Title: Senior Electrical Engineer
Company: Hal Technologies
- Michael designs handheld and portable gas meters and particle counters in his day job
- Michael’s son is named after famous scientist Michael Faraday
- Originally, Michael wanted to be a musician and thinks there are parallels between music and math
When you think back to how you got where you are today, is there a time you can point to and say, “That’s when I knew I wanted to become an engineer.”?
When I graduated high school, I went directly to University and I really, really hated it. I dreaded the drive in every morning. I only lasted about two months before I quit. I thought, “What does this have to do with electrical engineering?” It wasn’t until I realized I wasn’t going to make it as a musician that I was motivated to try again. I went to a community college and I took a trade in electronic engineering technology. It was there that I met the math instructor for the program. In the very first class I remember he came in with an oscilloscope on a mobile cart. He didn’t do anything with it, just kind of wheeled it across the class and started to do a bunch of trigonometry on the board. And I thought, “Great. Some more of this stuff I’m never going to use.” So, he does all this trig on the board and he says, “And now I’m going to show you why you need to know it.” And he just plugged the oscilloscope in to the wall. Finally, things started to click.
I realized math was more than triangles and formulas.
That one teacher always had a reason why you had to learn the math. Once that happened, I was pretty hooked on learning, and I just didn’t stop. I ended up getting my Ph.D., and now I’m out in the industry! I was 20 years old before I knew what I wanted to do.
It’s interesting you mention music. Do you think that has influenced you or provided other inspiration?
There is definitely a connection between music and math. Music is a perplexing, beautiful thing. As you get into it more and understand theory more, it becomes more beautiful. That’s how mathematics is.
You begin by learning the “hows,” but once you start to learn the “whys,” it becomes more beautiful.
What is your favorite part of your job and why?
I would say my favorite part is the freedom that I have. We’re a smaller company, so I get to choose a lot about what we’re going to do. When you work at a smaller company, you’re responsible for “me” and you’re also getting a lot more experience. I don’t just do one part of every project. I condition data coming into systems, as well as customer support and government research.
But among all of that, the most exciting times of any project are the very beginning and the very end. In the beginning, you’re excited and brainstorming about all the possibilities.
But at the end, when you finally get to hold in your hands this thing you have designed for months, or maybe even years, that’s my favorite part.
From where do you draw inspiration? What gets you out of bed in the morning?
My 17-month-old son! I haven’t used an alarm clock in 17 months. There is no need. For inspiration, I have a philosophy that I got from a professor I looked up to in grad school.
He told me two things: write whenever you can, and read technical information for an hour a day so you’re always abreast of the current state of what you’re doing.
With the speed of technology, something could be introduced into the research realm or the product domain that I need to know before I can finish my project. I like to read open-source journals and application notes, which are the best source of technical content, and I hang out on the element14 Community to get new information from independent bloggers and other professionals.
I also look up to Michael Faraday, not only in his experimentation and studies but also in the way he conducted himself as a human being, not just as a scientist. As a matter of fact, I look up to him so much that my son’s middle name is Faraday! He changed the world by discovering how to make electricity out of motion.
What industry or technology do you think engineering will have the biggest impact on in the coming years?
The Internet of Things has huge potential.
There is the backlash on the security issue: if everything’s connected, then everything is vulnerable. But when they solve the security issue, the IoT won’t have anything holding it back. I see connectivity of multiple things definitely moving forward. Now it’s not just a big idea any more, but semiconductor manufacturers are starting to create products around it.
When a technology gets to a point where your imagination is the only limiting factor, it’s well-ready for industry.
What is some advice you’d give to someone just starting out in the profession?
There is no substitute for experience. You can learn as much as you want, and you should, but there is no substitute for experience.
You have to “do” to really know what you’re doing. So get experience. And that’s my mantra.