Pulse Check: Zero Point + One Month

This seemed like a good time to provide a sanity check on the new job at Zero Point Frontiers. The good news is that I’m quite happy where I am. I made a good choice, which was not always a given. Sometimes I’ve made a jump and learned that the new thing wasn’t for me.

So what have I been doing for the past month? A lot. Quite a lot, in fact, though I’m in the peculiar position of not being able to discuss all of it because some of it is proprietary. However, I can give a flavor of the sorts of things I’ve been putting my paws on:

  • Engineering hazard analysis–I now know more about MIL-STD-882E than I ever thought or cared to learn
  • Editorial writing (publications to be determined)
  • Writing or editing white papers (three so far)
  • Communication/web site plan
  • Software user guide
  • Editing for miscellaneous internal documents
  • Mission/vision/elevator pitch statements
  • Reading about energy and nanotechnology
  • RFP reading/proposal formatting

That’s a lot of pages flowing, and it’s been nice. My productivity has been high, but my “level of heck” (stress) has been pretty low. As near as I can tell, that’s because I’ve been able to push myself toward my own deadlines.

The differences between large and small organizations I’ve commented on elsewhere in this blog have proven to be true: less bureaucracy, less structure, and more work, but also more freedom and more variety. I probably should have made this change years ago, but 1) I’d grown accustomed to the comfort that a larger organization provides and 2) I’ve had misgivings about small business that I probably picked up from friends or family members, not so much personal experience. Yet here I am, doing serious work, remaining challenged, and continuing to learn.

One thing I find amusing is that Jason, the ZPFC CEO, wants me to stop thinking of myself as “an English major” and to start thinking like “a systems engineer who has a major strength in writing.” His logic being that I have written about multiple space systems or programs from the systems level–I’ve just never done the math or analysis–yet. I hate to break it to him, but one of the reasons I became an English major was so that I could avoid doing engineering work, but nevertheless here I am: working on engineering concerns.

So is that what it means to “leave the Matrix?” Do I have a systems engineering career ahead of me? Honestly, it’s too early to tell. Right now I’m trying to understand what ZPFC is doing, what our customers need, and how I can add value. I have real work to do, and I’m challenged to produce, just like everyone else. One thing I need to remember is that I cannot count on having another writer around to check my little errors. I am the editor. The technical folks can correct my facts, but I’m now the guy who has to do the final quality checks on spelling, formatting, etc. That’s good because it forces me to slow down and get things right. I could stand to up my game a bit.

And there are some aspects of ZPFC that will take a while to get used to: they use Macs rather than PCs, and that adjustment is ongoing, though improving. They do not wear lanyards or badges as part of their daily office attire unless they’re off-site at Marshall Space Flight Center. The dress code is a little looser–jeans are worn on more than just “casual Friday.” Decorating the office with artificial spider webs and Nerf darts for Halloween doesn’t seem out of the ordinary–I can imagine an office safety officer at Marshall having a conniption over the stuff we were doing today. Being the oldest guy in the room (most of the time) is a daily reminder that I have things to learn and things to teach. And there is not a lot of middle management looking over my shoulder.

So what else can I say? So far, my transition to the small-business world has been pretty painless. And yeah, I probably should have done this earlier. Live and learn.

About Bart Leahy

Freelance Technical Writer, Science Cheerleader Event & Membership Director, and an all-around nice guy. Here to help.
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