American Bureau of Shipping – Nautical Systems – 2006

A friend of mine, loosely associated with a group of alumni from the university I attended, found out that I was thinking of coming back to Texas, and asked to call me.

We chatted for a few minutes, and he said that he might have a lead for me in Houston, which is where I really wanted to end up.

Soon after, I got an email:

I am a friend of here in Houston.  passed your name on to me and suggested that I contact you.  I am in charge of software development at ABS Nautical Systems, a firm that produces and sells a line of applications software to the marine industry.  We have been growing rapidly over the past year, and I’m looking for someone with management skills as well as the ability to analyze software issues to help me cope with the increasing workload.  I wanted to contact you in case this is of interest to you.

A good place for you to get an overview of who we are and what we do would be on our website, which is  If you are interested in exploring this further, I can send you a little bit more detail about what I am looking for, and perhaps we can talk on the phone as well.

At the same time, I was sending the hiring manager this note:

I am considering leaving the Bay Area, and Houston is my first choice, since I grew up there and have family around the area. The
primary concern is finding a position. mentioned that you might
be looking for somebody with project management experience, so I
decided to contact you.

Please find enclosed my resume; I would appreciate it if you would
look it over. Even if there is no match here, I really appreciate
your time, and wish you well in your endeavors.

He then sent me this:

Below is the additional detail I’d promised you.  I’ll plan to give you a call during your morning commute tomorrow (between 11:30 – 12:30 Houston time as you advised); let me know if this won’t work for any reason.  Look forward to talking with you.

ABS Nautical Systems builds and sells software for vessel operations to the shipping industry.  Our product suite addresses functional areas like machinery maintenance management, purchasing (of spare parts and consumables), crew management, crew payroll, regulatory compliance, and other aspects of ship operation.  We are headquartered in Houston and have about 35 employees worldwide, with branch offices in New Jersey, Singapore, Malaysia, India, Greece, Germany, Brazil, and Chile.  We are the industry leader in the Americas and one of a handful of major vendors worldwide.

The Product Development department, which I head, is located in Houston and India.  Product design and specifications are prepared in Houston, programming is done in India, and the QA function shared between the two locations.  Day-to-day activities of the Houston development staff include, in no particular order: design of new features; evaluation of bugs reported and/or suggestions received from our product consultants and/or clients; QA of new candidate releases and patches; troubleshooting of client problems escalated from the product support group; and support of our product consultants in with respect to client implementations they are spearheading.  At any given time, it is likely that all of these activities are being pursued in some combination by our six U.S.-based product development staff.

Over the last year, ABS NS has experienced a sharp upswing in our business and in the number of clients and implementation projects, apparently in response to the introduction of our newly-rewritten product suite, which offers numerous advantages over the old product line.  As a result, I am looking for a person who can help to manage the increased number of activities and interactions that the Product Development department has with our product support department (and in some cases with clients directly).  Ability to multitask and handle numerous activities/projects concurrently will be a key requirement, as the work environment, though collegial and collaborative, is fast-paced.  A strong software background will also be important because although I anticipate this person will function to a large degree as a manager, most of the issues in question will be technical and will require an appropriate background to be able to understand what is going on and make sound decisions.  I would also expect this person to become highly knowledgeable in our software product suite and to spend considerable time doing hands-on work with the software, analyzing issues etc.  I don’t have a fixed set of requirements but I’d anticipate that the successful candidate would have at least 10-15 years’ relevant work experience.

We have a competitive salary scale and offer excellent benefits.

A lot to digest here.

I know nothing about the shipping industry (still). 35 employees world-wide, with offices in 8 different countries. Development teams in Houston and India. I would not have been managing them. Growing fast. Pure project management role.

  • I did not want to do project management as a full time job. It’s unclear whether or not I would also be the manager of the development team.
  • I was not really interested in the customers or the industry. (I wish I had listened to that voice a few weeks later…)
  • I was not interested in traveling to India. Most of my friends who had been there had warned me that my allergies and asthma would be a real problem there.

I wrote back:

After thinking about it for a while, and doing some research, I have decided that I am not interested in this position after all. The technology does not lie in an area that appeals to me.

Rather than waste your money flying me out there and putting me up, let’s just cancel this. I do wish you luck, and am sorry for wasting your time. However, I hope that you find somebody, and not just that, somebody who will be enthusiastic about the work.

He wrote back:

I’ve been puzzling through the sequence of events and would like to better understand what it is that caused you to rethink.  I fully respect your decision, I’d just like to understand it better.  Your email below mentions the technology, but as far as I’m aware ABS NS’s technology is quite good and current.  So, partly I’d like to make sure there wasn’t a disconnect somewhere, and partly I’d just like to understand more clearly what the issue was (it might have the potential to be an issue with other candidates as I continue my search).  Would it be OK to give you a call to chat for a bit one more time?

I replied:

Feel free to call if you like.

At the end of the day, if I am going to make this kind of move, I have to work on technology that gets me excited about going to work. While I am sure that there is much to learn in your technology, and that there are many interesting aspects to it, I just am not that interested in what your customers do, and therefore don’t have any excitement over software that is tailored to their needs.

I am getting nibbles from other companies that does have technology I am interested in, and I just don’t think that wasting your money and time on bringing me out there for something I am not likely to take does anybody any good.

He closed with:

Thanks. I fully appreciate your comment about wanting to be excited about the work you do, and your more-detailed explanation helped me understand much better now what the issue was for you. Good luck in your search.

They are still around; they sounded like good people, and I wish them continued success.


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