Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Dreaming the Bigger Dream

In the early 1980's, two leftie Berkeley computer programmers founded a company to sell embedded systems software - the software running on machines behind the scenes, like ATMs.

An immigrant who grew up in South Korea was their first employee and business partner. He still felt the ache in his bones from malnutrition of growing up in a country impacted by the aftermath of the second World War, in the 1960s. The three of them used to work out of their homes, dressing and working casually. When the Department of Defense found out about their work and wanted to contract with them, they would hang up the phone.

A few years later, when the company was taking off with real offices and a growing customer base, the two founders had a falling out with the first employee. The company had started selling to military contractors like Boeing and the Department of Defense. They told him to grow up, that he was being too idealistic, and someone else, if not them, would still sell such software to these companies. There was no active war at that time. 

My friend said it was blood money and returned all of his shares in the company. The founders mocked him for his beliefs and idealism. They had grown up with privileges in the U.S. he had only dreamed about as a child. The company became the largest of its kind in the world.

Today, the company makes and sells the software that operates U.S. military drones. An estimated 3500 - 5000 people have been killed by drone attacks, including four U.S. citizens and about 200 children. There is no clear plan as to when these attacks will stop.

We are not perfect in what we choose to do, but every choice has an impact downstream. Because your choices may not seem to be harming anyone and bring you success and money doesn't mean it is the right thing to do. If you are idealistic, others may think you are being judgmental, foolish, or getting in the way. Yet it is important for each person to challenge their choices and dream of bigger dreams.