and are part of setting direction. They are incredibly rare and highly compensated.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Fires, acquisitions, and Flexibility in jobs

So we had a bunch of fires in San Diego - got evacuated - House totally OK. I solved the problem by going to Germany as it got me very far away from the fires. I married a saint, as she looked after everything after that...I helped wash the soot off the windows when I got back.

...then I did an acquisition. I took it from idea to announcement. I was the one who stood up in front of the company and did the announcement to them. Oh my god... it was a whole lot of fun actually. Way nervous, but a lot of fun. They are a great company and we are treating them really well and giving everyone there a bright future. Enjoying being involved in that.

....Then I had to fire a guy and move another guy around. NOT FUN. The moving the guy was fun, as now he is doing something he wanted to do. The firing.. NOT FUN. He wasn't actually fired, he was given a package and sent on his way. He was given a great package and sent on his way. Still - he has a family and he has to support them. I was not psyched to do it, but it had to be done. He wasn't right for the job and was kind of sucking at it. I can't even imagine what he had to go home to that day and how he explained that. My only consolation is that we gave him a great package. Sucks though.

The guy I moved in to the position, after a scramble as we moved the guy out without any plan as to what I was going to do, is working out really well. He is bright, very flexible, and motivated. It really demonstrates again for me that the specific things you know aren't overwhelmingly relevant to me. He has done a whole bunch of stuff in the past, some of which is relevant, but for the most part has not done what I need done. He showed that he can do different stuff though, and learned it quickly, so I have faith that he will learn to do this as well. Fingers crossed.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

the glamourous side of travel....

A couple of random notes:

  • I am doing a top secret thing, so am stuck somewhere in a hotel room banging away on things. This means I am anti-social and just looked around at what I have been eating. There are 4 empty bags of beef jerky and 10+ empty Gatorade things. This came to my attention because I was hunting for more beef jerky and there wasn't any. I don't think I ate breakfast today. I also thought I should have grown out of this behavior in grad school. The fact that I *can* order room service means nothing. I still eat like crap
  • I finally rewarded myself with a car. I turned in the Saturn SL1 that my wife and I bought when I was a 3rd year grad student for $6000 and bought a used BMW540. I can heavily recommend this as a life step. However, whereas I used to look at rental cars as a big step up vs. what I was driving, I now miss my car. This is massively materialistic and I love it.
  • I am good at big company politics....so far.

Monday, September 24, 2007

A comment stream on an Application Science applicant

This comment stream was back here, but I thought it was worthy of moving to a post of it's own as it is a good conversation. Also, this is by far the laziest way to make a new post, and it has been a very long week.

App Sci applicant said...

I don't have a post doc and I am CLEARLY in the running for a field application scientist position. In fact, the interviewers were more concerned about how much and quickly I can learn in-house than how much I knew already.

Which leads me to my question about salary:
The company I have interviewed for sells biotech/medical equipment at pieces in the range of $750K-1.5M to start. The position requires 50% or more travel, international at that, and the rest being in-house demos and some technical writing assistance.
My background works well with their product (I have 4 yrs drug development and animal handling exp. as a research assistant) and if all goes well I will join their company immediately after completion of my PhD this fall. The company is based in Southern California and has under 100 employees but expects to double in growth over the next five years.
That's the overview as best as I can give it. I haven't been offered anything yet but what should I expect for a salary offer? Would 85K be too unreasonable? Thanks!

9/14/2007 8:43 AM

Anonymous said...

Thank you for answering the question I posted in that old blog. My plan was to post it in your newest blog if I didn’t get a response. You are very kind and provide information that is very difficult to find for graduate students.

New question anyone can feel free to comment on:

If a given App Scientist job has more than 50% travel, does it matter where you live? I mean, if you are covering all of the Southeast territory, do you have to live in Miami or can you live in Atlanta? I guess it depends in the company, but since I have a significant other with a non-traveling job, I would like to know if that would be an issue during interviews. Right now she makes three times as I do as a graduate student, so I wouldn’t want to relocate her just yet.

Also, a question for the App Scientist Applicant’s comment: When did you start applying for the jobs? If you will be done this fall, when did you send the resumes or CV’s? When did they start paying attention to you? Did you have to write a date on your documents?


9/14/2007 10:01 AM

app sci applicant said...

In response to a second commenter:

I applied to this particular job in July with a very clear description that my PhD would not conclude until late October. Realistically, I think I lucked out. My background happened to fit their requirements and they had a so-far unsuccessful local search. I received a quick email perhaps a week after I applied asking about my availability (in regards to starting time), my specific background and my reception to the amount of travel.

That being said, a second application Scientist position at a different company showed promise for me but point-blank told me that it was too early for me to be taken seriously. I have an email address from an HR rep and was told to let her know when I was much closer to graduation. Originally I contacted them 3 months from graduating and they were hiring within 3 weeks. I've yet to follow that up.

If your background meshes well with the position then your application will definitely turn heads. Otherwise I think it has more to do with good timing and tenacity on your part. Good luck and keep posting (commenting). I've been reading this blog for the last 6 months and I find it VERY insightful.

9/14/2007 3:34 PM

yes said...

to the second commenter - I agree with the "app sci applicant" statements as to when and how HR will look at you. We never do what it sounds like he has lined up, but I can easily see how in a specialized example we would. We have thought about it in other contexts but then lucked in to an "available" person.

With regard to the travel question.


It doesn't really matter where you live. However, it helps a lot for your sanity if you live somewhere you will working a lot. By this I mean, If you are in New England and in BioTech, living in Boston will be a lot easier on you than living in Burlington Vermont. From Burlington you will ALWAYS be travelling. From Boston, much of your travel will be local and WAY easier.

Your example of Miami vs. Atlanta is fine (for me). You will need to travel to both of those cities (and in fact, I think Atlanta has more than Miami, so you are probably in the right one as far as reduction of travel is concerned).

I don't think, for the field questions, that I have ever worried about that unless someone was WAY out in the boonies. If they are so far out, it is a given that their travel will creep well over 50% just becuase there is nothing they can do without travel. It is normal as well that the middle of nowhere never has direct flights to anywhere, so they spend longer travelling than someone who lives in an actual real live city.

....and my wife supported me through grad school as well. She is getting the payback now (only took 10 years....)

9/14/2007 8:23 PM

app sci applicant said...

How strange is this: without even a face-to-face interview (we are on different continents at the moment), I was given a preliminary offer of $63K and relocation expenses. This, if you read my above comment, is much lower than I was anticipating. Anyone have insight on this offer and situation? How much further up can I push the salary, especially since I haven't even met anyone from the company and they STILL want me?

9/15/2007 2:39 AM

yes said...

"App Sci Applicant"

After I went to bed last night, I remembered I forgot to answer this. Oooppss...

There are other components of salary.

Is there a bonus program?
Is there commission for sales?
Is there Car reimbursement?
How much vacation?

Anything else?

If they aren't putting you in a major metro area, then $63 isn't that weird , as long as there is a bonus or commission in there. A 10% bonus for hitting targets would be expected.

If they are putting you in Southern California, I would push a bit on this salary and expect mid $70's with a bonus or commission on top of that.

For reasons that are unclear for me, the entry levels for salary's on app scientists haven't really been going up over time.

9/15/2007 7:49 AM

app sci applicant said...

Reply to yes:

Thanks for getting back to me. The location is just outside of LA, a suburb of it. Due to the location, amount of travel, price of sales I thought I would have a higher offer. The position has nothing to do with sales other than prospecting so there is no commission. I haven't discussed other benefits just yet but I am going to assume no company car and standard vacations (2-3 wks). The only immediate extra that was mentioned is relocation, and even then I don't have specifics just yet. My feeling is that the hiring manager wants to have a base salary to keep in mind while we talk about the other benefits. I'm not sure how the travel is handled as far as expenses paid; I'm not even sure what to expect.

My thinking is that I would have a bit of play with the salary and benefits because they want to hire without even a face-to-face meeting. It was disheartening to read $63K but if this is standard then maybe I'm overreaching. Thanks for your opinion.

My next move I'm contemplating an email back to the company saying that the salary was lower than I had expected and that I needed clarification with health insurance, benefits, travel expenses, etc. Then I'll have the full story to negotiate a higher value. What do you think? That's sounds reasonable, right?

But whatever I end up with, it'll be higher than a post-doc salary.

9/15/2007 8:32 AM

bill said...

I'm not surprised by the person getting a comment from HR about wanting people to have a postdoc. Basically its a question of the market. If you live in an area with a ton of postdocs (i.e. Boston) most companies will prefer to hire people with postdoc experience, just because they can. The market is saturated with postdocs looking to get out of academia, so they are in a better position to get a job than someone with less experience. On the other hand, as Yes points out, most positions (like field app scientist) don't require that you have a postdoc.

By the way, 63K in Southern California is pretty poor. Have you looked into cost of living there? Its astronomical.

9/15/2007 9:52 AM

yes said...

Good to see you Bill!

App Sci, As Bill points out $63K is poor for So. Cal. I live here, and it will be hard at that level.

BUT - you need to find out the rest of the package. Bonus/Commission and other stuff can make it up. i.e. if they pay you for your car or give you a free one, that goes a long way.

I would not negotiate salary first, then other stuff. You have to negotiate as a package.

I would most certainly ask for an increase, as they pretty obviously want you. I don't think you will get the base in to the $80's, but you should get to the $70's

For the travel - You should not pay a dime out of your own pocket. If you are travelling for them, they pay. The way mine works is that I put it on my credit card and get reimbursed within 2 weeks of submitting the expense report.

I use credit cards with frequent flyer points of some kind attached, and ended up with $200K worth of expenses flowing through my credit cards last year. This does wonders for your credit rating, but doesn't count as part of your compensation from the company.

SO - Ask for the TOTAL picture all at once. You can't negotiate one peice at a time.

If you want to ask more, once they give you an offer, just put it in the comments. I would definatly hold out to see the complete picture though.

9/15/2007 10:12 AM

Anonymous said...

It would be interesting to see how much "app sci applicant" was able to negotiate....any updates?

9/20/2007 3:04 PM

app sci applicant said...

Unfortunately, no response so far from the company. I had emailed them on the 16th to request more information about the offer (benefits, profit sharing, how travel is handled, commissions, etc) and here we are at the 22nd with no contact. It hasn't been a week; I won't call until the 26th. My expectations are for a higher base and inclusion of some bonus/profit sharing plan for total cash/yr being around 72-75K. Anything less and it would set off my instincts to walk.

I'd hate to pass on the opportunity. The company seems to be in a good niche that could put me into medical diagnostics sales after about 5 years. When I think of that possibility I just have $$ in my eyes. I'll update again when I have more information. Thanks all.

9/22/2007 12:00 PM

app sci applicant said...

The offer given to me today in more detail:

* base would be 65K/yr
* bonus was not emphasized, and worded as "all bonuses and raises are performed in summertime", so sounds like no bonus
* 2 weeks paid vacation
* travel is paid for by company-issued AmEX, no company car but gas is reimbursed if within town
* medical/dental/vision coverage
* some relocation money but not given specifics. They asked for more details on what I would need.

All in all not a stellar offer but I can't say that I'm surprised. Any suggestions or comments?

Oh, and the company is rushing a start date of late Nov. I probably will JUST be able to make that.

9/24/2007 3:57 PM

yes said...

all in all I would call that not a stellar offer.

No details on Bonus/commission etc... is worrisome. "will be paid in summer" is a very weird statement. Your assessment of "no bonus" would be my conclusion as well.

Any stock options?

Travel is normal.

"help us" with the relocation package is an odd thing to do.

I would suggest pushing back by asking for full pack and move, 3 months temp housing, and your cars moved. They won't (and at your level shouldn't) give that to you, but at least puts it back in their court. Worst case - they give it to you.

At the very least, their HR department is very weird. There are some red flags there, but entry in to business is a hard thing to do, so you may have to make some comprises to get your head in the door. Sort of a gut check for what you want to do.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Industry does nothing....

Over here, Derek is actually surprised to find that people still think academia does everything and industry is dumb... I think it is just a sign that I am closer to grad school than him for me to NOT be surprised by this. It isn't

Post doc for Application Scientists?

Way way way back here (2 years ago) when I talk about being an application scientist, a new comment was posted. I wouldn't know that if I didn't get email notifications, so you will be excused from not knowing it either, but it is an interesting comment.

The comment says, after inflating my ego (much appreciated...)

I just came from a talk that a "Field Application Scientist" just gave, and approached her and asked about how she got her job. She said that "it is hard to get into industry" and that "she had to do a post-doc in industry" and that basically she thought I should do one too. By the way: I don't want to do a postdoc.

Question: have things changed in two years? Is this still true? I wonder because I am getting ready to defend in three months and kind of need a job...

I do NOT think that post docs are needed for application scientist positions. I have taken two days to answer this question becuase I was just at a meeting with a lot of app scientists (training and "idea exchange"). NONE of them had post docs (industry or otherwise). That is 0 for 23 of them. Being at a larger company, they cover a wide range of products, so this was not localized to just one type of product/field/country.

I have met others who, like the woman you spoke with, DO have post doc experience.

For the application scientist role, I do not think a post doc makes a whit of difference. The role itself will not be helped by post doc experience. The research you do as a post doc won't likely be the dividing line between getting the job and not (the exception being if you had never ever done technique X as a grad student, but do it as a post doc then that would be relevant to getting a job as an app scientist about technique/instrument X).

Bill, a friend and sometimes commentor on this blog has a bit of a different spin on this. His comments on it are not the only ones I have heard. The comment posted on that old posting mirror it. It seems like a lot of people, including people in industry, disagree with me. As many of them are likely hiring managers, there is likely something to it and it may make a difference.

I want to be very clear that I am talking about Application Scientist and NOT bench scientist in Industry.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Hiring and working in industry

I have now hired and re-hired several times for a few positions I have. Some I have written about here, others are for groups that reported in to me transiently (although none have yet moved on, so I have some odd groups reporting to me).

In total, I have hired about 20 people. Of those, I am happy with 15 of them. Not all are "superstars" as some of those positions are lower in needs than others. The other 5, I am totally unhappy with what I did, and I do blame myself for the hire.

I hired people my gut told me not to. They looked good on paper, and I convinced myself that my read of them during an interview was "wrong". Other people were not jumping for joy enthusiastic about the hires and said things like "they will be OK" or "you could do worse". So I hired them. And now, I am having to "move the along", which is the polite way of saying I am documenting their failures to justify asking them to move along involuntarily (i.e. Firing them). This sucks.

Joel Spolsky talks about this, as do a lot of people. As I am obviously smarter than the rest of the world, I decided this didn't apply to me. So I hired people I knew I shouldn't. And they haven't worked out. Who knew... oh right... I did and so did everyone else.

So now I am pushing them out. I hired because "I needed hands and I can't wait". Lets say it takes 3-4 months of concerted effort to get rid of someone. Do I think that I would have got a good person if I had waited 3-4 months longer (Yes)? So, was it worth it? (No)

Now kicking myself.

2 of these people fall in to the ballpark of people that I talked about in the last post. They came expecting the easy job. I am, for many reasons, not the easiest person to work for. They wanted to coast and make good money. I don't let them and they aren't happy. I honestly don't even think they are capable of working hard as there are web sites to look at and people to gossip with and a coffee room to go to.

They came straight from academia. I am not sure what they will do after they leave me, as they have been with me for less than a year. When they finally move on, it will be just over a year. They will have a hard time getting a recommendation (not from me, thanks!). I will guess that they go back to academia, but I will bet that they weren't stellar workers there either. These people will be the people who get talked about, and a bit of the fault lies with me. I shouldn't have hired them and then they wouldn't be in the position I am going to put them in.

Is it BAD to jump to industry?

From the last post, in the comments, is a long question from Daniel. The crux of it (and you need to go there to read the background) is this question.
I find your last few entrys encouraging to such a direction, and you've acknowledged in the past the fear that's involved in making the jump out of academics. I guess what I want to know is -- Do you think it DANGEROUS to leave? In other wards, do you know of anyone that left academics and ended up (3 years down the road) in worse position versus someone who bit the bullet and did an academic postdoc?
An anonymous person says "yes" they know some people like that. So do I. I also know people who have stayed in academia and gotten progressively more miserable. Others who have stayed in academia for a long time always meaning to jump. Specifically the guy who graduated just ahead of me from our lab,took 8 years to jump over to industry. He always said he was going to, but just didn't get it done for quite awhile.

I would say EVERY step is dangerous. I will admit I have been lucky and others haven't been. I don't know why that is, but can't deny it. I would not say a jump to industry is any more/less dangerous than any other career move.

However, there are people who make the jump across to industry for purely the wrong reason, and those people fail.

They jump because they want a 1) EASY and 2)High Paying job. News flash, Industry jobs are NOT easier. They are higher paying, but if you went in expecting the EASY part the pay won't make it up for you. These people are doomed to failure, as business does demand results. I will write more about this in my next post.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Considerations for Management

In talking with my "mentor", and soon to be boss, about my choice of next steps up the ladder (see last post for the decision), we talked about a lot of things that you "need".

To get to the top, he declared you needed the following:

1. The "Vision" thing.
2. People management/logistics
3. "Portfolio" management
4. Technical ability

To explain these further, and in reverse order

4. Technical ability. This referred to a technical understanding of the science in the marketplace in question. For me, my Ph.D. takes care of this. Staying current is required. This was the least interesting for me, as the order was basically "Make sure you know the science you are trying to sell or figure out or move in to". Translated really loosely - make sure you understand your problem/customer. I wanted to say "no duh!" - but that seemed a bit impolite. I guess some people don't get this, but I don't know how they do it.

3. "Portfolio" management. This refers to making trade offs between A and B, where both A and B are important. Made up example - You have $2M to spend on R+D. Group A supports your current projects, and spending that money will over the next 3 years return you $5M, with a 95% probability. However, these are your current products and don't move you in to any new areas. Group B is in a brand new area where you, as a company, should be. The $2M spend will return you $5M over the next 3 years, but there are a lot of chances for things to go wrong. You may get nothing, you may get more than $5M, or it may cost more to get in so the $2M number might go up. You have to decide. This, in his view, was portfolio management.

2. People Management / Logistics. I have managed a smallish group for awhile. There are a fleet of little things that come from that. The next step for me is to manage a much bigger group where I have layers of managers below me. As put, there is no real way to do this other than to do it. HR has little guides to help you. There are management training classes. There are mentors to ask. There are many things.... At the end of the day you just have to do it and try to learn faster than you screw up. I am petrified/excited about this for when I get to it.

1. The "Vision" thing. A strong drive to go somewhere. To lead a group in a growing market, the person in charge needs to have some idea of what the end goal looks like. They have to have a vision of where the group is headed. This, from his point of view, wasn't something that could really be taught. You either had the ability to look ahead and try and drive.... or you didn't.

These were the items that he said you had to have all of in order to get to the upper levels of management at a "large" company. Small companies were different and we didn't get in to that.

Job Decisions - Director R+D vs. Business Development

Over the last week I was offered and declined a different position within my same company.

Post acquisition, I had been (and remain) slotted in to a "larger" business development role, where larger is, loosely, "supporting $1B dollars of current business and making it much much much bigger".

I was offered, funnily enough, a director of r+d position.

I haven't been in the lab in quite a few years.

I was being asked, and there were serious discussions about, me being in charge of a bunch of VERY serious scientists. Several people that I rank as amongst the smartest people I have ever met. To put it in perspective for at least Bill - in the same realm as our advisor's wife (whom was a>much smarter than him and b>one of the smartest people I have ever met)(On a side note, I don't know why she was married to him!!!).

The organization has about 150 scientists in it covering 3 different physical locations. It will grow. It has all the issues that a large R+D organization has.

The part that rattled around my head is that I haven't been in the lab in quite a few years. SO- I asked another person above me, and a person whom I might add I treat as a mentor on how to get ahead within our organization and who has sway over my career, what he would do and why I was being considered/pursued for this position. He added that his voice was behind the push, but that he was also pushing for me to stay in my current role and that I wasn't allowed to do both.

Then he added a couple of other things that apply both generally and specifically to me:

1. Managing R+D has nothing what so ever to do with DOING R+D.
2. You (speaking of me) know enough to smell BS, and that would be your job.
3. You are blunt. People have absolutely no doubt as to where they stand with you. You would need to temper this and learn polish, but it is a good place to start.
4. You are broad. Some might call you "shallow" as they are the same. You know a little about a lot of different things and are quick enough to read up on any area when that area becomes important.
5. You get stuff done.

SO - that, for those who want to go up the R+D side of the house, seems like a decent road map of how to end up in charge of a decent sized R+D group.

I spoke to several other folks internally and a couple externally in order to make the decision, and I will write more about that in the next post, but want to mention the 2 things that most people came back to about my consideration.

1. The scientists you work with respect that while you are on the business side, you do not lose site of the science. I talk to them about science. I attend group meetings and do my best to keep my mouth shut (until later, when the director has to explain bits to me). NOT losing this science link has been key to me keeping my head. My problem was never with not liking science, it was with hating bench work and being underpaid. To those who move in to business development/marketing/other - MAKE SURE YOU DO THIS. You were trained as a Ph.D. -> don't lose it. You probably went to grad school for some good reason. Remember what it was and keep interested in science. Leaving aside the business of it, it is cool. Not just saying that...I really beleive it. I am just as likely to get lost reading about volcanoes as I am about *insert biology reference here*.

2. GET STUFF DONE. People kept coming back to this. This is a trait that seems to really resonate with folks. I would say that I do get stuff done, but that much of what I get done isn't what I was supposed to be getting done. If I was given a list of "Do these things", I would probably not have a great record. I run around, find the big problems, and solve them. This has, apparently, gotten me noticed as someone who gets stuff done.

This, to those who want to know how to move up the chain, seems to be a pretty big deal. All else was secondary to this in most peoples eyes. I have had to hire a person who actually picks up the pieces of the little things I am also supposed to get done, as I don't do them well. This likely means that folks see this and gripe about "He doesn't do his job". In a sense, they are right. I don't do the "technical definition" of my job. I have, however, made enough of a financial dent in the company that they gave me a person to help me "do" my job. She does a kick butt job of making sure that the stuff I was supposed to do gets done while I go fight fires and stir up muck. To get away with this you have to get it done. You can't just stir up stuff or poke around or whatever, because if you are doing that people will, if you don't show positive progress, start to ask about your "real" job. By showing strings of success's on large problems, I am able to hide the fact that I skip a lot of the little stuff that I am supposed to do by farming it off on a person who works for me and is really good at it. Yes - I live in fear of losing her.

Friday, August 24, 2007

More on the "the field" and gettin to the top of a biotech company

2 posts ago, Bill commented that
I think a lot of PhDs are probably biased against "customer service" type jobs.

which sort of resonated with me. I totally agree with him. So many in academic labs only see their sales rep from a company (could be ours...) come in and try and sell them stuff. AND - quite rightly you think those folks are possibly a bit slimy, probably pretty stupid, and you could never see yourself doing that.


For the most part you can't do that job. Most, certainly not all, of the academic sales reps do not have Ph.D.'s. Some do, but they move on and upward pretty quickly.

I didn't go the route of academic sales rep.

I went commercial sales rep. When selling to companies, you are generally selling something that costs more. You show up where you are going with an appointment (or they won't let you through the door) and you are, in a sense, "wanted". You are not cold calling, which is what you mostly see the academic sales rep doing to you (just as you are doing something that can't be interrupted).

It is a totally different world. You, as an academic lab person, don't know anything about it and should not be freaked out by it.

****non-sequiter**** but sort of related.

I think the point of seeing the top people in our company all have that similar background points not to what they did early in their careers as a function of getting there. I think it points more to the type of personality that does those jobs well.

To say that more clearly -> the kind of person who is going to thrive in a field position and who is, as a side benefit, going to be able to move up the corporate ladder, is an extroverted scientist.

Extroverted Scientists apparently, and a recruiter just explained this to me again, don't really grow on tree's. They are, in fact, a bit rare. I keep searching for them to fill the bus dev roles I have and keep getting hammered by it.

For those who are not naturally extroverted this has to be harder. As I am, as somewhat of an understatement, pretty extroverted -> I have no idea how to do it as an introvert.

So - To put the two parts together.

Ph.D.'s do need to get over the "service job" as the experience that you have of the reps calling on your lab doesn't map to the kind of job you should get.
Extroverted Scientists seem to end up in the field naturally, and people at the top of the places I work are all extroverted, so I would say the label is that extroverted people migrate to the top and they happened to have been in the field NOT that they were required to be in the field.

Career's in biotech.

Unabashedly stealing these links from "In the Pipeline" where you should be reading anyway.

Faseb did a study on biomedical sciences and what is going on with jobs.

The summary is here.

The basic take home for me was that there are a whole lot more people going in to industry than there are in to academia. Yet, as you see over on the AAAS forums, it is still an "alternative" career. Why weren't we trained (at least where I went to school) more for the place where most of us will actually work? Why wasn't more information on how to get there made available ( None given to me....)

I know studies like these won't change anything, as the people running graduate schools are, exactly, the people who made it in the academic track and don't, for the most part, know anything about the corporate track.

Still... They should at least invite people in.

That said. I will be on a panel next month at Scripps as a recruitment pitch for our company and answering questions on how to get in to business development. I don't know any details just what I am talking about. Given that is going on, it seems like someone is at least driving something to get exposure to folks. At the very least, it should be interesting.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Scientists who go to the field... and then run companies

As the evolution of our integration moves forward, I am slowly getting ready to move on in my career. I will be within the same company, but just have a bit of a different role. That means my current role will be open.

That means I have to hire.

I tried to just pretend that magic elves (HR possibly?) would fill my position, but it has been made abundantly clear to me that I have to "Back Fill" my position.

There is an internal person who might expect it, but that person has shown themselves to not be up to the job.

SO... the hunt begins.

I started by talking to a senior person who just joined us. He has been in business a long time. New to our company, but been around. Started talking about this and he just leaned back and whistled. "good luck, going to take awhile" - I looked at him a bit confused. Huh? How hard can it be. I need a Ph.D. with field based experience. An "outgoing" scientist who is not afraid to learn new fields. We have a bunch of them in the company doing a variety of things. Most too senior and in other fields to be interested in my role.

then it hit me.

1 Everyone above me is a Ph.D.

2. Everyone above me did time in a "field" role (application scientist, sales, etc....something where you are out face to face with customers and dealing with them WELL (i.e. you have to be good at it))

There are males, females, couple of races etc.... the absolute unifying thing is those two statements above. I want one of those people.

Apparently, we are rare. I know, speaking for myself, that we are expensive. BUT - looking at several companies, we also seem to do well.

The fact that I am surrounded by them is, apparently, odd. When I was interviewing, I was only talking to them. Apparently that is odd as well. When you look at the company as a whole, the "field" part rules out most of the Ph.D.'s BUT most of them are in the lab at the bench (or managing the bench people).

So - to the Ph.D.'s out there. If you have a desire to really move up the company management totem pole, I can say that it has really struck me in the last week that the number one thing you can do is get some sort of position where you are in the field learning how to deal with customers. Learn what makes sales people tick. Understand the sales process. really, at a level that makes you totally get it, understand how business gets money. If you get that, you will rise up the business pretty quickly. I personally am seeing that in my promotion speed, and notice that everyone ahead of me has that common past (and about only that as their common past).

yep...I am a lawyer...

There was a ruling in the Seagate case recently. I have spent a bunch of time reading the CAFC's opinion and understanding what it does for us. Find it pretty likely that it decreases the number of legal opinions I have to get for product launches. As an opinion runs $50K or so (and up I should say), this is a non-trivial ruling.

Then I remember I didn't go to law school and that I really am a biologist in disguise. And I feel like a dork for getting excited about it.

I would say, though, that the outcome is a good thing for our budget. To say that the legal department is up in arms analyzing this is to understate the matter. Many many many emails received on this. Several conference calls.

For those of you who don't do what I do, and are in science and looking at business, you have to realize that I am weird even by the business peoples standards. MOST of the business people don't even know this stuff. Don't be afraid just because I talk about it!!!

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Different Questions for different Networks

Last post I was talking about how I don't use LinkedIn to ask questions of my network and then went on to list some things I don't ask. Harry raised some other questions in the comments, and then I went away and thought about it.

I think there are different needs and different networks for different questions.

Harry's questions, and most of the questions on the AAAS board are of the "how do I break in to area X from area y" where Y is frequently post-doc/grad school and X is "other". The answers I have mostly been looking for are "how do I get ahead in this industry". I think those require very different networks and answers.

The "how do I break in" really sort of implies that you aren't already in the field and you need to build a new network. My questions are all of the type of within field.

In my own career, I had built a decent network of PI's etc... to get a post doc There were informal offers out there. I didn't take it further because I knew I didn't want to do that. SO - I flailed about and eventually got lucky at my first company.

The part where I flailed is the part where boards and blogs are helpful. That is the part where you see the questions on boards.

Once you have taken that first step, then you start to build your network and I think then the questions move toward more as I am describing (personal network, not a "public" one).

That implies that I think the people asking the public questions of "I am a grad student...how do I get a post doc" didn't do a very good job of building a network when they were a grad student!

Both have value when used at the right time.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Industry telling Industry about career options....

In the comments back here, Harry made a comment about the AAAS board. The next paragraph was this.

It may be that this is simply a function of the age of most of the forum participants. My impression is that most of the people posting there are grad students and postdocs, with a few people who have recently transitioned to more permanent positions. Also, people who are established in industry probably have other, more efficient means of obtaining career advice, including places like linkedin, their own network of contacts, or other more industry-specific blogs and forums.

Leaving aside the AAAS comments, as I think that issue has been sufficiently beaten, I would like to comment on the part where industry people communicate with each other. More specifically I would say that I don't think we are any better! There is no site I can go to and ask questions on the industry side either.

How do I know what I want to do next. ummm... I don't really, but I do look at succesful people and talk to them. I have had the "pleasure" of spending a large amount of time with a CEO and currently report to a very senior person at the large company. By most measures I am pretty far up the chain. BUT - I do spend an inordinate amount of time going "what am I doing?". SO - I ask. Not in a pleading kind of way, and only with people I can trust.

To flesh this out a bit, and I have absolutely NO idea on whether this works for other people or even will work for other people.

After I work with people for awhile (defined as more than just a few days - easily several weeks) I figure out which ones are bright, have made good decisions, and know the lay of the corporate landscape. You need to, very quickly, weed out the people who whine about where they are, complain about how "the man" kept them down or the organization doesn't appreciate them, or rely on "seniority" to get where they are going. I, and this fits with me, look for the people who are on board with the idea of driving the organization ahead as rapidly as possible. NOTE: They have to be realistic as to what the political landscape of a company will allow. Just being a reactionary highly driven pain in the rear will get you to irrelevant NOT to results.

So - once I know those people - I learn from them. If they do something in a meeting that doesn't fit with what I know their goals are - ask them later and alone why they did that. Tell them where you are trying to go, they may tell you something about the way to get there. Tell them what you are trying to learn. If they respect you, they will push opportunities for those things your way.

That is how I do it... BECAUSE I don't know any other way. I *wish* there was a place to ask questions. I wish that there were more people writing about it. I wish there were "instructions".

All of that said, these things may be impossible. The "instructions" most certainly are impossible as the situations are all over the place. The "board" probably wouldn't work as I don't, in general, trust people I don't know (and thus write a blog for people I don't know thinking they might care about what I say....).

SO - LinkedIn and it's ilk are useful to me for finding people and for when I was hunting for jobs. For getting career advice, I haven't found them to be too useful (and I only use LinkedIn and Plaxo)

Monday, July 23, 2007

Sunday, July 22, 2007

AAAS Career Development board

two posts ago, a comment was left pointing to the Science (AAAS) career development board. Hadn't been there in awhile, so went back looking.

Found a gratuitous link to here, so that was nice...

but then I started to look around some more. Ended up in this conversation and got a little depressed. What you can see, if you read through that thread, is a lot of people only talking about academic careers. There are a few in there that throw in a gratuitous biotech/Pharma reference, but for the most part it is about academia.

ummmm....there is life outside of academia. The majority of folks posting there don't seem to know that.

That said - there was actually more industry discussion than I expected. Not a huge amount, but a decent enough amount compared to when I last looked. There is hope after all I guess.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

More on going to Grad Schhol

Last post I talked of going to grad school (and would I tell someone else to do so?).

In the comments were some other questions/views.

To pick those up.

Dr. J said
Just touching on a slightly different international aspect because you have a few international readers. Doing a PhD in Europe/Australia is only 3 years and is only lab work, which seems to be quite different to the US. In this case, I´m not sure its as critical to be the perfect candidate as it isn´t a 6 year slog through course work etc.

It´s also an important point that these days you almost need a PhD for any science related job. In fact, in Europe, you almost need a PhD, minimum of 3 languages and several years of international experience to get anything.

However, I still don´t think you should be doing a doctorate unless you REALLY want it. But don´t think you have to be commited to a life in science just cause you stuck it out. Nothing is wasted, even if afterward you do something completely different.
which really resonates with me. The European Ph.D. is shorter and they don't have classes. I will say that SOME of the classes I spent my first two years taking were actually useful. Some of the others were me, yet again, learning the Krebs cycle and spitting it back out on paper. Still don't have the thing memorized. Hope never to. That is why they invented wikipedia and other reference materials.

The qualifying exam that we did was also a big waste of time. There went 4 months of my life I don't get back. And, oh yeah, I still failed the written and had to retake it 2 weeks later. Beyond a stupid exercise to have to memorize stuff that most labs keep on posters that silly vendors hand out.

Anonymous added a paragraph agreeing with Dr. J plus this
The professors in the US love to drone on about the superiority of the American degree, but personally I believe that they're just trying to justify a 50%+ increase in degree time. As with the original post I feel like most of my education came in the first few years, and that my last few have been more about 'work' and less about 'learning'.
which it would be impossible for me to agree more with (i.e. 100% is kind of the max...). I was cheap labor. Thats fine, just don't pretend otherwise.

The statement by Dr. J about needing the Ph.D. for just about anything is pretty true. Becoming more true here in the US. I would be interested in knowing if there are more Ph.D.'s in Europe where it takes less time or here in the U.S. Would guess that we have more, but just because we have way more people. Could be totally wrong though and you could correct for population etc...

I agree you don't have to be committed to the life sciences once you have the Ph.D. and, as Dr. J does, do think that you have to be committed to them when you start it. You, in the US system where you are going to spend at least 5 years, have to think this is a pretty good life and be willing to take your vow of poverty to do it.

I almost find the post docs who are, as put, "just sticking it out" becuase they got the degree to be a little worse off. They haven't seen the options yet and are stuck in a rut.

There are so many options out there as to what to do with the degree. No one in grad school tells you what to do and your supposed to have learned how to think for yourself. BUT - those years of brain washing that this is normal and everyone does it are really hard to overcome.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Would I tell someone to go to Grad School?

Last post Bill asked, in the comments, if I would tell someone to go to Grad school or not.

Some back story - Bill and I have the same ex-advisor and he picked up my project. So - he knows exactly what I went through at the end and knows it really wasn't pretty. I have heard of worse ways to graduate, but I certainly had a little worse than average ending. I could have picked my lab a bit better. That said - the grass is rarely actually greener on the other side, so I probably did about average. We were funded and had a decent degree of freedom. Many are much worse off. Many are better off. Sort of a wash there.

So...that wasted a paragraph ducking the question...

I have no idea.

I don't think anyone could have talked me out of going to grad school.
Toward the end my wife had to talk me in to finishing.

There are some people who just have to go to Grad school. There are others who are going for the wrong reasons. If you are going because you didn't get in to medical school - you are doomed to failure. This person should be talked out of it at all costs. They are going to be miserable and likely be really bad at it. On the basis of a very small sample size, I would say they won't even finish grad school and will wash/be washed out. No one will enjoy this.

For me - I learned a lot. The last almost 2 years were a complete waste of time, in that I had learned all I was going to learn in that lab, but the first bit was critical. I have, now, a HUGE advantage over the folks who did not go through school.

Things I learned:
  • How to read a paper. Really read it. Understand it. And do so quickly.
  • How to design an experiment so that I actually learned something.
  • Techniques. Lots of techniques. Useful now that I work in a tool vendor... Knowing WHY people do experiments, and what experiments follow which experiments is key/critical. If you haven't gone to school and only were a tech, I am not sure that you get this as much. Possible, but less likely.
SO - Back to the Question.

Would I tell someone to go.

What do they want to do? Be a professor? (if yes - then they have no choice. Grad school is the only way). Go in to Industry? (if yes - then they have no choice. Really the only way to the top of the research heap is with a degree). Go in to Business? (more choice....read this blog!)

Why are they doing it? Parents have degrees (horrible reason!!!!). They didn't get in to medical school? (Worst reason ever.) They don't know what else to do? HORRIBLE reason.

I would say that to make it through you have to start in a condition of absolute gung ho can't be talked out of it and all of you people whining are losers that I am better than.

Then the beatings commence, and soon you are a senior student whining and complaining with the rest of us and the first years are looking at you funny. If you don't go in believing you can crush it.... DON'T GO. You won't make it.

If the person is a technician and is wondering - thats harder. One of our former techs I didn't think would do it and she went off and did it. Lost track of her, so I don't know how she did. (Pubmed just told me she has 2 papers.... so she did alright actually!)

Summary - I think this is a totally personal thing. If you can be talked out of it, you probably shouldn't go. Some random dude being able to talk you out of it is the least problem you are going to face completing the degree. If that is enough of a deterrent, you are hosed when the real pressures come to bear. You see your friends leading "normal" lives and making real money and going on vacation (imagine not going to lab on Xmas day!!!) and buying houses and all sorts of normal stuff.... A guy talking negatively about it is the least of the problems you will face. We probably all should denigrate it.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Start up vs. Product manager

In the last post, some guy left a question in the comments about the fact that he is straight out of the lab and has an offer to be a product manager. Wants to know what to expect. AND also has an idea for a start up and wants to know about that.

So - to deal with the start up first. If it is in the Bio area, and you have no business experience, I wish you the best of luck. It is possible that your idea is THAT good. I don't know. I would doubt it and would guess you have a long road ahead of you making errors.

THAT SAID - if you believe in it and can't live without doing it and don't mind working your butt off and probably not making any money - worst case -> you will come out of that with a lot of great experience. Best Case -> you get rich. Only you can make this call.

Product manager.
Entry to the business world. There are at least two jobs that dress themselves up as product managers. One is a tactical role and the other is strategic.

In a tactical role, you will be doing things like putting flyers together, scouting the competitions pricing and running promotions to combat them etc... You will have minimal involvement in product development and will really only be focussed on the next 3 months. You will give feedback to the strategic folks and hope that your ideas lead to a product. There will, likely, be a bit of friction there for everyone to overcome.

In a strategic role, you will not be too involved in the day to day stuff. You may get sucked in to some sales training (depends on the company) but will likely be mostly focussed on what products do we make next. How much can we charge for them? How much will they cost to make, and can we make any money at that price? Those last questions translate to "should we make them".

At many of the companies, and I have an idea about who you could be going to, the roles are blended. There are not seperate folks for the strategic and the tactical. I think this is the best place to learn as you can see what you like and don't like. A general idea would be that the bigger the company, the more "silo'd" people are. Break through 1000 people, and there is likely a split between tactical and Strategic. Below 500 - there probably isn't. In between - All bets off.

He also asked if his shot at getting offers from other places is good. Hard to say without seeing your resume, but I would likely go with the first offer I got just to get in the game (what I actually did when I got in to it). Getting a second job will be MUCH easier with the first one out of the way. If you want out of the lab, I would get out of the lab.

You guess at 80-90K for the pay. I wouldn't rule that out, but as someone just coming out of school you might drop in to the 70's. Depends on the company and what the bonus looks like (i.e. lower salary may have higher bonus - not guaranteed but I would expect it).

I like places with growth, and would be attracted to that. No matter what - you will learn a lot. I would get on with that learning and not wait around.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Benefits...and why don't people use them.

As part of the acquisition, toward the end, I got involved in making sure that we paid out the right people for the right things and looked after people so they didn't get really pissed off. I learned some things that blew me away.

Most people in the company did not make use of our attempts to give them free money.

Example: Many did not contribute the amount to their 401K that we match to. This means, in essence, that they didn't want to accept money that the company was trying to give them for free. These were not bottom of the payroll type people either, so it wasn't that they couldn't afford it, it was that they didn't pay attention and figure it out.

Another Example: ESPP. Stands for Employee Stock Purchase Plan. In essence, the company is trying to give you stock that you can sell, that day, for a 15% increase in price. Sell it that way, and figure that you pay 50% in taxes, you still make and automatic 7%. That is WORST case. If, during the 3 or 6 month period (companies do it differently) the stock of the company went up, you make more. SO - in the worst case you make 7%. In the best case you make...more. Not taking this bet is just a silly financial decision. Again, most people don't take advantage of this. Absolutly nuts.

Please don't let this be you. I will be embarrassed for you. Your HR people are making fun of you, but they are a bit limited in the amount they can push on you or ask you. They can't force you to be bright, but trust me - they are laughing at you for not doing it.

You won't find and HR person not doing these things.


So, we got acquired. It is all done now except for all the integration. A bit like saying a football game is over because the first play ended. Quite a bit of the game left... But for me, I am busy again.

There is this weird period where the deal has been announced, but you haven't formally been acquired yet. You are, but you are not, done. In this period, for someone in business development, you can't really get much done. As long as the deal moves ahead, you can't really get much else through. The new buyers may not want to do something, but you aren't legally allowed to really get in to it and figure it out. So....you get bored.

Then you go on job interviews. Or at least I did. A bunch of other people did as well. Some left, but not really too many people and not really anybody who mattered too much. I got offers. I thought about it real hard. I talked to the guy who would be my new boss. I thought some more. I talked to my wife a LOT. I decided to stay. That boils about 3 weeks of a bit of trauma down to a nice paragraph.

So...Don't have to relocate. Do have to meet a bunch of new people. Do have to figure out the politics of a new company (because I am sure they exist, I just don't know the rules yet or where the bodies are buried).

Should be fun... Now I am getting the big big company perspective.

Friday, May 18, 2007

The power of the internet....


From the New York Times article (in the magazine) about a variety of artists cultivating fan bases via the internet and how that works/doesn't for them.
These days, Coulton is wondering whether an Internet-built fan base inevitably hits a plateau. Many potential Coulton fans are fanatical users of MySpace and YouTube, of course; but many more aren’t, and the only way for him to reach them is via traditional advertising, which he can’t afford, or courting media attention, a wearying and decidedly old-school task. Coulton’s single biggest spike in traffic to his Web site took place last December, when he appeared on NPR’s “Weekend Edition Sunday,” a fact that, he notes, proves how powerful old-fashioned media still are. (And “Weekend Edition” is orders of magnitude smaller than major entertainment shows like MTV’s “Total Request Live,” which can make a new artist in an afternoon.)
This points out something that many need to remember. The internet is just another tool. It is not the magical elixir that will replace all the other tools. It has power, but it also has limitations.

..and for the record, I have a lot of Jonathon Coulton music running my ipod.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Perfect Storm on Tech Transfer offices?

In my last post, I was talking about the effects of KSR on the world in general, and mentioned that I thought tech transfer offices may be about to have a bad day. Also mentioned the Medimmune case in conjunction with that.

In thinking more about that...it could be a really bad day for the universities on this front.

  • NIH budget is declining.
  • Number of researchers has been ramping up for years (due to doubling NIH budget).
  • Cost of reagents has been increasing at greater than rate of inflation
  • Researchers need money
  • Look to licensing to fill hole with money (amongst many places)
  • "Go to companies" - They are rich - take their cash
  • Obviousness bar is lower
  • Challenge to patents after taking a license is easier
  • Company may choose to may you come after them (belief in winning in court)
  • University may offer cheap license to tempt company to take license rather than a court battle.
Bias against
  • Big wins. The more money there is at stake, the more tempting that shot at the court case looks. If the universities keep their royalties down, to avoid rising to the "worth a challenge" level, they will keep their patents but they may not make very much money
  • Licenses without most favored nation clauses. I probably won't ever sign another one. If someone else challenges, I want to reap the reward of the university bribing them to back off. This will have to happen at some point.
Other predictions
  • Some University will go to court. One of them will think it can push it. I don't know if they will win or not, but it will set the tone for a lot of things. We will all watch that case VERY closely to see what happens. Much case law will be written in the next while here and it will matter a whole lot.
Ummmm....problem. Do I think this will come true? To some degree yes. I also think we will also see a lot of the fallout of their just plain being more licensing offices and more of a mandate to them to market their stuff. That leads to just plain more people chasing a money pool that isn't really growing that much. Each University will, therefor, get less cash.

As a side note to any who might think "but my University is, like, really good at licensing and we are world famous and we will totally be able to stomp out U. of Hicksville". NOT. I don't care what university you are. I need the IP. All your licenses prevent me from using your name anyway so it doesn't matter whether I license from Famous U. or U. Hicksville.

In any case - I am glad I don't run a University Tech Transfer office right now.

more on KSR

In my other post, written while I was still reading the decision, I sort of didn't say anything. Just posted the, to me, interesting bits of the decision.

Now, some things I think are going to shake out of this in no particular order.
  • Less license income for Universities. I think this because a lot of what I see coming out is incremental improvements that involve heavy use of someone else's patents. This is precisely the stuff that the ruling goes after.
  • MORE legal battles. I know I am emboldened today. I assume many others are as well. Someone is going to role the dice in court on this in a bigger way just to see what happens. Kind of hope it is us, but would guess someone will be cautious one here and back off.
  • Put together with the previous ruling in the Medimmune case (and some commentary on it) , which essentially says that "A licensee in good standing can still challenge the validity of the patents" - I see licesors pushing for high up front fee's and licensees pushing back. The high upfronts dont make commercial sense if the technology doesn't work out but the licensor needs to worry about the attack on the patent. Given the lower bar to get it thrown out on obviousness, the attacks will be more frequent. OR the royalties I am willing to pay will be lower, as the cost to fight a patent is still a couple of million dollars and I may not want to bother.
  • MORE INNOVATION. Many biotechs and pharmas are freaked about this BIO filed a brief in opposition to the way this came out. I think they are wrong, but I am in a different business than they are. I fight every day with the patent landscape. Cleaning up a lot of this crap and getting it out of the way will make my life a WHOLE lot better. We will push stuff out much faster if we can clear a lot of the cruft out the road. This will take a decade to come true, as that is the speed things move at, but a boy can dream.... I think the 1 patent 1 compound people will still have a defense if they truely did something. If not, they won't and there will be a problem. I leave that up to someone who knows that area to speak to (derek?)
  • We will spend less on IP filings. If we apply a bit of a filter to our filings we could save money. We won't of course... we will keep on going the way we have been going and see what the patent office does to them. My hope is that they start kicking more back and that we get a chance to actual weed our garden. As long as it isn't happening to us only, it is good. If everyone's garden gets weeded, there will be space to actually ship product.
  • This will help, I think, Diagnostics a lot more than it helps Pharma and biotech. The diagnostics world, as it moves toward molecular diagnostics, is a patent mess. Cleaning that up will help this transition a whole lot more. Pharma and biotech are pitching companies with smaller amounts of IP coverage that if they don't have it they have nothing. That increased level of risk will make them harder to get funded. Diagnostic companies, on the other hand, are generally not bringing IP to the table and are instead trying to duck dodge and weave around it (or exclude everyone else from using the IP they do have.)

That LinkedIn thing....

In my post on finding the new frustration of 10+ years, and the hidden fact that there is always another barrier to getting really cool jobs, I talked about LinkedIn and the fact that I was using that.

I got questions about that, so here are answers (I'm generous that way... or bored with nothing to do, I leave that as an exercise for the reader).

LinkedIn is one of those social networking sites. Given that you know someones name and email address, you should be able to send them an invite and you two get linked together. Were you linked to me (and Bill, we should sort that out) you would be able to see everyone that I know (who is also a LinkedIn member) and, if you wanted to get a job to them you could try and use me to put you in touch with them. If they like me (slim hope...) and I like you then it should help to get your resume in front of them. Given the HR filter that stops a lot of resumes, there is value in this.

I also have used it in the past to find people in companies. Given an introduction from someone they know, I get farther on the first call than I might otherwise. It works for that, and I have used it for that a lot.

For jobs....no data yet. No leads yet. But that is true of every other method I am trying and is also likely some fallout from the fact that I am impatient and have only been really looking for 1 week. We will see how things shake out....

Is LinkedIn necessary to get ahead in business. Probably not, but I do see an awful lot of people in our industry in there. Can it help you get a job. Probably. Anything that gets you in front of people is worth trying. Sure beats spamming Monster.com as a strategy.

Monday, April 30, 2007


I just read on Derek's blog that a commenter got on him about recommending an outsourced solution. The people in question were going to do work in India and the commenter was on Derek about, essentially, "Didn't that just cause you to lose your job? Why are you encouraging this?".

Dereks response of, 1 - that didn't cause me to lose my job and 2- You better learn to deal with outsourced competition as it is here to stay and free trade is a good idea.

I would just expand on this a bit, as we are seeing a bit of this in our industry as well.

We moved our manufacturing out of California for tax and cost reasons. Did we move it far enough? No idea, but will flat out tell you that we are always looking. There is the cost of moving a plant and starting up and disruption VS. the labor cost you have to bear. You have to do this math, and keep doing this math, or you will get your lunch eaten by a competitor who is doing this math. That is why they pay me and people like me and all the operations people. Costs matter to making a profit. Want to make a profit, make sure you watch your costs.

Derek's point that soon Indians will be griping about the next low cost place is wrong (he uses Pakistan and Bangladesh in his example). It is wrong because he uses the future tense. It is the present tense. Hyderabad for software development is no longer the cheapest high quality code writing place. We use a company there and I know what there cost increases have looked like. I also know the services they have started adding on to our work so that they break out of the "low bidder" hand cuffs. You have to be more than low bidder if you want to keep the work, and they have learned that. In addition, if you are trying to just make it as low bidder, you have to make sure and keep your employees dirt poor and in low demand. The second they get educated they will start asking to be paid and your costs will go up. As a side light to this "education" thing, they will also become a whole ton better as workers. Your quality will go up and you will be able to ask for more money from your customers. BUT - you have to accept that there will now be some other part of the world that is way cheaper than you.

I am with Derek on the whole free trade thinger. It is only by bringing everyone up to our standard of living that we can sell stuff to them and then hope to fight to bring jobs back here.

We have been fighting this boogy man for a lot of years. Wasn't Japan supposed to eat our Lunch (90's). You know...it sort of turned out that they weren't superman after all. They do some stuff better than us and some stuff not as well. The better stuff, they are kicking our butts at. The other stuff, we win. This is, I think, good and healthy.

KSR vs. Teleflex

Today the supreme court handed down a ruling in the KSR vs. Teleflex case. Many of us having been watching that for quite awhile and the ruling is set to break new ground. Some links first : The ruling and Some Commentary and some other commentary, and more commentary, and some other commentary. Reading the ruling (where as I described in my previous post they only talk about the claims, and only claim 4 at that) and the commentary (which also only talks about claim 4) shows you how this obviousness thing is shaking out.

Leaving aside the discussion of pedals, which doesn't really matter, we get to a couple of pretty good quotes for consideration.

As just a starting point
We begin by rejecting the rigid approach of the Court of Appeals. Throughout this Court's engagement with the question of obviousness, our cases have set forth an expansive and flexible approach inconsistent with the way the Court of Appeals applied its TSM test here.
****The TSM test was the test for teaching, suggestion, or motivation. We worry about this a lot. The court explains is thusly,
Seeking to resolve the question of obviousness with more uniformity and consistency, the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit has employed an approach referred to by the parties as the “teaching, suggestion, or motivation” test (TSM test), under which a patent claim is only proved obvious if “some motivation or suggestion to combine the prior art teachings” can be found in the prior art, the nature of the problem, or the knowledge of a person having ordinary skill in the art. See, e.g., Al-Site Corp. v. VSI

and then a lay out of really where they want to set the lines.

For over a half century, the Court has held that a “patent for a combination which only unites old elements with no change in their respective functions . . . obviously withdraws what is already known into the field of its monopoly and diminishes the resources available to skillful men.” Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Co. v. Supermarket Equipment Corp., 340 U. S. 147, 152 (1950). This is a principal reason for declining to allow patents for what is obvious. The combination of familiar elements according to known methods is likely to be obvious when it does no more than yield predictable results. Three cases decided after Graham illustrate the application of this doctrine.

In United States v. Adams, 383 U. S. 39, 40 (1966), a companion case to Graham, the Court considered the obviousness of a “wet battery” that varied from prior designs in two ways: It contained water, rather than the acids conventionally employed in storage batteries; and its electrodes were magnesium and cuprous chloride, rather than zinc and silver chloride. The Court recognized that when a patent claims a structure already known in the prior art that is altered by the mere substitution of one element for another known in the field, the combination must do more than yield a predictable result. 383 U. S., at 50–51. It nevertheless rejected the Government’s claim that Adams’s battery was obvious. The Court relied upon the corollary principle that when the prior art teaches away from combining certain known elements, discovery of a successful means of combining them is more likely to be nonobvious. Id., at 51–52. When Adams designed his battery, the prior art warned that risks were involved in using the types of electrodes he employed. The fact that the elements worked together in an unexpected and fruitful manner supported the conclusion that Adams’s design was not obvious to those skilled in the art.

In Anderson’s-Black Rock, Inc. v. Pavement Salvage Co., 396 U. S. 57 (1969), the Court elaborated on this approach.

The subject matter of the patent before the Court was a device combining two pre-existing elements: a radiant-heat burner and a paving machine. The device, the Court concluded, did not create some new synergy: The radiant-heat burner functioned just as a burner was expected to function; and the paving machine did the same. The two in combination did no more than they would in separate, sequential operation. Id., at 60–62. In those circumstances, “while the combination of old elements performed a useful function, it added nothing to the nature and quality of the radiant-heat burner already patented,” and the patent failed under §103. Id., at 62 (footnote omitted).

Finally, in Sakraida v. AG Pro, Inc., 425 U. S. 273 (1976), the Court derived from the precedents the conclusion that when a patent “simply arranges old elements with each performing the same function it had been known to perform” and yields no more than one would expect from such an arrangement, the combination is obvious. Id., at 282.

The principles underlying these cases are instructive when the question is whether a patent claiming the combination of elements of prior art is obvious. When a work is available in one field of endeavor, design incentives and other market forces can prompt variations of it, either in the same field or a different one. If a person of ordinary skill can implement a predictable variation, §103 likely bars its patentability. For the same reason, if a technique has been used to improve one device, and a person of ordinary skill in the art would recognize that it would improve similar devices in the same way, using the technique is obvious unless its actual application is beyond his or her skill. Sakraida and Anderson’s-Black Rock are illustrative -- a court must ask whether the improvement is more than the predictable use of prior art elements according to their established functions.

This is interesting as it is setting up where they (supreme court) philosophically fall on the matter.

This is what will really stand a lot of biological patents being pursued/issued today on it's head.

As our precedents make clear, however, the analysis need not seek out precise teachings directed to the specific subject matter of the challenged claim, for a court can take account of the inferences and creative steps that a person of ordinary skill in the art would employ.

This means that if a technician would have thought of it, you likely shouldn't get a patent on it. This is huge for getting rid of a lot of the combination patents that are being pursued (admittedly by us as well as others...). They get right to the heart of this combination business as well, stating...

When it first established the requirement of demonstrating a teaching, suggestion, or motivation to combine known elements in order to show that the combination is obvious, the Court of Customs and Patent Appeals captured a helpful insight. See Application of Bergel, 292 F. 2d 955, 956–957 (1961). As is clear from cases such as Adams, a patent composed of several elements is not proved obvious merely by demonstrating that each of its elements was, independently, known in the prior art. Although common sense directs one to look with care at a patent application that claims as innovation the combination of two known devices according to their established functions, it can be important to identify a reason that would have prompted a person of ordinary skill in the relevant field to combine the elements in the way the claimed new invention does. This is so because inventions in most, if not all, instances rely upon building blocks long since uncovered, and claimed discoveries almost of necessity will be combinations of what, in some sense, is already known.

....So making known mutations that give expected results may not actually be patentable.

When a work is available in one field of endeavor, design incentives and other market forces can prompt variations of it, either in the same field or a different one. If a person of ordinary skill can implement a predictable variation, §103 likely bars its patentability. For the same reason, if a technique has been used to improve one device, and a person of ordinary skill in the art would recognize that it would improve similar devices in the same way, using the technique is obvious unless its actual application is beyond his or her skill. Sakraida and Anderson’s-Black Rock are illustrative -- a court must ask whether the improvement is more than the predictable use of prior art elements according to their established functions.
and just before it,

Finally, in Sakraida v. AG Pro, Inc., 425 U. S. 273 (1976), the Court derived from the precedents the conclusion that when a patent “simply arranges old elements with each performing the same function it had been known to perform” and yields no more than one would expect from such an arrangement, the combination is obvious. Id., at 282.

which really hits at making expected mutations and getting expected results.

This is, in total, a pretty interesting ruling. How will it affect our patent filing strategy? No idea. We will likely wait and see what the patent office does. It will certainly affect our litigation strategy, as it opens up all new ways to attack patents. For those where we are the defendent, we are happy. For those where we are the plantiff, we are sad. There will be a period here where we all try and figure out the new rules. I would expect to see someone (hopefully not us) bet huge on some interpretation and lose big. I would expect most of the rest of us to hedge a bit. I may give in on some issues a bit more quickly. I would expect to push a bit further/harder on other issues. We will see... in the mean time, I expect that a lot of biotech patent people are all reading this as hard as I am. Anyone not reading it...I would love to do a deal with you.

Patent Analysis- Its all about the claims folks....

I have been reading a lot of computer people talk about patent's. Here, at ArsTechnica, is the latest example that made me want to write this post. Timothy B. Lee goes on in the post and talks about the Verizon patents that cover voice over IP. In his discussion of the patents, he never talks about the actual claims.

He talks about the background. He talks about the general patent and market landscape. Never once does he talk about the actual claims of the patent.

The claims are the only part that matters. They are the part you sue someone for. They are the part the court interprets. They are the part that you file your obviousness challenge on. The only reason for the rest of the patent to be written at all is to support your claims. If you can't point to at least 1 part of a sentence in your background that supports your claim, then you don't get the claim allowed by the patent office. Once the support for a claim is shown to be there, then the background doesn't matter. The claims control what limitations are on the interpretation, and what is covered. You can't sue someone because of something that is in the methods section. Only the claims.

You can have a background section that is totally obvious and says nothing at all ground breaking. Given his description of the patents in question, they likely do have that. BUT - the claims are all that matters. Read those. Parse those. Figure those out. Any time that the claims use a tortuous definition, you get to look back into the body of the patent and see how that term was defined. It is only by doing this very long and tortured analysis that you can say, with any certainty, what a patent does and does not cover. Given that information, you can then say whether or not it is, or is not, obvious.

His article references the KSR v. Teleflex ruling that the supreme court was going to hand down. They have done so, and I will talk about that next.

The 10+ year hurdle

As previously mentioned, I have sold my way out of a job. I am, in the course of things, interviewing for positions at the company that is acquiring us and I have a pretty good track record to point at (I mean...you just bought us...that has to be worth something!). I continue to get paid and go to work every day and I will, likely, fingers crossed, in due course, get an interesting job from the acquiror. I equally likely will have to switch cities I live in to do it. My wife is not that psyched about that idea. She, however, likes me moping the around the house being a grumpy pain in the rear even less.

So - I have also started to hit the job circuit in a big way. The core question being - can I find a really cool job that pays me as well as I currently am and that doesn't require me to move. If it does require me to move, will it have a better package than I think I can expect from the folks who bought us?


at least not yet. I have fired up every recruiter I know (a non-small number) and have started spamming my resume to former friends. My LinkedIn network has been activated to find stuff. Things are afoot. Phone interviews have already started. BUT....

10+ years industry experience

is on every job that I am currently interested in. HR people seem stuck on this. I am routing around them, but they are a bit of block on the recruiter path. The recruiters I know well are pushing through this but it is still there. I live in fear of having to do a boring job.

I can't believe I have only been out of graduate school for 6 years. Grrrrrrr....

Sunday, April 22, 2007

The process of being acquired...

For those reading from the academic side and living in fear of what an acquisition means, I thought I would talk a little bit about that.

I have been involved in this acquisition for quite a while and couldn't talk. Besides any other world problems, the SEC would have frowned on the revelation and thrown me in jail. It has been a bit surreal to, for example, go to meetings and talk about long term plans that I happen to know full well won't happen (or might now happen or whatever). Up until the day before announcement I was leading this double life - The public face is no different and was setting up things. The other 1/2 was working all night (both literally and figuratively) to get the company sold. I lied to, approximately, everyone. That was getting very old. I had been doing that for about 3 months or so and it was old...

SO - now we have announced and are in the period between announcement and actual close of deal. There are filings with the SEC going on to get their blessing that there is not an anti-trust problem. There are meetings to figure out how, post close, to integrate the two businesses.

We are a bit lucky in that we were bought for our manufacturing and our R+D. Our sites most likely won't be shut down, as we aren't duplicative of anything they already have. Were there mass shutdowns in the future, this would have a very different feel. As it is, the number of of us who are facing unemployment is small. Unfortunately, I am one of them. Post close, the role I have now will be gone. I have known this from when I started working on this, but really pushed it out of my head. Now, when I really have little to do, it is first and foremost in my mind again. I have fired up the recruiters and am looking around within the acquiring company for positions of interest. I made a favorable impression on the acquiring folks, so there is a lot of support for finding me something...but you still have to do it. Don't have it done yet. Stress exists. Are we moving again? I have some quasi permission from my wife to move us if we have to, but I have to say that San Diego is pretty much the best place on the planet to live (obviously-my opinion. Your mileage may/will vary.)

For the rest of the people in the company - there is a lot of unknowns. I know that they will likely come out OK, but until the close happens and full sets of plans can be developed and spelled out for folks, there is a lot of uncertainty. Uncertainty is not good...

It is funny that in the middle of this, I go read this over at ars technica. Lay offs and uncertainty are all over the place. Academics are just getting used to this idea. Don't know that it is easier in industry or if you are just supposed to expect it more - but it is beat all around.

In any case - I am still here and fighting to find a new job. The company is chugging ahead on momentum as I don't think most people have really stopped and thought about it yet. Part of (and it is a huge part of it) my job is to not let them stop and think about it, as they are OK. Lets stay on target with projects and get products launched. Not much else to do anyway.... I know I'm dead, but I know they aren't. I've known I was dead for awhile though and have been really saving money in order to get through a dry spell if it comes to that.

Fun? I am still having it.