I have been very fortunate in my career, and that really means very lucky. Upon graduating from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, I had two job offers after sending my resume to more than 100 companies. That is not a very good yield, but it would be good enough. I selected the smaller company, but I selected that company because they created new things. The company I started at developed embedded industrial control systems. It also turns out the people with which I would be fortunate enough to work, were very friendly, and as I would say, were a hoot to be around. Some of my other blog posts describes shenanigans. To this day we still have secret words, that mean something to us but nothing to anybody else (R4).
What drives me
My interest or objective has never been one thing when it comes to product development. In the beginning, I was interested in the creative part, “how do I technically do what the client needs”? In the early phases I knew less than I know now and would spend time in the small company library just trying to determine where do I start? What parts do I need, and why would I select those parts? The company had an older gentleman that consulted periodically, Tony S. I would work my day at the company, do what I could select the micro-controller lay out the schematic, and go to his house about 45 minutes from my work, and start my evening shift with him. His wife always had a nice meal for me when I got there, and after eating, we would retire to workshop, which was reasonably appointed. He is the guy that taught me how to wire wrap (yes, this story is that old). Anyway, he would review the design and provide me with some good pointers and show me the things I did not know. He also showed me the value of wire wrapping for prototype parts. Then, after a few hours of working with him, I would drive to my house, another 45 minutes to an hour in Charlotte NC, and go to bed, to get up in the morning and back at it. It did not feel like work, at least as I recall, it was learning, exploring and creating – long hours, but too engaged to see it that way. Sometimes I would come into work a little late, but never thought of things as a burden which I chalk up to youthful exuberance.
Time to move on
After a time, it became obvious it was time for me to find something new. I applied to a company that was close by, but it turned out I was their second choice and their first choice accepted the position. I would eventually work for this company and with their first choice Fred S. more on that later. I eventually found a position at a skunk works for the heavy truck industry (VES). I worked on interesting projects and field quality problems. For example, I was a part of exploring the superimposing a signal on the power line from the tractor to the trailer (J560 connector) and several other projects / products. At VES I worked with a brilliant engineer – especially when it came to software – Bob W. In addition to a very talented engineer, we both enjoyed fishing and where we worked was not far from a wonderful lake in which to fish. We would go to a store over our lunch time, purchase some interesting equipment and after work (or before and sometimes during) we would take his boat to the lake and see if we could catch anything. A talented engineer, he was an exceptional fisherman, where I caught not much, I recall him catching more and more interesting fish than I did. We were catch and release for the most part. Working with this seasoned engineer in a single office we shared was another wonderful learning experience, not that he told me stuff, he asked a bunch of questions and pointed me to interesting text to consult or help me ask the right questions.
The company at which I had applied a couple of years earlier (when I was their second choice) called me and wanted to know if I would be interested in discussing a position they had open. It turns out they kept my resume, and their business had grown sufficiently to add another engineer. It also turned out, the things I had been doing for more than a year would apply to the work they were now doing and the direction they wanted to take the product. The company was developing tire pressure monitoring systems and wanted to explore creating a truck system and I had been working with both J1587 / J 1708 and the CAN protocols writing embedded (RISC based) products that communicated over these data links. In addition to working on this platform and exploring what it would take to make a motorcycle platform, I would work on some automotive platforms like he Plymouth Prowler, the Dodge Viper, Cadillac platform as well as carrying some testing load for the C5 Corvette. It was during this time that I discovered project management and testing. The job had small amount of writing software (usually for test fixtures), and more with generating specifications and design concepts as well as managing the technical portions of the development process, not quite project manager but some mash up of technical project manager. This job presented so many opportunities, to learn and see different things, including learning about testing of automotive products, as well as the role of the supplier quality assurance on the way to full scale production.
The next blog post will cover the second half which will bring us up to date.Tags: business, continuous improvement, continuous learning, embedded, learning, product development, project management, prototype, success