Liz Zettel | Being Open Minded, Exiting Introvertism, & Being Nice
Liz Zettel wanted to become an interior designer until her high school math teacher told her to check out engineering. She ended up being a perfect fit, based on her personality and innate skills.
Join us as we talk about a wide range of subjects: from how animal testing led her to becoming a vegetarian to the most important skills for engineers and many more topics in between.
Most importantly, check out Liz Zettel’s book “Engineer Pants” about engineering from the female perspective.
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Presenter, Liz Zettel, Aaron Moncur
The Being an Engineer Podcast is a repository for industry knowledge and a tool through which engineers learn about and connect with relevant companies, technologies, people, resources and opportunities. Enjoy the show.
Liz Zettel 00:16
How do we move things forward? Right, because I feel like the day that you stop thinking about how to improve things is the day that the engineering side dies.
Aaron Moncur 00:39
Hello, and welcome to another episode of The being an engineer podcast. Our guest today is Liz Zettell, who holds an associate’s degree in chemistry, a Bachelor’s Degree in Biomedical Engineering, and an MBA. Liz spent her career in biotechnology and medical devices and has particular expertise in project management, automation, operations, design controls, mentoring, r&d, team building and a bunch of other stuff. But suffice to say she she has a vast array of different kinds of experiences. And I’m super excited to talk to her on the podcast today. So Liz, welcome to the show.
Liz Zettel 01:20
Oh, thanks. I’m happy to be here.
Aaron Moncur 01:23
I will ask you the same question. I asked everyone to get started, which is how did you decide to become an engineer?
Liz Zettel 01:30
Oh, that’s a really good question. Because I never ever thought of becoming an engineer. I I actually, like in high school, I was thinking about becoming an interior designer, because my friend in high school was gonna do that. I thought, Well, that sounds like fun. And so I got state certified interior design, and Oh, wow. And, and then I was actually quite lucky. I was in a calculus class. And my teacher is Mr. Oh, cousin. And he’d said, Hey, you guys should like check out this engineering camp, they have one up at Utah State. And I immediately like growing up, I was quite poor. And I immediately thought, Well, you know, I’m not going to be able to afford that. And I feel like he read my mind, because the next thing he said was, and if you can’t afford it, let me know, because they have scholarships. And so Oh, okay, cool. You know that that could be and so I talked with Mr. Johnson after class, and he set me up and I got the scholarship, and I attended the engineering camp up at Utah State. And they, they have you like, fill out a whole list of questions to see what you’re interested in. And I got put in the biological group. And so we spent the week going through all these different presentations, and some of my thought, like, Oh, my God, this is so boring. Like, I would never want to do that. But there was one where we isolated the DNA of a wheat germ, and I was like, my mind was so incredible, I can’t, like I can’t believe you can see DNA, like this is amazing. And, and that little spark was, was what I needed to put me on the path. So I started looking at biotechnology and started taking biotechnology classes in high school. And then I like, really thought that was pretty neat. And I thought, you know, I’m gonna get a bachelor’s in Biomedical Engineering. And that’s what I did. So thank you to Mr. Oh, I’m so happy I became an engineer, and I’m so grateful. I’m not a interior designer.
Aaron Moncur 03:43
No offense to designers. They’re great, too. That’s a fascinating story. So growing up, apparently with not a whole lot of money did did you grow up kind of not expecting to go to college?
Liz Zettel 03:57
No, I in fact, was the opposite. I think I had that thought that I was going to go to school. So I worked really, really hard in high school. And I mean, I worked. I started working when I was like 11, and just kept on working like all through my adolescence. And then, like in high school, I grew up in Arizona, and they had, you know, an option where if you were in the top 10% of your high school, they give you a free ride to the end state colleges. And so I was like, I’m gonna do that. So I worked really hard. And then I moved up to Utah. And they didn’t have that same thing. But I’ve also been very fortunate. I worked all through school to pay for school, and I was able to get some scholarships along the way. So
Aaron Moncur 04:46
I mean, it was your first job when you were 11 years old?
Liz Zettel 04:50
I cleaned houses.
Aaron Moncur 04:54
Okay, this is this is getting a little trippy here. So I worked. I was an 11. I think I was 12 1314 I don’t know, few years older than you, but my first job was cleaning classrooms, which is kind of an analogue. And I didn’t grow up in Arizona, but I live in Arizona now. I didn’t, I didn’t. Yeah, I didn’t realize that you had grown up for what part of Arizona where you in?
Liz Zettel 05:18
I mostly grew up in Chandler, which is just outside of Phoenix. There.
Aaron Moncur 05:23
Yeah. One of our engineers lives in Chandler very cool. Well, I’m going to bounce around here a little bit and ask some some different questions back and forth. So you, you are an engineer now and you’ve worked as an engineer for what, like 15 years plus something?
Liz Zettel 05:40
It starts coming by pretty quick. Yeah, it’s been about 15 years now.
Aaron Moncur 05:45
Yeah, I turned a turn 41 last year, and I couldn’t believe it. How did this happen? I didn’t think I would ever be 41 years old. Anyway, the question I was going to ask was, you spent some time in surgical suites, watching the surgeons perform procedures and use devices? What, what insights have you gained, or can one gain in that environment that, that you don’t necessarily see sitting in a cubicle in front of a cat box?
Liz Zettel 06:12
Oh, there is so much you gain from interacting, in this case, our customers, I did a lot of work on ethnographic studies, which is the fancy word for like you watch people and you see what they do. And, and then you figure out, like, what you need a fix to make things better for them. And so we’d spend a lot of time in surgical suites, watching procedures, and really finding out more how our devices were used. So you typically have like your instructions for use, or do your very long and, you know, get reviewed by all our regulatory bodies, and you go to procedures, and you realize, clinicians aren’t, aren’t following steps 1234 through 35, they’re doing things differently throughout the procedure to make it best fit for that patient, or me a better way to place a device for them. And so, you know, observing is really important, right? It’s that kind of like, an active listening is really important, where you really just get that feedback that you’re missing when you’re in your cube all by yourself, like working on your mini tab, statistical review. So it was really, really interesting. And I really recommend it right, you, you learn so much. And and I think the other neat thing in terms of product development is it opens the doors for like other things that you can think of to make better that you would have never even considered if you hadn’t stepped foot into the room. Have you ever got frustrated with one of your customers? Um, well, I suppose there’s different customers and different communication styles. And sometimes the communication styles. You know, if it’s not the same way that you communicate, that could be frustrating. So yeah, I’ve definitely had some opportunities to improve communication with our customers.
Aaron Moncur 08:10
What what are some of your preferred methods of communicating? How do you even know if someone’s communication method is different than yours? Like, what are the cues that you pick up on?
Liz Zettel 08:21
Well, if they start to get frustrated, that’s pretty, pretty good indication that your communication isn’t working well, right? If it and it’s like, if you feel like you’re going in circles, like you’re saying the same thing over and over and like this person just isn’t getting it, it’s probably means you’re saying different things you just don’t understand. So when I focus on communication, I really tried to be aware of different communication styles. So some people are very visual. So having diagrams and engineers in particular, tend to be quite visual. So having a diagram that you can point to where you can show other tolerances, like walk people through is really helpful. And I always try to, you know, look at the target audience and figure out, is this a technical person where I can, you know, just talk with them about engineering specs? Or do I need to kind of, you know, I always pretend like I’m telling a story of someone, like, here’s where we start, and this is why this is important. And they’re like, Oh, yeah, I get it. Right. So I’m just kind of depends on on your audience. And communication is very important for engineers. It’s probably the area where we really struggle the most. Right?
Aaron Moncur 09:31
Yeah, it’s, it’s interesting. I’ve, I’ve interviewed probably more than 60 engineers at this show. And I often ask, what, what are some of the most important skills or traits that engineers need to have? And one of the most common ones is not the technical stuff, it’s communication, being able to talk with people. And I think you’re right, like as engineers, some of us anyway, right. We’d like to sit in our tube and kind of be ourselves and and can struggle But I think I think that should be a course that’s offered in the engineering curriculum is like how to communicate with other peoples
Liz Zettel 10:07
That would be so helpful, like, how do you look someone in the eye? Or you say hi. in the hallway, you know, how do you engage in a conversation where you aren’t a deck? Right? Like, you know, there’s, there’s a lot of opportunities. And that’s really where, you know, you see people struggle like you can have, you know, I’ve met very brilliant engineers like, and we think about, like, there’s so many different areas of engineering and so many different strengths. And there’s folks I’ve met that are just like, brilliant, right? They think of all of these amazing things, but like, they are not nice people. And people don’t like to work with them. And it makes a difference in their career.
Aaron Moncur 10:48
It makes a huge difference. Yeah, absolutely. So always be nice. That’s my, that’s a great rule. Well, like I said, I’m gonna I’m kind of bouncing around here a little bit. What, what have been some of the most commonly used or maybe just most useful DFM pro tips, so design for manufacturability pro tips that you’ve picked up? Over the years?
Liz Zettel 11:12
Oh, that’s an interesting question. You know, I think one of the things that I found to be most helpful my career, I started out as a Research Development Engineer working on new products, which was a lot of fun, right. But one of the pieces that I missed early in my career is the value and importance of sitting on the manufacturing floor. And there was one new product that I was working on, that required a very specific visual inspection to make sure the product was properly made. And it turned out on my team, I was one of the engineers that had like the best eyesight. So I got to sit for a month on the manufacturing floor building this device that I had designed. And I realized so quickly how much improvement I could make for those poor folks on the manufacturing floor. There was one process in particular that like, after I after I worked there, I just really was so apologetic to the production team for giving this to them. But it was, um, we had a recess in the top of this component that we need to press fit another component into, and then it would go through an ultrasonic welding process that would join it together. And, you know, we hadn’t really planned on this in the project, to be fair, but what we gave the production operators was a screwdriver to, like, knock this thing. And after, like, a couple of weeks, you know, I’m sitting out on the floor, inspecting these parts every day talking with the operators learning the processes that much better. They’re like, Can you do something else, like my wrist really hurts?
Aaron Moncur 12:55
Liz Zettel 12:55
You know, designed for manufacturing is so so important. And really, you know, beyond beyond that piece, right? making tools that work for people is so helpful. But the other thing that I’ve learned through my career is really understanding your tolerance stack ups, right? So we get so excited, like you’re making your AutoCAD file, and like your specifications, you know, like, yeah, 5000 tolerance, that sounds great. And then like, you get into like, the real world, you’re like, ‘Oh, geez, like, that’s like, maybe that’s too tighter. Oh, goodness, like, in some cases, that’s, that’s much bigger than what we need.’ And so really understanding those tolerance, backups and testing your minimum and maximum material conditions throughout their process is so helpful. And then it really gets into, like yield improvements, and making things better for you know, our friends on the manufacturing floor.
Aaron Moncur 13:49
Yeah, that’s a really good point. I think it’s fairly easy to keep in mind, designed for manufacturability. As you’re designing a part, if you’re doing some kind of injection molded part you’re putting draft on and you’re making sure there aren’t too many side actions, or maybe no side actions anyway, you’re keeping these things in mind. But then design design for assembly, I think sometimes gets overlooked. It’s, in my opinion, it’s even easier to overlook design for assembly than it is for design for manufacturing processes anyway.
Liz Zettel 14:24
Yeah, there’s a lot that can go wrong if you aren’t really looking at that big picture view. And really like keeping that in mind and talking with your colleagues across that full cross functional team as you go through the process. Because what I found is, you know, the people that are working the floor are the ones that usually have like the best insights for what needs to be fixed to make it better. So for sure, no, and that goes back to that communication piece, right? Like being open to feedback and open to different viewpoints really helps you become that much better of an engineer and make that much better of a product for your customer.
Aaron Moncur 15:00
Yeah, and going, going back just one more nail in the coffin here, there are tools in CAD to look at, like design for injection molding, right, you can run some analyses, and they’ll show you all there’s no draft on this service or whatever. But there’s no not really a tool to check for design for assembly that is more or less up to the imagination of the engineer. So hopefully, there’s some checks, you know, after it’s designed that you can go through speaking of design, it seems that design is kind of always the sexy part of product development, right is where most engineers really enjoy spending their time and focusing. But the design of the new product is only one small part of the overall development. There are all these kind of supporting ancillary services outside of just the design aspect. What are some of these less sexy activities that need to happen?
Liz Zettel 15:59
Oh, you want to call them less sexy? I think it just, you know, it’s finding the right fit for you, right? Where you really resonate with the work that’s happening, and you’re excited, like, you know, skipping into work everyday. But like, Yes, I get to work on this. Right. You know, I think one of the areas that I’m working in now is manufacturing transfers, which is more, you might call it on the the sustaining side of things. But that has been really fun. And very different than NPI where, you know, like our team I like, I like to think that they’re actually enjoying this work more than an NPI. Because with transfers, you know, it in transfers. With our current team, we are working on every single product line. And so with with r&d engineers, or manufacturing engineers, you typically have like one process, one product that you’re focused on, and our team we get to look at, like all of them, which is really pretty neat, because then you learn so much more, right? We’re working on extrusions, lamination catheters, stents, like all sorts of things. And and then like, we have to transfer, you know, between current suppliers and new suppliers. And it’s, it’s, you know, you have specs, but it’s, it’s almost harder than an MPI because those specs that, you know, Bob came up with 20 years ago, might not be that great, and 99% of the time, they’re, they’re not that great. And so we have to not only like, figure out what those missing specs are, or what that target performance range actually is. And then we have to figure out how to make it with a new supplier. So I think there’s a lot of sexy areas of engineering, and it’s just finding, like, what’s the right path for you, and what makes you excited to get up and like, solve that next problem in the day?
Aaron Moncur 17:53
I think you’re probably right, it comes down to the personality of the individual like I, for me, I love design, that’s the fun part. Otherwise, I would not want to spend my time doing documentation. But I know other people who legitimately love documentation, like putting together a manufacturing drawing, it’s this this almost meditative event where they’re so careful about making sure all the dimensions are lining up. And it’s it’s an art form for them. So I guess it does come down to just what what you like, you know, your particular style.
Liz Zettel 18:29
You do you, right?
Aaron Moncur 18:30
There you go, you do you exactly, what what is your favorite part of the new product development process.
Liz Zettel 18:40
I really love the part where you make an impact, right? I’ve never been a person that could make a widget and just feel like good. I really enjoy making products that make a very positive improvement in someone’s lives. And so the products that I’ve worked on are, are really that and actually in my current role, the products that we work on, like I know, every day, I’m coming into work, the products that I am working on, save someone’s life, and chances are very high. That one day one of my family members, one of my friends, one of my colleagues is going to use one of those devices to really bring back their, their quality of life, and what they can do in terms of their functionality after a stroke. So it’s really pretty neat. That’s that’s kind of the fun part is like getting it out to the market and then really seeing that impact that it has.
Aaron Moncur 19:37
Yeah. Have you had opportunities to speak with patients that have used products that you’ve designed?
Liz Zettel 19:44
Yes, yes. And, and it is pretty neat. My first job as an R&D engineer was designing port catheter devices for long term vascular access. And what that means is they’d implant this device and it would basically you’d be used for patients who needed long term chemotherapy, or for like little kiddos that had short gut syndrome and needed to get their TPN their nutrients through a device. And, and it’s really pretty neat. Like I was able to go to infusion sites and talk with the patients that had the port and then show you the poor, you can see it. I’ve been at Costco where I be just because I work in that field. I know what a port looks like, right off the bat. And I could tell like the lady that was, you know, three people ahead of me in line had one of the devices that I had worked on. And I had a, you know, one of my colleagues at work saying, ‘hey, my mom just got one of the devices that you used in like, thank you, right, it’s, it’s really, really neat. So, so yeah, it’s been a lot of fun, I suppose, like, a lot of engineers, like your work might just kind of like go off, and he never get to see it again. But I have been very fortunate to get to see, you know, that that impact and, and how much improvement it brings to patients. And that’s really, really neat, and very fulfilling.
Aaron Moncur 21:06
Yeah, how rewarding? Well, I’m gonna take a real short break here and share with the listeners that we have a new website, actually, Team pipeline.us is now where you can learn more about how we help medical device and other product engineering teams who need turnkey custom test fixtures or automated equipment, to assemble, inspect, characterize or perform verification or validation testing on their devices. And we’re speaking with Liz Zettel. Today, you have managed several teams, and I wondered as a project manager, how can the engineering team make your life easier?
Liz Zettel 21:47
Oh, that’s, that’s an interesting question, Aaron, you know, working as a project manager, or even as a manager of an engineers, I think it It always comes back to communication. That’s where things really fall apart quickly. And you as a project manager, you’re kind of the person that like the glue, that’s like reaching across all these cross functional teams to take into consideration all of these different perspectives and data, and then you know, come together and find that path forward. And that the moments where it’s been like a mo is kind of difficult, or trying is like, when the engineers aren’t getting along well, and they need help navigating those, you know, sometimes difficult situations. And, you know, finding that path forward where they can still, you know, be very collaborative and feel like they’re heard and contribute to that solution. So, communication is so important that there is really important.
Aaron Moncur 22:48
All this comes back to communication, doesn’t it?
Liz Zettel 22:51
It is it is a core foundation.
Aaron Moncur 22:53
Yeah. Well, another one of your specialties is mentoring. Can you share some granular details about how or about the structure of your mentoring relationships with mentees?
Liz Zettel 23:10
Well, I I’ve, I’ve had both informal and formal mentorship relationships. So actually, I just got off a call setting off the the next round of mentorship Ed Stryker, where you work. And I’m very excited about that. And that’s a formal program, right? So we have, we send out questionnaires to find out what people need feedback on or support in what they’re interested in, then we pair up and mentor based on those interests, they, you know, fill out a charter of what things they want insights on, and then you know, send them off onto their merry way. And you, you know, work with your mentor to figure out your path forward. And then I also, um, so I have mentors through that formal type of program. But I also have, you know, mentees that I have informally where, you know, you’re just like chatting with, you know, Sarah, across the hall, you’re like, hey, so how’s it going? They’re like, well, that’s great, but I’m just not sure what I’m gonna do with my career, like, Oh, well, let’s, like, let’s talk some more and, and, you know, you just kind of keep chatting, and, you know, a year goes by and now you’ve got like a really good friend and someone that you’ve helped kind of grow in their career, which can really be a lot of fun, too. So so I am, I work in both both types of mentorship there.
Aaron Moncur 24:29
And I think that’s super rewarding as well, right? Like the products that you develop, they help people obviously, that’s rewarding, but being able to mentor someone and help them in their career and in their life, that’s gonna be super rewarding as well.
Liz Zettel 24:41
It’s so helpful. And I think in my career, I had so many people that helped me along the way to become successful where I am today. And for myself, I always think, you know, I try reflect back and, you know, really just pay it forward. To make up for all of that support I had that helped me become who I am today and get me to where I am. And so, you know, paying it forward is a really important thing for me to do.
Aaron Moncur 25:13
For sure. You had a really interesting role back in 2005, which was calf sitter.
Liz Zettel 25:21
Aaron Moncur 25:22
Tell me more about that.
Liz Zettel 25:23
That was very interesting. I know I shouldn’t have gotten the job. I, I was my, my family was allergic to animals. So I never had any pets growing up. And this job was monitoring rabbits and sheep and pigs through various studies for medical devices. And, and it was crazy, right? Like I would work these really pure shifts because I also had other jobs that I’d worked during more normal shifts. So I’d be up in this like old hospital at like 10 o’clock at night, like watching over the sheep monitoring their hematocrit levels. And like, you know, yeah, that was a very interesting job. I found out Aaron, I was allergic to albino rabbits. Very allergic.
Aaron Moncur 26:15
Albino rabbits. Wow, that is specific.
Liz Zettel 26:18
Yes. They are doing a wound care study on the rabbits and even like just handling them for a minute to give them their medication. I broke out in hives, and I really did this. Yeah. And I also found out sheep are crazy. We had this one sheep. And sheep typically, like the studies that we were doing, were on stents, cardiovascular stents, so they would implant these stents in the sheep. And they would monitor you know, the reaction if you had too much clotting or whatnot. And, and then they would do necrosis studies after the implant had been in place to see what impact it had on the tissue. And she, you know, typically, you know, don’t really like people, so they just kind of like, stay away from you. And, you know, I went in one day, and there were like, there was this sheep that was very aggressive. And yes, and it turned the other sheep. very aggressive. And, yeah, I, I had a flash, like, one day I went into, like, the pen to, like, monitor their temperature and feedom and, and sheep came up and like, immediately had been at the shovel I had, and I was like, Oh, this is like, different than usual and concerning. And then another sheep came up, and like, my life flashed before me, like, Am I gonna die in here like trampling by the shape? Yeah, I got out. And before I got in, I noticed that, you know, there was like reinforced glass on the outside of the pin that had been cracked. Here, like kind of fractured in a few places. And I called my boss right after this. And I was like, Hey, you know what, I’m here by myself. I’m worried I’m gonna die. Alone with the shape is can you just like, have someone coming in like polis this other equipment out when I get interest? Like, sure, no problem. She’s like, yeah, they’ve been happening the glass. So that’s why it’s broken. I was like, Oh, my gosh, that would be so helpful to know. So yeah, that was a very interesting job, for sure. Like, we’re gonna see, like, you know, how devices, you know, that, that aspect where they do animal testing to try to help and mitigate the risk in devices that they go forward? So it was a really interesting job for sure.
Aaron Moncur 28:35
Did you guys ever have like, I don’t know, folks from PETA outside protesting, no animal testing anything like that? No, no, no, fortunately, not. That has to, I don’t know, be a little uncomfortable. I’ve done some animal testing in the past. And don’t get me wrong. I’m saying I’m not saying that we shouldn’t do animal testing to mitigate the risk for humans. But like, it weighs on your mind a little bit. At least it did for me, you know, like this animals a living creature, we want to treat it well. Like how do you I don’t know, how do you get into the right mental state of mind just kind of to deal with that?
Liz Zettel 29:16
Myself, I’ve I’ve had a few experiences with animal testing. And one in particular, really was difficult for me it was sacrificing mice, we do these studies to inject radio labeled anatomy to see where it went in the brain and and anatomy is a naturally occurring hormone that’s similar to THC and marijuana. So they were like, hey, if we can like, you know, figure out how to manage the you know, the breakdown of this hormone like we could use this as a, an alternative to marijuana, right? This was like, a really long time ago, like 17 years ago. And and so we did these studies and we injected mice, and we had to sacrifice the mice and do regional brain dissections. And I felt so bad. I became a vegetarian and was a vegetarian for a long time after just to try to like create a balance in my mind. So yeah, I did, I did feel poorly. And I had to, you know, make amends through what I what I can do to, you know, find that right balance in the world.
Aaron Moncur 30:25
Yeah, that’s so interesting. Thank you for sharing that. That was the kind of a personal thing. I appreciate the the candor there. Let’s see, we’ve already talked about this to some extent. What are the top two or three skills that you think engineers should have communication has already come up many times? beyond that? What else do you think is really important for an engineer to have, as far as skills
Liz Zettel 30:53
Being open minded. Sometimes, as engineers, we have this thought, like, I’m right, you’re wrong. Let me prove to you how wrong you are. And I find like the folks that have that mentality, are usually wrong. You know, and, and, and I think the the difference is, you know, if you can take a step back and not become defensive, if someone says like, No, your ideas, bad ideas better, right, you’re like, whoa, whoa, hold on, Sally, like, my ideas, better your ideas bad, right? If you just kind of like, take a step back and kind of remove that defensiveness that can be so easy to kind of fall into, and you just think, Well, tell me more. Right, um, I found that you learn you learn a lot and actually kind of changes your, your frame of reference a bit. And, and where I found people that are the most open and exploring, right, it really changes the outcomes in a very positive way. And sometimes, I work with engineers that, you know, change is really a struggle for, and it can be for a lot of people, right, it’s really hard to change. It’s, we find, like our places that were comfortable, and like your engineer that like really likes making his spreadsheets and love diagrams and whatnot. And, and it can be hard to move outside your comfort zone. So sometimes I’ll, I’ll like, Tell, tell folks like, Hey, you know, I reserve the right to become a better engineer. And I reserve that right for you, too. So let’s like, be creative. And like, I know, it’s gonna make you feel uncomfortable. But like, what if we did blah, blah, blah, right, and just kind of explore that space, right? just just just, you know, come along with me, let’s like, go out and swim a little kind of test the water, see what we can do here. And, and it is really neat, like when you kind of establish an environment where people feel safe, to bring up ideas, and you encourage that. And it’s really pretty neat to see what ideas come out of it. Whereas if you just were like, ‘Okay, well, let’s just keep doing what we’ve always done.’
Aaron Moncur 33:04
Liz Zettel 33:04
You wouldn’t have those really neat outcomes that you can get to.
Aaron Moncur 33:08
Yeah, that’s awesome. And it comes back to communication, I think. Right? So it’s kind of a cheater answer, because it’s so communication, but we’ll, we’ll give you a pass on it.
Liz Zettel 33:17
And there was a third one, right?
Aaron Moncur 33:18
Liz Zettel 33:20
I think technical competence is also important. And one thing that people forget, is seeing that big picture view. And this was, you know, one of the lessons I had learned, where I was so focused on my rationales for the new products that I didn’t always spend the time going down to the manufacturing floor to see how things were made. And so one of the things and that’s one of the things that’s really stayed with me over time is you need to like, see your products right now with, like transfers, for example, right? I can look at specs on a paper, and that’s fantastic. But having that device in your hand, creates a much better picture and an understanding of what you need to do. And so that’s, that’s one area that I always try myself to focus on is, is getting down seeing how things are made, understanding that full lifecycle of the product and exploring all of those areas and just becoming that much more educated as a result.
Aaron Moncur 34:25
Yeah, and speaking of becoming educated, I think of your formal education, right college university. That’s, that’s the start, right? That’s not the end of your education, engineering education. In fact, I don’t know I’ve always felt like I was not terribly useful to the the company I first worked for like is very green engineer. I had this foundation but not a lot of practical knowledge. And that’s all stuff that you learn on the job. What what are some ways that you found to continue your education As you progress through your engineering career, whether it’s no technical or soft skills, or all of the above,
Liz Zettel 35:07
I try to make a practice of introducing myself to everyone that I meet. And as an introvert, right, and a lot of engineers are introverts, it can be really hard, right? Like, someone new, goodness!
Aaron Moncur 35:21
I’m having a hard time believing that you’re an introvert you just like bubbly and full of life and easy to talk to.
Liz Zettel 35:28
It is it is I actually had this same conversation with my mentee just a couple weeks ago. She’s like, I don’t believe I’m like, it’s true. And it’s actually, it’s something that I realized early on in my engineering career, that the more that I reached out to people, and got to know them, it kind of opened up avenues that I wouldn’t have had otherwise. And so it was something that I, at the beginning of my career, I had to like, tell myself, and this is why it’s called myself Elizabeth, right. Elizabeth, like you need to, like, go introduce yourself to everyone that you meet, and chat with them. Right. And because I’ve done it so much, it’s it’s not something I have to tell myself to do anymore. And, and it’s become kind of fun for me to learn more about other people. And I oftentimes learn about related projects, because like, I’ll go up, you know, to Steve, Hey, Steve, welcome to the company, like what are you working on? Oh, you’ve got that, oh, tell me more about your project. And before I know it, like I realized, hey, we’re working on one of those same components. Oh, you saw yield losses, you all will tell me more, right? And it just kind of opens up those additional, you know, avenues for you to a meet someone new understand and learn about someone does, and then just become that much better. As a result. So yes, I am an introvert. But I don’t always seem like one.
Aaron Moncur 36:58
Well, if you say so I’m not sure I buy it. But it’s like a habit. Right? You said that you no longer have to tell yourself, Elizabeth, talk to this new person. It’s a habit at this point. Yeah. If if you could speak with one famous engineer, whether it’s someone alive today, or in the past, who do you think would be?
Liz Zettel 37:22
Harder? That’s I haven’t ever really thought about that.
Aaron Moncur 37:25
You can use the word engineer, you can define that loosely.
Liz Zettel 37:30
I’m gonna have to think about that. When Aaron. Fair enough.
Aaron Moncur 37:33
Well, maybe we’ll come back to it. If you don’t think of anything, that’s fine, too. Well, okay, I have another question. I read that you once launched a new product in 53 days. Yes, I have to know how you did that. Because that’s like, that’s unheard of.
Liz Zettel 37:49
And actually, you know, my friend, Martha, I think she her record. And maybe she’ll have to tell me if I’ve got this right was 55 days?
Aaron Moncur 37:57
That’s again, unheard of how is that even possible?
Liz Zettel 38:01
A lot of communication.
Aaron Moncur 38:05
Comes back to communication.
Liz Zettel 38:07
You know, it all comes back to relationships, Aaron, how you treat people makes a difference and how much they want to work with you. And on that particular project that I had, it was a really, really important project, we had to make a customized kit for a very, you know, important clinician that we were working with, and you know, the VP of the company, right? He’s like, Hey, you know, Dr. So and So needs this in February, it was like December, I was like, oh, okay, well, we got to get going then. Right. And, and I was able to do it, for a few things. A, it was a line extension. So it wasn’t starting something all from scratch. But it was really strategically sitting down and looking at how you could leverage all the information that we had to make the project most effective. And then it all came down to relationships to right where I could call up, you know, the person and regulatory or the folks in quality and say, Hey, you know, this is a really important project, we have to get this out, like, this is the target that we had. And this is why it’s so important. And when you take the time to explain to someone you know, a you say hi, you know, hi Danielle, how are you? Okay, so I need your help. This is something you can help me with. That makes a huge difference. And then explaining why it’s important makes a huge difference. And it and running shoes, I actually like kept a pair of like Nikes under my desk so I would literally like run through the building to like, meet deadlines. Yeah, to get things shipped out or like get things signed, like, just remember that like one day I was like, I am really like Front End hair like, level
Aaron Moncur 40:02
That is next level. That that is incredible dedication right there. Amazing running shoes, running back and forth throughout the building to make deadlines.
Liz Zettel 40:10
I got my steps that day. But then those relationships, right, so we had people like our auditor Michelle, She’s so nice. I talked with Michelle. And it usually took, you know, three days to perform a very detailed audit to make sure everything was in compliance with our standards. And, you know, our FDA guidelines and all of that. And I remember I went up to Michelle, I was like, hey, Michelle, how are you? Like, so I, we have this project we’re trying to get done for, you know, this really important doctor? And can you help me like squeeze in the audit? Like, I know, you probably have like a million things. She’s like, Well, actually, I had some free time this afternoon. Why don’t you bring it I was like, Oh, great. And she cranked it out that afternoon. And I can tell you, she would not have done that for me if I was not, you know, nice to her and like, built that relationship over time. So thanks, Michelle, she, she really helped all the other folks along the way, too. So
Aaron Moncur 41:07
That is a huge point. And I think so easy to overlook being nice, right? how important that is just being nice to people. I love that you said that. Our core value number one and pipeline is treat our customers well treat our team members better.
Liz Zettel 41:25
Aaron Moncur 41:26
And it’s all about like treating our team members really, really well. And we don’t always live up to it. But I like to think that usually we do. And that’s a big deal, right? In terms of cohesion with your team. And just being overall more productive. It’s so much more enjoyable and productive to work with nice people. I remember in college, I don’t know that this is a direct example. But it was interesting. I had a project as an engineering student to I had to make this widget this thing. And I didn’t have the skills at the time to go out into the machine shop and machine it myself. And so we had at the university, a machine shop with, you know, full time machinists that actually work there to support student projects. And so I went and said, Hey, I’m trying to make this thing. And I’m supposed to talk to you guys and see if you can help me out. And they’re like, yeah, we can do it, but it’s gonna cost is gonna be like three weeks, and there was some cost associated with flat. I don’t remember what that was, but they’re like, it’s gonna be three weeks or, and I said, why I need it, like in a week. And they’re like, No, we can’t do that. Forget about it. So I thought, well, I could just walk away. But what else? What else might I try here? So I wouldn’t bought a bottom big box and don’t do that. Exactly. And I went back, I was like, Hey, I know you guys are gonna take three weeks I get it. You’re super busy. But here’s this box of doughnuts. And if it’s possible to do it a little bit quicker, that would be awesome. But hey, no worries, I know that your schedule is whatever it is. And guess how quickly they got it to me. It was within a week. So that was a pretty cool experience.
Liz Zettel 43:03
Yeah, it’s actually you know, that’s something food goes a long way. Oh, yeah, we had a supplier that we just got cookies shipped to, like, in Ireland, with COVID, right, like all the bakeries shut down in Ireland, because they’re, you know, much more stringent there. And they than that of the US. And we send them cookies. And they’re like, thanks so much. And they and they send us a picture of the year this, these were like, it was actually like doughnuts, these were like amazing doughnuts, right? Like very, very fancy doughnuts. And it really like was such like a boost for them. And so you know, like, it does make it does go such a long ways. Like little treats. Nice little thank you cards, like all those little things that like take just, you know, a bit of work to kind of pull together. And it’s not something that’s going to be on your performance review. But it really does make such a difference for folks. So yeah, those are all great things to do.
Aaron Moncur 44:01
Yeah, being nice and using food. That’s like the two secret weapons.
Liz Zettel 44:04
Aaron Moncur 44:05
You know, the great leaders of the world right there. Okay, another quick side story here. When I was an intern working at an engineering company, our boss offered to take us out to lunch every now and then. And he would take us to like pizza hut or something, you know, and he would pay for lunch. And usually, I wouldn’t take a lunch break. I would bring some a sandwich or something and eat lunch. But I was working the whole time because I was I was a poor student working as an intern and I didn’t want to take an hour off. I just wanted to work and earn my hourly rate, which was like, I don’t know. $12 or something. Yeah.
Liz Zettel 44:41
Wow, it’s great.
Aaron Moncur 44:42
Sure, I guess so. So
Liz Zettel 44:46
I started out like $5 was so excited one day when I got like, $12 I was like, This is amazing.
Aaron Moncur 44:56
Luckily, it wasn’t $5 but, but I remember one day doing the math on this, right? I could take an hour and go out to lunch and have my boss buy me like a $6 personal pan pizza. Or I could sit in my seat and earn $12 and just eat whatever I brought. But I always went out to lunch. Like, the allure of free food.
Liz Zettel 45:19
I thought you’re gonna be like, like, well actually like the return on investment that Hi. So I just stayed there and I ate my little pb&j. Like,
Aaron Moncur 45:29
I thought about it but the end of the day. I was like, heck, No, man, I’m out of here. Free food pizza, ha, I’m there. You know? No, it made no financial sense.
Liz Zettel 45:37
That is that is such an important point, though it especially well for younger engineers, but also for like engineers, like myself, like, it’s so easy to get caught up in, like our projects. And like, oftentimes, I just crank through my lunch break. And I don’t always go out and talk to people. But that time, just to like, go out and say hi to people. I mean, it’s so it’s so important. And like building those relationships, and like having fun at work. Just just makes everything so much better. So I’m, I’m really glad to hear you do that. And I hope other folks can follow that example that you set for them.
Aaron Moncur 46:16
Yeah, it was good. I never regretted it, you know? Okay, um, one more question. And then we’ll wrap it up here. So engineering, a new product is a long, expensive, risky process 30 4050 years from now, how do you think? Or what do you think we’ll be doing differently that will have reduced the the length cost and risk of development?
Liz Zettel 46:44
Well, I suppose there’s a few areas that would make a tremendous impact. One would be in, as you mentioned, better tools to understand your device early on, so I could easily see, right, some systems where you could kind of pull together different types of materials, different dramaturgs of materials, for example, and like test it out and in anatomy, you know, simulated anatomy model and like, figure out which one navigates best or kind of like show then kind of show these really cool models to clinicians or, or you know, find different ways that you can run more scenarios like for molding, for example, right, you got your FMEA analysis, where you can go in and do like the mold flow and see, like, where you might have stress points, and then change the radius there to improve that. But we don’t really have like a really cool system like that, that can like, simulate use of products in so many different body types, which can be kind of a constraint for designers and figuring out like, do we make it big? Do we make it tiny? Maybe for like Pediatrics, like, what’s the right size? And how do we, you know, best scale a product, so I definitely see some areas for growth there, I see a lot more automation coming in, that will improve manufacturing. So better understanding, like, how your processes flowing, what areas you can improve on, and then a lot of automation, I see.
Aaron Moncur 48:19
What kind of automation do you see coming?
Liz Zettel 48:22
Like everything, Aaron, it’s all it’s all, um, you know, if you can make your devices more consistently, like that just improves everything in the process. So I would anticipate that there would be more tools that would make that design process that manufacturing process that much easier. And then that allows you to bring those products to market that much quicker. And obviously, you know, prototyping, different technologies and prototyping are still advancing, right, we used to have to, like machine everything out of metal now you can do yeah, metal injection molding, or 3d metal printing. Right. So cool, like, and so I just kind of see those technologies continuing to improve and, and really developing just give us that much more of a canvas to work as we bring those products to life.
Aaron Moncur 49:13
Do you think AI will ever get to the point where we just give it some inputs? And then it designs the device? Like it defines all the geometry? It designs, the mechanisms that allow it to work? Or do you think that’s just never gonna happen? Because a machine can ever think as intuitively and as thoughtfully as a human?
Liz Zettel 49:32
Um, no, I and I would, I would kind of phrase it differently. It’s, it’s what data you give, that can drive those outputs. So I suppose it would be more a question of, could you define those characteristics well enough, those different inputs that you need to design for well enough that you could take all of this data, and then like a little robot could be like, this is what you need to bake. I definitely think it’s possible that would be pretty neat. But it all comes back to the data, characterizing the data, understanding what data you need, understanding what those critical inputs are, and how you can go forward.
Aaron Moncur 50:11
Very good. Well, Liz, this has been delightful. Thank you so much for spending some time with me today. Before I let you go, how can people get a hold of you?
Liz Zettel 50:21
Oh, well, Aaron, there was that question that engineer question. Oh, yes, you have an answer for it? Well, I’ve been thinking about it. I’ve been trying to multitask, you know, right. I think, you know, automation is a really neat area. So I think if I could go back in the past, I probably chat with the folks that were the early pioneers in automation, and just kind of see, like, Why? What made them think of that? And then how did they convince their colleagues that were like, you know, John, you’re crazy. What are you talking about? Like, no, we have, you know, Carl, and Bob making these products. They’ve been doing it. Carl’s been here 20 years, he, you know, she’s gonna do better than Carl. You know, it would be neat to, to get that perspective, right? Because that’s, that’s always the question like, how do we continuously improve? How do we move things forward? Right, because I feel like the day that you stop thinking about how to improve things is the day that the engineering side dies? And like, how do we how do we just keep moving forward and finding that, that path, and like being creative and learning more, and then like using all of that experience to just become that much better? So let’s, I don’t have a specific person, I chat with all of them. Even though I’m an introvert.
Aaron Moncur 51:46
That would be really interesting, because back before automation was a thing like what? How would you even think about automation? You know, you don’t have that paradigm in your mind to even construct a framework around it. So how did they even come up with that in the first place? I guess it’s like, you know, any, any great inventor, right, where we have horse and buggies but I’m going to put an autumn automobile in place. Yeah. Okay. All right. Well, Liz, how can people get a hold of you?
Liz Zettel 52:15
Oh, well, Aaron, I’m definitely open to chatting with people. They can. LinkedIn is probably the best way for people to reach out to me. So if you find Elizabeth Zettel nuts, ZETTEL on LinkedIn, I’ll come up. There’s not too many. Unique last name, for sure. But yeah, just reach out there. And I’d be happy to chat with anyone.
Aaron Moncur 52:35
Liz Zettel 52:36
Oh, and you know, Aaron, I also wrote a book. I didn’t mention that. Oh, tell us about the book. I didn’t even know. Yeah, well, I thought about it when you said that you were kind of interested in, in maybe writing a book when I wrote a book to pay it forward. So it’s called Engineering Pants. And…
Aaron Moncur 52:54
This is a great title. I’m interested already.
Liz Zettel 52:57
It was it was a play off of Tina’s Fey book. There, but yeah, Engineering Pants. It was a book that I wrote to help pay it forward to help guide young high school students, you know, primarily a young women that are, you know, starting to think about like, well, could I be an engineer, like, what does that look like? What should I do? How should I prepare? So it was written for, you know, high school, through students on through college and then early career, and it’s just kind of a compilation of different lessons I had learned throughout my life, and things like that. So
Aaron Moncur 53:34
Wow, that’s fantastic. And where can people find that book? Oh, you can? You can get it off Amazon. So just search Engineering Pants by Elizabeth Zettel.
Liz Zettel 53:44
Oh, it actually it’s it’s under Liz Larson.
Aaron Moncur 53:48
Oh, okay. Got it.
Liz Zettel 53:50
Yeah, I need to do I actually, it’s something I’ve been thinking about doing is, is doing an update. Because I’ve learned so much more since I wrote that book. You know, so many years ago.
Aaron Moncur 54:01
When did you write that book?
Liz Zettel 54:02
You know, it was I, it took me a couple years to put together I think I finished it in like, around 2015.
Aaron Moncur 54:09
Okay. Yeah. Might be time for an update.
Liz Zettel 54:12
I think so. Yeah, I think so. And there’s so much that you learned, right, you just become that much better. I’ve actually wanted to reread it and like, think back to myself, like, gosh, Liz, like you really well, you’ve learned so much. That’s great.
Aaron Moncur 54:28
That’s awesome. Very cool. Thank you for sharing that. All right. Is there anything else that we should have talked about that we haven’t?
Liz Zettel 54:35
Oh, you know, just just some advice for folks. I think the most helpful advice that I’ve received my career because I was always like when I started out as an engineer. I, like had this whole plan like I am. I’m going to start out as an associate engineer. And, and then I looked at all of the engineering positions after that at my company and I okay, well, in two years, I’m going to be you and then two years after that could have been a two, and then two years, and then in 10 years, I’m going to be a program manager by the time I’m 30. And then I’m not done yet. I’m gonna go on and become an engineer director by the time I’m 40. And I had this whole plan, right? Yeah. And I worked, I worked really hard. And I, I met a lot of those goals. And I realized one way you should throw out those little postings, like Do not be like my former self, right, because you should do what interests you. And that changes along the way, like, I would never have that when I started out, you know, just right out of school. So excited work in medical devices, that I would be where I am today. And I would have had all of the little career pivots along the way. And it’s been a lot more fun, since I kind of like freed myself from the, you know, that very rigid career path. And so I really encourage people to do what interests you, and that and just be open to that changing over time. Because all of those experiences as you talk with more people, you learn more. And then, and then, as you mentioned, like, there’s so many different types of engineering, there’s so many different ways that you can take your amazing skill sets and your strengths and apply them in a very productive and like fulfilling manner. And so, you know, what, you know, today is not everything in the world of what you can do, or what you can’t achieve. So I just encourage people to, you know, be open and do what interests you. And then it all kind of works out. I think it all comes out. And it’s a lot of fun. So
Aaron Moncur 56:37
You know, after you mentioned the Tina Fey book, I just subconsciously now I’m thinking of you is Liz Lemon.
Liz Zettel 56:44
Yes. I actually, I actually used to get that a bit because I had, you know, I had classes like her. And yes, some folks would say, which is funny. It’s kind of funny. Yeah.
Aaron Moncur 56:59
All right. Well, Liz Zetell, thank you so much for everything you’ve shared today. This has been awesome.
Liz Zettel 57:03
Well, thanks, Erin. I’m so happy to be here. It’s been a lot of fun. Thanks for having me.
Aaron Moncur 57:11
I’m Aaron Moncure, founder of Pipeline Design, and Engineering. If you liked what you heard today, please share the episode. To learn how your team can leverage our team’s expertise developing turnkey equipment, custom fixtures and automated machines and with product design, visit us at Team pipeline.us. Thanks for listening.
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