“I love making parts. There is an artistry to machining.”
Position at SIGMADESIGN: Model Maker
At SIGMADESIGN for: 5.5 years
I grew up in a garage full of toolboxes. The only rule was that you had to put the tool back if you wanted to use it. So I grew up working with tools all the time and building all sorts of cool stuff. Should I have been a mechanical engineer? Probably, but I didn’t want to do all the math.
I received my love of building things from my dad, who was a Mechanical Engineer at HP. Earlier on, he used to build airplanes with all those toolboxes. He was an A&P. He rebuilt Stearmans for the Agriculture industry when we lived in Central California. So I grew up learning to love airplanes and got my pilot’s license from an independent school for aviation at the San Jose Airport.
I always thought I would be a pilot, but then I got drafted into the military during the Vietnam War. Most people who got drafted were infantry. I knew I did not want to be in the infantry, so I signed up for aviation because I had a pilot’s license. I was so proud. I remember going home and telling my father that I had signed up for aviation. He replied, “The average life of the door gunner is 15 days.” But I survived longer than 15 days. In fact, I was in Vietnam 241 days, then the war ended.
When my dad had a chance to go work for HP, he worked his way up to being a Mechanical Engineer in the Bay Area in California. He was employed at the division that built the first calculator. When that calculator division moved to Corvallis, he and my mother moved.
Later, I came up to visit my parents in Oregon, and I looked around and thought, “Wow, I would like to move up here.” I got a job at HP Corvallis in ’77, just working in the warehouse for a year, but I was around the machine shop all the time. When an opening for an apprentice in the machine shop came up, I applied and got my apprenticeship there. That’s where I also received my Model Maker certificate. About half of my 32-year career with HP was in Corvallis. I worked in Corvallis until 1990. Then I moved up to Vancouver, where I continued on as a Model Maker.
At the Vancouver division, we built printers. So we would model every single part that was in the printer, the gears, the ink receptacle, everything, which was pretty exciting. They were made from everything from stainless steel to brass. We typically used ABS plastic. We made gears out of ultem. But I didn’t just love the work, I loved the people. My boss, George Mouchette, was a real type-A personality; an honest person. You knew exactly what was expected of you, and performed accordingly, and were paid for it. He was a great boss. So I really, truly expected to retire from HP, but I was let go in 1996 in the “big flush” and retired for 2 years.
NEW START WITH SIGMADESIGN
One day, I was sitting on a log by a creek in Yosemite. My phone rang and it was John Barker, the founder of SIGMADESIGN. Our benches were back-to-back at HP. We sat, literally, right next to each other. John worked for HP for years. We both shared an interest in airplanes, so we became good friends. So, anyways, I am sitting on a log, and my phone rings. John said, “Hey, do you want to come work for SIGMADESIGN? We need somebody in the machine shop.” After talking to Bill Huseby, I decided to come out of retirement to work for SIGMADESIGN.
I started working for SIGMADESIGN in 2011. At that time, there were about 45 employees. Now there are nearly 200. I believe the challenge at SIGMADESIGN is to keep the culture alive as we grow. I think about my dad who started at HP in 1959. That was back when the Founding Fathers were still alive, so it was easy to maintain that culture. It was such a great company to work for because it had such a great culture. But, with any company, there is a shift in culture as it grows and as founders start to retire. So, like I said, it’s going to be challenge to keep the culture at SIGMADESIGN. But I consider that part of my job to help maintain all that fun and culture that first drew me to this company.
Culture is why I started “Lunch with the Machine Shop” once a month. I want people to know the machinists. I think when you’re a new employee, you think you just need to stay at your desk and work really hard. And you do need to work hard. But we have a boss that will allow you to stop for a moment and talk to people and tell a joke. So we need to use that to our advantage as a whole.
And of course, the best part about working at SIGMADESIGN? THE PEOPLE. I love Sigma people. At SIGMADESIGN, we have the ability to thrive as people.
THE ART OF MACHINING
While I love the culture at SIGMADESIGN, I also really do honestly love to machine parts. I love taking a block of material and transforming it into something completely new. My finished product is something I can touch, something I can hold. I can remember going up to Lindsey Dotson (Firmware Engineer) and holding my hand out to her. She held her hand out and I dropped a part in her hand. She said, “What’s that?” I said, “When I am done with my day, I have something to show for it. When you’re done with your day, all you have is electrons running around.” She thought that was pretty funny.
As a general rule, shop people are typically at the bottom of the food chain in our industry. But I love making parts. There is an artistry to it and we’re proud of not making a piece of junk, but making something that looks nice. Sam, our Shop Supervisor, has taken me and put me in the manual area to support the lab, and I revel in that. Every day, it’s something new that I can hurry up and fix, or help people that come in every day with, “Can you fix this? Can you fix that?” And I like that.
In my profession, we take great pride in creating stuff. On a personal level, I smile at the ability to do things that other people can’t do. I love being able to put my training, years and years and years of doing this kind of thing, to work in a place where it is valued. It’s fun to be able to look at a broken tap that’s in a part, a very expensive part, and know that I can get the broken tap out when others might have scrapped the part and remade it. Those are the type of things that make me smile at the end of the day.
Like I said earlier on, shop people are typically at the bottom of the food chain. But nobody feels that at SIGMADESIGN. I feel very valued here, and that’s really important. I believe that comes from the Core Values we have at SIGMADESIGN.
The Core Values are Integrity, Help Clients and Each Other, Take Time to Laugh, Adaptable, Respect for One Another, and Exceed Customer Expectations. Number three, Take Time to Laugh, is absolutely my favorite. I love to run around and joke a lot. I love working at a place that has core values. Bill has said, “If you can’t stand up to at least five of the Core Values, we may not need you here.”
I would say I was raised along the lines of our Core Values, so I like to see it in the work place. I have integrity, and that affects me every day. Respect is also a part of who I am. I also like the second core value, and I work every day to help everybody around me, whether that’s a young person I can help train or the people in the lab that are in a hurry for something; I think I bring those qualities to the table and excel along those lines.
The reasons someone is a Machinist is that they are kind of an OCD person, and they strive for perfection at what they do. Because Machinists work to tiny little tolerances, that’s just how we are as people. So not only do I strive for perfection in my work, in my art, I strive for perfection in the way that I live out the Core Values. I think the Core Values are a great thing. I take the Core Values very seriously because they do affect how I am as a person and how I work.
LIFE OUTSIDE OF WORK
Fishing is my passion. I go to Yosemite 4 times a year or so. We have a family cabin in Yosemite, where I learned to fish. I love the nit-pickiness of tying flies because they’re so tiny. I have also built a bunch of fly rods. Of all the ones I’ve built, I’ve only kept two of them for myself, so I love building them and giving them away to people. I also love checkering gun stocks. It’s very nit-picky work. One little mistake, and the stock is ruined. I love things like that.
I love that SIGMADESIGN really encourages a healthy work-life balance. Not only does the company value every employee, it values the family behind every employee and prioritizes that time spent outside of work. And I love that. In fact, that is the reason I came to work for SIGMADESIGN.