Boston, MA. EDI CON Boston got underway this week with a plenary session featuring three speakers, with topics ranging from career advice to technologies for 5G. Scott McMorrow, SAMTEC Inc. CTO for signal-integrity products, kicked off the event with a presentation titled “Betting your job—finding your voice and being a change agent in a corporate world.” Thomas Cameron, CTO of the communications business unit at Analog Devices Inc., followed with a presentation titled 5G five years from now—how do we get there?” Faride Akretch, segment marketing manager at Rohde & Schwarz, concluded the session with a talk titled “Delivering value: everybody says it, but what does it mean—a look behind the scenes.”
McMorrow began his talk talking about engineering, saying, “I’m passionate about this stuff.” When he began his career in 1980, he said, he was called an engineer. Today he might be called a signal-integrity or EM specialist or some other label, “…but what I did then is no different than now—engineering.” He advised against silos and recommended a broadening of horizons. “Be a change agent, and bet your job,” he advised.
He recounted in colorful language bidding on a job, winning the bid, and then wondering what to do. But an engineer’s job, he said, is to make the impossible possible.
Billion dollar companies are where innovation goes to die, he stressed. In such an environment, the job is survive and provide reasonable return to stock owners. Billion-dollar corporations are characterized by linear, nondisruptive, inside-the-box thinking, with the goal of incrementally expanding the current context—moving from original Coca Cola to Diet Coke and Coke Zero, for instance. To describe the billion-dollar corporation, he paraphrased John Calvin as saying peace and tranquility are directly related to order and discipline—with the latter two valued by corporations. “I like my employer,” the corporate employee might say. Good, McMorrow said—you are likely to provide the order and discipline corporations want. You are supposed to not rock the boat. If you want to be disruptive (and right), you need to be sneaky.
Isn’t there a risk on betting your job on an alternative one in a large corporation? “We’re all temporary employees,” he said. “If you work for a company you have the illusion of security; if you work for yourself you have the illusion of freedom.” Emphasizing the illusion of security, he provided as an example employees who had intended to spend their work lives at Digital Equipment Corp.
Clearly, McMorrow was advising risk-taking. He paraphrased Rear Admiral Grace Murray Hopper as saying, “It’s easier to ask forgiveness than it is to get permission.” As for what other people think? He advised consulting Richard Feynman’s book What do you care what other people think?
He cited several companies, products, and technologies that he sees as representing disruption: Tesla, the iPhone, the Internet, the IBM PC (“a piece of crap” yet with the advantage of having been developed at a skunkworks, after which IBM retreated to incremental change), SpaceX, Uber, and the biotech industry.
Toward the end of his talk, he said, “Engineers are truth tellers—all you have is truth that you know and the ability to communicate that to others.” As a CTO, he said, “I want you to challenge me, to think through every problem as if your job is on the line, to then make good decisions, and bet your jobs on them.”
He cited three types of engineers:
- one who enables an idea,
- one who disagrees with a bad idea but commits to seeing it through and says nothing, and
- one who complains afterwards that he knew it wasn’t going to work.
“I want person 1 to work with me, he concluded. “One good idea makes all the difference.”
Following McMorrow’s address, Cameron addressed the future of 5G, as outlined here. Bookending Cameron’s presentation, Faride Akretch, segment marketing manager at Rohde & Schwarz, concluded the Tuesday plenary session with a talk titled “Delivering value: everybody says it, but what does it mean—a look behind the Scenes.”
Referring back to McMorrow’s comments, Akretch said, “Scott talked about broadening horizons and being a change agent to make the impossible possible—the engineer’s mission in life. Delivering value—everybody says it but what does it mean? When we step back is it really true? When we are caught up deadlines and design hurdles, do we more often than not forget the original value proposition? Do we settle for good enough? Good enough often is not good enough.”
Akretch noted that “value” applies both to monetary worth and to a person’s principles. Rohde & Schwarz is not a law firm, he said (a possible misconception of people outside the industry), but rather an electronics company with revenue of about $2 billion and with about 10,000 employees. Despite its size, it’s a family-owned firm dating back to the founders, Lothar Rohde and Hermann Schwarz.
The company’s core values, he said, are technical excellence, people-oriented development, and a passion for innovation while pushing the limits of test and measurement.
It’s important to push the state-of-the art, but small things, Akretch said, such as usability, must be taken seriously. VNAs can collect dust, he said, because engineers don’t know how to use them. Setup wizards and undo/redo functions can go a long way to ensure that engineers never need to be scared to mess up a setting.
“On the basis of technical excellence, give engineers the freedom, space, and support to deliver value,” he concluded, advising the audience to ask, “Where can I pause in my busy life and rethink, ‘how can I add value?’”