Growth and the PCB Design Learning Zone

August 6, 2019 John Watson

The phone rang at my desk. Tracy was on the other end. It had been several weeks since she had surgery for her implant. I could tell from the tone of her voice that she had exciting news. 

“Do you think you might be able to get an afternoon off?”, she asked. “Sure, how come what’s up?” I responded. “Well, it’s been 5 weeks since my surgery, and everything is completely healed up. I wanted to ask.” She hesitated for a moment, “Wanted to know if you could maybe go with me and be there when they turn on the implant for the first time.” With that, a considerable lump started to develop in my throat. Stammering and clearing my throat, I fought through my quickly rising emotions to respond. “Why of course it would be my honor.” 

A few days later, I was back in the same hospital where she had the surgery. It felt as if I was having a bad case of Déjà vu. Tracy was nervously sitting across from me. I could see the anxiety in her eyes of what was about to happen. This was the moment she had waited for. All the pain and struggle had brought her to this moment. She had only invited a couple of her closest friends to be there.

A young nurse I recognized from my previous visit, opened the door calling out her name, “Tracy?” She collected her courage, composed herself, and slowly stood and entered the hall towards the examining room — the entourage in tow behind her. Waiting for the doctor, no one said very much. We just looked around the examining room. I stared at a poster of a smiling child with a message to “Remember to Vaccinate.”  The door was suddenly swung open by the doctor holding a clipboard, “Yes, Yes, everything looks very good, ready to turn this thing on?” he asked. Tracy nodded. Taking a few minutes to examine her scars looking for any sign of infections or problems. “Ok, here we go.” With that, he plugged in the Cochlear implant. “It might feel a little strange at first” the doctor reminded Stacy. Everyone collectively held their breath. I guess the silence was noticeable because the doctor turned around telling all the onlookers to breathe. Which had the effect of lessening the tension in the room immediately. 

For a moment, Tracy sat very still, taking in the new sensations flooding her mind. After a few seconds, walking up I took her hand I said, “Hi”. The biggest smile came across her face and tears began to well up in her eyes. Quickly the tears began to flow down her face as if any further confirmation was needed, and she said, “I can hear, I can hear.”  For Tracy her miracle was complete. Life changed for the better because of the innovations of electronics.

When I see from where we have come, I am overwhelmed. But when I see where we are going, I am challenged and inspired. What new innovations will the next generations of Electronic Engineers and PCB designers develop? Honestly, I don’t know. But I do know one thing; it will be amazing.

A recent edition of a well-known PCB Design Magazine had an article covering the future pending departure of senior PCB engineers from the industry. The article mentioned that there would be a shortage of PCB designers in the future.  

With that said, I recently attended a PCB design conference held by Altium in Munich Germany. Several teams of university students who were involved in developing the Hyperloop Project were In attendance. The Hyperloop is a new form of transportation being developed by Elon Musk and the SpaceX program. The pod goes through a tube that is at near-vacuum pressure using a compressor to push any leftover air through it with a giant fan, and linear induction motors propel it forward. The pod is designed to go faster than pretty much any form of transportation today, with speeds of greater than 700 mph.

These student teams take one year of their schooling to take on this project. With various team members taking on every part of the project, from the power train to the electronic package. It was so inspiring to see on public display, the innovations and, for lack of a better word, pure genius. As the future builder of the dreams, I know we are in good hands. These young people are kicking butt and taking names. They will be the ones that will develop the new technologies that will change the world. Things that we cannot even imagine. 



 

The Comfort Zone

Yet another Circle of Success is the one in the graphic. Our success is directly connected to which circle we operate in. 

Comfort Zone 

Many never leave the Comfort Zone area. This is a place where everything is safe and in control. These sorts of people are not comfortable with taking chances or especially change. They are driven by mediocrity. 

Fear Zone

Just outside of that comfort zone, lies the Fear Zone. This can be a very dangerous area. This is where someone lacks self-confidence. So, they are easily affected by the opinions of others — more than anything they want to be justified of how they feel. And when things do not work out the way they plan, they are quick to find excuses for their specific situations. The Fear Zone can be an endless downward spiral of ever-deepening problems. It is believed that many physical problems that people experience are directly related to first how they see themselves and secondly how they mentally get into and stay in this zone. 

Learning Zone

The third zone is where we begin to turn things around. That is the Learning Zone. But before we dive into this area, see something with me. To go from the comfort zone to the learning zone, there is only way; you must go through the Fear Zone. Meaning you must first get out of the apathy in the Comfort Zone and leave behind the excuses and anxiety you find in the fear zone. When you enter the Learning Zone, you now have a different mentality. Things are looked at with a positive view, and you are ready to deal with challenges/problems. By working through and dealing with those challenges, you acquire and learn new skills. This can be a somewhat comfortable area, which results in drifting back into apathy. But the learning zone is not the final destination. 

Growth Zone

In the words of Eleanor Roosevelt “The future belongs to those that believe in the beauty of their dreams.” The ones that fulfill and develop the innovations of the future are those that not just operate but instead live in the final of the Growth Zone. The growth zone is a natural progression of the zone before it - the Learning Zone. Someone who has an attitude to learn ultimately moves into the growth zone. The learning zone and the growth zone are always connected. I find myself always spending time in the learning zone, which gives me the fortitude to move into the growth zone and back and forth.

The growth zone this is where you first find purpose, and I would add passion; when you combine purpose and passion then you will find and realize your full potential. The growth zone is where you set new goals, and you conquer them. 

 

Final Thought

A particular trait is required for those working in the PCB design field. You can never be satisfied or content. It is so easy to fall back into the comfort zone, never wanting anything more. With our ever-changing work environment, things are continually changing. Which means, we designers must regularly change as well. We must stay in the learning zone, moving ever towards the growth zone. Through such companies as Altium—who are leading the PCB design industry with such fantastic tools as Altium Designer®, NEXUS® and a multitude of other products—we can never be satisfied with what we do, what we know or where we are at. There is always something more to learn.  

Which circle are you in today? I do not ask to judge anyone but rather to challenge you to keep moving forward. Wherever you find yourself today, keep moving forward. Whatever stumbling blocks stand in your way, turn them into stepping stones and keep moving forward. The days of staying in the Comfort Zone and the Fear Zone are OVER for you. The future belongs to those that are not satisfied with the Status Quo. But instead, to those that know where they are at, who they are and KEEP MOVING FORWARD. 

You are the “Builder of the Dream.” Other people just like Tracy, are still waiting for their own “miracle” of the new electronic innovations that you will develop. Will you rise to the challenge and go into the Learning and Growth Zone? Not retreat into the Comfort and Fear Zones? I trust you will. 

I hope that this document has been a tremendous help for you. 

Thank you.

Whether you are an electrical engineer, work in the aerospace industry, or run a hardware startup, you can watch your productivity skyrocket when you use the only integrated design software package that makes PCB design simple - Altium Designer®. Would you like to find out more about how Altium can help you with your next PCB design? Talk to an expert at Altium.

About the Author

John Watson


With nearly 40 years in the Electronic industry with 20 of them being in the field of PCB Design and engineering, John has stayed on the cutting edge of the PCB industry as a designer/Engineer and more recently as a trainer and mentor. His primary work has been in the Manufacturing field but it has also expanded to several PCB Service arenas. As a veteran, he proudly served in the Army in the Military Intelligence field.

John is a CID Certified PCB designer. Presently pursuing his Advance CID certification. Now as the Senior PCB engineer at Legrand Inc, he leads the PCB Designers and Engineers in various divisions across the United States and China.

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