Western New York is full of innovative people, often blazing a new trail and building a better Buffalo along the way. To celebrate these WNY Trailblazers, Be in Buffalo is participating in a blog series with a coalition including 43North, Aleron, Forge Buffalo, and TechBuffalo.
Nick Derr is a Project Development Leader at FOS of CannonDesign and a third generation builder, architect, consulting facility planner, and software specialist. We caught up with him below about his career in tech, time with CannonDesign, and favorite things about Western New York.
What would you tell other people interested in a career in tech?
Working in tech is like owning a high performance race car. You can get people somewhere faster than they ever imagined possible and it’s super fun. The important thing is taking the time to understand not just where they want to go, but why they need a different way to get there. Listening to your client always has to come first always - before any of the fun racing part. There’s nothing worse than expending a ton of horsepower and ending up in the wrong place really fast. Being patient and able to really listen to people will make you the number-one qualifying driver.
What’s your favorite thing about living in Buffalo?
It’s actually the people. I’ve lived in other major cities in the US and abroad and travel extensively in my role at FOS of CannonDesign. I spend a lot of time in other places and I can tell you that people in WNY are different. This is the only city that I’ve ever lived in where people say hello to you in the morning. It happens walking to the train, downtown, in the neighborhoods, or in the parks. This city has lived up to its name - it is the City of Good Neighbors. The waterfront, parks, museums, and beautiful old homes are the icing on the cake.
What have you learned most in your role at FOS of CannonDesign?
I’ve had a number of different roles and responsibilities on the FOS team. I think the most important lesson that I’ve learned is to set big measurable goals. You have to push yourself, but you also need the data to honestly evaluate your progress and make adjustments. You need to design metrics and goals that fit the practice and the team and you need to use them. You cannot improve what you cannot measure. Measure often and improve at every opportunity.
Why did you pursue a career in tech originally?
I didn’t. I’m a third-generation builder and have a bachelor’s degree in architecture from Syracuse University. I worked in design and construction for a long time before making a change and joining up at FOS of CannonDesign in a role focused on strategic investment planning and asset management services. The team all came with different backgrounds with a singular goal of building a platform that reflected all of our diverse backgrounds and expertise in design, construction, facility management, engineering, strategic planning, construction-cost estimating, and software development. What makes us different is that we didn’t approach the industry from any one perspective. We all had our hands on the wheel as we started a data focused build that five years later would help us earn us the number one spot in the world for facility management services by an AEC firm (World Architecture 100, 2021).
What are you grateful for?
First, I’m extremely grateful to be on a team where everyone puts the practice ahead of themselves. This is incredibly rare and I’m extremely grateful for it. I believe this is the best foundation and environment for experimenting in new ways to solve problems. We wouldn’t be where we are today without this shared value.
Secondly, I’m grateful for our parent company, our team owner, CannonDesign. We are not a true tech start up - we are a tech spinoff. We have the benefit of capital, resources, 17 US office locations, and business support that small companies do not. We are very, very lucky.
CannonDesign has always championed our team’s nontraditional approach. They said yes to one person’s daring and forward-thinking idea over a decade ago. I don’t think very many companies would have embraced an internal disruptive technology, but they immediately saw the value and the need. They recognized that we were different and saw our potential.
Today we have a large and growing staff in six states with a #1 in the world ranking in what we do. We’re always looking for more talented folks to add to the team so check out our careers tab at FOScd.com.