“If you’re offered a seat on a rocket ship, don’t ask what seat. Just get on.”

By Jeff Zacuto, Director of Product Marketing, Commercial Aviation

“Any new opportunity should benefit you personally, professionally, and financially. If it’s only one, pass. If it’s two out of three, consider it. If it’s all three, go for it.”

I still remember this as one of the best pieces of career advice I’ve ever received. Smart, fun people who I love working with? Product marketing focused on cybersecurity for commercial aircraft? Uh, yes, please! A startup that just received a preemptive B-round from Insight Partners? Let’s do this! 

Follow your heart

I don’t know when it happened, but at some point in my career, I became a startup junkie. My experience began 18 years ago—long before I even knew what a startup even was. I was fresh out of college and trying to figure out how to earn a living with a journalism degree when I landed a role writing technical documents at Ascendent Systems, which would later be acquired by BlackBerry (now Research in Motion). 

Just before that fateful exit, my career took a turn towards product marketing, and I began to learn how #staruplife is a lot of fast-paced, reactive, ambiguous, and sometimes maddening work. It’s also an environment where colleagues you trust and respect can become close friends for life. I was totally hooked. The risk is almost always worth the reward, which explains why I’d make the same choices again and again

My choice to join Shift5 was a calculated risk. I wanted a role where I’d be challenged, where I’d learn new things, and where I’d meet great people (of course), but I also wanted to have a lot of fun. I’ve always had a bit of a fascination with commercial aircraft, and with a foundation of cybersecurity marketing experience under my belt, Shift5 was absolutely the right move at the right time in my life. (I mean, how many people can say they work with a team focused on protecting the world’s planes, trains, and weapons systems, amirite?!) 

When your personal interests and career opportunities intersect, follow your heart. 

Follow your head 

Making career decisions is also about strategy. After all, the opportunity for the business directly affects the opportunity for you. 

I joined Shift5 because it’s defining an entire market on its own terms. Very few companies do what Shift5 does because, frankly, what we do isn’t easy. It’s one thing to capture and report on data from individual OT network traffic, but it’s something entirely different and way more interesting to use data created by the world’s most critical transportation and defense assets to uncover meaningful new insights. 

Commercial aviation is particularly interesting because today’s aircraft are more connected to the external world than ever. These connections create additional new risks, but they also create new opportunities to do something exciting and valuable with the mammoth volumes of data these aircraft generate—data that had previously evaporated with every flight cycle. 

Operators know there’s value in retaining and analyzing that data, they just don’t know how to access it, understand it, or what to do with it. Shift5 does. We can use data from global fleets of these complex flying data centers to improve aircraft efficiency, safety, and security. (How freaking cool is that?!) 

When you can solve a real problem that’s not easy to solve and that few (if any) companies today can solve, and you can do so in a way that delivers tangible business value back to the customer, follow your head. 

Follow the money

Contrary to what you might have heard, reports of venture capitalists spending like drunken sailors are greatly exaggerated. But Shift5 isn’t my first time at the startup rodeo, which reminded me of another great tidbit of career advice: Always consider the quality of VC money. 

I’ve had the good fortune to join a few startups at the right time, but knowing Insight Partners had come in with a substantial investment round just before I joined Shift5 was telling. Insight’s portfolio includes leading, growth-stage cybersecurity and big data companies on a trajectory to high-profile exits. Insight plays a long game, knowing that the best return on its investments comes with substantial growth. 

When quality funding proactively offers you $50M to grow your business, you follow the money. 

But it’s more than that… 

Every company says its greatest asset is its people, but there’s something different about Shift5—at least there is for me. 

I haven’t served in the armed forces, and although my dad and both grandfathers served in the Air Force and U.S. Army, I didn’t grow up in a military environment. Working with people who have decades of military service experience is new to me. And in the short time I’ve been at Shift5, this exposure has already changed how I think about cybersecurity, critical infrastructure, and public service.

The people at Shift5 are also some of the most enthusiastic and respectful colleagues I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with in my career. I can’t underscore enough the importance of that exposure to experiences completely foreign to my own. 

Gravitating towards the comfortable situations and environments we’re used to only limits our opportunities to learn and grow. So, when you have an opportunity that might change you in ways you didn’t expect, you take it.