Mike Creeden, Founder of San Diego PCB, with his daughter Nicole Pacino
With the median age of today’s PCB being 48 years old, it’s always refreshing and encouraging to see a young sprout up amongst the design community ranks. One such young is Nicole Pacino of San Diego PCB. Nicole is the daughter of Mike Creeden, founder of San Diego PCB, who is also an IPC Master Trainer and IPC ’s Council executive board member. As you can imagine, Nicole was exposed to PCB Design at a very young age. Fortunately for the industry, her passion and design skills are not only growing—they’re downright impressive. Enjoy the recent conversation I had with Nicole at San Diego PCB.
Judy Warner: Nicole, how old were you when you first started designing boards?
Nicole Pacino: I began designing at a very young age. I think I was about 11 years old. My father, Mike Creeden, is in the industry and I always looked up to him, so I was naturally curious as to what he was doing. One day he sat me in front of a computer and presented the work to me as a game. A very challenging game with extremely specific and intricate rules. And I loved playing it! So, I really began working before I even realized I was working.
I officially started designing as a career at the age of 20. At that point I began learning more of the technical side of things and understanding the how and why of what I was doing instead of just taking direction from someone else.
After a few years, I made the decision that it was not only important to master the technical side of things but to also understand the business aspects as well. So, I went away to college at Ohio State University to earn two degrees. One in Strategic Communications and one in Business. This helped me to come back equipped to continue my learning in the industry and prepare me to hopefully one day open my own office and lead in the future.
Warner: What are you working on now, and what are your most pressing challenges?
Pacino: I’m usually working on a few projects at once that range in complexity. For example, I’m currently working on a small board that is an RF design with a printed antenna running at 2.4 Ghz and using standard Bluetooth LE. Another is a much more intense design at 16 layers and it has two different DDRs running off the main FPGA. It’s been fun and particularly challenging because we completed the design without using any high-density interconnects even though it’s a .5mm BGA. We accomplished this by utilizing the via in pad method.
A 16-layer board design Nicole had in process with DDR memory, a .5mm BGA and via-in-pad technology.
I would say the most pressing challenges are trying to keep up with the increasing industry standards for excellence in less time and across different platforms. Here at SDPCB we have experts providing services across 4 different design platforms which are Altium, Pads, Allegro, and Xpedition.
I was originally only trained to use Pads at first. When I returned from college I realized there was a high demand for Altium trained designers. So, to expand my career opportunities I signed up for the Altium Designer Essentials online course. After successfully completing the course in about a week, and due to the software’s ease of use, I was able to acquire enough knowledge and grasp the depth of functionality to be able to start designing on Altium the following week. Continually learning to improve my proficiency, on a daily basis, and keep up with industry standards is very challenging.
Warner: Looking back, were there any clues that you now realize showed an aptitude for design?
Pacino: Puzzles! I love puzzles and games. But I imagine that almost every designer you ask would say the same. I’m also a self-proclaimed math loving nerd. I’ve always had an aptitude for problem solving and am very detail oriented which allows me to see the big picture and be able to break it down into smaller pieces. I can solve something visually and logically in my mind using an abstract perspective. I think this way of thinking has really helped me to excel with what I do.
Growing up, I also always loved electronics. I would take things apart and figure out how to put them back together and then put them back together in different ways so that I could understand how things worked and what things were capable of. I think doing things like that really helped me to understand the manufacturability in the projects I’m working on which is extremely important.
Warner: What do you think keeps more young people from choosing a design career?
Pacino: I would say it’s lack of exposure. PCB design isn’t something that is traditionally taught or focused on in schools. Most engineers understand that it’s a necessary part of the process in creating the technology but I don’t think most people realize the career opportunities there are strictly designing boards. Many engineers end up working for these companies and get stuck working on the same products and creating new revisions of the same technology. As a PCB designer, however, I get to have my hands on new technology being developed in all facets of the world.
Everything from fun new gadgets and toys to communication satellites to military defense systems to medical life-saving technology. That’s why I take a lot of pride in what I do, because I feel like the small part that I get to be a part of is contributing to a much larger scope of important technology development. I really am honored to have these opportunities with the various projects that I get to be a part of and work on. It really is such a neat job. I don’t think most young people know this opportunity exists today.
Warner: What advice would you give a young person considering a career in PCB design?
Pacino: I’m still young in this profession, so I suppose the advice that I would give is the same advice that I give to myself every day--which is to deeply value the accuracy, the quality and the performance efficiency in every project. There are 3 main aspects to focus on, which are the solvability, the electronics, and the manufacturability of every board. So really, I would say to just strive to be the best and to have a continuous learning mentality and to look around you for guidance and respect the knowledge of the veteran designers who came before you because they truly did pave the way for what we’re doing today.
Warner: Well, I’ve been very impressed looking at your work and the deep complexity you are mastering, Nicole! Thank you so much for your time and sharing your journey with us.
Pacino: Thank you so much, it was my pleasure!