Living the Map
College graduate’s quest to work 50 jobs in 50 states leads him to a medical device manufacturing plant in Minnesota.
Downtown Minneapolis. Ten thousand lakes. The Mall of America.
CNC milling machines. Surgery drills. Spinal cord braces.
Granted, the milling machines and spinal cord braces are probably not as nice as Minneapolis or any of the state’s 10,000 lakes (there actually are as many as 15,000 bodies of water in Minnesota that could be considered lakes, depending on the definition of one), but they are just as impressive.
Daniel Seddiqui, 27, is traveling the country in search of the perfect career. Last fall, he found his way to Elk River, Minn., where he worked for a week in a medical device manufacturing plant. Photo courtesy of Metal Craft.
Daniel Seddiqui discovered the grandeur of these machines and medical components when he tried his hand at medical device manufacturing in Elk River, Minn., a quaint city northwest of Minneapolis that sits at the confluence of the Elk and Mississippi rivers.
It was in Elk River that Seddiqui, 27, first became exposed to the medical device industry. A personal quest to land 50 jobs in 50 states brought Seddiqui to Metal Craft, a family-owned contract manufacturer that provides precision machining services to the medical, aerospace, computer, and food and drug industries. Seddiqui made the most of his five days at the firm, working in nearly every department to produce precision parts for medical devices.
“I was a little intimidated when they toured me around the facility,” Seddiqui wrote in an online journal after his first day at the company. “So many new machines and tools that I’ve never seen. I’m going to have to get real familiar with them and real quick.”
Fortunately, Seddiqui was a quick learner. By his second day, he was operating CNC milling machines and working alongside machinists to shape components for medical devices. In his online journal, Seddiqui discussed the precision involved in producing such parts.
“I spent all day wondering what part of the instrument I was making; none of the manufacturers knew. I guess they have so many parts to make that they stop wondering themselves…The machines I used for milling were under computer numerical control (CNC). CNC milling is much more efficient than milling manually, which manufacturers had to do years ago. The toughest part is setting up the right coordinates to make the first part in order to duplicate the rest. There are basically no margins of error, which are what manufacturers call ‘tolerance.’ The tolerance level was 1/1000th of an inch on most of the parts we created today.”
Executives at Metal Craft gave Seddiqui a variety of tasks during his brief tenure with the company to help him fully understand the manufacturing process. Besides milling and drilling, Seddiqui gave parts a finish, etched company logos, part numbers and lot numbers onto components, and did some bead blasting. “That was fun,” he recalled.
Inspiration for the 50-50 Proposition
The national odyssey that would eventually bring Seddiqui to Minnesota began late last summer in Salt Lake City, Utah, where he worked at the Humanitarian Center at The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He spent four days packaging hygiene kits that were sent to Louisiana for victims of Hurricane Gustav.
Seddiqui’s inspiration to traverse the nation in search of the perfect job was born out of both frustration and failure. After graduating from the University of Southern California in 2005 with an economics degree, Seddiqui looked for a job without much success. Hundreds of resumes and more than 40 interviews produced nothing in his field. He was forced to accept any job he could find.
Then Seddiqui got his hands on a book that listed the contact information for every college sports coach in the country. Thinking his passion for athletics might lead to a satisfying career, Seddiqui queried all 18,000 coaches by e-mail asking for a position. He received 250 offers, the most attractive of which was coaching cross country at Northwestern University in Chicago, Ill. Though it was a volunteer position, Seddiqui accepted the offer and moved to the Windy City; he supported himself by doing odd jobs such as painting stairs and performing accounting work at a biomedical firm.
“This was a complete thrill because I forced myself to meet new people and struggled to make myself satisfied,” Seddiqui said of the position.
That struggle, however, was short-lived. After a successful season, every team staff member quit, forcing Seddiqui to re-evaluate his career choice. He reunited with the university’s former head coach in a small town in Indiana where he became smitten with the idea of experiencing different careers, cultures and cities. He just wasn’t sure how he could pull it off.
The answer came to him quite unexpectedly as he traveled by train to Florida last year. A man on the
During his brief stint at Metal Craft, Seddiqui learned to operate several different kinds of machines, including the bead blaster pictured above. Photo courtesy of Metal Craft.
train offered him a job, prompting Seddiqui to think about the possibility of finding work in every state. He returned to his home in California and started planning.
That planning has resulted in a carefully crafted but well-publicized excursion across the country.
Besides a Web site Seddiqui created to document his weekly jaunts (www.livingthemap.com), his travels have been tracked by countless newspapers, television stations and Web sites throughout the land, including CNN, “The Bonnie Hunt Show” and “The Today Show.”
Seddiqui embarked on his journey last August with 10 jobs lined up and a method to his travel madness: “I try to make my drive easy by finding bordering states. I wanted to hit the Midwest during October before it got really cold.”
In the first two months of his 50-week project, Seddiqui worked as a hydrologist in Colorado, a rodeo announcer in South Dakota, an engineer cartographer in North Dakota, an agronomist in Iowa, and a fishtail general store owner in Montana.
Since leaving Minnesota, Seddiqui has visited more than 30 states, holding such unique positions as theme park entertainer (Florida), pit crew worker for the Indianapolis 500 (Indiana), horseman (Kentucky), oil field roustabout (Oklahoma), logger (Oregon) and peanut sheller (Georgia).
The Lesson From Elk River
The jobs are supposed to be representative of the state Seddiqui is visiting. So why did he choose medical device manufacturing for Minnesota? “I know the medical device industry is pretty big in Minnesota, and it’s a career that a lot of people are interested in around the country,” he said.
It’s also a career that is close to Seddiqui’s heart: His father works in the medical device industry in California. “Unfortunately, he was not able to network for me in Minnesota. He didn’t know anyone,” Seddiqui noted.
As it turns out, Seddiqui didn’t need anyone to network for him. Executives at Metal Craft were happy to take him under their wing for the week and share the medical device manufacturing process with him. The company also believed Seddiqui’s unusual request would help dispel some myths about manufacturing.
“The management here is always interested in sharing the company and the industry and what we do with people in the community and kids in high schools,” said Shawn Peck, Metal Craft’s sales and marketing director. “We’ve been doing that for 15 years. We tell people ‘don’t think of a machine shop as a dirty, dingy old building that makes parts for lawn mowers; there’s more to it than that.’ “
Seddiqui can attest to that. When he started at Metal Craft, he had no real knowledge of the way medical devices are assembled. But after immersing himself in the industry for a week, he now has a better understanding of the process and a new respect for the workers that make device components.
“Most of the employees at Metal Craft have been there for 15-plus years,” Seddiqui wrote in his online journal. “If they haven’t been there 15-plus years, they will be eventually. The trend for machinists (manufacturers) shows that once they’ve decided to attend technical school, they make it a lifetime career. So, if you’re thinking about attending technical school, really think about it.”
Seddiqui found the work itself a little mysterious and somewhat monotonous, though the variety of projects and departments at Metal Craft helped keep the tedium to a minimum. He had only one complaint about the job: having to stand for eight hours at a time.
“You have to be on your feet all day. That was one of the hardest things for me,” he said, laughing.
Another hard part of the job for Seddiqui was saying his final goodbyes to the people he had befriended there. Seddiqui felt a special connection to the machinists and management at Metal Craft; they had become more than just his co-workers and employers. Seddiqui considered them part of his extended family.
As it turns out, Seddiqui wasn’t away from his extended family for very long. In April, he returned to Metal Craft to visit his former co-workers and check out the company’s new 78,000-square-foot manufacturing facility.
“[Metal Craft] flew me back from Vermont so I could see the new facility and get an update on what’s been going on with the company. This is the first job that I’ve revisited, and I have to say, it feels like home,” he said.
“Home” is now a state-of-the-art manufacturing facility that includes a 17,000-square-foot mezzanine level for future offices, a cleanroom and large inspection area, and a spacious section for milling and manufacturing. Seddiqui compared Metal Craft’s new building to “an athletic facility at a university. That’s how nice it is.”
Seddiqui’s homecoming in April not only gave him the chance to see Metal Craft’s new facility, it also enabled him to catch up with old friends. “When Daniel worked here, he had a great attitude—it was very positive and upbeat,” Peck recalled. “It took us a long time to go through the shop and give him a tour of the new facility because all the workers knew Daniel. They spent a week with him and got to know him and were glad to see him back. They all talked about what he was up to now. It was a nice day.”
In three months, Seddiqui will work his final state-inspired job (in his native California) and then pursue his next goal of writing a book about his job-hopping jaunt across the United States. The book will no doubt be filled with strange and fun stories about the jobs he has held and the people he has met along the way.
Maybe one of those stories will recount the lesson he learned in Elk River about the integrity of the people he encountered in Minnesota (particularly those who work at Metal Craft). All he would have to do is recount his surprise farewell party from Metal Craft:“Minnesota Nice [and] You bet. Those are the two sayings that I’ve heard all week and they really fit together. Minnesota people are so nice,” Seddiqui wrote in his online journal the day he left Metal Craft. “I can’t believe what happened today.”
Seddiqui still couldn’t believe it when he revisited the company six months later.
“I was getting ready to go home for the week and Shawn [Peck] said, ‘we have to go to the cafeteria before you leave. We walked into the cafeteria and every single employee in there was lined up. The owners handed me two envelopes—one had a check for the work week and the other had a card signed by all the employees with cash inside. It was amazing because the employees gave the money out of their own pockets. They helped me out when I had absolutely nothing and nobody really knew me. That’s Minnesota Nice.”
The Medical Device Industry in Minnesota
Mention Minnesota, and most people think of the Mall of America (the world’s most visited shopping mall) or its most populous city, Minneapolis.
Few think of medical devices.
Daniel Seddiqui, however, doesn’t think like most people. So when it came time to test fit a career that was representative of the North Star State, Seddiqui wisely chose the medical device industry. And for good reason. According to a report from The BioBusiness Alliance of Minnesota and Deloitte Consulting LLP:
• Minnesota’s medical device industry employs more than 29,000 people, nearly four times the national average for medical device manufacturing employment.
• Nearly 78 percent of bioscience employment in Minnesota is in the medical device sector.
• There are 248 end-product medical device firms in the state and more than 600 U.S. Food and Drug Administration-approved medical device manufacturers.
• Minnesota has the nation’s highest number of investigational medical devices and FDA pre-market approvals of medical devices per 100,000 residents.
• Minnesota medical device startups attracted $220.8 million in venture capital in the third quarter of 2008.
• Between 2002 and 2007, Minnesota was ranked eighth for total amount of bioscience venture capital and sixth when population was considered.
• Between 2003 and 2007, Minnesota registered 2,337 medical device patents, ranking second among all states.