EMPLOYEE SPOTLIGHT – SPENCER BARRETT

It all began at a friend’s house in the 1970s. He had brought home a thermal paper terminal from school. We had to plug the phone headset into cups. (This was back before CRT monitors and after you typed in your command, you had to wait a couple seconds for it to print out the response.) We stayed up all night burning through the thermal paper playing “Dungeons and Dragon.” A life-long fascination with computers was born.

Sadly, my suburban Milwaukee high school did not have a computer class. So my freshman year, I trekked half days into a specialty magnet school in the city specializing in computers. I was excited as we programmed punch cards that ran on a PDP-11.

In my junior year, we moved out to my grandfather’s farm in Idaho. Making the most of what was there, I took welding classes and built my own go-cart. I went on to the same college my dad attended, earning an electrical and computer engineering degree from Carnegie Mellon. The metal working and welding skills came in handy as I worked as staff for the school’s robotics institute designing and building robots for Three Mile Island and autonomous vehicle research.

Later, at OSU, I got my masters and over the summers built several human-powered tandem vehicles for the Corvallis Kinetic sculpture races. My current pedal-powered “Sprocket Rocket” is amphibious, going over land, sand, mud bogs, and water.

These days, I keep pretty busy with my family and interests like running, rafting, wood work, and Scouting. I recently finished a major house and kitchen remodel, an epic adventure while my wife and two kids essentially spent months living/camping out. This summer we’ll all hike a 75 km length of the West Coast Trail, following the southwestern edge of Vancouver Island in British Columbia, Canada. Come August, I’ll run the Hood-to-Coast Relay as well.

WORKING AT SIGMADESIGN

I started working as a Firmware Engineer for SIGMADESIGN in February. Leaving my former company after 23 years was one of the hardest things I’ve done. But change was overdue and SIGMADESIGN is a welcome shift in the right direction. Agility, customer-focus, employee-focus and infusion with the values to make great teams drives the firm to create great products.

As a new employee, it was welcoming and reassuring to me when Bill Huseby said his goal is to make  it your “hardest decision to leave your job at SIGMADESIGN.”

In my orientation with Bill, I was surprised to find the president encouraging me to use the machine shop. As I mentioned, I enjoy building things, so the opportunity to design and build is a great fit. I’m glad because I think there is a connection between understanding the conceptual idea of a product and how it actually goes together. And that connection ultimately leads to great products for our clients.

Throughout my career, I’ve enjoyed balancing project constraints, customer requirements, and market trends to bring new products to market. With a lot of multidisciplinary depth, I’ve been fortunate to work on a variety of projects that span the engineering spectrum from firmware to electrical to mechanical engineering.

TEAMWORK AND VALUES

Soon, with a team of great colleagues, I’ll head to China for manufacturing support. Traveling for system installation and support is one of the hardest but most rewarding parts of the job. It’s invaluable to see your product being built and to get the feedback from the client and end-user. This is where the rubber meets the road working through issues with the support of the team back home.

I am fired up about the possibilities for the core technology we are building, technology which could be used as a platform for many other applications. Overall, my team is working on a lot of cool stuff and there’s more to come that really excites me.

When I got married, I took a break from my career to take a seven-month round-the-world honeymoon. That incredible trip helped me realize that who I work with is just as important as what I do- the people put the joy into the work.  A good friend used to say, “We are here for the stories.”  These stories come from a team and the team can only come from an environment of trust and commitment. I see a strong value system at SIGMADESIGN – core values that are practiced and rewarded. What I seek is so gracefully captured in the following lines from the book “Boys in the Boat”:

“…if nurtured correctly, [it] might lift a crew above the ordinary sphere, transport it to a place where nine boys somehow became one thing – a thing that could not quite be defined, a thing that was so in tune with the water and the earth and the sky above that, as they rowed, effort was replaced by ecstasy. It was a rare thing, a sacred thing, a thing devoutly to be hoped for.”