“I really love when you can be a part of (and I emphasize “be a part of”, and not do it all yourself) good product development. Products rarely get developed by one person, at least not good products, right?”
As a Director of Mechanical Engineering for our Advanced Prototyping Center, I am responsible for guiding and coordinating the efforts of the mechanical team.
HOW LONG HAVE YOU WORKED AT SIGMADESIGN?
Oh, boy, I don’t know. Time is weird now, isn’t it? Time is construct anyway. Six or seven years; it’s surprising how much time has gone by.
WHAT WAS YOUR EDUCATION EXPERIENCE?
I went to school in New York at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute to get a dual degree in Aeronautical and Mechanical Engineering. I specialized in helicopter design, because I thought it was cool and that I would like to design helicopters. Then I realized the design cycle for helicopters is super long, and I’d probably have to live in Connecticut, so I wasn’t into it. And that’s how I found biotech.
Biotech gave me a lot of background and understanding of fluids and that type of thing. At the biotech company it was cool to be in charge of a bunch of things but I wanted to be in a place where I could learn from both more experienced engineers and more experienced business people running different companies and approaching different markets.
The biotech market is really interesting because there’s a lot of funding. And while that’s cool and you’re enabled to do a lot of things with that, it doesn’t teach you how to optimize for particular product designs, so it’s relatively narrow in what you can learn. Some biotech areas only involve research and with that comes a lot of paperwork and rules. It’s pretty constraining with respect to how you can design certain things. So next, I decided I would look for a more diverse company that would offer me more opportunities in a range of industries.
WHAT LED YOU TO SIGMADESIGN?
After working in biotech, I worked at a smaller design company in Portland, and that’s what made me realize I really liked the idea of a company that’s agile. Meaning a company working in many different industries with a lot of different people, and a lot of different companies. That way, you can see different manufacturing processes, different markets, and what different consumers may want. So I started looking for a company where I could see a lot of different things, learn a lot of different things about different industries and consumers. SIGMADESIGN offers that in many ways. I wish we could talk about what I’m working on, because I love a lot about the products I am working on, but that’s probably not something I can mention.
EAST COAST / WEST COAST DIFFERENCES
I’m from Boston and as I mentioned, I went to school in upstate New York. After my 5 years with a biotech company in New York, I decided I was sort of tired of the east coast. When you meet people on the east coast, the first thing you talk about is your job. When I came out to the west coast, I would ask people what they do for a living and people were confused. They were like, “what do you mean?” They’d say something like mountain bike, which I know isn’t what they do for a living. They wouldn’t talk about their jobs first which I thought was interesting; out here, people talk about what they love to do. That’s the mentality in this region, and I love that.
Work isn’t the first thing you think about, and that’s sort of a big part of SIGMADESIGN too. The company cares about people and their lives outside of work. It’s part of our hiring process. Talking about that stuff would be bizarre in New York. You just wouldn’t say that; you wouldn’t have an “outside of work” conversation.
But in the west, near the coast maybe, life is also about what you do as fulfillment outside of work. SIGMADESIGN cares about that, giving you time to pursue those activities. I like that. Not all design companies work that way.
PERSONAL INTERESTS (A MUST READ FOR TABLE TENNIS ENTHUSIASTS)
I have a handful of hobbies. I love games. Video games, board games. A little less playing board games now; maybe I forgot how to play board games since the world ended two years ago. But I love all sorts of puzzle and strategy games. I also like table tennis, obviously, it has a lot of applied physics that I think is fascinating. A lot of ball sports in general revolve around the magnus effect, and the force that’s applied to a spinning sphere going in a particular direction, like back spin will give you up force so the ball will float.
There are a lot of weird things you could do using this effect. And the ball doesn’t always go where you expect it to, so it’s fascinating to try and figure out what’s going to happen if I play a particular shot at a particular time with the ball spin that’s coming at me. That happens in a split second, so you can’t really analyze for too long but it’s really fascinating to think about later, after the fact, “Wow! That ball didn’t go anywhere that I expected it to, why did it do that?”
You can kind of figure it out based on geometry, the angle of your paddle and the spin of the ball. You either see it or you just predict it and then maybe if you’re lucky, or if you’re good (and I’m neither), it’ll go exactly where you expect it to go, and that’s a good feeling.
DO YOU THINK IT’S POSSIBLE FOR SOMEONE TO PLAN A GAME OF TABLE TENNIS USING APPLIED PHYSICS?
Yeah, but only beforehand. In table tennis, you make a plan and then you try to put that into muscle memory and then you just press go and your body does its thing, and hopefully it does the thing you want it to. And so you have all of these best laid plans before you serve, and you’re like, oh, with this kind of serve, maybe they’re going to place the ball over here because that’s their only option or that’s what the spin is going to do to them, and sometimes you know exactly the shot cause you know where the ball is going to be, the spin that’s going to be on it, and it’s going to be beautiful, and you’re going to smash it right there. Maybe a quarter of the time it goes where you expect it to – very satisfying.
WHAT IF YOU COULD PLAN IT TO PREDICT WHAT THE GAME IS GOING TO DO?
There is a robot that’ll play table tennis, but it’s not very good right now. At some point your game turns into the things you do naturally. Hopefully you have enough practice with good form, because then you can get better, and you can hit the ball actually where you expect it to go without thinking about it. Table tennis is cool because you can put all this work into what your body is going to do automatically, and then when you see the situation it never works that way, but it’s fun when it happens to go the way you expect it to. I think a lot about it, but I’m never good at it when I do. There are some people who are table tennis geniuses, not me. I’m a physics guy. I think about “why did that happen?”
YOU TALK ABOUT TABLE TENNIS QUITE A LOT; YOU REALLY LOVE IT. WHAT ELSE?
I think of games in general as a storytelling medium that you can interact with. So, while a book is fantastic, and movies are great – with a book you get even more content. You can understand the characters in a book, because it’s like freedom to take other perspectives that you can’t do in a movie. In a similar way, a good game will have story driven features, or maybe really fun mechanics and strategy; it’s less storytelling and more of a puzzle now, and you can figure out how to apply your tools in this game world which is very different from reality, because you can set up the constructs of that world or the game as you understand it. And then you figure out how to solve problems with the tools you’re given there. That’s cool, that’s just like applied puzzles.
DO YOU THINK YOUR LOVE OF GAMES AND PUZZLES MAKES YOU BETTER AT YOUR JOB?
Probably. Honestly, if everything is a puzzle and I assume there must be some configuration of things that will succeed in whatever I’m trying to do then everything becomes a game. By moving pieces around until you figure out the solution to a particular design or in some cases the outline, or what is the team composition that will get us to where we need to be, or what kind of positions should we hire for to get us to where we want to be? Or what will position us well for something else that we’re planning? There are all kinds of different puzzles. Life’s a video game. Life’s a simulation, probably.
WHAT IS SOMETHING YOU’D BE REALLY EXCITED TO WORK ON?
I really love when you can be a part of (and I emphasize “be a part of” and not do it all yourself) good product development. Products rarely get developed by one person, at least not good products, right? The good products you can probably think of are the landscape changing products; the technology that opens up a whole new marketplace, world, or way of interacting.
Those products don’t come along very often. And if you can say you’re at least a small part of whatever change that product brought to the world (and hopefully it’s a good change, right?), that’s the one you want. That’s really cool. It takes so many people to make one of those product lines successful. Just having a piece of it, and then seeing it out in the world one day, that’s special. Or even something that you know has led up to some other product; there’s many generations and then you might see, years later, something that is the result in at least a small part from your efforts. That’s cool, something like the iPhone.
It would be really neat if one day, I could talk about the products I am working on. Maybe when I’m old and gray and 100 years old and say, “I worked on that.” And then I imagine Bill will appear and say, “You can’t talk about that; what are you doing?”
WE JUST SAW THE BLACK HOLE AT THE CENTER OF OUR GALAXY TODAY. DID YOU SEE THAT?
Well, that’s a good question, because you’re not really seeing anything, because you can’t see it. The point is that it’s so massive that as soon as light passes the event horizon, you don’t get that light anymore, that light’s gone, it’s sucked in. You’re just seeing the result, or what’s left around it. You’re just seeing the impact on its surrounding environment. We never really see anything; it’s just colored through our own perception, our filter of the world. It’s just pixels, you’re not seeing anything. When you’re in real life your brain is interpreting these photons that are impacting off your retina that may or may not be real, you don’t know. Is reality real? As real as we want it to be. I love this, we start with time is a construct and we end with, is reality even real?