Meet Greg McNeill

The man, myth, and self-proclaimed contrarian hiding behind a whole lot of Dilbert paraphernalia.

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Picture Courtesy: Jessica Carr

Setting the Stage

Walking into Greg’s office I noticed something striking: the Dilbert comic strips were hidden and all that was to show for the fascination was a mere book on the shelf The Dilbert Principle. Disclaimer: read until the end for an exclusive look into Greg’s favorite Dilbert quote (Graphics included) and a fun, interactive survey. For those who have not had the pleasure, I will paint it for you. Greg’s office emulates a walk through time. His library wall, is stocked full of information pertaining to Physics and Astronomical sciences, but the real knowledge lies in the man behind the desk. Greg’s vast knowledge of Physics, SEAS, and Space extends far past that of an encyclopedia (Yes, even a millennial knows what came before its online successor) all told in a witty fashion.

On Friday June 10th, Greg McNeill, President, made the trek from the North wing of the Mission Viejo Corporate Office to the center of 303 Suite (the conference room) to deliver an exclusive “Brown Bag” talk on SEAS. Greg, prior to becoming an employee of ExoAnalytic and its President, was the boss to CEO of Exo, Dr. Douglas L. Hendrix. Coming off this “Brown Bag” talk, Greg sits down for an all exclusive chat to discuss everything Exo, SEAS, his personal views on the modern experience with technology, and even his favorite Dilbert quote in this all-access interview. Along with all of this information, Greg gives me some advice on how to handle the social medias within the company and gives me his take on the modern day version of email. As they say always go to the wisest person you know… Below, is the interview I was privileged to conduct and hopefully I was able to communicate the wise words of Greg McNeill.

Interview with Greg

All interviews questions and answers were taken from voice recording Monday, June 13th, 2016.

Q: How/Why did you get in the industry?

A: I was interested in science and physics from the time I was a little kid. The space program was just getting started right when I was in grade school and that was a big deal. I was very interested in that. [Then I] got interested in physics around late grade school/junior high. I wanted to be a physicist, so I went to school (under-graduate) at UCI (University of California, Irvine) studied physics, went to grad school at Long Beach State [where I] got a degree (Masters) in Physics, and when I got out I got a job at, what was then, McDonnell Douglas Astronautics in Huntington Beach, CA. [I was] put on a small research project that was ballistic missile defense, infrared-interceptors [that were] space based and that is how I got started in the industry.

Q: Do you believe in life forms outside of what we have on Earth? Do you have any reason why you believe that, if you do?

A: Being a scientist, I am thin on belief and big on facts. So, certainly the chemical compositions that would suggest life outside of our experience here locally in the solar system are there. Then the question becomes, well, what is it [that] takes inorganic matter and makes it organic. I do not know the answer to that and I do not think we really know the answer to that quite yet. So I am open minded. That would be my answer. Belief is a meta-physical concept and since I am a physical scientist I tend to stick to that.

Q: Can you give a brief description of your Brown Bag talk on SEAS?

A: Quite a while ago now, back in the early 90s, people began to understand that it was important to demonstrate the value of spaces systems to the actual end users (which were war fighters). The reason for that is space systems are very complicated, first of all, and second of all, they interact with lots of different parts of the military services. That meant you have a very complicated dependency between the war fighter (at the user end) and the actual design of the space systems. That really motivated people for ways to simulate that, to model that, so we could make acquisition choices about what space systems we wanted to procure. At the time, there was no modeling base that could do that and that really prompted the development of SEAS, which is an agent based model, and agent based models allow you to naturally model complex systems.

Q: What are your thoughts on the telescope network (ESpOC)? Any hesitations, initially considering now its commercial success?

A:  That is a really good question actually, because it demonstrates something really important about Exo. Initially, it was a couple of guys in their backyard pointing telescopes up at the sky. My initial thought was, ‘Wow I can’t see how that would lead to a business model, but it can’t hurt anything.’ I wasn’t super negative, but I wasn’t super positive either. So Dr. Hendrix and Bill Therien, both were constantly saying ‘This is going to be something, this is going to turn into something’ and that seemed pretty far-fetched to me. Over the course of a year or so, and the development of some software, which was all done on green time (their own time), it started getting pretty interesting. We were starting to see things that were pretty-we weren’t supposed to be seeing and you could just point your telescope out of your backyard and see it. So then, more and more of us becoming more enthusiastic and it built up momentum. One of the most important and hardest things to do is have the insight before anybody else does, to be convinced and sold out before anybody else is. That I think, Bill Therien and [Dr. Hendrix], were both very positive early on and really drove that development and drug us (skeptics), kicking and screaming, into the realization that hey, this is real, this is a business model, and this is important. In concert with that, we have adversaries who began to develop sophisticated space capabilities (some of them threatening), then it was squared [and] it was even more important that we be able to see what was going on. This was a way to do that and a way to do it cheaper, faster, and better. So that is a market.

Q: Can you recall any interesting moment or interaction with any fellow employee?

A: Oh gosh, there’s a lot of them. Let me just pick the one that is relatively famous, because it has a moral to the story. One of the things we say a lot of the time is, ‘Don’t become intellectually lazy’. It is very easy to become intellectually lazy and not really do your own thinking and process your own information. This is a shining example of that. So long, long ago, when Dr. Hendrix was relatively new out of school, it was raise review time, and I put him in for a bonus and my boss was technologically not very savvy. He had written an email the company of-I guess it was our accounting department, who allocate- interruption by the CEO, Douglas L. Hendrix, who shouted “Is this the interview?”-the bonus pool, and so as a result of being intellectually lazy, he was a little unfamiliar with how email worked. I could hear [my boss] in there cussing and being upset with the email, so as a consequence [of that], he pressed the send button, not once, not twice, but three times, which resulted in Dr. Hendrix getting three times the intended bonus. This turned out to be the entire bonus pool for the year. That was an exciting story, and maybe even the Genesis, or myth that Doug is (Greg air-quoted) lucky or blessed. Every single time something comes up it breaks in his advantage. The stewardess always comes up and asks Doug to move to first class.

Q: [Question comes from the CEO] Does the CEO always believe everything he says? Do you?

A: I do not believe everything he says. Absolutely not, in fact my role is to not swallow, or rather drink our own bathwater. A lot of times I will take a contrarian position, just to force us to not be intellectually lazy, so that we can think through the branches and sink holes of the decisions we are making. To the first part of that question, ‘Do I think the CEO believes everything he says’, mostly, I don’t think he is dishonest, but I think sometimes he will purposely take a positive position, because of the benefits that [it] has. [He] acts like a coach on a baseball team, you don’t go out and say ‘We are going to lose this one to the gipper’.

Q: What do you want to accomplish when you grow up (under the assumption that we do not grow up)?

A: Well I can assure you we do not grow up. We just ‘get old on the outside’. I would like to see/bring SEAS as a simulation a little farther forward. I think there are a number of shortcomings in that tool that we can address and fix. We could make it faster and its visualizations more effective (as communication tools). I think we can do a better job training people on when it is appropriate to use SEAS and how to use it, so I would like to see us do that. I would also like to see the ESpOC evolve to the point where we are doing more than just collecting the data and doing simple processing, [but rather]  doing a lot of the post-processing on this very large data base. So that we can begin to do inference on intent, so when you see satellites run by a particular entity they do something in concert, or multiple satellites are doing something. You can imply intent from that and I think we are moving rapidly to a place where we can do that and that is something I would like to see happen before I hang up the spurs.

Q: What do you think is the major difference between the dotcom boom versus a social media spike?

A: The dotcom boom was the result of the laptop (personal computer), but [the] laptop computer reflected [itself of] that in the internet and the ability to get information out and share it. Everybody [had] access to a computer so that really fueled the dotcom boom. Of course the commercial side realized that if you can own the medium through which you communicate, the people in which you conduct transactions, then there is a lot of money to be made in that. That is what fueled a lot of the dotcom boom. The problem was and this is what happens a lot of the time is that it creates a bubble. Everybody starts to believe every story they heard about dotcom and that is because business people are intellectually lazy sometimes. So a technical guy comes in and he talks ‘technical talk’ and you think ‘Oh my gosh, what a vision’ and he is telling you to ‘do this and you are going to make trillions of dollars, no what a minute hundreds of trillions!’ and you buy that. You think ‘Wow that sounds really good.’ You are investing in something that you don’t understand. When you invest in something you don’t understand bad things follow. So it just got over hyped. People over invested and it was over hyped and we will see that again. We are probably seeing it in the social media right now.

Q: [My question was to follow up on the speed in which social media will spiral] How soon do you think we will see the same thing with social media?

A: We want to get something for nothing.

Q: [Kind of question, more or less commentary] Social media (in terms of personal use) was not a concept when the dotcom boom came around?

A: This is what happened with email. The idea that people could send each other messages. It is the push pull thing. What is so great about an email is that it is not like a phone, [whereas] the phone demands my attention and that interrupts my work flow. Email, I write it when I want to and I read it when I want to, so I can optimize the use of my time. I can conduct a lot more communications, because I don’t have to hope someone is available on the other end of the phone, when I can get that out, and when they are available they can read it. That was transformational. Well then what is the next step?  They get it instantly. For that to happen everyone has to have a phone or something they can receive that message [on]. Of course people didn’t have phones they could do that on up until just a few years ago. The logical extension of email was the social media thing and then of course, because we are an opulent society, we begin giving these phones to our children. They weren’t conducting business with it. They were talking to their friends and the natural extension of that is technology allowed those phones to take pictures, [in order to] share experience, to share ‘Oh, I just bought this thing’ or ‘Look at here is a picture of Yosemite’, or whatever it is. That brought the social part of it in and so communities formed around the ability to share experiences.

Q: Which one would you say is the most/least beneficial in the furthering of society? (Context: Instant (raw) media or crafted media)

A: I think instant (media) has some advantages, but with all of these things there are pluses and minuses. It is how you choose to use them. Which plays to does this help society or not. I think it is whether [what] you are doing with a media plays to help the society is dependent on what the person using on it is intending. I don’t like things that- there is a basic sincerity to instant data, so as a scientist just show me the raw data, show me as fast as you can get it [and] I will do the interpretation. When someone is spinning the data, deciding when it comes out, deciding what to look at, how to make the chart look different, then I always am a little skeptical about whether or not I am getting a real, accurate story or not. So I would have to say instant.

 

Q: (My Final Question) Can you give me your favorite Dilbert quote?

A: ‘The Boss Zone: Where Time and Logic Do Not Apply’

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Comic Strip taken from: http://dilbert.com/search_results?terms=Time+And+Logic

Created: April 7th, 1996

10 Things That Require Zero Talent (Survey):

https://surveynuts.com/surveys/take?id=99421&c=1426890209LPTD


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