I met Steve Sandler in person at last yearís Best in Test Awards at DesignCon, where he was a Test Engineer of the Year finalist. I already felt like I knew him before that thanks to email. Steve has a great sense of humor and an interesting technical background. He is one of the most curious and enthusiastic people Iíve met.
I recently asked him to be a part of my Profiles in Test series for EDN. Hereís an excerpt of our interview, covering his reflections on his time working on space shuttle projects, his career surprises, T&M challenges, and advice to new engineers.
Janine: What kinds of tests did you do for the space shuttle projects?
Steve: There was a great variety, which made the job interesting. Optical illumination testing for the space shuttle cockpit lighting (amazing how difficult the spec was for dial rotation vs. intensity of the cockpit display!), discrete digital decoding and display testing for the PQI (propellant quantity indicator, yes the space shuttle had a triple redundant gas gauge. Never could figure out why) and the RRI (rendezvous range indicator used to display the shuttle approach for docking purposes). I tested other things too, such as the torque in helicopter rotor shafts and DC-AC power inverters for planes such as the F-16 and the 767.
Janine: What has surprised you the most during your career?
Steve: How fast technology evolves, and how slowly engineers adapt to new techniques, methods, and equipment. I am not sure if engineers have become lazier or overburdened, but they donít read anymore, and that surprises and saddens me. Many professional careers require continuing education, but engineering doesnít. I find this both surprising and disappointing. Iím also surprised that many of the engineers I worked with 30 years ago are still around, and some of us are still in touch.
Janine: What are the next biggest challenges for the T&M industry?
Steve: I write about this occasionally, but the worlds of power, RF, and instruments are coming closer together. Today, a power engineer doing PDN work needs to measure power supply impedances to more than 10GHz. ADCs are sensitive to uVolts of noise. The new power HEMPT technologies, like eGaN, push edge speeds to microwave regions. Not only doesnít the equipment exist to measure these edges (600V/2nS or 20V in 300pS), but most engineers will not know how to measure these devices once the equipment exists. Some of our customers are developing smartphones, and they tell me that as the operating voltages fall they have power integrity issues at very low power levels, and the tools, such as probes, donít exist for these issues. So, new equipment will need to be developed for these technologies (stay tuned ;)) I am also hearing from semiconductor companies that are improving the PSRR performance of their voltage regulators, but can no longer measure it. We help solve those problems, but they will be challenging for many engineers.
Janine: Any advice for new engineers?
Steve: I give every engineer the same advice. Find smart people and make them your friends. Open your mind to learning. Have an ego, but realize you are always learning. Pass along what you learn. Work hard at what you do and donít be lazy. Come to people like me AFTER you have searched for the answer, not instead of searching for it.
Janine: Any funny stories?
Steve: I havenít thought about this in a long time, but in the late 1970s (my space shuttle years) I designed my first project and was just starting the test process. I carefully checked everything and applied power. A puff of smoke came out of my circuit board, though it looked like it worked. I shut it off, checked everything again and repeated this process. Each time I turned it on there was a puff of smoke. One of the engineers in the lab started to laugh and gave it away. There was a Teflon tube under my project, taped under my workbench and a ďfriendĒ at the other end of the bench was smoking a cigarette (thatís how long ago). Every time I applied power he exhaled his cigarette smoke into the tube. It was pretty funny, and my circuit did work, so it was all in good fun.
Catch the entire text of our engaging interview on EDN.com.