Paul Schaffner | The Benefits of Building a Long Term Career in Engineering

 In Being an Engineer Podcast

Paul Schaffner

Paul Schaffner has worked for Benchmark Electronics for over 30 years. These days it’s hard to find individuals who have stayed with a company for effectively their entire careers. Join us on the episode and listen to what factors have motivated Paul to develop his long-term strategy, and the benefits he has enjoyed through doing so. Along the way, learn a little about what it’s like to work in a field developing test equipment for electronics hardware and why it’s more fun than working at Tesla!



work, engineer, team, test, people, benchmark, engineering, tools, project, capstone projects, manufacturing, list, paul, design, company, tester, automated, testing, customers, focused
Presenter, Paul Schaffner, Aaron Moncur

Presenter 00:00
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.

Paul Schaffner 00:15
I learned a long time ago, even I think was at the end when we had a team of 20. Those those guys, our leaders at the time, would argue and just be at each other. And then it got into the lunchroom and have coffee together. Right? They didn’t take it personally. They just simply understood that they disagreed and they needed to get the job done. And sometimes you got to make sure everybody understands your point. But you can’t take it personal. It’s just part of the process.

Aaron Moncur 00:56
Hello, and welcome to another exciting episode of The being an engineer podcast. Our guest today is Paul Schaffner, who is the director of test development at benchmark electronics, a global engineering design manufacturing test and supply chain service provider focused on the field of electronics. Paul has spent over 30 years becoming an expert at in circuit test and functional test development, as well as automated device inspection. Paul, welcome to the show. Thank you. All right, Paul, you you graduated with a degree in physics. Did you know from the from the get go what you wanted to do with that degree?

Paul Schaffner 01:40
I really didn’t know. I knew that electronics and the physical world was was pretty interesting to me. But and I wanted to know more about that. Right. I’m sort of a homebody from a small rural town, less than 1000 people. I think it’s less than 800. Today, right? So it’s pretty small. Yeah, a good family friend, I think recognize maybe some potential in me and urge me to go to a local school, when known as State University, right. And it was near my hometown. So that was pretty easy. He’s actually a professor at Winona State, though it didn’t, wasn’t directly in my educational path. But but I chose physics right away. And I stuck with it engineering, electrical engineering wasn’t an option at Wynonna state. So I chose physics. And it really I think, matched my level of curiosity at the time.

Aaron Moncur 02:31
Interesting. So if, if electrical engineering had been an option, do you think that might have been the route that you took?

Paul Schaffner 02:38
Yeah, absolutely. That’s more likely the road I would have taken. And I would have not necessarily been better off because I really liked my my physics background.

Aaron Moncur 02:49
And but during the course of your education, you’re, you’re becoming, you’re getting your degree in physics, did you? Did you at some point, think to yourself, I want to go work for a large electronics manufacturer? Or were you still kind of not really sure what the future was gonna hold after graduation?

Paul Schaffner 03:08
You know, I absolutely didn’t know. And, in fact, I was somewhat afraid that I have to go work at Fermilab down in Chicago, because that’s what physicists do. Right? You know, so I didn’t know the other options. I actually interviewed for a position in Florida as a, as a, I guess, a electrical tech for a museum. And that intrigued me, right, because I could play with all of the interactive games and tools that were in a museum, right. And I even interviewed for it and decided I just didn’t want to move all the way to Florida at that time. So it’s, it’s, it was really kind of a tumultuous time to make decisions.

Aaron Moncur 03:46
Okay, well, fast forward until present day. And you have you currently hold that the role of director of test development at benchmark electronics? Can you take just a few minutes and kind of share with us the progression of your career through this point? You know, what, what was your role when you first started there? And what are some of the different roles that you’ve held over the years?

Paul Schaffner 04:09
Sure. Yeah, I had I advanced pretty conservatively and probably just at a slow pace like I should, I didn’t, I wasn’t rushed through any of the programs or the roles. And I think that’s probably made me a stronger person. I actually started as a technician, despite having the four year degree, there was an electrical tech position open. And that’s what I that’s where I started. So I quickly moved into an engineering position with a lot of hands on building and testing. Back in that time, we used You know, a lot of perf boards and wire wraps, to try out new circuits. Nowadays, you just go you know, order up a PCB and then three days later, you have your PCB and you can try a new circuit, right. So, things have changed. I worked as a lead engineer in that engineering role, and then as a project manager, and then I moved More into people leadership as a as a team lead. And I think I really excelled there. I get along with people and and i think that that was a good step for me. You know, looking back, I worked as in the test development area pretty much all the while back before test development was cool.

Aaron Moncur 05:20
It’s cool now. Yeah, absolutely. Haven’t you heard? I’m glad to hear that. I just didn’t know that that had made its way through the through the ranks. Yeah, absolutely. Well, you’ve worked for benchmark for over 30 years now, which I thought was really interesting, because these days, he just you don’t find people that work for one company for that long. And it made me wonder, what, what is benchmark done? Or what has your experience been like to convince you to stay with one company for that long?

Paul Schaffner 05:51
You know, I’ve actually thought about this quite a bit since it was kind of a big anniversary, right. And there’s a number of reasons. Not not sure, which is the the most compelling but the ride from that technician, position to director has been filled with ups and downs, but mostly up and to the right, as a past manager always lead us he’s like, up and to the right, that’s where we’re going. So I feel that I’ve been treated fairly, and I’m satisfied, such that I didn’t need to jump ship to get ahead. Right, it was, like I said it kind of an easy going forward direction that that was satisfying. I do take a lot of pride in the company growth, when I started, I was part of a team of 300. That’s actually what we call herself a team of 300 at end. And after the acquisition by benchmark electronics along with a number of other acquisitions. Now I’m a team of 10,000. So I feel enough responsibility in what I’ve done in my my job and my leadership position that I believe I had something to do with that growth, at least on a test services side. And that’s, that’s cool. In the end, I you know, I’m, I’m working within 12 miles of where I grew up. So that’s, that’s probably equally as unlikely for most most people, or unusual for most people. I’m hearing the Mississippi River value, which is just beautiful. It’s rural, most of my siblings are still nearby, it’s it’s home to me, and yet Minneapolis is within two hours. So it’s just a easy way to to get away as well from the Minneapolis airport. In such a mess, my wife and family have done a lot of seeing the world I don’t want to make it sound like I haven’t seen the world just because I grew up here and I’ve stayed here. We’ve been to a lot of fun places as a family and, and just my wife and I so it’s it’s like I said a number of reasons.

Aaron Moncur 07:41
My goodness, Paul listening to you, I I’m getting really jealous, it sounds like you just have this enchanted life get to grow up and stay in the same place. And you live by, you know, in a beautiful area, and you’ve traveled and you work for a wonderful company. You’re a lucky man.

Paul Schaffner 07:57
I feel that way. Like I said, I feel satisfied and lucky. It’s things are things are going well right now.

Aaron Moncur 08:03
Well, I’ve I’ve read, you know, in books in here and there or listened in podcast to why people stay with the companies that they work with. And something that’s come up over and over is that people don’t necessarily quit their jobs, they they quit their their managers, or sometimes they quit their teams. And you yourself are a manager right now. But over the years, I’m sure that you’ve worked, you know, under several managers, and can you share? What are some of the things that that your managers have done? Or maybe as importantly, some of the things that they didn’t do that made you want to continue being part of the benchmark team?

Paul Schaffner 08:45
Yeah, sure. Right. That’s, that’s a really good question. I’ve reflected on it a lot. Each time, my role has changed. I think it’s caused me to reflect on that very question. With every role that I’ve been through, that I’ve transitioned from technician to management staff, and, and such that the benchmark leadership has always supported me, I’m going to say through empowerment. And and I know it sounds a bit cliche, right. But I don’t even know if I could have described what that word meant, until I really felt it in my new roles. So of course, I know my responsibilities, what I have to do and what my team has to do performance based, right. But there’s there’s never been too much rigidity on how I need to accomplish that. So as long as I have that some given take and flexibility on how I need to meet the metrics, I’ve really enjoyed that, that devalue of empowerment. So, you know, with some lack of humbleness, I recognize that this approach probably doesn’t work for everyone. But I like putting creativity first and trying to find a different way to do things right. And not the guy who’s gonna sell for the same way. It’s always been done. I say, Well, I think we can Do that cheaper, faster, better, smarter this way or that way. And like I said, management has allowed me to try different things. And it’s really work. I believe it’s worked well for me and fits my management style.

Aaron Moncur 10:13
That’s, that’s a big deal. I think purpose and autonomy are really important for keeping team members motivated, right, that they need to have a purpose to work towards, and they need to have the autonomy to, to drive themselves towards towards that goal. Can you think of any specific experiences that you’ve had? And maybe it wasn’t an experience of you working under a manager, maybe it was an experience that you empowered one of your team members, but but were you or someone on your team was given that that empowerment, and the result was just, you know, something really beneficial to the team?

Paul Schaffner 10:54
Well, I think something that the best example we have is the standards that we have for test development. Um, right now a benchmark was there was no standards, you know, per se, before we formed an official test team, which I led. And now we’ve got a couple testers one’s called the edge tester, one’s called the target tester, and one’s called the step one tester. And those are standard platforms that that we’ve developed as, as a team from our experiences. So now the engineers can can start with a platform instead of starting from scratch each time. And that’s what we’re doing. Every time we have a new test solution, we had to start from ground zero and builds custom circuits and pick power supplies and such. Um, now we’ve got these platforms as a starting point, and they’ve become really, you know, the image of benchmark test development, they’re in every presentation I make to a customer. They’re they’re proven successful, and we continue to use them, you know, today, 1515 years later,

Aaron Moncur 11:54
how much of an impact do you think that has made on your customers confidence in your team? Seeing that you’re not starting from scratch, you have this platform, this process that you’ve proven over? And over? Yeah, and maybe you need to tweak or alter that process for their specific application. But you have a starting point?

Paul Schaffner 12:15
Yeah, I think I’ve gained confidence through presenting those solutions to our customers. And what I mean by that is, I remember, some of the first times I was put in front of, of customers as, as, as a newer employee, I was shaking in my shoes, right? It was it was is quite challenging. Now with the looks from our customers, the feedback from our customers, the buy into those platforms, I’ve just got a complete sense of confidence, I can step in front of a customer now and say, This is what we have to offer. We know it works. It we’ve used it many times, you know, there’s success behind it. With that level of confidence, it’s it’s a lot easier to sell.

Aaron Moncur 12:54
That’s fantastic. It makes me remember an experience I had back when I was a very young engineer, I’d probably only been in the field a year or two maybe. And we had one of our biggest customers at the time. This is not when I was at pipeline. This is before pipeline when I worked for a different company. But we had a medical device customer, we’re developing this this device for him. And he was a physician inventor. And he wasn’t local, he was he was in a different state. And but he would fly in every now and then. And we’d kind of have a powwow and shown what we’d been doing and the progress that we’ve made. And there was a technically very challenging problem that we’re trying to solve. And so we would be mostly working with the lab, we’d come up with a design, we’d prototype and we test it and and, and then move on to the next test. But he flew in this one one time, and it was me and another engineer. And I think our project manager was sitting there, and this physician inventor, and the doctor looked at me and we’d been talking about some of the testing we were doing in the lab and and he said so you know, do you like this? And I wasn’t exactly sure what he meant. And I said, you need to like tinkering in a lab. And he’s like, No, no, do you? Do you like the general, you know, row that you should have been taking? I’m sure he heard that tinkering the level, what am I paying these people to do? But like you said is, as you gain more experience, and you start to have confidence in your own processes, those conversations become much easier to have absolutely. how well your your focus is and has been through most of your career centered around manufacturing test processes. Can you tell us a little bit about you know, like, what is a day in the life of your team? Like what are what activities, you know, to some level of granularity? What what What are you doing each day?

Paul Schaffner 15:02
So, you know, it’s it’s, it’s not obvious to everyone what manufacturing test means and, and part of the confusion starts right with a benchmark is a manufacturing company, right yet we have designed services. So there’s there’s some confusion there. People might think of automated X ray are automated optical inspection systems. And of course, we use those tools. But that’s not what my team does. There’s also a lot of confusion because we have to design services have to do software testing, do hardware testing, every time I, you know, open a position of 10 software engineers apply for and say, I know how to do software testing. And that’s not what we do, right. That’s not what we do. We focus on testing product that’s, that’s in manufacturing, the, we build test solutions to test every electronic product that’s built before it shipped. So we don’t do audit testing and such we do 100% test of circuit boards and devices. And my team builds testers to make sure that that’s accomplished. So we use tools like in circuit for sure. And test and boundary scan test for sure. But most of the team is focused on functional test where you’re actually powering up the bore, powering up the device and making sure that it’s it’s functioning the way it’s supposed to be functioning. We tried to do that in an automated method as much as possible. So we’re using software tools like LabVIEW, and teststand. And we’re using a number of all the automated instruments for making measurements. The last thing we would want is an operator sitting at a bench actually, with DMM leads and making a measurement in manufacturing. That’s not manufacturing test. That’s DVT and EBT. Test, right. So the distinction. Yeah, definitely, you know, different than what a lot of people think about when they hear the word test. Yeah.

Aaron Moncur 16:54
So my company pipeline, we do you know, a lot of test equipment ourselves. We don’t do the actual testing, but we develop the equipment. Some of our favorite tools and hardware for doing these are things like bearings, and machined aluminum or Delrin, or stainless steel, linear actuators, and motors and sensors. And we do quite a bit of 3d printing as well. Your testing is, of course, much more focused on electrical systems. What what are some of the electrical analogs? You know, kind of the the favorites that your team goes back to time and time again for electronic test development?

Paul Schaffner 17:32
Um, yeah, well, we’re still want to say we use all those things that you just mentioned as well, right. Our mechanical test fixtures are are made by and designed by companies like pipeline, right. And, and we use motors and gears and stuff in our in our test solutions. On the analog side of the analog of the of that to Electronics is we are using automated measurement instruments, leveraging interfaces like USB and PCIe. And psi, we take the direction to automate manufacturing solutions as much as feasible because we’ve got a budget and schedule, of course, but we really, we always want to create that level of automation.

Aaron Moncur 18:10
Well, this is probably a good time for me to take just a short break and share with everyone that test fixture design comm is where listeners can go to learn a little bit more about my company, pipeline design and engineering, and how our team helps predominantly medical device engineering teams, but other manufacturing and engineering teams as well, who need turnkey custom test fixtures or automated equipment to assemble, inspect, characterize or perform verification or validation testing on their devices. And we have the great fortune to speak with Paul shafter. Today, Director of test development at benchmark electronics. Paul, Can Can you share with us maybe what is one of the biggest successes and failures that you’ve had in your career? And what did you learn from those experiences?

Paul Schaffner 19:03
I guess I, I feel I played a big part in in the formation of what’s now become a mature test team. When I started, the engineer who wasn’t doing a product design, got to work on a tester, you know, and at diamond at that time, it was kind of a dubious honor. Right? To do that test team is an experienced team of large teams with a standard set of tools and a lot of new all ready to get our customer products to market more quickly. And that’s our goal, right? Our that’s what I tell our customers, the faster and better we help our customers, the more successful benchmark is as a whole. And I feel like I’ve been part of that success to build that team up to give our customer you know, the tools and the resources in as far as people goes to get their product to market faster. And that’s you know, that’s good for both of our customer as well as benchmark.

Aaron Moncur 19:54
How did how did the creation of that team start? Was this something that that you spearheaded or You know, the did management come down and said, we think we think we need this test team? Who’s going to who’s gonna lead the development of this team? How did that happen?

Paul Schaffner 20:10
Well, Aaron, it wasn’t last week. So yeah, it was kind of a, it was kind of a slow start, you know, gradually, a few people were focused more on tests. And, and these people were dedicated just to test instead of, you know, schmear across product design and test. So once we had a group realize we said, Hey, what do these groups, this group should be formalized and, and should be using standards and such to be able to accomplish that task a little more clearly and quickly? You know, at first, it wasn’t obvious that a test engineer might be different than a product engineer. And once you start labeling some of the tools that are needed, and and, you know, templates such for documentation, they are they are really quite different. And once we realize that, we said, Hey, this is this is really two separate groups.

Aaron Moncur 20:58
Interesting. Well, I guess along that same vein, you you’ve LED, or you currently lead a team of over 35, team members and part of your responsibilities have been hiring those members, right, building the team? Are there questions that you like asking during interviews that have have proven to be effective in identifying the right people for your team’s?

Paul Schaffner 21:25
Well, I’m not sure about specific questions, but we really like to find like minded people who fit into our divisor environment, right? What then we also like people with new and different ideas. And so the challenge is, of course, those two are in conflict with each other quite often, right? The perfect candidate has great new ideas, as well as fits into our environment. And we actually, you know, consider things like, well, we’re in Minnesota, and we have winter. That’s not for everyone, we’re, you know, very rural here, very outdoorsy here, and people who enjoy that sort of aspect and are in their spare time, and and fit in technically, are very good candidates. So if we’re hiring up a position requiring experience, we look for manufacturing tests background is already mentioned before, that’s not the same as a hardware verification or software verification background. It’s really different for manufacturing tests. So I, I look at resumes that specifically call out manufacturing tests. Also, because of the connection between the mechanical solution, and the tester, the software solution in a tester, it’s really helps if you have an aptitude in multiple areas. So I’ve been looking at more at some general engineering degrees, rather than as specifically a hardware engineer, or electrical engineer. And if you’ve got a hobby, like repairing cars, or a farming background, and you’ve used to take stuff apart and put it back together, and it worked better than it did before, you know, you’ve got a leg up, for sure, I’ll definitely want to talk to you.

Aaron Moncur 23:03
I love that you say that I have heard that same sentiment. So many times from hiring managers, you know, if if you grew up on a farm, or if you grew up taking cars apart and putting the bat together, if you, you know, grew up building things with your hands, that’s such a huge advantage. And then the other thing I’ve heard that you just mentioned, is that more and more in the industry we’re looking for not specialists, but generalists, you know, engineers that have a more diverse background. Maybe they’re not, you know, the biggest expert in one certain field, but they’re pretty good at a wide variety of different things. It sounds like that has been something that’s been useful for your team members.

Paul Schaffner 23:48
Yeah, absolutely. And I think it is because it’s the integration of a tester is not just software, it’s not just LabVIEW, right? It’s not just a hardware, custom circuit design. It’s a lot of different specialties pulled together that allows us to bring a tester up and running.

Aaron Moncur 24:06
Yeah. Over the years, as you’ve worked with new engineers, entering the industry and the benchmark your company, I imagine that you’ve seen some some trends within education and how these these Junior engineers were prepared. Can you speak a little bit to kind of what what kinds of trends you’ve seen in engineering education over the years? Oh, sure.

Paul Schaffner 24:35
Yeah. I think engineer engineering education has certainly changed in content. I can tell from the from the new grads coming in. I think the engineers are less focused on theory and more focused on getting available parts just to work to assemble and put them together. And I’m not sure that’s a really a bad thing. I it’s just a change, right. I think design engineers are learning more on the job sense. So many of the solutions are focused by companies. So, for example, one of my son’s friends works at a medical device company. He was talking about his his job and what he does, he’s focused solely on noise suppression in the medical device arena. So you don’t really take a class on that. Right? Yeah, I teach you some generic information about that noise suppression and such, but don’t take a class on that. So I think, you know, students coming out of school have to have a good basis that they have a good understanding of, of electronics or software and such, but then they really, you know, learn on the job, maybe even more than before, maybe not, but, but I certainly think our engineers are for test development. And I don’t intend to put anyone down. The engineering is kind of at a different level, if you have an aptitude for those areas, I keep mentioning electronics, software integration, you can certainly find a place in test development, we do a lot of on the job training, for sure. It’s it’s mostly how to use the tools of the trade, not so much test theory. It’s how to put these instruments together and make a measurement.

Aaron Moncur 26:13
We talked briefly earlier about how test development and testing that’s that’s a cool industry, right? We think so, I am going to go out on a limb and say that, for students who are in engineering, maybe test development, test design is not something that immediately comes to mind as being a just like, generally, something that could be pursued and be maybe not the sexiest part of engineering, right? People are, might be interested in I want to work in a Tesla or I want to work at SpaceX and kind of these these sexier companies. Honestly, to me, I really like test machine development. I think it’s it’s fascinating. It’s like a puzzle, but what would what would you say to an engineer who, who might be interested in pursuing test development? Why? Why is it an interesting or fulfilling role to hold within engineering?

Paul Schaffner 27:15
You know, that’s the, you’re right, that’s exactly an angle that I play, when I’m interviewing people, right, there’s, I tell them that they get to build something that they can see come to fruition, they get to write the software, they get to develop some custom circuits for it, work with the mechanical design of that of that product as well. And it’s essentially a little product that they get to see to come to fruition 14 to 16 weeks, instead of six months or eight months, and, and then it goes to market and you can’t touch it after that. It’s, it’s um, it’s, it’s a different, different schedule, I guess, right. And they get to mess with all aspects of it. So I like to encourage the especially the new guys that you’re gonna get to build something just like this, and then move on to something else that’s just like this. And they’re really cool. I guess I will point out also that that benchmark is working on a lot of different types of products and industries all the time. So you’re not, you’re not pegged to only work on heart defibrillator, right? You one day, you might see that and your next project might might be a commercial thermometer or a thermostat device, right? Or it’s just really a variety of products. And you don’t get that if you settle in a Tesla and just build cars or just focus on batteries. So it’s definitely a selling point of variety.

Aaron Moncur 28:35
I think that’s a really excellent point, I sometimes ask my own team, what do you like about working here, pipeline? You know, what, why is it that you’re still here? And one of the most common answers I get is because we get to work on so many different things, you know, we’re not doing the same thing over and over and over, it’s always a different project. And the pace of change of these projects is pretty quick. It’s rare that we’ll work on the same project for you know, more than four or five, six months, usually our projects are 234 months, something like that. I remember when I was working at another company, and it was the same medical device project, actually. And it was probably it was I want to say it was two and a half years, something like that. And, and towards the end ban, I kind of ran out of steam, they’re just working on the same thing for that long got to be kind of a drag. So I think there’s a lot to be said for getting to work in a field that allows you to do something different every two to three months. Maybe it’s the same general category of work, but it’s a different project with you know, different nuances and different subtle challenges each time. Yep, absolutely. Yeah. Well, let’s see. We talked about degrees in university and I think a technical degree. It provides a really nice foundation for young engineers to learn but in My experience, and this is speaking me personally as well as others I’ve observed, it doesn’t really equip new engineers to do what I’ll term quote unquote real world work right out of school, and to really become a contributing member of the company. There’s there’s no replacement for direct hands on working experience. What What role do you think, does a company like benchmark play in in this type of engineering education?

Paul Schaffner 30:29
So I, we do have a, I think, a responsibility to work with schools to make sure that the students coming out of the schools are meeting our needs, right. So we’ve got a couple of relationships I wish we had developed actually, earlier. So we’re working now with Wynonna state’s engineering students, as well as University of Wisconsin stout engineering program. So I’m, I’m sitting on a couple of advisory boards there. And they’re asking for capstone projects, for example. So we try to figure out because I’m capstone projects, that would be interesting for the students and good for us, right. And we get pre engineering, right? Yeah, you have to realize, of course, that those projects, well, first of all, they may not work out, so they may or may not work out and they have a schedule that might not work for you, you can’t ask for something that you need in a couple of weeks. You know, you got you got a school timeline to work with. But so we’ve given some advice on on class content. And we work with the these these capstone projects as as in an advisory role, and I think that that relationship is has grown quite a bit over the last couple of years, and it needs to continue.

Aaron Moncur 31:38
Yeah, I agree. The earlier we can give students an opportunity to do hands on work that the better it’s going to be for them and ultimately, for the industry. I spent, I took the five year track myself and for my undergraduate degree. And I don’t remember a whole lot about individual classes. But I do remember my capstone project where we had to develop a sand auger for the army. And I remember going out and doing field testing, I remember building things in the lab, I remember, I remember a lot from that project that I just don’t remember a whole lot from the individual coursework. So I think not only is it more interesting and useful for the students, but it’s also a lot more memorable, right? Absolutely. Now, what what would today’s Paul, tell yourself back when you are brand new engineer that you wish you had known back then?

Paul Schaffner 32:40
Um, well, life in your job is probably not going to go as you expect, especially right now, I think we can all relate to that, you know, do your best, I would say do your very best, and people will notice Hang in there. And know that you will be better prepared for the next bump when it when it comes along. And of course, do what you love. work can be tedious and, and you can, you can get bored by your work. So shop around a little bit I when you when you find something that you really enjoy, I encourage you to stick with it for 30 years, the benefits of great experiences, respect friendships, and I’m sure there’s more.

Aaron Moncur 33:22
Yeah, I think there’s a lot to be said for doing something for a long time. When I got I got laid off from my first job, maybe it had something to do with the running out of steam that I mentioned there. But before I started pipeline, I was thinking about completely different avenues. I looked at commercial real estate, I actually did web design for a while I did photography for a while. And then I finally came back and said, Yeah, engineering is probably worth doing. And I’m really glad I did. Because there’s there’s a momentum that you build up over time when you’re doing the same thing. And if you jump off to something completely different, you lose all that momentum. And for something as important as a career. I mean, it takes years to begin developing that momentum. So the ability to stick with something for a long time, I think is really important for for, you know, this career. Yep, absolutely. Well, can you share a couple of habits, if any come to mind that that maybe you’ve developed over the years that have proven to be useful to you?

Paul Schaffner 34:35
I’m sure I’m probably the one that’s the thing I do most often is is at work on my to do lists I’m definitely a to do list guy. I’ve got a to do list for professional and I’ve got a to do list for work. And just about every morning I log in and I look at my to do list and I jot something down and then I realize that my to do lists aren’t just to do lists, they’re more like journals. So they’re, they’re more like ideas. What if I just did this or what if I want to try that, or pictures of things that maybe I should work on someday, if I have time, so I’ll jot down things that did work or didn’t work. So really, again, my to do lists are a little bit more like a journal. And I think that’s really important to kind of keep focus on on the future, if I can always look ahead at that list, if I’m bored on a Thursday afternoon and want to fill my day, I can look at that list and say, oh, I’ll just work on this, this idea. Um, so it’s not so much driving me from my day to day to do list point of view, as much as it is a forward looking, don’t dwell on the past, just figure out how we can fix this or do this differently and do this better. Other things I might notice, I think it’s important that you talk to your manager, I really think that if you’re not sharing with him what you’ve been working on, he may or may not know what you’re working on. And if you’re if you’re a good worker, you’re probably working on something important, probably something that’s contributing to the to the company. So make sure you share that with your manager. We’ve got some new grads here, I like to hire new grads and, and I would always encourage a new grad to get help. Don’t waste time only schedules, you know, time is money in our business. So go get help as soon as you feel you need it. Of course you don’t you don’t want to burden your your mentor and be asking for help unless you’ve already done your appropriate research. But don’t sit too long in your cube and not make progress if just because you’re too shy to ask for help. So yeah, I think those are good points.

Aaron Moncur 36:44
That’s great. I think the the the list comment you made that’s such a powerful idea. It, it almost feels like kind of a boring idea, right? Like, what, what are some great habits that that you’ve developed? Well, I like to create lists. And but it’s so important, and it can be so powerful. I myself am a big list maker as well. I live and die based on my to do lists, my checklists. And and I carry, I carry my smartphone, of course with me everywhere. And do people even call them smartphones anymore? I’d probably just sound old by using that term, my phone, and I use OneNote. And so it’s always with me, right? I just pop it out. And I need to do this OneNote or air table is another really great tool I’ve used for making and tracking lists. What do you use any software solutions for your list? Are you a pen and paper guy?

Paul Schaffner 37:41
Yeah, no, I just I just use a Google Doc. And you know, I might even scribble on my my list for for groceries or something on that on that same list. Right? And it’s just, it’s it’s ubiquitously available. I can I can pull it up on my phone, I can pull it up at work, I can pull up at home and they’re all synced up. So it really works well. And I was gonna say if somebody told me, you should you should keep a journal I’d say now. And yet here I am. journaling my day.

Aaron Moncur 38:10
Yeah, yeah. Yeah, the ubiquitous availability. That’s another really important tool. I think, as far as your your list solution goes, you want it to be available everywhere. Because when inspiration strikes, you don’t want to have to I don’t have I don’t have my list with me, you know, I’ll try and remember it. But inevitably you forget. So having it available, wherever you are, is really important. I’d love to talk just a little bit about how how tasks are assigned at benchmark, because we have a very specific process of pipeline for how we create and assign tasks to our engineers. You mentioned, Paul, that it’s really important for engineers to talk to their managers and make sure their managers are aware of what they’re doing. And it made me think about, okay, well, what what is the process that your team uses for identifying the projects, and then the tasks that need to be accomplished, and that assigning those to engineers?

Paul Schaffner 39:06
Sure. So we’ve got on the front end, we’ve got a whole quoting process, until a project actually comes to fruition. But once it’s information we, we work with our resource manager to say, assign a technical resource. And another resource manager assigns a project management resource and the two of them work together hand in hand to stay on the right track. So our resource manager, for example, does not give direction every day on a project. The project manager gives direction every day on a project. You know, we use some high level tools, a tool called adaptive, just renamed to something else. But it’s that’s used for charging time against the project and making a high level assignment, but on a daily or a weekly basis is communication between the project manager and the technical resources on that project to say Well today we are going to work On this, you know, I, we think this has to be done by next Tuesday. Is that okay? Is that going to happen? So those, those Scrum type meetings are happening between the project manager and the lead all the technical resources.

Aaron Moncur 40:14
Okay, so it’s a technical resource, maybe an engineer and a project manager that work together. That’s how it works. Yep. Okay. And those two are,

Paul Schaffner 40:24
they’re managed independently. They’re managed independently as your project management team and a technical test team.

Aaron Moncur 40:30
Got it? Okay. And they’re having conversations basically daily.

Paul Schaffner 40:34
Yeah, as needed, right. Some projects are daily, some projects or maybe every other week, depending on the speed of the project and the work getting done. Okay, and how is progress measured? How do you know where when your technical resource has completed the task or has been successful with the task? There’s a series of phase gates. So we’ve got a seven step process that we go through as far as an initial requirements gathering, design, and build and verification and such. But there’s a there’s a phase gate checklist at the end of each of those phases. Got it?

Aaron Moncur 41:07
Okay, interesting. Thank you for sharing that. I’m very interested in how other companies handle task management, just overall workflow processes, things like that. What, what are one or two of the biggest challenges that you have at work?

Paul Schaffner 41:25
I think, if I think back on on the challenges I’ve had, interestingly enough, they’re very rarely technical. You know, they’re more often challenges with people. And and I don’t mean that in a bad way, because we’re all driven by different goals and stimuli, right. So we all act, act differently to achieve the goals that we’ve been given. So, you know, I think people act in different ways, because they have different sets of goals and just different personalities and such. But it is challenging, right? So there’s, there’s the demanding person, there’s the delusional person, and and, and the person that you swear has dementia already, right? But, but they’re all working with a Purpose and Need to figure out how we how to work together with every one of those personality types. I really don’t think anybody has dementia, it just seems that way. Right? So I think that we just have to figure out how to how to get along with them. And that’s, that’s can be challenging, but that’s, you know, that’s part of the job.

Aaron Moncur 42:26
That’s a huge part of the job, right? There’s the technical aspect, but then there’s the people aspect, the soft skills aspect. And for me, honestly, I would rather work with someone who’s pretty good tactically, but really just a joy to work with, and someone who’s exceptionally good tactically, but it’s just kind of a jerk. What what are some of the tools or strategies that you have used to, you know, get along well with others to work well, with your, your technical team?

Paul Schaffner 42:55
Well, I’m married, and I have two kids. Practice run there, right. So there you go. Yeah, no, I don’t know. I think it’s, uh, like I said, I think I’m decent with people, I often use a comedy. And I like to, you know, be nice to people and stay on their good side, right. And it’s just, it’s not necessarily devious. It’s just part of the strategy, right. And we help each other out. And we recognize that once in a while, we don’t agree on things I learned a long time ago, even I think was that end when we had a team of 20. Those those guys are leaders at the time, would argue and just be at each other. And then it got into the lunchroom and have coffee together. Right? They didn’t take it personally. They just simply understood that they disagreed and they needed to get the job done. And sometimes you got to make sure everybody understands your point. But you can’t take it personal. It’s just part of the process.

Aaron Moncur 43:54
Excellent, great, great advice. Well, Paul, I appreciate so much for spending some time with us today and sharing your experience and insights and wisdom. Before I let you go How can people get ahold of you?

Paul Schaffner 44:08
Oh, yeah, probably best ways to send an email at Paul dot Schaffner sc HAFF en er And I suspect that’ll be in the podcast notes. I’m in Minnesota central time, you can kind of keep that in mind if you’re looking for a response. But yeah, I’m happy to to reach out to anyone or talk to anyone who reaches out to me.

Aaron Moncur 44:30
Excellent. Paul, thank you so much. Absolutely. It’s been fun. Thanks. I’m Aaron Moncur, founder of pipeline design and engineering. If you liked what you heard today, please leave us a positive review. It really helps other people find the show. To learn how your engineering team can leverage our team’s expertise in developing turnkey custom test fixtures, automated equipment and product design visit us at test fixture Thanks for listening


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