The field of electromagnetic compliance engineering is evolving so quickly in scope and significance that it is easy to imagine an engineering bachelor’s degree specializing in the subject some time soon. While that possibility might be a welcome development, the academic emphasis on compliance still falls far short of the current need for this expertise. Thus the question arises: Where do all these amazingly adept EMC engineers, so skilled at holding the fabric of our technological world together, come from?
The short answer is … Radio Shack
… but this does not really answer the question of training and education for someone interested in entering the field right now. So, thanks to the time a few colleagues recently shared with me, I can offer you part of the long answer.
Five EMC Career Profiles
In high school John Rohrbaugh decided to put his affinity for math and science to practical use by pursuing a degree in engineering at Youngstown State University. John graduated with a B.S.E.E. in 1980 and immediately began work for the General Motors EMC Test Facility in Warren, Ohio. In 1982, an opportunity to work at the Georgia Tech Research Institute took John to Atlanta, GA. There he earned his M.S.E.E. from Georgia Institute of Technology in 1985, focusing on analog, RF/μwave and electro-optics design, and got his first taste of Department of Defense work through an Intergovernmental Personnel Act assignment at Phillips Air Force Laboratory in Albuquerque, NM. After 15 years at Georgia Tech, John returned to Ohio and General Motors for one year, but was drawn back to New Mexico in 1998 by the level of system development solutions that he could work on there. From the Air Force Research Lab at Kirkland Air Force Base, John then became Senior Electrical Engineer Manager for Northrop Grumman Defense Mission Systems in Albequerque. In 2007, he moved to Northrop Grumman Technical Services in Clearfield UT where he is currently Senior Electrical Engineer Manager and still solving problems.
Over the span of his 32-year career, John has been an active and respected member of the EMC community. He has acquired significant experience in EMI, EMC and EMP system design, simulation and testing and has contributed much to the development of testing procedures and equipment. He has managed system development programs, including high voltage pulsed power testing and simulation, and RF/μwave radiated and conducted interference test system. Still, he never had a course on EMC in school to name a few. His expertise has developed through hands-on experience as the field of compliance engineering has emerged over the past several decades. To any aspiring compliance engineers, John recommends an EMC lab residency as the best way of really learning the tools of the trade and what to do with them. In return, you’ll be rewarded with interesting and diverse problems to solve … every day!
In high school and before, Eddie Pavlu liked to tinker and indeed did frequent Radio Shack. So it was a given that he would get a degree in electrical engineering, which he did from Fairleigh Dickenson University in 1985. His EMC training began with a job at ITT Avionics during his senior year of college. On graduation, Eddie became a design engineer at Singer Kearfott where he continued to work on EMC issues. After two years, he took a position as Lead EMC Engineer for the Unisys Corporation in New Jersey. Here he not only tested for and addressed EMC issues, but also developed the EMC guidelines used throughout the company. During the same time, he completed his M.E.E.E. at Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken (December 1988). With two degrees and seven years experience, it was time to head to sunny California. Eddie’s first position there as a senior EMC engineer focused testing and troubleshooting, but by 1991 was EMC Principle Engineer for Bay Networks in Santa Clara. While the position still entailed plenty of bench work, Eddie became more involved with the coordination of EMC support on multiple projects and interfaced with the development engineers, as well as EMC training programs. By the time he left Bay Networks in 1997, Eddie was EMC Group Manager and was taking on more of a managerial role. In 1997, Eddie accepted an executive management position with Elliott Laboratories in Silicon Valley. As he moved from Vice President of Engineering to Chief Operating Officer to President and CEO, hands-on EMC work was delegated to others. When Elliott Labs transitioned to NTS, Eddie remained part of the executive management team and is currently Vice President, responsible for the commercial and telecom market and operations at several NTS locations.
While there are certainly times when Eddie misses the lab, the EMC experience he brings to management is a great asset to his company. It gives him more influence in helping the public and customers understand the importance of sound EMC practices. Also, having been the one who tested products for both safety and functional compliance, he understands the value of recognizing and allowing for potential issues in the design phase. Despite having left the bench himself, he would encourage young engineers to go in to this quickly growing field. His best advice to them, like John’s, is to get all the hands-on training you can and find a mentor in the industry.
Randy Flinders‘ dad was an electronics engineer, so Randy grew up in a home full of soldering irons and computers-in-progress. It was only natural that he would consider going into electronics engineering. But the thought of a four-year college held little appeal for Randy, he decided to attend a trade school. Randy’s original plan was to focus on original circuit design, but in 1992, with his associate degree in electronics engineering in hand he got his first job in the Compatible Electronics, Inc. test lab. There the (debugging) bug bit him and he happily provided EMI/EMC testing and engineering services to their ITE, medical and military clients until 1997. After five years with Compatible Electronics, Randy left his position as Senior EMC Test Engineer to become Manager of Compliance Engineering for the Emulex Corporation. In 1999, he received a Certificate in Electromagnetic Compatibility from the University of Missouri. He continued at Emulex, responsible for all product regulatory approvals company-wide, until 2010. At that time Randy founded RTF Compliance and became its principle product compliance specialist.. This nonprofit corporation assists ITE and consumer electronics manufacturers in addressing RoHS, REACH, EMI/EMC and product safety requirements.
After 20 years in the profession, Randy’s enthusiasm for his work is still evident. He is active in the local IEEE EMC and Product Safety Societies, presents on product compliance at industry events, and has contributed to the development of several industry standards. Randy observed that while the opening of global markets has politicized the regulatory process, it has also grown the potential business prospects exponentially, He is optimistic about the rapidly growing opportunities for young people entering the field. His advice, again, is to get a job in a tech lab, preferably a small one and for two years. In that way, you get to see a great array of produces, interface with diverse clients, and experience in all aspects of lab work.
Jeremy Campbell wasn’t really sure what he wanted to do in high school, so he signed up for a vo-tech industrial electricity class. Well, he loved the class and the instructor loved his potential. Jeremy got his Journeyman’s Electrician License in 1995 and, with a little encouragement from that teacher, his B.S.E.E. from the West Virginia University Institute of Technology in 1999. His first job was with the Department of Defense performing modeling and simulation of electric power infrastructure. Meanwhile, Jeremy and his neighbor became fast friends over a ham radio (a potential gold mine of electrical power issues waiting to be solved). After a few years on the job, Jeremy decided to go back to school for a M.S.E.E. in power electronics, which he got in 2004 from the University of Tennessee. While earning his master’s, Jeremy worked at Oak Ridge National Laboratory doing everything from writing Matlab/Simulink code to preparing research inverters, converters and motors for testing equipment. In 2006, Jeremy moved to General Motors where he is responsible for EMC for motor drives and various design and testing issues with power electronics.
Jeremy believes this is a unique time to be involved in EMC as we become more aware of the importance of including potential issues around electrical compliance in the design phase of products. It offers an opportunity to change corporate culture for the better. His advice to young engineers is to keep fundamentals first. He recommends the pursuit of EMC because it is never dull, but is always evolving and always providing new challenges.
Our most recent addition to the EMC team is Laura Zehnder. Though only five years out of college, Laura has already amassed a broad range of experiences that began with a three-semester coop while she was working on her B.S.E.E. from the University of Toledo. This coop gave Laura her first taste for EMC when, among other tasks at NASA’s Langley Research Center, she tests space shuttle instrumentation for electronic compliance. The EMC lab was the last to check the Columbia shuttle before it’s last flight in 2003. The unexpected perk after a straight 36 hours work was to meet the astronauts before takeoff.
During her junior and senior years, Laura worked in telecommunications as an RF engineer for AT&T Wireless in Ohio. But she missed the hands-on problem solving of her coop opportunity. So on graduation in 2007, Laura took a position as an EMC engineer for LS research in Cedarburg, Wisconsin. In 2010, she moved to Georgia to become an agency compliance engineer with Automated Logic. What Laura loves about her work is that a compliance engineer never knows what is going to come into the lab but, whatever it is, she gets to handle it first, see how it works, and play with it … and what “it” is will often be cutting edge and very cool. Laura’s advice to new compliance engineers; “Don’t be ashamed to ask how it works.”
Common Beginnings and Happy Endings
It is no surprise that everyone I talked with was a tinkerer from way back. A kind of joy in problem-solving seems to be innate in all engineers, along with a determination to take hold of things with both hands and fix them. Everyone I spoke with used the term “hands-on” at least once during our conversation, with varying degrees of excitement in their voices. As expected, most people seemed to have chosen a path in electrical engineering sometime in high school, but it’s the first lab experience … the first time they put their hands on a spectrum analyzer or a power amplifier … that set the commitment to EMC.
Yet the careers of pioneers in the field to the youngest bench techs seem to have another commonality; no one ever claims to have set out to become the resident expert on compliance. Initial steps toward this specialization are more often driven by an unglamorous need of the engineer’s company, clients or community. But once introduced to the workbench, the constantly changing landscape of EMC challenges fuels the enthusiasm for the field. It seems to be the great constant that keeps everyone happily coming to work each day. The excitement of never knowing what new products and problems you’ll see was unanimous.
In the motivations that set everyone going down their various paths of lab benches and boardrooms, some things remained constant: deep curiosity, excitement of discovery, and determination to find answers. Not a bad day’s work.
|Mary Ann Kahl
While her educational background is in architecture and English, Mary Ann’s professional editing experience began in the early 80s as a research assistant in the Epidemiology and Genetics Section at the National Cancer Institute (NCI). Leaving the office environment to be at home with her two sons, Mary Ann continued editing for NCI as an independent contractor. On moving to New England, she began looking for new clients (these were the nascent days of the internet, so local was better). Stumbling upon an electrical engineer who wanted help with a pocketguide to Taguchi and Robust Design, Mary Ann abandoned the doctors for the technical guys … and has spent the next 25 years helping bright and creative people articulate their ideas and inventions. The bulk of this work has been for QFD and TRIZ articles, books and seminars. Mary Ann is very happy to have spent the past two years dotting “I”s, crossing “t”s, and adding or removing countless commas for In Compliance Magazine.