Judy Warner: Could you tell us briefly about your career path and where you work now?
Randy Clemmons: I'm currently working at Ingenu where we are developing Internet of Things (IoT) networks and end point applications. Altium Designer is our tool of choice.
I started my electronics career at age 19 after volunteering for the U.S. Navy's advanced electronic program.
After 10 years of service in the Navy I went to work for 1 year at Litton Industries, where I tested and debugged state-of-the-art high accuracy navigation systems.
I worked at Harris Corporation for 9 years as Senior Engineer supporting Automated Test Systems.
I worked at L-3 Communications for 7 years as Test Specialist / Associate Engineer. I was the “firefighter” assigned to test and troubleshoot wireless airborne products.
I left L-3 to work at Magis Networks (a startup company) for 5 years, where we developed wireless High Definition Video. At Magis I created numerous prototype PCBs and printed antennas using a LPKF milling machine and CAM Tools.
After Magis I worked at Sequoia Communications (another startup) for 5 years where I designed numerous RFIC test boards.
Warner: Wow! That’s a very wide range of experiences! So, what is your favorite and least favorite part of being a PCB Designer?
Clemmons: I’d say my favorite is solving complex puzzles and the creative aspect of designing PCBs. My least favorite is scaling and positioning reference designators for assembly drawings; it is downright boring. It reminds me of pulling weeds from my mom’s garden.
Warner: Since you’ve worked on such a wide variety of technologies, what is the most exciting project/application you've ever worked on and why?
Clemmons: Wow, there's been so many which were quite literally rocket science. I'd have to say being part of a team at L-3 Linkabit that developed SatCom Modems. I like to jump in head first to mission critical projects and help save the day.
Warner: That’s exactly why we call this part of the newsletter Rock Stars and Superheroes--because many PCB designers tend to do work that “saves the day.” What is the one piece of advice you'd give to a fellow PCB Designer, or someone just entering the profession?
Clemmons: Don’t be afraid to ask for help when you're in over your head. I learned a valuable lesson at about age 35 (this was before Google, now Google knows all!) I finally realized that I didn't have to figure it all out on my own, that there were plenty of experts willing to help me if I would just respectfully ask for their help.
Warner: Speaking of help, I really appreciate the way you always seem to be available to help fellow designers, Randy. You are active in IPC Designer’s Council, you are the president of the San Diego Altium User Group, you write a blog, and you are very active on the online Altium forum. What motivates you to participate so actively in the design community?
Clemmons: Since I was a young man in the Navy, I always openly shared whatever I knew with others. Some act like keeping their knowledge to themselves helps them have job security or something! Ironically, by being a helper and contributor, I often ended up in leadership positions. I think my superiors valued the sense of initiative and help I offered to my team. Like I said, we can’t know everything and I think we need to have mentors, and also to be mentors when we have something of value to share. I’ve been using Altium Designer for over 7 years now, so if I can help someone who is just learning it--why not? When I first started there weren’t as many resources as there are today and I had to learn the tool fast. So, I try to help others who may be in the same situation as I was.
Warner: How long have you been running the San Diego Altium User Group?
Clemmons: I became president about 3 years ago with the help of Mike Creeden and David Carmody of San Diego PCB who generously offered their facility as a meeting place. Occasionally, we meet at another member’s site, but not very often.
Warner: I stepped into your session at AltiumLive 2017: ANNUAL PCB DESIGN SUMMIT and you happened to be discussing the subject of starting a user group. I was surprised to see so much engagement by the attendees. Clearly there was a keen interest in others starting regional groups.
Clemmons: I was pretty sure there would be, which is why I included it in my talk. I wanted to get across a couple of key points--the most important being that a user group is self-managed and Altium has nothing to do with them. They are simply users getting together to help each other get better at what they do. Of course, Altium will pay for lunch or, if asked, will send an FAE or speaker--but for the most part Altium is hands-off. Secondly, it’s pretty easy to start one, yet it’s highly valuable for those who attend and get involved. I wrote a short and simple blog that explains how to do it. I’m okay even if people want to copy our charter or use it as a template. There are no hard and fast rules though. A users group could be four people having lunch in a restaurant and talking about design practices or tips and tricks they’ve figured out. It can also be 30 people with a presenter and boxed lunches at a company location. It just depends on the geographical location and how they want to run it.
Warner: As you know, Randy, supporting user groups is actually part of my job, and was a directive I was given when I first joined the company in March. As you said, I was asked to just support and offer help for regional users groups--but also to stay out of the way, so to speak, because they aren’t Altium sanctioned meetings. They are truly user run and managed groups. I really respect this model.
Clemmons: No offense, Judy, but we already bought the tool, the last thing we want is some kind of sales pitch! We just want to get down to practical usage that affects our everyday lives.
Warner: No offense taken, it makes sense! I like that the ownership lies with the group and they aren’t constrained by Altium or anybody else to tell them the most useful and effective way to run a group in any give part of the world. I do appreciate, however, that Altium is more than willing to lend support even though there is no direct benefit to Altium-- other than supporting the user community and enabling them to learn in more organic ways. I think it’s a win-win all around. I noticed that you are a regular contributor on the AltiumLive Forum in “The Lounge” as well Randy.
Clemmons: Yes, there are a handful of us that are regular contributors. It’s a quick and easy way to get a question answered from your peers and get a little bit of help. I would highly recommend it to anyone who doesn’t use it now. It’s very helpful.
Warner: Randy, thanks so much for sharing your experience and history and especially for all the rich contributions you make to PCB designers, and Altium users in particular! I sincerely hope that what you’ve shared will inspire others to become active participants in their local design community, or perhaps even start a user group.
Clemmons: My pleasure, Judy. I hope so too!
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