Ray Kampmeier | The Humble Transistor

 In Being an Engineer Podcast


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Who is Ray Kampmeier?

Ray Kampmeier is an Electrical Engineering consultant & Product Developer. He earned his EE degree from the University of Minnesota in 2013. Founded his company The Humble Transistor (or THT for short) in 2015. Ray and his team provide Electrical Engineering and firmware development services spanning from proof-of-concept prototyping to designs for mass production.

Aaron Moncur, host


transistor, engineers, people, electrical engineers, design, product, calls, mechanical, chip, electrical engineering, work, company, aaron, learn, electronics, industry, growing, question, yield, process
Presenter, Aaron Moncur, Ray Kampmeier

Presenter 00:00
Hi everyone, we’ve set up this being an engineer podcast as an industry knowledge repository, if you will, we hope it’ll be a tool where engineers can learn about and connect with other companies, technologies, people, resources and opportunities. So make some connections and enjoy the show.

Ray Kampmeier 00:18
If you’re not making yourself uncomfortable, and you’re not finding engineering problems that make you feel uncomfortable once in a while, you’re maybe not being as aggressive as you could be.

Aaron Moncur 00:41
Hello, and welcome to another exciting episode of The being an engineer Podcast. Today we’re speaking with Ray Kampmeier, who is an electrical engineering consultant and product developer, Ray earned his W degree from the University of Minnesota in 2013. And in 2015, founded his company, the humble transistor, or THD, for short. There, he and his team provide electrical engineering and firm Well, firmware development services spanning from proof of concept prototyping to designs for mass production ready, thank you so much for joining me today.

Ray Kampmeier 01:14
Thank you so much for having me on, Aaron.

Aaron Moncur 01:17
You’re welcome. Well, what made you decide to become an engineer

Ray Kampmeier 01:25
Has got to decide how far back to go. I think, like all the way, like a lot of engineers grew up playing with Legos and just kind of tinkering with materials around the house. My mom was an art teacher, she’s a elementary and middle school art teacher, and just a good educator, she did a great job inspiring us, these are hands and to craft things and to be passionate about what we build. And on the other side of the family, my dad is a software developer, computer guy, so kind of a technical education coming up with that. And it wasn’t until I was in high school that I’ve met a couple professional electrical engineers, and I was really taken with the passion that just used out of them, you can tell that, you know, when someone asks what they do, they were just smiling. They were so happy with with their profession and and that that kind of description of their job that they shared was infectious. And I got bit by the bug, I figured that that sounds like a really fulfilling discipline. And then, in addition to all that, you know, we kind of grew up in this age of internet and computers, and it’s so new and in the history of humanity. And I think it’s easy to get caught up in all that and just kind of take some of that stuff for granted. And I had these lingering questions, at least my whole life. And some people I think, you might think like me are kind of like, I got to understand how this works. To use it, I kind of like got to understand how it works, how it works. And I always had this, this lingering question in the back of my mind of like, how does the Internet work? How does this computer work? Like, what is the screen that I’m viewing a web browser on? How does that function and so I had this appetite to kind of dig down and learn what a lot of Electrical Engineers before me decades before me they grew up with. So I did not grow up with with an Atari or with, you know, a computer where you’re dealing with just like, such low levels of memory and things like that. And this resource constrained, kind of like advent of computing. So for me, there’s an appetite to kind of like, learn back, go backwards and learn about what all of this electronics technology is about that is so ubiquitous in today’s today’s world.

Aaron Moncur 04:01
Yeah, that’s, that’s cool. I like your curiosity for you know, we’re all standing on the shoulders of giants these days. And who were those shoulders? You know, how are those shoulders built? That’s cool.

Ray Kampmeier 04:13
Yeah, I want to reach down and ask those giants, what their names are and get to know them a little bit.

Aaron Moncur 04:17
Yeah, yeah. Nice. So for the benefit of those listening, who may still be students not yet in the workforce, what are some specific things that they can do to be better prepared to contribute one day when they graduate? And specifically, like from an electrical engineering standpoint, it might be the same answer if it’s mechanical engineering, or chemical engineering or whatever, but I’d love to hear your thoughts, you know, kind of specifically towards electrical engineering what what can they do to prepare themselves?

Ray Kampmeier 04:48
Great question. What jumps to mind is working on a personal project that they’re passionate about? When you’re just starting off it’s hard to find a paid one work projects, whether that be an internship or Co Op that you’re really, really psyched about. If you have that already. That’s great, you’re ahead of the game. But I would try to think of a way to fuse your discipline that you’re interested in studying with something that you’re really excited about. So for example, when I was in high school growing up, I knew I had some kind of passion for computers. And I decided I wanted to make a slideshow for my parents basement that my friends and I could have dance parties with. And I had no idea what I was doing. I had no idea how to do this. But I knew that as long as I tried hard enough, I’d find some way to do it, I figured, hey, there’s got to be a handful of different ways to pull this off as a DIY 18 year old. And sure enough, there were a lot of frustration and a lot of like, pain and mess ups, I got something to work and my friends and myself were really impressed and really happy with the outcome. And so I think it’s like, my advice is, don’t get deterred by the frustrations of the like learning curve. They’re like self educating process, and try to really feed yourself a reward at the end of it and spend your time working and being frustrated on a project that’s going to have a fun payout at the end of it.

Aaron Moncur 06:27
The title of a book comes to mind, the obstacle is the way. And I think there’s no substitute for just pushing yourself through the process of solving a hard problem in terms of education and being able to learn, and it’s so easy, especially when we’re learning something new, which is the case with students and new engineers, they’re always learning something new, it’s really easy to get discouraged or want to find a faster way to do this, which is natural, you know, but it’s it’s that process, that painful process of not knowing how to do it, and trying one thing, and it didn’t work and try something else. And it didn’t work and trying something else and asking people and reading on forums and, you know, just figuring things out that it’s such a powerful process for engineers to learn for anyone to learn really?

Ray Kampmeier 07:18
Yeah, well said, I agree with that. I think it’s, it’s hard. But you have to kind of develop an intuition for the right way, quote, unquote, to do something. And yet, that means something different for every individual and for their industry that they’re working in. But if you start to think about the methods, and the methodology, the methodologies that you employ as your tools, and you’re constantly sharpening those, and you say, Hey, I know I could whip together this proof of concept in a debate. But if I’m working on a production design that’s more production oriented, the right way, quote, unquote, might be spending a few weeks to do it and make a really robust solution. And to be like that the process that you’re exploring,

Aaron Moncur 08:00
yeah, and I think an encouraging thought is that these are learnable skills. Some people might think that engineers have always been good at this stuff, and, and that’s why they went into engineering. And there’s probably some truth to that some of us probably are just naturally gifted in that area. I did grow up building with Legos and fixing my bike and things like that. So I think I had some natural mechanical proclivity. But I remember in college, I had this, this, this job working in the in the physics demo center, we had all these cool physics experience, the experiments that we’d take to the physics classes for the professor to show the students. And there was a fair amount of building that went on, a lot of these, these demos were already built, but some of them were building brand new, and some of them needed maintenance, or whatever. And it was so exciting when my boss for the first time asked me to design one of these new demos. And so he gave me a few days to work on it. And I did a terrible, terrible job. It just didn’t work at all it was it was not something that a person who had experienced designing mechanical systems would ever design. And I remember thinking at that time, geez, I’m, I’m a junior, at this point in mechanical engineering, like, I’m supposed to know how to do all this stuff. What does this mean? You know, have I chosen the wrong path. But that wasn’t the case at all. I just didn’t have experience actually designing mechanical systems. So at this point, you know, I have a lot more experience under my belt, and I could design something much quicker, much quicker and much more effectively. But that’s a skill that you learn over time. As you figure out what works and what doesn’t. There’s another point maybe I’ll wait to bring this one up until a little bit later in the conversation because I think it’s it’s a point that you and I maybe have in common. Let’s see what what are a few of the most common paths Have the electrical engineers follow, you know, mechanical engineers, they might become a design engineer or focus on r&d or, or manufacturing. What are some common paths in industry that W’s have to choose from? It’s probably

Ray Kampmeier 10:15
very similar to mechanical engineering and mechanical engineering can branch out in all those realms you just discussed and many more. That’s what I, what I love about electrical engineering, same case, you can go so many routes, you could work for power utilities company, and deal with high voltage transfer from state to state and deal with real high voltage systems. You could do power systems for embedded electronics and smaller scale things. You can do power that’s somewhere in the middle, where you’re doing like charging charging systems for electric vehicles. You can go a signal processing route, it’s more of Applied Math. And you could do things like try to scrub out noise from wind turbines on Doppler radar. So like, you can use digital signal processing and advance applied math and stuff for applications like that. Signal Processing DSP, that’s everywhere. So when you’re talking about rockets, and aerospace and all that even medical, there’s DSP applied everywhere. So that’s a great field to be in, you’ve got embedded electronics, like what I do, where you’re building circuit boards for products that serve an individual purpose, like a product, you find it, that’s fine or buy on Amazon, like headphone headphones, digital thermometer, thermometers, even like computer monitors, these are all considered embedded electronics. We’ve got more general purpose electronics and high speed design. So guys that will design server motherboards for really high speed data transfer for companies like Facebook, or anybody who’s running web servers that exists in computing products today, like laptops or home competing products. So I’m probably missing some other ones. Oh, we got RF, we’ve got wireless. That’s the dark arts of electrical engineering. That’s the black magic side of thing. And then yeah, you can even go down like test and compliance. So here in the States, the FCC regulates the radio frequencies all around us and stuff. And so even within wireless technologies, they’re these niche and niche roles in the industry, where you can help with certifying and making sure that products comply with government standards.

Aaron Moncur 12:48
Well, speaking of black magic, and the black box here, for me, doubly is entirely just a black box of magic. I don’t really get how any of it works. I know I should. But I’ve never been good with electrical. And one of our customers likes to say, I’m not Sparky. He says that about himself. But I think that’s very applicable to me. I’m not Sparky, your your company’s named the humble transistor, which I think is just such a wonderful name. And it made me think that there’s probably a story behind that. What How did you come up with that name?

Ray Kampmeier 13:21
Well, I kind of liked the name because it reminded me of a medieval guild that reminded me of like, the, the gilded hand or like, you know, kind of like an English bar slash media guild, or you go to the like, I don’t know, the diligent hammer or something, you’d go to this Guild and you’d expect a high level of professionalism and reliability, and that the people that work there, this is a passion, this is a labor of love for them. And they’ve, they’re really working to refine their craft. And this is a place that they want to be and they want to be working for these clients. And then the the specific name itself, the humble transistor, I similar to when we were talking about kind of why I was interested in getting into electronics and wanting to work backwards towards the history of like, how we’ve come to a place we are. I wanted to I wanted to kind of draw out this idea of, we design embedded electronics, and we’re tied into the real world. So we’re kind of at this junction between the mechanical space where we’re dealing with physics and chemistry in our chips and in our components. And the world of software, which is much more abstract and kind of floating above society, it’s a little bit harder to grasp and understand how that ties into the real world. And so, in addition to that, I also wanted to emphasize and kind of hold ourselves honest of remembering how much you can do with this fellow Mental building blocks, this transistor is the core component that’s spurred this modern information communication age. And it’s still, it still is to the main shebang talk about the shortage. And what’s going on with Taiwan, Taiwan, semiconductors. It’s all about packing as many transistors as you can into a chip. And these transistors, you can even just do so much with them. So in our designs, we try to make these really cost effective production ready electronics designs. And I’m and like, not get weighed down with the Bloat of of like, highly integrated, really complex, really expensive chips. And so we’re not taking the easy route, we’re not taking the handle handheld, like off the shelf, pre made solutions, and just putting three or four parts together, we’re getting down to the nitty gritty, we’re getting down to the lowest level that we work with. And that’s the transistor.

Aaron Moncur 16:02
Very cool. As I thought about the name of the humble transistor, it got me thinking to myself, do I really know what a transistor is? And the answer is no, not really. It. I know it has something to do with like processing a signal, or amplifying a signal or transferring a signal. But I don’t really know what a transistor does. I was watching the Apple event the other day, and they talked about their their a 16 chip having like, some stupid number of transistors at a 10 billion or 4 trillion or some very large number. What is a transistor? How does it work? What does it do?

Ray Kampmeier 16:39
I love it, Apple gives us the marketing lingo, they try to wow us with the millions and the billions. Yet, they’re not explaining the relevance of this. So the transistor, I guess, it helps to understand why it was ever made in the first place. And so it started with communications and with with phone lines, so long distance calls, when long distance calls, we’re just starting out there are these telephone exchanges that were like one city block by one city block these massive buildings, there was one in every prominent city. And these had a bunch of like electromechanical relays almost that were connecting different calls and routing calls throughout the country. And Americans had this huge appetite. This is actually this is global as well. But America pioneered a lot of this and Bell Labs and lot to do with this. But there’s this huge appetite for being able to connect with people across the country. We take that for granted. Yeah, I’m, I’m looking at you across the video call right now. But imagine for the first time, you’re able to call someone in Cincinnati and say, Hey, stranger, like how’s it going? What’s it like over there, you’re able to call someone from a magazine you love. And you get to talk to one of the editors in person. And so there’s this huge pressure, like human pressure to pioneer this technology. And the engineers that are supporting this, at Bell Labs and a bunch of other telecommunications companies. They’re just hustling to keep up and they’re like, it’s so fascinating, like every decade, it’s a whole new set of technology that they’re using to try to keep up with this demand. And at first they were employing telephone operators, human beings. And they quickly realized this isn’t scalable with the trajectory that this is going. We don’t have enough human beings in the world to support this network, we need to automate this. And so they use what they know. And at the time, there were these really sophisticated electromechanical relays. And I think Germany was sourcing some really good ones at the time. And so this, these would take minutes and minutes to like relay your calls, and they were prone to burning out and they would require a huge building and kick out a lot of heat. And so Bell Labs pioneered solid state switch, so rather than an electromechanical switch, they created the transistor. So at the simplest form, you can think of a transistor as a three way or not a three way a three port valve, you’ve got your input and your output on this valve. And then the control is also an electrical signal. So when you look at the light switch in your house, you could think of that as a quote unquote three port device where you’ve got your input your houses, electricity, 120 volt and then where the light bulb connects, and then the third port, the third connection is your finger and you’re mechanically toggling that. And so the the breakthrough of the transistor is there is no mechanic In a form control, it’s an electrical control. And so now the input, the output and the control signal on this valve, they’re all within the same domain, the domain of the electron. And what that allows us to do is to pack millions and billions of these on the same chip and have them all routed to one another. And so now what started as a simple electro mechanical manual control light switch on your wall, we’ve got kind of what’s like neurons in the brain, we’ve got these little valves, they’re like synapses that are talking to one another, controlling one another. And now we’ve got these vast, vastly complex valve networks that are scooping the electrons around in novel ways and performing the tasks that we’ve kind of come to accept, like doing things like presenting what our monitor shows to us routing our data to the internet, and allowing our phones to function.

Aaron Moncur 20:58
That was a wonderful description. I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone put it. So, so succinctly, or, or just descriptively. That was great. Thank you so much. So the transistor, then you said that it functions entirely in the electrons domain is that to say that you would, you can’t see a transistor under a microscope, there’s no like mechanical structure necessarily? Well, it has to be some kind of mechanical structure. But

Ray Kampmeier 21:29
there is a mechanical structure. And you can you can see them, you could even make them in your garage. There’s some, there’s some great electrical engineers out there that are posting YouTube videos of how to make a transistor just like they did back in the 60s at Bell Labs and stuff. But in today’s age, you hear things like three nanometre chip technology, and you hear these nanometer scales that AMD are making computer processors with, and Apple’s making their custom silicon and these scales. And at that point, it’s, it’s so small, that you, you would need a higher electron microscope would need an electron microscope, right? I’m trying to think of what industries even have that level of imaging. But at its core, it’s really cool. It’s like electrical engineering and technology. As we know, it was pioneered by math mathematicians, they create the language in which we can build technology, they create this system in which we can even like discover new technology, physicists and chemists. And so when you study semiconductors at and this is a whole nother realm of electrical engineering, you asked which ways you can go there are people who purely just design silicon for chips and deal with creating these new processes, we can pack more different into these chips. And so at its core, it’s they start with their silicon, silicon is a crystal. So when you have people out there that are kind of mocking these like New Age, energy healers, and people who use crystals to like levitate and do things like that, I always get a laugh out of remembering that, like, our phones are running on these magic crystals. So like, let us communicate with people around the world. They’ll start it Yeah, it’s a more scientific approach to the magic crystals. But they they use, it’s a type of like calligraphy, or it’s a actually made, they might not technically be homography. But they use these really, really high end math masks, that you’re projecting light and basically etching away layers of the silicone. And then on top of that there’s a whole bunch of processes that I have not qualified to speak on. But you’re essentially growing like oxide insulation layers. And so you’re growing these little nano structures. It’s kind of like nanotechnology, you’re making these tiny mechanical structures, but the the term solid state implies there’s no moving parts. So other than the flow of electrons within these molecules. There’s no physical moving parts, and there’s no wear and tear.

Aaron Moncur 24:34
Wow, that’s very cool. I’ve heard that. And in semiconductor, all of the chips that are made or made with the same process, and what difference differentiates whether a chip is I don’t know if this is even quite the correct terminology, but like an ice seven versus an AI nine Intel chip, is how well that process worked on the chip. They try to make them all the exact Same, but because of manufacturing processes, just variations in the manufacturing process, they don’t all come out the same. So some of them end up being faster than others. And those get classified as either nine or I seven, or whatever they are and sold at different price points is that is that accurate? That’s very

Ray Kampmeier 25:17
accurate. It’s a unique, it’s a unique approach to salvaging yield. It’s so in manufacturing, whether it’s you’re making mechanical products or electrical products, you’ve got some percentage that fails your quality control checks. And so the processor manufacturers in today’s age, whether that’s Intel or AMD, they have a unique approach to it, and say, it’s ineffective for us to try to dial in our process. So that we’re getting 99.9% yield, what we’re going to do is we’re going to design an architect or our transistor kind of little city with, you know, within the chip. And we’re going to make it in a way so that if we detect that certain sectors, or certain subsystems are not functioning, because this really, really detailed, super microscopic process, you know, it’s error prone, we’re going to just disable those and sell it as a lesser tier product.

Aaron Moncur 26:17
That’s brilliant, great business strategy.

Ray Kampmeier 26:22
It’s a good business strategy. And then one, one quick thing I want to add, related to the yield is I heard, because in the industry from a friend who’d work for a big silicon manufacturer, is they’ll be things like, you’ll get a when you’re working there, you’ll get notices of like, hey, we want to warn people that a certain deodorant or perfume or something is affecting yield. And so just chemical traces going through a cleanroom jumpsuit, in well, just one small step of this whole process can significantly throw off yield that you’re gonna have to ask your employees to change their personal hygiene.

Aaron Moncur 27:12
That is amazing. One of the team members here at Pipeline worked at Intel for some time. And he was telling us stories about troubleshooting. They hadn’t their yield had fallen off, they couldn’t figure out why. And they spent I can’t remember how long it was, it was it was maybe a week or something. And the line was down for this entire period, which is a huge loss in revenue. And they were, they were getting like traces of, I think it was copper, just where they they weren’t supposed to have any, and that they couldn’t figure it out, they couldn’t figure it out. And finally, they found out that there was a mechanical connection somewhere. And a copper fitting had been used where it was supposed to be a different material. And just the tiny trace molecules of copper that got scraped off into the air when that that fitting was connected or disconnected was enough to throw off the balance of this entire line and and decimate their yield, which was just mind blowing to be that such a small thing could have such a huge impact.

Ray Kampmeier 28:21
Aaron, it reminds me of tin whiskers Have you encountered that at all, it’s kind of related to for aerospace and metals use no product is a phenomenon. It’s a type of like metal migration. So there’s a handful of different forms of this. And it reminds I think it’s probably similar to this, where like tiny copper flakes can like catalyze metals actually growing out and like a plant in a certain direction. It’s fascinating. The tin whiskers it happens more than zero gravity. So when you’re working on satellites, or you’re working on aerospace projects, like what NASA would be would be looking at there, they realized that metals and certain alloys would grow look like whiskers and they’re just like these perfect, almost like a crystal. And they’re like these perfect hairs that look like a cat’s whisker. And it would it would short out electronics you know satellites going out of commission or things in sensors math and it’s not a Yeah, once once you it’s like the further you learn about some of these industries, the more like mysteries just

Aaron Moncur 29:30
crop up, which is why they The world needs engineers like us to solve these little problems. Yeah, well, I’ll take just a very short break here and 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. We’re speaking with Ray camp Meyer today. And, Ray earlier I mentioned that I was going to save a question for a little bit later. So this is the point of the conversation where I’m going to bring this back. You I think if I got the math right here, only worked for a few years after graduating before starting your company, how did you decide to hang your shingle and start your own business after only a few years?

Ray Kampmeier 30:28
Well, Aaron, when I was in school, I was always really self motivated and self driven. When I was in high school, I remember I was taking a computer science class and my teacher wasn’t a big fan of me. So I was jumping ahead and trying to shoot for and pass the curriculum and kind of like, take what I was learning and really try to run with it. So I was hot to trot, I was kind of chomping at the bit ready to break out through the gates. And when I was in college, I was a hard worker when it came to the school, the schooling, but I was really a hard worker when it came to passion projects and outside projects. And so I was working with some artists in Minneapolis and working on art installations. And somehow that led me to get into product development. So those were kind of like the first products I was working on. Were these one offs that were up and running for a few months and a lot of animatronics and puppetry and stuff animatronic theater. i After that, I got linked up at this company called logic product development in Minneapolis. And that was like heaven. For me that was like Willy Wonka’s factory had mechanical engineering, industrial design, electrical engineering, a whole staff of project managers that had a manufacturing line where they were doing medical, military, aerospace, product manufacturing. And so it was basically like full turnkey design services and manufacturing. And for a guy like me, it was like, huge appetite to learn about the industry and everything. And all everybody who I needed to talk to was right there. And so that was really exciting. And like to this day, this is a college internship. And I just absorbed so much, and I’m so happy for an opportunity like that. So you talked a little bit about like what people can do, who are in school and still thinking about this, it escapes me at the time, but you got to get an internship, you got to get a co op, you got to talk to somebody, even if it’s unpaid, get out there, you know, get into an industry that you’re excited about and start to try to help them out in the best way you can. I was entirely ineffective for this company. I was doing a lot of like, hands on kind of like a lot of manual testing and technician work and stuff like that. But I was able to ask really smart engineers questions every single day. And then to just pick their brain, I felt like I was paying my dues. But doing the grunt work. And I in turn, would ask a lot of questions and try to just soak up as much as I could. And so after that, when I had graduated, I moved to California to join a small startup company as a second employee at a company called punch through design. They do similar work to what I do here, that a lot of emphasis on Bluetooth and like IoT products. And help help grow that company a little bit, we released a product called the light blue beam. That was an internal product that helps people fast track making IoT products. It’s like a little Arduino development kit that runs on a tiny coin cell battery, you can program it from your phone, so you could be kicked back on your couch and prototyping your next great invention all from your phone. And then, in addition to doing those, we were doing a lot of client projects. So we’re working with a million different startups. Not a million but you know, dozens of startups in the Bay Area, and I’m learning all these pain points. So I had already gotten some product development jobs, or at least been exposed to what’s out there that’s practices, how to do design verification and how to certify things at an FCC lab. And I just learned kind of the rigor of what’s required for medical, military industrial consumer products. Now Now I was in the Bay Area able to apply that and so it’s very fast paced. So you mentioned you’re right I started this business maybe three years out of college and but I feel really grateful to it felt like I had worked for, you know, dozens of companies and just getting an inside look at and all these startups are trusting us to come in and implement these best engineering practices for them. So towards the end of that time at punch through, I figured, hey, I’m ready to do this for myself, like, I know how I want to do this not to say that punch new was bad at doing the product development, I just knew that I have a way that I want to do this, I want to put it all together now I’m, I’m done. I’m done kind of like waiting and kind of like paying my dues like waiting for my time to put in the motion. And that’s when I started the humble transistor and been enjoying it ever since. And like I said, it’s like, as long as you’re self driven, and you’re you’re willing to learn and refine your own methodologies every single day, and to try to do your job better every single day. It’s like, just do it just take the leap of faith, right? Like, I don’t. I feel like I’m still learning every everyday here. So I’m pretty happy with that decision.

Aaron Moncur 36:00
Well, listening to you talk, it sounds like you had a much more sure footed beginning than than I did. When I started pipeline, I got laid off. That’s how I started pipeline. And I’d only been working for about three years professionally. I had a couple of internships before that, by the way, I agree 100%, with what you were saying about internships, the reason I got my first job was because I had an internship and already knew some very basic skills. Anyway, I got laid off it was during the recession. And I started pipeline, because I didn’t feel like going back to work for another company. But I definitely had a lot of imposter syndrome. I did not have the luxury of having worked for, you know, a plethora of different companies when I started. And there were a lot of things I just didn’t know how to do. It’s probably one, I don’t know, maybe one reason why I’m so bad at electrical because I didn’t do any electrical. And when I went off on my own, that was definitely not my strong suit. So I didn’t pursue anything even closely related to electrical. Anyway. The we talked earlier about what can engineers do to prepare themselves, I feel like I’m really good at what I am good at now, which is mechanical design. I’m not the strongest analytical engineer, for sure. But I’m really good when it comes to mechanical design engineering. And I think the reason I’m so good at it is because I, I didn’t have many resources to turn to when I started my company. And so I spent a lot of extra time on my own just trying to figure things out, you know, whether it was some research on the internet or just trying something and it didn’t work. So trying something else and reading through SolidWorks forums and learning the cad tools and talking with vendors and understanding what material is going to work and what kind of bend radius certain aluminums can accept for sheet metal and all these different things. And that was I mean trial talk about trial by fire that that was definitely it. And and I learned so much through that experience of just trudging through the difficulty every day, but it was also fun because I love doing this stuff. So tell on him make it sound like it was just as arduous ordeal that, that that I hated that that wasn’t the case at all. It’s just a lot of work. But a lot of fun work. Well, it

Ray Kampmeier 38:25
shows Aaron pipeline is so polished and professional and to hear you say that I’m like, Okay, well, you must have you clearly had a lot of success in the method that you learned there.

Aaron Moncur 38:37
No, thank you. I appreciate you saying that. Yeah, I think that there is something to that you mentioned how you were kind of done putting in your dues, and you were ready to do it your way. I think that’s a hallmark of entrepreneurs, we want to do things our way. And I definitely have strong opinions about how things should be done and the right processes and things like that. So I’ve always thought engineers make great business owners because we’re very process oriented. And I don’t know, an engineer, entrepreneur, I think I think is a powerful combination. Yeah, I

Ray Kampmeier 39:13
agree. And I’m glad to hear you share the same sentiment about Yeah, doing it our way. And I don’t mean that as like a control freak. Kind of like controlling attitude, but it’s like I think it’s important to do your work to your own standards and to make sure your standards meet or exceed the clients. I just that’s one of the big ones. And when I said I was ready, it was like I knew to what level I wanted to perform and I wanted to do right by the clients and I kind of knew what what was required to like at the end of the day feel like I contributed and created something of value because it’s it Technology is so confusing. You could work all day for years and years and years. And at the end of it all, the overall project was a flop or you know, something happened or you were just off the mark, you were working towards the wrong direction. And so I felt okay to accumulated some knowledge, and I could use it in a really potent way. And I could do right by the clients and get them the most bang for their buck.

Aaron Moncur 40:26
Yeah, yep. Fantastic. Let’s see, I think just, I’ve got a few more questions to go through. And then we’ll, we’ll wrap things up. Can you? Can you think of a time when you got stuck on a technical problem, and he just didn’t know how to solve it. It was beyond your means at that time? And what did you do to find the solution? And what did you learn from that experience?

Ray Kampmeier 40:53
Good question. Sounds like that’s a good job interview question. Well, I think one good lesson to remember for especially electrical engineers, I know there’s like, I feel like when you’re at engineering school, you kind of get these stereotypes for all the engineering disciplines, you get the civil engineers who maybe know how to party a little bit more. And you got the mechanical engineers are a little more well rounded, we got some better people skills. And I don’t mean to diss us with electrical engineers, like We’re known for our math skills. I don’t think we’re particularly the most personable socialites.

Aaron Moncur 41:34
I wouldn’t say that I always thought of Electrical Engineers is like, well, chemical and electrical felt like the top tier engineers, those were the guys who were really, really smart. And then there was mechanical, then there was civil, I’ll throw the civil under the rug, just like, you

Ray Kampmeier 41:51
know, and that was it. Yeah, with a bachelor’s civil, I think, I think there’s something so there’s when and what I’m getting at, maybe it’ll make more sense as I continue to stop. But um, I was going to say, some of the most challenging problems I faced for ones where I realized, I’ve got my head in the sand that I’ve dug, I’ve dug into a problem so deep, where I’ve kind of like lost touch with people in my network who could help, you know, it could be as simple as reaching out for help, and just writing a detailed forum post or calling up that old co worker of yours who had worked in a related field and maybe asking them and so, you know, it could it could be as easy as me writing you, Aaron and say, Aaron, I’ve got this mechanical automation problem. And I don’t know if it’s big enough to be a project that you’re interested in. But like, Would you mind giving me some feedback on that? So. So for example, one of those times that happened with Wireless Certifications, we’ve failed a wireless certification, and you’re at the testing lab, and you’re just hemorrhaging money, you’re going to pay per day. So you’re like, I gotta solve this in a matter of hours. Because I just, I can’t be, I can’t be paying for every single day that we can’t figure it out this bug. And so in that case, I was I was really happy. This is where early on in my career, I was happy to be forced into a position where I realized, okay, even though I fancy myself as a generalist, I can’t solve this, this is over my head. This is a very niche domain. And I can’t solve this at least in a matter of hours. And so it was a reminder to me that, as an engineer, you really need to foster a good network of people in these different domains that you can count on, you can lean on and you can in turn, reciprocate, and provide this domain expertise to guide people when they’re in a pinch. Because if you’re not making yourself uncomfortable, and you’re not finding engineering problems that make you feel uncomfortable once in a while, you’re maybe not being as aggressive as you could be.

Aaron Moncur 44:04
Great quote, I love that. All right, well, let’s see. I’ll just do maybe one more question here. And then we’ll wrap it up. What What tool do you think should exist that currently does not exist? That would help engineers do their jobs better?

Ray Kampmeier 44:22
It’s a good question. I, one area of our job that I think is pretty uniform across a lot of engineers, computer scientist scientists is searching for information on the internet. And that could be through academic literature use tools to find white papers and academic academic papers. But it’s hard to get around. Avoiding Google, we all gotta we all need to Google things. And Google has this huge wealth of information and it occurred to me recently that I just might not be I brushed up or educated enough on like the latest Google algorithms or the way to format words, search queries on there. And so it made me think that, whether that be at a typical four year college academic environment, whether they add a class or something like that of like, the art of teaching yourself, right, like the art of finding out answers to the problems, or the questions that you have, back in the day, when we were growing up, you know, we all went to the library, and we’re taught about the Dewey Decimal System, and how to interface with a librarian and things like that. And so, you know, it’s not as hands on, it’s not like a very direct engineering specific tool. But I think something that would help a lot of us who are constantly seeking answers every day in our work, I think, maybe just like, getting a refresher on. These are the different tools. This is how Google has changed like this all was spurred off, spurred on by, I had this moment where I just realized, like, does the order of words affects my search query? Does Google way words when I put a question mark, does it behave differently? And try to infer that this is more of a question? And say, yeah, that’s kind of what I think what what about you? Do you see something that’s been an obvious upgrade for engineering degrees,

Aaron Moncur 46:32
I always go to communication. I think as engineers, we are technically trained very well in school. But there isn’t a single class in college about how to communicate with others. And that is as big, if not bigger. Part of our jobs as engineers than from the technical side of things is just knowing how to talk with other people. I just interviewed Andre Sotomayor, who’s Principal Engineer at Johnson and Johnson. And he has this great quote, he says, It doesn’t matter if you’re the smartest person in the room, if everyone thinks you’re a jackass. And it’s so true. So I think better communication tools. And I admit, I don’t know exactly what that means, but, but better ways for people to talk with each other and communicate, you know, thought from one brain to another brain.

Ray Kampmeier 47:24
I do like talking really fast, and just throwing a lot of things out there.

Aaron Moncur 47:30
They’ll pick up on the most important parts. Sure, yeah. Our engineering manager, Michael likes to say that the the meaning of communica, how does he put it? The meaning of communication is the result you get. In other words, if you tell a person something, but you get the result, a result that you weren’t looking for? That’s on you, because you had poor communication. So the meaning of communication is the result that you get. I like that. Yeah. All right. Well, Ray, thank you so much for spending this time with me today, taking some time out of your busy, busy schedule to share some wisdom and insight with all of the listeners. Anything else that you think we should talk about that we haven’t hit on yet?

Ray Kampmeier 48:14
I just want to say one more time, Aaron, like thanks for having me on. And I’m not trying to just pump up pipeline just because you had me on here. I’m a huge fan. And I’ve followed you for I think, a couple of years now. Wow, I am so impressed with the marketing material that you put out. And just the, like I said, the level of polish in your company’s work. And it just it speaks for itself and talking about a picture, you know, speaking louder than 1000 words like, you know, you got millions of words packed into this picture. And it’s just, I’m excited to be working with you guys more on the future. And I’m just impressed. I think that you mentioned the power of like an engineering driven company. And I think pipeline clearly is that. Well,

Aaron Moncur 49:03
Thank you so much for seeing that. Ray. I’ll send you that check we talked about later on. Thanks. Thanks. That’s very, very kind of you. Thank you. All right. Well, this is great Ray, and thanks again for being on the show.

Ray Kampmeier 49:17
Thanks for having me, Aaron.

Aaron Moncur 49:21
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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About Being An Engineer

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. We feature successful mechanical engineers and interview engineers who are passionate about their work and who made a great impact on the engineering community.

The Being An Engineer podcast is brought to you by Pipeline Design & Engineering. Pipeline partners with medical & other device engineering teams who need turnkey equipment such as cycle test machines, custom test fixtures, automation equipment, assembly jigs, inspection stations and more. You can find us on the web at www.teampipeline.us

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