Cobham Advanced Electronic Solutions: Young Designer Hits Her Stride at Mil Aero Company

Judy Warner
|  Created: March 13, 2019  |  Updated: July 28, 2020

Back in August of 2017, a young and impressive PCB designer by the name of Nicole Pacino was featured in this newsletter. Pacino is a second generation PCB designer who has followed in the footsteps of her father who owned, grew and sold his successful design bureau, San Diego PCB. Since the last time she appeared in this newsletter, she has moved to the US East Coast and earned a place on the Cobham Advanced Electronics Solutions design team. At Cobham they call Pacino the “Altium Whiz Kid” due to the complexities of her design, as well as her mastery of Altium Designer. Read on for an update on Pacino’s journey and her first major steps in her bright and promising career.

Judy Warner: Please share about your experiences as a young designer moving into a serious design role at Cobham Advanced Electronic Solutions.

Nicole Pacino: When I moved to the East Coast, I wasn’t too sure about the opportunities I would find as a PCB designer. The majority of my career and what I knew personally was all on the West Coast. So, unsure of where to begin looking, I contacted a tech staffing agency that specializes in Aerospace and Defense Engineering contracts to help connect me with local companies. Almost immediately they found a company looking for a candidate with Altium Designer experience that they thought I would be a perfect fit for. I went through a series of interviews at Cobham Advanced Electronic Solutions and agreed that it was a great opportunity for me to continue to grow my career. Cobham was thrilled to see that I had the Altium Advanced training certification on my resume. And my previous experience working in a PCB design service bureau had equipped me with a broad foundation for understanding complex designs involving RF, high-speed digital, power and control.

Warner: What are some things you were surprised about that were important to your employer?

Pacino: I was shocked to learn that my new employer saw my younger age as a positive attribute instead of viewing it with a negative connotation that implied lesser experience. To them, this meant I wasn’t set in any specific ways and could have the potential to be moldable in developing more accurate and efficient ways to design with the tools Altium has been integrating into the program. So this allowed me to present myself as a good long term investment that would be quickly adaptable in learning how to leverage these new design and analysis capabilities.

Mike Creeden and daughter Nicole Pacino overlooking the Glockenspiel in Marienplatz - Munich, Germany.

Warner: What complexity of boards are you designing now?

Pacino: I am currently working on very sophisticated designs that fully utilize and push the capabilities of multi-channel usage through a hierarchical system. What I have learned in this process is the importance and advantages for using this type of system. When you have over 25 channels in certain places of a design, utilizing child sheets to map and automatically generate designators and nets throughout those sections has a tremendous impact. The system defines each component and connection for you based on how you set it up. Not only does it ensure better accuracy, it also saves an incredible amount of time when realizing you need to change a simple resistor here or capacitor there. You make the change on one page and the mapped system will push out the changes for you across all channels. The time saved during changes and minimized risk of accuracy becomes a game changer in these extremely complex designs during reviews and future revisions.

Warner: What kind of support and mentoring are you getting from your senior design team and what is the impact on your design abilities?

Pacino: Even though I am completely self-taught in hierarchical and multi-channel systems and teaching those around me how to understand and navigate through them, I am still learning a great deal from my senior design team that surrounds me. It seems like there are an endless amount of ways in which you can grow and improve to have better design practices. It’s impossible to ever know it all. Technology and materials used are continuously changing and evolving creating an ongoing need to always learn new techniques. 

Warner: What areas are emerging as particular areas of interest that you enjoy and find challenging?

Pacino: Through the work I am doing at Cobham, I am becoming more fascinated and interested in RF designs. I’m surrounded by some of the greatest mentors in this technology in the world and it’s caused me to become more fascinated with the different types of applications it has the potential to be used in. I have recently decided I want to pursue getting my Master’s in Electrical Engineering so I can focus on these types of designs and be more involved in the initial development and testing process.

Mike Creeden and Nicole Pacino: Father-daughter PCB designers sightseeing in Munich, Germany.

Warner: What advice would you give to a young designer or engineer?

Pacino: The advice I would give to a young designer or engineer is to stay motivated and keep working diligently to grow one’s own knowledge base and personal abilities. The design tools are advancing to keep up and provide new ways to meet the industry’s demands for improving technology. If you’re learning how to implement these new features you can keep pushing their capabilities so you are prepared to show what you can offer to projects you’re working on. I really think it’s important to have at least a basic understanding of how to navigate and set up these new complex multi-channel, multi-board, and hierarchical design systems. Allowing yourself some time to truly equip yourself with these new tools can only benefit you and prepare you for what you are capable of creating in the future. 

Warner: Thanks for sharing this exciting chapter of your career, Nicole and we wish you continued success.

Pacino: Thank you, Judy for all the support.

About Author

About Author

Judy Warner has held a unique variety of roles in the electronics industry for over 25 years. She has a background in PCB Manufacturing, RF and Microwave PCBs and Contract Manufacturing, focusing on Mil/Aero applications. 

She has also been a writer, blogger, and journalist for several industry publications such as Microwave Journal, PCB007 Magazine, PCB Design007, PCD&F, and IEEE Microwave Magazine, and an active board member for PCEA (Printed Circuit Engineering Association). In 2017, Warner joined Altium as the Director of Community Engagement. In addition to hosting the OnTrack Podcast and creating the OnTrack Newsletter, she launched Altium's annual user conference, AltiumLive. Warner's passion is to provide resources, support, and advocate for PCB Design Engineers worldwide.

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