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December 4, 2011 / Jim Fenton

Aircraft Carriers and Zodiac Boats

Zodiac boatThis past week, I left my job at Cisco to begin work at OneID, an early-stage startup dedicated to improving online identity. After over 16 years at Cisco, it will be exciting and, honestly, scary to move to a company with 1/10,000th the employees.

When you’ve been at a company for such a long time, it’s easy to take for granted all the things one’s company does right and focus on the things it does wrong. At its core, Cisco sets a very high standard for honest and legal business conduct. Cisco encourages its employees to give back to the community, both through incentives like matching grants and by giving employees space to allow them to contribute their time and talent. I have been proud to call myself a Cisco employee.

I liken Cisco to an aircraft carrier: it’s very big and powerful, and shows up on all the radar screens. It has a lot of firepower at its disposal; I wouldn’t want to be in its crosshairs. But it’s also difficult to stop, turn or otherwise maneuver. The possibility of a member of the crew influencing its direction of the ship is virtually nil.

A zodiac boat, on the other hand, is all about speed and maneuverability. It’s a lot easier to point at something on the horizon and suggest to the Captain that we should go in that direction. Zodiac boats often operate “under the radar”, heading in a new direction amid the clutter of other vessels.

On an aircraft carrier, it is actually possible to go in a slightly different direction from the ship for a while.  You do this by walking from one side of the deck to the other. But you’re well advised to stop before you get to the edge.  I liken this to my recent experience at Cisco:  my career direction was leading me off in a slightly different direction.  Cisco was great in letting me explore that area (identity management), but there was only so far that I could go with it there.

Fortunately, I found a nearby zodiac boat, OneID, moving in the direction I want to travel.  The captain (CEO) is an successful serial entrepreneur, Steve Kirsch, that was a classmate at MIT. I’m looking forward to the trip, even though I realize that I’ll no longer have a lot of the comforts of being on an aircraft carrier.  The trip might be rougher, but I’ll be going in the direction I want. I’m looking forward to the journey.

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