Etienne Nichols | How to Become a MedTech Engineer
Who is Etienne Nichols?
Etienne Nichols holds a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering and has worked in a variety of industries from aerospace to gear manufacturing and eventually to medical devices. Meanwhile, Etienne works as a community manager for Greenlight Guru, where they make software for managing quality systems and medical device design controls.
Join our conversation and learn how Etienne made the transition from aerospace engineering to MedTech, as well as his 5 suggestions for how others looking for a similar switch can make the change (and to hear some wild stories about 187 mph motorcycle rides and first-time solo skydiving).
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Etienne Nichols 00:18
When I’m in a situation that I perceive as scary, or especially challenging, I think I’m like, what is the absolute worst that could happen? And then I asked myself, would that be so bad? And most of the time, if I’ve done the right thing to the best of my ability, then whatever the worst thing happens is usually probably okay.
Aaron Moncur 00:52
Hello, and welcome to the being an engineer Podcast. Today, we’re speaking with Etienne Nichols, who is has a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering, and has worked in a variety of industries, from aerospace to gear manufacturing to medical devices. And He currently works as a community manager for Greenlight guru where they make software for managing quality systems and medical device design controls. Etienne, thank you so much for joining me today.
Etienne Nichols 01:20
Yeah, thanks for inviting me on. It’s good to be with you today.
Aaron Moncur 01:23
Great, great. So what made you decide to become an engineer?
Etienne Nichols 01:28
It’s a good question. So originally, this is odd. I didn’t actually plan to go to college at all, I worked in the family business and selling custom window treatments, which who would have thought that’s even a possibility to have a job doing that. But when the housing bubble popped in the bottom dropped out of the economy in 2008, I drove to the Tulsa Community College, I walked into the advisors office, and I told them, I need something that pays decent and, and is stable. And they basically said, we recommend engineering. So I said, Sign me up at the type of engineering they had was mechanical engineering. So that’s what I did. That’s not the most creative way of getting in. But that’s, that’s how I landed in engineering, believe it or not,
Aaron Moncur 02:06
you know, it’s kind of shocking to me how roughly common that story is, you know, I guess I figured everyone else had this figured out from the time they were young. You know, my story is very similar. But I’ve talked with so many people who just kind of fell into it, right? There are, of course, a lot of engineers who did kind of have it figured out from an early age. But one one evening, when I was a senior in high school, my dad were eating dinner, he says, What are you going to do in college? And I was like, I don’t know. And he says, You should try engineering. So I said, Okay, that sounds good. So I signed up for manufacturing engineering. I had a two year hiatus during college. And when I came back from that hiatus, they had eliminated the manufacturing engineering program, and it was now mechanical engineering. So I was like, Okay, I guess I’ll do mechanical engineering. Not really even knowing the difference of the point anyway. Yeah, I kind of fell into it as well, but turned out to be a good, good thing to fall into.
Etienne Nichols 03:03
Yeah, absolutely. I think it’s a good, you know, end if that’s where you want to go. But it’s also a good springboard if you want to go into anything else. You know, I’ve actually talked to orthopedic surgeons who had an undergrad and in mechanical engineering, they feel like it’s served them well. So yeah, it’s it’s a fantastic degree, if you ask me.
Aaron Moncur 03:20
I agree. 100%. That’s a good word to use for to springboard, Springboard degree. It, it teaches you how to think. And once you know how to think I mean, you can kind of do anything, right.
Etienne Nichols 03:32
Yeah, one of my favorite stories, you because you kind of get me off on this track of knowing how to think one of my favorite stories from college. I don’t think about this too much. But I remember walking in, I think it was an experimental fluid dynamics flow class. And we had an exam and yeah, it was one of those exams where you have two questions. And the second one, I got to him like, I have no no clue what they want from me. But I recognize the dimensional, you know, the dimensions they wanted at the end, and I knew what all I had with me, you know, on the paper there in the in the question, and so, purely using dimensional analysis, I arrived at the correct answer. Now, it’s one of the most proud moments I’ve ever had in my engineering college.
Aaron Moncur 04:11
Amazing, amazing what you had mentioned, working for your dad at this window treatment company. How do you think that prepared you maybe for being an engineer, I’ll call it. It’s a manufacturing company, right. I mean, that’s fair to say.
Etienne Nichols 04:30
Yeah, I think so. I mean, we were providing a service. I was working with my hands. There’s a lot of assembly. So I said, there are elements of manufacturing, certainly. So I guess if I were to think about how that impacted me from a career standpoint, after engineering, it kind of affected me in two different ways. Number one, I usually had a customer watching me, you know, they were watching everything I did, maybe having a conversation. It helped me learn to portray a level of confidence that might not have been real lipstick in the moment. For example, maybe a bracket had broken or maybe a rod was too short, you know all things that I might be panicking about in the on the inside. But I was also having to troubleshoot in my mind while they tell me about their dog who has some strange fetish with just the left shoe and chewing that up or whatever it is, they’re telling me at the moment I’m having to, oh, yeah, that’s great. And thank you. Okay, how am I gonna get through this. So that was helpful. And one thing, so that’s maybe the soft skills side. Another another thing that it helped me with, which is tangentially related, I worked by the job. So I got paid by however quickly I worked. That’s how I got paid, which meant there was an incentive to optimize the process. So that was kind of built into the job. If you wanted to make more money, you learn to work faster, without sacrificing quality, of course, because then you had to go back and fix it. And that didn’t help you at all. So how can I reduce the number of times I go up a ladder? What’s the best layout for my work truck so I can access 10% of my tools that I use 90% of the time? What’s the tool that I don’t know, for the job that from an efficiency and effectiveness standpoint, makes the most sense, whether it’s a grinder in the garage or a pipe cutter in the living room, whatever that may be? I was always trying to optimize the process. So that’s that’s one thing. I think that helped me as well.
Aaron Moncur 06:23
That’s a phenomenal takeaway. I’m curious, did other folks who are working at your dad’s company? Did they have that same mindset? Were they trying to optimize everything as well? Or were they like, f takes me a little longer than I just don’t make quite as much. That’s fine.
Etienne Nichols 06:39
There was a I think there was a split, I guess, I was probably well, I’d had several. So let me just get I guess I need to explain the the business model just a little bit. So we work directly with interior designers, and they were the ones who hooked us up with jobs, for lack of a you know, just not to go into too much detail. But that’s that’s essentially how that worked. They reportedly always said SDN is the fastest we want it because the fastest. And so there was hands down just kind of like a non noncompetition, almost because I just was always thinking of the different ways. There were a few others who did. And anytime I heard of some of the tricks that they had, I immediately put them in my tool bag as well. I was not, you know, my way is the way it is that you have to have a certain amount of humility in whatever line of work you’re doing. So that you can learn to do to be better. So
Aaron Moncur 07:29
absolutely, yeah. By the way, can I ask you about your name? I have never met an Etienne before. Where does that come from? Yeah, absolutely.
Etienne Nichols 07:35
So it’s French for Steven. And my mom is she picked that up in college. I guess she took French in college and really liked that name. So she stuck me with it. It’s been a lifelong practical joke. You say it fantastically. She tells me I don’t even say it correctly. So I never judge anyone.
Aaron Moncur 07:52
But But yes. Well, my last name is Moncure, which is, I don’t know the correct way to pronounce it. It’s also French. Apparently it means my heart. But my brother married a Parisian. And she says it’s so beautifully Of course, right? And like the one who joined our family after the name was given is the one who says it correctly. And the rest of us just sound like a bunch of bozos, but interesting at the
Etienne Nichols 08:20
end. You can say it how you want to though,
Aaron Moncur 08:22
I suppose so I have some leeway there, right? Yeah, I say it different than my dad who says different than my brother. And I don’t know, it’s just a mix. All right, well, let’s see. At some point later, you are working for an aerospace company and you you spent quite a bit of time machining parts. I mean, you’re basically a machinist for some period of time. How did how did that experience as a machinist help improve your abilities as an engineer?
Etienne Nichols 08:50
Yeah, so I was actually that was an interesting job. I actually got it through Craigslist, believe it or not, I worked for a guy named Paul Wanamaker, one of the best bosses I’ve ever had. He put me on the the machine even though I was supposed to be an engineer, like a young engineering, you know, guy in there, he said, Well, I want you to run this machine. That’s not man, this, this seems like a waste of time. And he said, don’t discount the benefit you’ll get from running the Subscene. So I thought, okay, whatever I’ll I’ll, I’ll run it. And you know, running a three axis Bridgeport and email is probably one of the most meditative jobs you’ll ever have. And it gave me an advantage, I would say in a few different ways. So first, when I started designing, and he eventually he did, he trained me to use SolidWorks and so forth, I’d get there at 6am and watch him you know, trying not to fall asleep as he trained me how to use SolidWorks and we used a little bit of stress analysis, and then I would go machine for a while. When I started designing it helped me understand what was possible and what was practical because you know, some things just aren’t possible. It whether it’s you if you’re machining or your injection molding, whatever your options are for fabrication, some things aren’t possible. Then in another sense, some things, maybe they’re possible, but they’re not practical and you give them to a machinist. You know, every every engineer who’s been an engineer for very long has probably gotten some flack from the guys on the shop floor saying you’re supposed to be an engineer. You know, we’ve all heard that. And so that was the second thing, actually, that I think it helped me with. It gave me some street cred, if that makes any sense. Nice
Aaron Moncur 10:23
Etienne Nichols 10:24
know, when I went? Yeah. Oh, yeah. Yeah. I mean, I’m sure you’ve got stories about that as well. So that was fantastic.
Aaron Moncur 10:31
Yeah, that’s cool. I spent a summer as an intern machining myself. And it was super useful. It I don’t know if it was as meditative as your experience. Because there I stood right next to this big steel roll up door. And it was summer in Arizona. So 115 degrees outside and the sun was beaten down on this door, and it’s just dumping heat onto me all summer. But nevertheless, it was a really cool experience to spend, you know, basically three months as, as a machinist. And I didn’t really have anyone to show me exactly how to do this stuff. So I had to figure some of that out on my own. It was just a great experience, right, learned a lot of things. And like you said, you do have a little bit of street credit. Right, once you know the basics anyway, of running a machine. Yeah, let’s see, you have this really cool picture on your LinkedIn profile. It’s this massive, massive gear, it looks like it’s, I don’t know, maybe six feet in diameter or something like that. I’m always really curious to hear how really big parts are made? What walk us through that? What was the manufacturing process for this giant six foot diameter gear?
Etienne Nichols 11:38
Yeah. So that was when I was working in a company called the X tech out of Cincinnati, and their steel manufacturing facility where they manufacture parts for steel mills. And so yeah, that was part of a large gear assembly. And that one, if I remember exactly how it was built, it was, it was a fabrication where they had large steel welded together. And then it was put on a grinder to grind those teeth. And the way the grinder worked, it was almost like a five axis CNC type of grinder the way it would grind those teeth down. And the teeth were incredibly smooth. They were then later, that entire piece was I can’t completely open with the I can’t remember if it was carburized for nitrided. I have, I don’t believe it was carburized because I think it was too large of a part. And I don’t want to, you know, go too far in to that process, necessarily. But the Exec is known for the conversation process. So they’re, they’re fantastic. They’re one of the best in the business for carburizing gear teeth. So I that’s yeah, I was just kind of peripherally involved with that gear. I had to get my picture taken with it. Because as a mechanical engineer having worked with gears, that’s that’s kind of your Yeah, you know, that’s the I’ve reached the summit, you know, so it was for sure. Yeah.
Aaron Moncur 12:58
Yeah. Okay, I have to ask you about carburizing. I’m actually not familiar with that process. What does it mean to carburized? A gear tooth?
Etienne Nichols 13:05
Okay, so the carburized Decarburization process of a gear tooth? It it hardens? It’s essentially a hardening process. So it I’m so nitriding is similar. It’s a it’s a not as deep of a process. So the carpet depending on how you carburized the part, it will go so many Thau deep into the steel to to harden that tooth. Yeah, so most most gear teeth are hardened of some kind, whether it’s a nitriding process, or recoveries conversation compensation process, and there’s a few others as well.
Aaron Moncur 13:39
Is that Is it a thermal process? Carbon? Yeah.
Etienne Nichols 13:43
Okay. All right. Yeah, that’s usually Yeah. Cool.
Aaron Moncur 13:47
All right. Well, you you started out as a mechanical engineer in the aerospace industry, then at some point transitioned into med tech. Tell us a little bit about how that happened.
Etienne Nichols 13:59
Yeah, so I had wanted to be in med tech and really designing medical devices. That was kind of like my, my goal when I was in college, because a few different things. One, I broke my arm in college, and the orthopedic surgeon that I kind of mentioned at the beginning, he actually was the one who was a mechanical engineer originally, and he talked to me about all the physics behind breaking my arm and all that stuff, and what what parts they were going to put into my arm. So I actually have a six, six inch plate, you probably can’t see my scar, but I sent these de PUE with six screws in my arms. So he showed me what it was and the design of it. This is a unique design, and it allows lets the things breathe and so forth. It was really cool. So it kind of it sparked my desire there. It wasn’t for several years before I got into med tech, because well, I was living in Oklahoma, and then I just didn’t have the experience to do that. There was no medtech around at least that I knew of. So when when I got to Cincinnati, I was working in the steel industry, an opportunity arose to be a manufacturing engineer at a medical device. facility, I tried to get into j&j as a design engineer. And, again, they want a lot of experience. And that’s totally fine, totally justifiable. And it’s one of the things that I would say, because I do have advice for people who are trying to get into med tech. And one. Well, let me just, I guess I’ll just finish that story. So I did, I took the manufacturing engineer role. And I was just kind of bottom of the barrel. And that was fine. And I worked my way up a little bit, I eventually became a project manager there got my PMP. And then I did become a product development engineer for a drug delivery combination product company that said, transitioning because you asked about transitioning, so transitioning from whether it’s a very low regulated industry like steel, or a differently regulated industry, like the FAA, and, and the role I was in, I didn’t even experience any of those regulations. Once you get into med tech there, I’d say at least five different things that I wish I’d known, I wrote down a few different things so that I could try to remember them all. Number one, the regulations should probably be your first stop for reading, not your last. So when I when I came to med tech, I thought, why are we you know, why are we you know, circulating all these things to this guy, that guy and whatever to be to be signed off on when I was in this at the steel manufacturing place. If I saw something that needed to change for this particular assembly, I redline the drawing, gave it back to the the guy who was who had it up on the lathe, he finished the part and that was that, you know, I was I was the guy who made the decision. That is not the case for efficient until you make a problem. Mistake. So in med tech, there’s something called 21 CFR Part 820 dot 40, document controls that expects you to write what you’re changing, justify why you’re changing that. And explain how you got from rev a to rev. B, and who is approving those and when so all of that’s required within that regulation. And it’s actually not much in the regulation. But you are expected to do that. Now, when you join a med tech company, they’ll have you read SOP after SOP standard operating procedure, and called you trained and then you go out and do your thing. Well, that’s fantastic. But the rules of those SOPs, they don’t always make sense. And they might have been written by someone in a rush. If you understand the regulations, if you just read through them. There’s not a lot there, believe it or not, it will make it so much easier to assimilate into the med tech industry. So first things first, I wish that I had understood those regulations, whether they and I’ll just rattle three off. So depending on if your product development engineer or manufacturing engineer, ISO 1345 Just read it 12 pages, something like 1314 pages, something like that. ISO 14 971, similar size, it’s risk management, and then 21 CFR Part 820, that the FDA has rules for a medical device company, including the design and development of a medical device. So not a lot of pages to it. But if you read that it will give you a foundational understanding of why a lot of these SOPs say the way they say the things they do. So that’s the first one. So I’m gonna stop and let you talk though, because I keep I’m rambling. Somebody’s gonna let you
Aaron Moncur 18:13
talk first. No, this is this is great. I love the specifics there. And I think you’re, you’re good. Just keep going with all five CD had five points, right?
Etienne Nichols 18:23
Got five? Yeah. Okay. So the second one is, and this is one every engineer, no matter what industry you’re in this one might be something that you could benefit from. And that is the problem is more important than the solution. Okay, so the problem is more important than solution during the design and development process of a medical device, part 820 dot 30. As I mentioned, it’s it’s a quality system regulation for medical devices, dot 30 is the specific part that is for design controls, it calls out something called user needs. So use the design inputs. Later on, it’s going to require the validation of those user needs. So what does that mean? Validating a user need is making sure you design the correct device. It’s not making sure you didn’t made it correctly. It’s not making sure you designed it well. It’s making sure you made the correct device for the problem you’re trying to solve. So a lot of companies they fall in love with the technology, and they fall in love with their solution. And let’s face it, that’s an engineers temptation. You know, once I’ve designed the iPhone, I’m like, This is it. It’s perfect, isn’t it? But then, if anyone’s familiar with General Magic, the company that was made they made the iPhone technology before the iPhone became an apple thing. If that’s that’s different reading, but I’ll send people a book if they want to, or send you the name of the book if you’re interested in that story. They came up with technology before the world was ready and sometimes that happens. Don’t fall in love with the technology fall in love with the solution. So that’s that’s the some of that one. Okay, the third point that I have is this For med tech companies, especially good design requires good documentation. So, medical devices, they can take a long time to come to fruition. And there usually needs to be a solid justification for any changes that happened along the way. I already mentioned party 20 dot 40, which is document controls. So learning to embrace documentation, it’s a must if you want to succeed and medical devices, so I, you know, believe it or not out, so I was the guy who, in our engineering team in college, everybody had their specialty. And I became kind of like the project lead typically. And maybe that was because I was okay speaking publicly, not necessarily that I was the most talented, but it was my job to write the report. And so I always wanted us to look good, and but you also you want, you want to highlight the things you do wrong as well, or they will find the things you do wrong. So you need to learn to document those things and learn to enjoy that documentation.
Aaron Moncur 20:56
I have a question here for you. Alright. So this is a question I was going to ask anyway. But this is a good segue into it. You mentioned in a recent LinkedIn post, I think it was that I make med tech regulations fun. And you’re talking about the documentation right now. That’s that’s part of the regulations for sure. I don’t know very many engineers who enjoy documentation. So this is, this is an impossible question. I realize, but I’m going to ask anyway, how do you make documentation fun?
Etienne Nichols 21:25
Yeah, that’s a good question. And that’s a really good question. How do I make document to I’ve always been scared, someone’s gonna ask me that, I put that on LinkedIn. He’s gonna ask me, they’re gonna call me out. They’re just gonna let me get take a stab at it. When I think about regulation, regulations are inherently boring. Honestly, they’re pretty boring. They’re typically written in legalese. And they’re typically very vague, there’s not much there. And that’s intentional. I’ll get to that in a minute. So they’re written vague, and they’re boring. But the things that lead up to the implementation, or the reason that regulation is in place, those are usually not boring, it’s usually an incident that happened that now requires this, for example, in 1970s, I’m gonna get the date wrong. But in 1976, I actually think that was the implementation of the QSR, for Part A 20. But at some point in our history, in the US history, there’s actually a story where the shoe people, the people who are designing shoes and selling shoes, they put a x ray in their stores, and you would stick your foot in that X ray, and everybody within a 10 foot radius would get blasted with X ray, while the doctor Well, the doctor, the shoe salesman would look at your foot to see if your bones were crooked, and then they would design a shoe for you. And then you would go on your merry way. I’ll be it with a higher likelihood of having cancer. And we’re doing this for for everybody who came into the store. And so that is the reason now the CDRH is called the Center for Devices and Radiological, you know, I’m gonna get the acronym. Correct. But let me get the let me get the acronym Center for Devices and Radiological Health. Okay, so I had it correct. radiological that came later than the devices side. So that’s kind of interesting. And so I like to tell the stories. I’ll tell you one more, if that’s okay, please, please. Um, this is one that I just personally like to tell him. It’s just kind of, you know, I get some flack about this. But when I was younger, I wrote a motorcycle and I kind of wrote a little harder than I should have. I remember one night at 3am manic buddy we got on our motorcycles to see if we so we went down to a deserted stretch of highway and we wanted to see if we could be 200 miles per hour our motorcycle said 200 is what it could do. So that was our user need. We wanted to validate that user needs so we accepted we had a benefit risk analysis in our mind thinking this is worth it, we had risk mitigations in place leather helmet. ISO 4971 By the way mentions three risk mitigations that it recommends number one is inherent safety by design, you cannot hurt yourself with this. That’s the what they really want you to do. design something that you just can’t hurt yourself with. Okay, well, that was out the window. Risk Mitigation number two is safety measures. So my helmet, my jacket. And then the third thing is a warning, you know, maybe that goes into the red when you have you go past 60 miles an hour, whatever. So there’s these different risk mitigations but in my mind, I had this benefit risk analysis that I said, okay, it will be worth it for me to go see if I can go to your miles per hour. I stopped at 187 because I got to the point where I’m like, it’s actually not worth it. And so my benefit risk analysis was wrong, my pra was wrong. And we hate to say in the medical device industry, we put a B ra out there. And it turns out it’s wrong but you need to be It’s a living document, you have to update these things. So that’s one thing that I could go through ISO 1487. We’ll talk about risk management and these different aspects. I’ll go one step further though with the motorcycle illustration. If you’ve if anyone’s ever written motorcycles, you know If the if the curve says 35 miles an hour, you can probably double that. You shouldn’t. And I don’t recommend any of these practices. This was a long time ago. I don’t even own a motorcycle anymore. My wife won’t
Aaron Moncur 25:11
let’s just say that the being an engineer podcast has no formal affiliation with that. Dr. Nichols, anything he says must be?
Etienne Nichols 25:18
That’s exactly right. And I hope the statute of limitations has passed. I know what that state but so if you go around the curve on a motorcycle, typically you look at that sign it says 45 miles per hour, the FDA would never put up that sign. 45 miles per hour, what the FDA would put up is, this curve is x, radius, or x degrees of a grade, or y steepness or Z surface friction, you know, it would say all those details, and then it would say, are you in a semi? Are you in a motorcycle? What are you You better know yourself? And you go around this curve at a safe speed. Whatever safe is, you know, they might have a definition there. So that’s what a medical device company when they look at the regulations, they say, man, they’re vague. I wish it just said 45 miles per hour? No, you don’t? Are you a class three implantable? Are you a class one that can go super fast around that curve? It just depends on the vehicle you’re in. So that was a long winded answer to say I like to make regulations fun. But that’s kind of that’s the way I try to do it.
Aaron Moncur 26:22
I really appreciate your approach there, you know, bringing a story and analogy that kind of all of us can relate to even though most of us probably have not gotten 187 miles an hour on a motorcycle that night, we can kind of understand what that would be like and see the analogy that you’ve created that that was fun. Thanks for sharing that. I was thinking about this answer a little bit myself as you were talking. And while I would not enjoy doing drawings all day, every day, for sure, there is a certain just intrinsic amount of joy that comes from putting together a really clear and concise document, that when you hand it off to someone else, without any further input from for me, the engineer, they can go off and use that document to make something or to follow some process. And I think that a lot of engineers, inherently just find joy and value in that process, being able to be super clear and detailed about something and give it off to someone else. And then the process continues without them. That’s just I think that’s a fun thing inherently.
Etienne Nichols 27:30
I like that. I agree. Yeah. All right.
Aaron Moncur 27:33
Well, let me take a very short break here. And I’m gonna share with the listeners that Team pipeline.us is where you can learn more about how we help medical device and other product engineering or manufacturing teams developed turnkey equipment, custom fixtures and automated machines to characterize, inspect, assemble, manufacture and perform verification testing on your devices. At the end, you you had your five point list, and I think you had gone through three of them. Is that right? That’s right. Okay, let’s hear the other two.
Etienne Nichols 28:03
Okay. The fourth one I have is, and this is, again, this might be true for every industry to a certain degree, but it’s especially true for for medical devices, maintaining cross functional awareness is vitally important. So that means you need to maintain a relationship with quality manufacturing, marketing, maybe even Field Services, whoever might interact with your device, really, whether it’s assembly inspection, sales repair, they might have valuable input that’s never going to reach your ears unless you maintain relationships with someone in that department. So I highly recommend just making sure you you network. And I have a quick story about this, that I learned early on, I learned this cross functional relationship thing from being sat in the cursed cubicle that was set directly across from the break room. So anyone who came out of the break room, they would either walk into my cubicle or have to turn left or turn right into the, you know, into the hallway, because of the way my computer was set. I almost always made eye contact with them. And so they would come and say, Hey, you’re the new engineer. You don’t know what’s ever lasted in this cubicle more than like two months. I’m like, Really, I started documenting it. I literally had up to 50 people in a single day stopping to say hi, Oh, me as a new engineer, I’m like, I’m kidding. I’m not gonna make it as an engineer. I
Aaron Moncur 29:21
don’t get anything done.
Etienne Nichols 29:22
You don’t. And so the other guy who got hired at the same time, as I, he said, You know, that’s you if you don’t stop talking, I’m like, I can’t stop talking. You know, he was gonna be the, you know, it was just not good. So I got to think about this. I’m like, this is a problem, or it could be the solution. Now I mentioned you don’t get you don’t fall in love with the solution fall in love with the problem? Well, sometimes the heart of the problem is the seed of the solution. So that’s a good phrase, a boss told me a long time, the heart of the problem is the seed of the solution. I said to myself at the end, everybody’s coming to your cubicle. This is a problem. Well, maybe it’s not. These are engineers who are coming to my cubicle. Maybe if I’m working on something I said, Hey, how would you do this? So I would immediately how would you do this? How would you and they might take my 15 minute task and maybe boil it down to a minute or say, hey, well, when I get back to my desk, let me send you a template. And my job was done, I was actually starting to get even faster than the other guy, and I sprung springboard, whatever if that’s a word, passed him. And it was because people were coming to my cubicle. And I learned, I pretty much decided, no, I’m gonna keep a spreadsheet, and I’m gonna know everybody in this entire building. By the end of my six months, you know, whatever stint I have and stuff. And it actually worked out really well. So to circle back, that was a lesson I learned, you don’t have to go to that extent. But I highly recommend maintaining those relationships with those other departments because it is going to put you in a better position.
Aaron Moncur 30:47
Totally, totally, that that reminds me of a quick story here. Let me button just for a second. Yeah, when I was in graduate school, we had to do a project that required some parts being machined. And there was a shop there at ASU at the university with full time machinist, right. But I didn’t know anyone there and there was a line of stuff, right? Other students were submitting parts to get made as well. And, of course, like, anyone, we wanted to get our parts made first, but there was a queue. And we were not at the, at the head of that queue. So anyway, I went and bought a couple boxes of boxes of donuts, and I brought them into the machine shop as a Hey, guys, here’s some donuts, just want to say thank you for, you know, helping us out with this, I didn’t even ask them to like, move us ahead right, unfairly. But I give them a couple of boxes of donuts. And I was just like, nice. And I talked with him for a little while. And lo and behold, we got our parts a lot quicker than than we ever should have. So there is definitely value in establishing relationships with other people in different departments, things like that.
Etienne Nichols 31:54
Absolutely. And, and I think you know, and I just, I really see that value in a lot of different ways. But I really want to highlight it too, in really understanding how your device is going through the process, whether there are problems in the field, maybe someone is handling those, but it might not be nice for you to know about those problems as well, because maybe there’s an easy fix. So there’s a lot of those different things that are really, really helpful as well. So okay, the fifth thing, so we’ll get through this, everybody hang in there. There are resources out there for people to learn more. So and that’s, it sounds very generic. But that’s really my fifth point. I mentioned that the regulation should probably be the first stop and not the last, because that’s a lot of the and I’m just going to circle back that for just a moment. The reason I started reading regulations and standards, is I would get an SOP that was hindering my project. I was a project manager at the time, I’d gotten my PMP. And I was managing this this group of engineers, and I thought this is we are not going to make our deadline. And so I started reading why is this the way it is? So well, it’s in the regulation. So I started reading the regulations. No, it’s not there. And so I would make my argument. So why do I bring that up? So if I go back, there are Reese’s resources out there for people to learn from sometimes reading the regulations, you might think, Well, I’m not exactly sure how to how would an FDA inspector look at this, you know, what do they actually care about? Well, that’s when you do need to go read other things. So number one would be guidance documents that explain government’s interpretation of their own regulations. And it’s very handy. They’ve given those two things to us. So the FDA has very searchable guidance documents, eu MDR, which is the European regulation, they have MDC G’s. So there’s, it’s another version, they’re very searchable. There are other their academies where people can go even deeper on the subject. So if you’re interested in learning more about risk management, from a medical device perspective, you ISO 14, point there lots of different academies out there, we can go even deeper on these subjects. And then one of the third, the third aspect of this, there are professionals who express their opinion on LinkedIn about different subjects. So you might think LinkedIn, you’re recommending a social media. Let me let me kind of finish here, I recommend curating your feed, because a lot of people might use LinkedIn, they might just have it, whoever they’re following, curate your feed by following or unfollowing people so that you see more posts about your industry instead of just job updates from people that you haven’t seen since college. So you can actually you’re probably consuming a lot of information that you don’t even realize, so curate your feeds from industry experts, and I could rattle off names. But you know, feel free to reach out to me on LinkedIn. I’m happy to tell you who to follow. I’m actually planning to post about that tomorrow. But and then the fourth thing I would recommend is industry specific communities, where people are actually actively discussing the very problem that you may be experiencing. Those are fantastic to reach out to and actually talk to those experts. During one of my times as a manufacturing engineer, I dealt with a kappa on a screw thread Well, through one of these communities, I actually got on the phone with someone who was the author of the ASTM standard for that through that screw thread. And I was able to talk to him about this. And I thought, this is fantastic. I can’t believe I’m talking to the guy who wrote the ASTM standard on this, and I was able to solve my problem. So those communities are another place that you can get some of those resources.
Aaron Moncur 35:29
That’s wonderful. Those are very actionable steps that I think anyone can follow. super valuable. Thank you for for sharing those. Did you think of those just for this? Or are these like a DNS tenants that he’s kind of developed over the years?
Etienne Nichols 35:42
I that I thought, I don’t know if I have a great answer, honestly, for that. I actually just sat down this morning, I thought, Okay, I want this to be a profitable conversation for people. So I just jotted down, these are the five things I really would like people to be able to take away from things that I wish that I personally had known. I’m actually working on a book on something along these lines. So cool. I hit you up when it’s done it. Yeah, yeah. projects go.
Aaron Moncur 36:09
But anyway, absolutely. That’s great. All right. Well, I’m going to depart a little bit from the medtech specific conversation and get into a couple of more more general questions for you. What is a tool that doesn’t exist? But if it did, would allow engineering teams to work better, faster, smarter, and feel free to stray outside the realm of what’s known to be physically possible?
Etienne Nichols 36:33
Okay, great question. And I don’t know if I’ll be able to stray outside the realm of what’s known to be physically possible just
Aaron Moncur 36:41
in that box, it’s hard to take yourself out of it. Yeah.
Etienne Nichols 36:45
I thought about I, I’ve thought about this before. And the one thing that I think would be really cool, and it might be, I don’t know if it’s out there or not, but a human factors module of within a CAD program, like a computer aided design program, like SolidWorks, for example, if there was a human factors module, you know how, like, with stress analysis, typically shows the stress and a colorized way. So you kind of have a heat map of where the stress stressors are, what if there was a a, like a human body, whether it’s a 99% female, or fifth percent male, whichever one or fifth percent female and 99%. Male, we had to do that, actually, with destructive testing and custom aircraft interior, which when I worked in aerospace, that’s what we did, we actually built out a frame with the door that simulated the forces on the door for a, it was actually a helicopter, I don’t remember the specific id like our 134. I don’t remember what it was exactly. But we actually had to find a big dude to fit through this door to make sure he physically could and then a small woman to be in there to bring down the door to make sure she physically could validate that model using their them. And so that was interesting thing, it would be interesting if we that, so go back to more of a physics that might be sure you can simulate that with just a force, just put a point load on the door, and that’s fine. You can tell whether or not it’s gonna break, that’s fine. You can do that in SolidWorks. That’s easy. But what if, you know, like with human factors, like the ergonomics of the handle, like you actually had my hand modeled and the things that my hands could do, then when you put that your product in my hand, it had kind of a stressor or a heat map to say, based on this hand. So
Aaron Moncur 38:32
that’s a great idea. I’ve never heard that one before. I love it. Very much. Yeah.
Etienne Nichols 38:37
Someone’s steal that and just that least mentioned me since I
Aaron Moncur 38:43
sent some royalty checks if you can. Yeah. All right. This next one, it I always think it’s kind of a weird question. But I also think it brings up such interesting stories and examples that I love asking it. So what is the most scared you’ve ever been? And this can be professional can be personal, whatever you want ticket, however, whatever direction you want. So what’s the most scared you’ve ever been? How did you handle the situation? And what did you learn from it?
Etienne Nichols 39:12
That’s a good question. It has a lot of good aspects like what I learned from it. When I think about the most scared I’ve ever been, the thing that jumps out to me was a friend of mine random friend of mine and I randomly went skydiving one time. And when we decided to go skydiving, it wasn’t the the typical first time at least. A lot of people I hear okay, yeah, I was attached to a instructor. I was not attached to an instructor. I jumped it. Yeah. Which Oh, wow. It was a solo flight on these tiny Cessna one 150 to 172, or whatever it was. And so you actually went you sat next to the door, they open the door, and you actually crawl out onto the wing and you dangle until they give you the thumbs up and then you let go
Aaron Moncur 40:00
So okay, Tom Cruise. Yeah, yeah. So they opened the door.
Etienne Nichols 40:03
And this is just a little place in in Podunk Missouri. I’m not sure if they this is the normal way of doing it. I don’t know. But not necessarily recommended. But I said, Okay, when they The other thing about this was they showed us pictures of people falling and dying. There’s like, we want you to know what you could potentially get into. I was like, you know, I can’t believe we’re actually going to do this. I was the smallest. So I was the last one to jump when my friends jumped. I thought, I’m gonna die. I get to the door, they open the door, and I looked down, I’m like, Yep, it’s over. They said climb out. And I said, Okay, well, I paid for this, I have to predict. So I’m dangling. And the thought literally came through my mind that said, when they gave the thumbs up, the thought literally went through my mind, I if I let go, I am a dead man. But they told us they won’t let us back in though they’ll shove you out. Because too dangerous. Your kids going to crawl back. So I thought, I have to let go. And if I do, I’m a dead man. And then I thought, I guess that’s okay. And then I thought, I wonder what’s on the other side. You know,
Aaron Moncur 41:06
Etienne Nichols 41:07
I let go. And honestly, I have never felt that level of peace before or since it really, it really was amazing. So I think about that sometimes when I’m in a situation that I perceive as scary, or especially challenging. And so I think I’m like, what is the absolute worst that could happen? And then I asked myself, would that be Oh, would that be so bad? And most of the time, if I’ve done the right thing, to the best of my ability, then whatever the worst thing happens is usually, probably okay. So I don’t know. I guess that would be the thing that I learned from that situation is like, you know, I’ve already faced death.
Aaron Moncur 41:48
The least felt like it. So what an incredible story. I love that so much. Thank you for sharing that. Well. I went skydiving myself, way back in college, I did not do solo that would have been terrifying. I’m really truly terrified. It was scary enough going tandem, you know. But just a funny anecdote. Real quick. I remember the waiver that I had to sign I still remember 20 some odd years later, and it said we will not be held liable for any injury or death that may occur due to passive or active negligence on our part, active negligence. How can they say that? Yes, that was that was in their waiver, passive or active negligence on? Oh my gosh. And I mean, I still I signed it. Right. So who’s the dummy? Really? Yeah.
Etienne Nichols 42:43
I’m still in college, though. Still learning to think.
Aaron Moncur 42:46
I suppose. So. Yeah. I hadn’t learned to think like an engineer yet. Apparently. Yeah. Okay. Let’s see it. Has there ever been a limiting belief that you’ve held about your role as an engineer? And were you able to overcome it?
Etienne Nichols 43:00
Yeah, coming out of engineering school, you know, I, I’m sure I had a healthy dose of Dunning Kruger syndrome, you know, where I thought I knew everything. I’m, I’ve just conquered engineering school, but only to find out that I knew nothing. You know, I was surprised at how dumb I was. And actually got to the point where, even when in a hiring role, I, I remember telling someone I’m almost ashamed of this. I’m like, well, they’re just they’re a new graduate so that I can know anything. And I thought, wow, how far have we come at 10, you know, and so I had to train them everything. But once I got to the Valley of depression, where I’m like, Okay, I know nothing. I looked around. And I realized that a lot of people were kind of right there with me. A lot of people seem to be faking it a little bit to that they didn’t quite know it, but they weren’t admitting it. So don’t get me wrong. Not everyone was there, there were a few people that I genuinely looked up to. They were obvious, you know, masters of their craft. And I think that’s what we should all be striving to be for sure. But I struggled with wondering whether or not I would ever feel like an expert again, I remember telling my wife that. I had mentioned being a drapery installer that I actually was I feel like I was an expert at that, you know, and and, you know, I had been shipped all over the country was sent out to help other drapery installers with jobs they were struggling with. So this feeling of being the dumbest person in the room was new to me, and I did not like it. So yeah, you asked how I overcame it. I overcame it by deciding you know what when I’m in a situation where I’m red face because I don’t like embarrassed that I don’t know what we’re talking about, or I don’t understand the situation. I am going to become insanely curious. And you know, it turns out the more curious you are, the more you can forget about yourself and forget about the fact that you don’t understand what’s going on just be curious about it and ask until you do understand so took longer than I care to admit to reach this conclusion as a strategy but it’s been immensely relieving to resort to curiosity
Aaron Moncur 44:59
and Oh, that’s wonderful curiosity. Okay. All right. Let me just do one more. And then we’ll wrap things up here, specifically within the context of your role as an engineer. What is one thing that frustrates you? And one thing that brings you joy?
Etienne Nichols 45:18
Yeah, good question. One thing that frustrates me I think, I think one thing that frustrates me is the way people sometimes treat engineers, I guess there’s a there’s an expectation that, you know, everything, there’s that phrase, or, or, and I don’t know exactly why it is, but the frustration with like, being in the manufacturing role, or the engineering, with with the shop floor, where they make that make fun of you and could be industry specific, you know, the steel industry, they were very, they told you how it was, and I learned to respect and appreciate that. And I don’t know if it’s whoever came before me or what, but that was a frustration. The the part that I, the thing that I appreciate, though it might be similar is there is an expectation that you know, everything and so you need to live, you live up to that, you know, rise to the challenge and be willing to be the guy who is going to take on ultimately what it boils down to is you’re the guy who takes the heat. And so you have to be willing to accept that role and to fulfill that role and to actually live up to that role. So I respect it. And I appreciate that about what what it means to be an engineer. But it’s also it’s kind of like two sides of the same coin.
Aaron Moncur 46:39
The same answer for both questions. All right. Well, great at the end, this has been such a delight. Thank you so much for sharing some of your background love, all the stories that you’ve been able to bring to the table. It’s always it makes for such such a more entertaining and engaging conversation when there are stories like that. And also thank you for being willing to share a little bit of your you know, your personal life with all of us. How can people get in touch with you?
Etienne Nichols 47:08
I’m very active on LinkedIn. So that’s probably the best place to find me. If you would like to email me feel free to email me at Etienne well at Etiennenichols@gmail.com. Might be the best place. But yeah, just hit me up on LinkedIn. And yeah, happy to chat about whatever.
Aaron Moncur 47:25
Wonderful. Alright, well, thank you so much, Etienne. Sure. Appreciate your time today.
Etienne Nichols 47:29
All right. Thanks, Aaron.
Aaron Moncur 47:34
I’m Aaron Moncur, 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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