I don't know if he was a mentor, idol, or just an example, but there were a lot of things that I admired in Dave Bajaj.
~ Aristotle Sabouni
One thing that impressed me, was that he was a Consultant, that was doing project management for a few projects at once. Consultants don't usually get put in lead positions - companies don't want that domain knowledge to leave later and there are politics against you, so it is much harder to work your way up. Also, nice and quiet guys have a harder time in project management positions. Not because they can't be as good at things; but politics (management) seems to favor screamers and people that intimidate others into working, over those that actually know how to motivate quietly; Dave was the latter. Dave not only succeeded against the odds, but had done it on his own terms. That impressed me, and he became somewhat a mentor or at least model.
I believe that you can learn a lot from people, if you pay attention; some good, some bad. Dave was one of those that exemplified what I thought was good.
Respect[edit | edit source]
One day, Dave and I are talking about graphics, and I mention that it is easy, and I'd done it for years on the side, and read a ton on user interface (Human Factors), and was trying to apply it more. He mentioned a stumbling block on their graphics team, and that they couldn't do custom fonts, and so on. I asked for a couple days to show him something. I bashed out a working demo of custom fonts in a day, and he was impressed. After that he started calling me Doctor out of respect (no condescension). Someone that wasn't going to treat me like a little peon coder, or gun-for-hire consultant, but that actually treated me nicely and with respect, that blew me away.
After I'd done that graphics voodoo that I could do, I started writing many documents and standards for User Interface, and adding features very quickly. I basically wrote a lot of custom graphics libraries, and sort of made a mini-Macintosh Toolbox. I quickly got respect of many, and was working with Marketing, Management, Technical People, and doing a ton of it myself. Before that, I hadn't realize that was what I had been craving all along - just that respect. I mean other places had said, "hard worker", but I was sort of becoming an authority in my area; this was new, different, and the kind of positive affirmation that I was craving. (Probably leftovers from an attention deprived youth and so on).
The respect wasn't universal, and there seemed to be some resentments as well. I'd dealt with a few jobs where there were degree-bigots; those that think a piece of paper is more important than actual experience. My interviewer and later boss was one of those. Dave Bajaj was a supervisor and project manager on many projects; his boss (and all out bosses) was Dave Chevlin. Chevlin was a bit of an anti-youth bigot, compounded by an anti-degree bigot; he taught at UCI, and was under whelmed that I was succeeding without a degree. I was ranking no points being a non-degreed mid 20 year old, making more than him (and he knew it). I got little jabs and stuff that let me know he wasn't thrilled with my path in life. And the more respect that I got in the company, the more he resented it or did things to try to "put me in my place". I remember one in particular.
One day, they were having a problem with something in graphics, and Dave Chevlin calls in a few of us for a meeting. Chevlin ignores me, and asks someone who worked for me about a technical problem; he says, "I dunno, ask him".
I was thinking that was a bit of a slight by Dave Chevlin, but I was used to that by him.
So Dave Chevlin is determined to put me in my place, and says to Dave Bajaj; what do you think?
Dave Bajaj says, "why don't you ask him, he's right here".
I was impressed people picked up on this intentional slighting of me, and were coming to my aid without me saying anything.
Chevlin was not be deterred, and says to Bajaj, "You've got a Masters Degree in Computer Science, why are you deferring to someone who is many years your junior when he doesn't even have a degree?"
Ahhh, the degree thing again.
Bajaj responded, quickly, smoothly and politely. "If you respect my degree then hear this; I know of no one in the company that knows as much about Graphics and UI as he does, and maybe if you listened to him, we could get back to work".
I was stunned. No one had stood up for me like that before. Dave was also quiet and soft spoken, and that was definitely blunt and harsh.
Chevlin was not to be deterred and made a quip about how if I couldn't get a degree then how good could I be. Plus, he was a College Professor, and so obviously knew more about teaching and people than we did; or something to that effect.
I was getting pumped up, and deciding my next course of action; fight or flight? When I get quiet it is sometimes the calm before the storm, and me collecting my thoughts and weighting my options before I act. Either that or it is trying to control the stress that is coming from fighting the urge to leap across the table and beat some sense into an arrogant putz that is attacking me for no reason. (Injustice pisses me off). More realistically, I was a few seconds away from opening my mouth and verbally letting him have it; something I can be quite good at, and would have probably cost me my job.
Another older, wiser, consultant, that I'd learned a lot from as well (Marc Greenblat) and who was my office mate, pipes in; "Well those who can, do. Those who can't, teach. Those who can't teach, Manage. Can we go now?".
It got very quiet in that room; Chevlin being a teacher and a manager and all that. But four people were obviously sick of the bullshit and were letting it be known. They were doing some of it for themselves; tired of seeing this guy attack people. But they still did it defending me. I was not used to that; and influenced my views on teamwork and loyalty.
Chevlin was livid; he'd been trying to put me in my place - and had 3 different people stand up for me; a peer, supervisor and subordinate. Chevlin obviously had enough control or wisdom to not to fire Marc for his insubordination mainly because he probably would have had to fire all of us - and would have looked stupid. Marc had been outright ballsy or insubordinate, and a pinch more rough around the edges than even I sometimes got (talk about challenging authority). But we needed Marc, and he did good work, and Chevlin had been asking for it. Chevlin only succeeded in making himself look bad, realized it, and he waved us out of the office.
A year later I wondered if that event had something to do with the decision to eliminate all the consultants (including Bajaj, Greenblat and myself). But a year seems like a long time to hold a grudge. Doesn't it?
Anyways; that was a huge learning experience for me; team loyalty, when to stand up for yourself, when to stand for others, when to shut-up and trust others to stand up for you or let your abilities speak for themselves, and so on. That was a much more huge event in my life than I thought at the time; but I still remember it with pride and feel good about the people that would do that for me.
After that, Dave Bajaj could have asked me to do about anything for him. Loyalty is earned by deeds - and just standing up for others, or putting justice or the companies interests above your own personal interests is a debt that must be repaid in kind. I always worked harder for Dave Bajaj after that, if for no other reason than he earned it.
More[edit | edit source]
A year or so later, the company had a cost cutting measure that eliminated all the consultants. Dave Bajaj went on to start his own biomed consulting company: Relsys. Talk about turning lemons into lemonade. Actually, I think he'd been socking away money and planning for this kind of stuff all along; more lessons for me about discipline and planning.
At first, it was out of a spare room in his house, and I was his first employee. I helped with the demo that got him his first contract. But soon he got an office. I worked for him on a few projects and we took on some much larger companies on contracts, and won. That fearlessness and "go for it" attitude also impressed me. We got Alcon and Spectramed and a few others. It was also a big life lesson about how people you work and contacts you make can be much more significant than you realize at the time.
During one of the dry-spells that comes with all companies, I went off and shifted career tracks. I wanted to do Mac Application programming some more, so went pure commercial from Biomed. Plus there was years of biomed behind me, and whole world in front of me. Also, there was a nagging feeling that while Dave Bajaj was very respectful of me and my abilities, he saw me as the creative genius type that you through on early phases of projects, especially in graphics and UI - but not much else. While I wasn't as disciplined as he was at that point, and even probably today, I wanted to do more than just be railroaded in that one area.
About ten years after we met, I'd been doing Mac stuff for quite a while. I'd left Intuit, and was looking for another gig. Dave Bajaj wanted me to come up and interview with him and we scheduled a time (a week later). His company had grown, and he was very successful. But I had another job on the line as well; TeraGLOBAL (TGCC). TeraGLOBAL was more in line with what I'd been doing; Mac, Multimedia, Networking, Information Systems, and so on. They were a startup in the dot-com era; and they really needed people. They were close; in San Diego where I was living, while I'd have to move 60 miles back to Irvine, California for Dave Bajaj. And TGCC was desperate. They had me do a weekend long panic-crunch to get some things out. I love that kind of challenge; and we succeeded and did a great demo. They gave me a new Mac as a thank-you bonus, and offered me a V.P. position in charge of a dozen Mac programmers, and a generous stock options package and salary and so on.
I went for the lesser risk, more convenience and higher short-term reward. I didn't want to give up on Macs just then, or my comfort zone of what I knew, and wasn't ready to relocate again (we'd just moved down to San Diego a few years before). It might have been somewhat a mistake, but you make the best decisions you can at a time and a place. Teraglobal didn't work out, and then sort of imploded. But the bigger mistake than that was that I had unintentionally slighted Dave Bajaj. I was helping Teraglobal in a panic crunch, just accepted the new position (without hearing Dave out), and so had called in advance and told Dave Bajaj's secretary that I wouldn't be able to make the meeting/interview in a few days. I didn't think much of it, and had given him warning. I tried to reschedule, but got tied up, or didn't get through, and that was that.
Later, when Teraglobal blew up, I tried to get in touch with Dave Bajaj again; a few times. I'd actually tried in the interim as well; and TeraGLOBAL didn't last long (8 months or so). I really liked working with Dave Bajaj, and was more ready to consider the career shift back and to settle down into a longer-term career path, and the move back towards Orange County. More importantly, my wife was more flexible and softened up by unemployment - the first time we'd talked and she was very unenthused about relocating back. But Dave Bajaj was "unavailable" and didn't return calls. After a few tries, over a few weeks, I gave up; I got the message. I tried a while later as well; same result. He was possibly just really busy, but more likely, he felt I'd burned him or blew him off, or that I only called when I needed something, and that he deserved better. In some ways he's probably right, in others wrong; but what difference does it make? I don't really blame him, I probably was a little too casual with his friendship and loyalty. I think a trick in life is not whether you make mistakes, but what you can learn from them. Dave had deserved a few hours of my time before I'd made any decisions - and I hadn't given him that. And sometimes we burn bridges without meaning to or by being too self-involved. I think he missed some opportunities with me as well. Life goes on.
Conclusion[edit | edit source]
I learned a lot about managing people from Dave; the whole how to manage with a hand on the shoulder, or the occasionally "atta-boy" stuff. About how much loyalty can be earned by valuing what others do, and treating them with respect. About when to not stand up to management and be flexible, and when to take a stand. These life experiences and people often impress us more than they will ever know.
Before that, I'd been a very fact based, "do this" hyper-logical kind of guy. The winey little wetware problems with human emotions were for others; here's the facts, here's the task, do it. You do it because you're professional, not because you want to, or like the guy telling you to; and so on. I still tend towards the hyper-geek and super factual/logical side of things; but I'm a lot more aware of the other side. Dave on the other hand was a people person. Watching him, and all the politics of running a Martial Arts Studio which I was doing at the same time, was teaching me that with just a little compassion, or figuring out what someone values and motivations are (their currency as Doctor Phil calls it). If you can figure that out, then you can motivate them much more. If you figure out what they want, and how to make a win-win, you can partner with them to get both your needs met. This negotiation and give and take is what management is really about. It really opened my eyes and got me more involved with others; learning to value what others value, not because it is important to you, but because it is important to them. This made me not only a better manager, but later a better husband, and I think person in general. So while there are a few people that I learned some of this from, Dave Bajaj was probably unknowingly one of the most significant.
|Another bite at the Apple? Years later, Dave had reached out. I think he said someone had read this article and he wanted to get in touch. He had called spontaneously while I was at the gym with a personal trainer. So while I was excited for the call, and said I wanted to schedule a time to talk more, I was getting charged by the hour. I asked him if I could call him back, and he said, "sure". After about 8 times trying to get a time and his administrative assistant blocking me, I took the hint. I think me being busy at the moment had been seen as a slight? I don't know. I know it wasn't meant to be. I read a few years later that he sold his company to Oracle, and I assume he did very well. But I was pretty self-made as well by this point in my life. While I would have enjoyed working with him again, it might have been best that it was an ancient memory. Either way, I was happy that he turned his vision for medical consulting into a multi-national corporation.|