Nectar Product Development’s (NectarPD’s) Experience Manager, Evan Ross, is tall and thin with dark hair and a contained, yet wry, sense of humor that you can see playing at the corner of his lips in a barely perceptible smile. We meet at the NectarPD offices; he’s been focused on his work like some people are focused on solving a thousand piece puzzle, picture-face down. It takes a good thirty minutes before I see him start to unwind and let his personality show. The first thing we talk about, however, is what motivates him. For Evan, what motivates him the most is a project that really tests his ability to learn and implement new information. One of the projects Evan lead a team on involved a lot of people with PhDs who wanted a machine for chemical analysis, called Wyatt. “Being in the presence of such intelligent people was really humbling and exciting,” he said. “The challenge of working on technology and design so complex was inspiring.”
Evan Ross, a Southern California native who chose to study engineering in college, describes being bored as not having something to work on. “I want to feel like I’m adding value to something. I like relaxing, but you can only relax so much.” Ever since Evan was a kid, he’s enjoyed taking things apart to understand them. He’d do this both with machines and programs as well as people. “I’m a pretty heavy introvert,” he says, “and for me, meeting new people is taking a lot in and thinking about it.” Now, Evan leads teams that develop and build new software and physical designs, and he places a high value on understanding people so he can break apart the components that affect the end-user.
He appreciates the company culture of NectarPD. Like most of the team, he’s worked for companies that have had a very standard, corporate culture. It would be difficult to get to know Evan except outside of the office; he’s very focused on the work at hand. However, at NectarPD, Evan finds it easy to be himself and share ideas with people.
While some companies have office parties, many of the NectarPD staff have been known to attend festivals. Evan himself has played guitar since he was in highschool and has a passion for music. Festivals offer a variety of music, immersive art experiences, and an emphasis on self-reliance and creative expression. It’s no secret that an increasing amount of companies —such as Google and IDEO— encourage their employees to attend festivals such as BurningMan to inspire innovative ideation. Evan went to his first festival along with the NectarPD team. He’s gone to a few more since, and has found that festivals like these not only provide a way to experience surreal life and an alternative culture; they also tend to nurture creativity and empathy. “The outlook on life of expanding your mind, being open to things” became a useful tool in gaining a broader perspective. I asked him what immersion into the festival taught him, and it was simply to “not be so critical of others; instead, be mindful of your place in the world.”
Most of the people at NectarPD are “sustainability-minded”, Evan says. They care what their impact is. Although it can be hard to imagine how far-reaching one person’s, or one company’s, efforts reach, Evan thinks about what the end-user is benefiting from the products he has a hand in creating. The majority of work done at NectarPD is for the industrial sector or for the medical field. The goal is that products enable the end-user to work more efficiently and with more ease.
When I ask him how these products might help, he explains. “Some products help people in the medical field better execute a surgery on a patient. Others make working in an industrial plant safer by preventing injuries.” Evan claims that, at the very least, “workers are happier because they aren’t working with a machine that’s always breaking.” To him, the effort is like the many grains of sand that make up the beach. “These are small, but still meaningful, impacts on the world.”
It was in college that Evan first discovered his passion for working with design and technology. He took a course on Human and Computer Interaction, and thought, “I want to make software interfaces for making music.” Evan had already been interfacing with technology to support and explore his passions; he made videos of him skateboarding, recorded his band’s music, and designed his band’s web-page. So, when he saw that NectarPD had made products for M-Audio, he was inspired to join. Only after working on medical and industrial design did he realize how challenging and exciting those projects truly are.
It seems that Evan’s mind is constantly seeking the next opportunity to grow. He places a high value on education. “To me, education and information is everything,” he says. “That’s how I was brought up, with education being this very important thing to have and to share.” He speculates that some indigenous tribes, even if they enjoy their way of life, could have the opportunity to improve their life if they had access to more information. “They could build irrigation systems and improve their lives,” for example. More locally, he stresses the dangers of ignorance when it comes to policy making. “A functioning democracy depends on informed voters… people who understand how to digest various issues of varying size.” He puts a further emphasis on considering your place in the world by describing how voting a certain way can be selfish and harm others, while it is more responsible to consider the greater impact of the choices of each individual —and of each policy.
It’s nearing the end of a long day at NectarPD as I sit with Evan. He’s come to the end of a project recently, and is looking forward to the next one. For now, he’ll head back home, along the coast, to tend to a garden and play his guitar. He’s looking forward to his next ski-trip, to getting lost in the endless blue sky and the hushed, snowy whites of the mountains. There’s only one thing I still want to know. I push for one more answer, “In a world that’s constantly changing, how do you adapt and change with it?”
He takes a moment to reflect, and then answers.
“People talk about going through journeys to change your perspective on life, and how it affects your work and creativity and your approach to the world. I think everyone should simply try and find the truth about themselves, and have transformative moments. Doing that alone will cause you to grow and gain a new perspective.”