Special Interview with Raymond McCauley with SparkIcon
1. Biotechnology Scientist, Technologist, Strategist, Entrepreneur! What is the Spark that made you become who you are Today?
2. Even in your Childhood, your interest towards experimentation was beyond having fun. What made you so curious to understand things as common as how ants work and experiment on various fields?
3. Do you think your childhood curiosities have made you a Scientist today? If Yes, then how important is it to nurture the Childhood interests of today's kids? Will there be huge success rates if Parents allow them to chase their dreams rather than making them adapt to the demanding needs of the World?
Let me answer these 3 questions together.
I have to attribute this to other people. Those who encouraged me and supported me, who tirelessly answered my questions, and went out of their ways to open up new opportunities for me. Most especially, my parents. (And second, only to my parents, there is a long list of teachers and professors. These are the unsung heroes of modern progress.) To list all of the ways my parents made me into who I am would fill up a whole series of books, but I just want to mention a few.
My mother taught me to always question, and never accept the information I was given at face value.
We didn't always have enough money to do all the things we wanted, but my parents had a rule that there was always enough money for books. I could buy any book and as many booms (within reason) that I wanted, as long as I read them.
And my earliest memories are of spending time with my father, barely able to walk, but working on puzzles or tracing cracks in the sidewalk, trying to figure out how something fits together. My dad was always working, always busy, but he made time for me, and I never felt rushed when he held my hand and waited for me to fumble through my investigations. Now, as an adult with kids of my own, I know how hard it is to freeze time not let your other responsibilities take over.
I try to honor the example my parents set for me with my kids. My little boys are l rewarded for proving adults wrong, but only if they can show they are right themselves, and do it politely. I try to put a trail of toys, tools, and pastimes in front of them that suits their talents. And if they break something accidentally, even dad's expensive fancy equipment, because they were experimenting, they aren't punished (unless they do it too many to me in a row).
4. You co-founded the Worlds first Biohacker space. What was the Spark that made you think about this and start it as a Nonprofit Organization?
It is a privilege to have served on the team of six founders who made BioCurious possible. We all had our own ideas and motives for this. My small idea was to have a place where all of us garage inventors could share out equipment. My big idea came from my day job, where we were working on DNA sequencing. My company made terrific progress, but the DNA sequencing machines we made sold for a large fraction of a million dollars; I was worried that if the technology was only accessed by people who could afford it - - big companies and academic institutions - - it would never achieve its potential. The thing that took us all by surprise was the incredible community of inventors and educators, activists and artists that formed around the bio hackerspace and community labs.
5. You have gained a unique experience of Working with Federal Agencies, Universities, Corporates and your own Companies. What were the lessons you learned in a hard way in each of the Domains?
About 30 years ago, my first professional position was with a government agency, in a system of about 10,000 employees. I was paid very little, had to deal with a large and unforgiving bureaucracy, which often didn't seem to have any hint of what its purpose was, but my job was very stable, and I had a large, beautiful office that looked out on a tree-lined campus.
Today, I usually work with teams of between 3 and 10 people, usually startups, sometimes small R&D groups spun out of large companies, sometimes NGOs with a special purpose. I am paid more money than I would have thought possible 30 years ago, but the work is very unstable, where I usually don't have a clear idea what I'll be doing in the future, and instead of a big office, I work out of my backpack.
However, the projects I work on make a difference in the world, I have huge agency, and I'm steadily happier.
My professional career has been a history of shrinking teams and offices, and a growing sense of purpose.
Technology has gotten us to the point where a small, agile group can do what only large well-funded companies could do a decade or two ago, and only well-funded governments could do a decade or two before that.
The age of the huge monolithic organization is not over - - that's still where most of the funding for these tiny, scrambling groups come from. But it may be on a downward spiral.
6. Genetics and Biotechnology is a very niche domain and common people do not understand the jargons. Why did you choose to bring awareness to people by adopting Storytelling Techniques?
Most of the advances we make as civilizations will be due to very technical domains like biotechnology. If we don't each have the tools to understand how these technologies work, we can't be good citizens. We can't vote or allocate resources or choose our path forward, and we're at the mercy of those who do understand the tech.
7. What will be your 3 Life Quotes to our audience?
There's always an exception.
If you can't build it, you don't understand it.
A prototype beats a plan.
(these are the first three McCauleys Laws of Bioengineering)
8. What will be your advice for the Future Scientists? What does it take to become a Real, True Scientist?
A scientist is someone who asks questions, and then seeks the answers, but by trying things out and experimenting, not by listening to other people or reading it in a book (or, to be more current, looking it up in Wikipedia or Google) . ***Anyone can be a scientist.*** Children are natural scientists, in that they question everything, then learn about and live in the world by experimenting and seeing what works. Good entrepreneurs are good scientists because they experiment with products and services. (But good scientists are frequently lousy entrepreneurs.)
9. Who do you consider as your mentor and what are the qualities that you wish to acquire from him?
It's such a long list. I've learned from so many people. I'll give you my Wizard of Oz version. I wish I had
The Wisdom of Carl Sagan
The Courage of Lena Wachowski
The Storytelling ability of Robert Heinlein
And the Perseverance of Rita Montclevi
(and I wish I was as lovable as my little dog thinks I am)
10. You have worked as demolition, lifeguard, a cinema projectionist, computer repair guy, closed ecosystem developer, systems analyst, and executive producer for PBS! These Professions are not interrelated. But, how did you land up doing them?
Some of this was luck, and some was just needing to make a buck. But sometimes life is more fun when, if you are presented with a fork in the road, you choose to follow both paths.
11. What was the one triggering incident that made you realize that you are a Futurist?
A lifetime of living with science-fiction, both books, and movies, has made me very comfortable as a citizen of the future.
12. You being a Futurist, what is going to be the roadmap of Genetic Engineering, 5 years from now?
We'll see genetic engineering used to treat our diseases, grow out food, make our materials, taught in schools, and experimented with in garages. We're actually seeing all of that now, but in 5 years it won't sound strange at all.
We're at the same point with digital biology now as we were with computing in about 1974.
13. The Road to success is not always Rosy. What were the Thorns that you had to face to become who you are today?
The toughest obstacles for me have always been the ones I put in my own way. I still struggle with those every day.
14. Is working under Pressure a boon or bane to you?
It's a guilty pleasure.
I pull more self-imposed all-nighters now that I did as a college student.
15. I am curious to know how the typical day of a scientist will start. Can you describe your routines?
I wake from my hyperbaric sleep pod, download the latest experimental results from out worldwide network of secret biohacker collectives into my underground quantum computing cluster, and mediate before communing with the other members of the World Science Council, then we retire to a collegial lunch of quinoa and nootropics from our cellular agriculture vats.
Sorry. Just kidding.
I usually get up and try to answers way too many urgent electronic messages, and clear enough space to think about longer-term priorities, before I go do whatever my electronic calendar tells me to do.
16. Perseverance is the key virtue for a Scientist. Many lose it very quickly.What made you hold strong to your beliefs and how easy is doing this?
I still haven't mastered this.its a challenge to decide what projects or priorities to hold fast to, and which ones to abandon.
17. Being a Technology entrepreneur makes one to change hats from being a technologist to a businessman. How do you do this? Your advice for the budding technopreneurs.
If you can do technology and business equally well, great. But I'd you're better at one, find someone who is better at the other, a Lennon to your McCarthy, or vice-versa. And best is to find someone who can teach you and learn from you at the same time. Having a good partner, one whom you explain things to, means you understand those issues better yourself. And your assumptions are questioned. But mainly, it means someone has your back, and you don't have to do it on your own.
18. Being a Genetic scientist, do you feel Leadership is a quality which has to be in the genes? Or, is it something that can be acquired by practice?
Genes are not destiny. Sometimes they set limits to our potentials, but we are each responsible for filling up the buckets of our own potential, however big or little they are. And leadership qualities - like compassion, integrity, and decisiveness - are some of the hardest to quantify.
19. What do you tell yourself every day when you look into the mirror?
I'm pretty sure this mirror is broken; I don't think I'm really this fat.
20. When people around you say, No, You cant do this! What will your response be and the actions following it?
End of Interview