Nancy Jaster was recently named the head of the IPC Designers Council. At the recent AltiumLive 2017 event, I spoke with Nancy about her unique background in both design and manufacturing, and how she hopes to use that experience and mindset to revitalize the Designers Council going forward, particularly with the International and student chapters. We also discussed her plans to bring more young people, particularly women, into the industry.
Barry Matties: I understand you've recently taken over leadership of the IPC Designers Council.
Nancy Jaster: Yes. I've been with IPC for three years, and in February of this year I took over ownership of the Designers Council.
Matties: In that time though, you’ve probably had a lot of time to formulate some concepts and ideas. First, before we go into that, why don't you just tell us a little bit about the Designers Council, and what the role is that you're seeing?
Jaster: To me, the Designers Council’s role is to help the design community, to be there as a resource for learning new things, as well as getting the answers to questions. In addition, we do have our TechNet forum, so if you've got a question, you can go online and ask that question, and be connected to other designers to maybe get an answer to your question. So that's important.
But I think from IPC's perspective, the Designers Council is important so that we have an environment to help support the folks who do CID and CID+ training. But also, to support other people who are involved in design. To help them stay connected, get an education, learn about the latest and greatest techniques, and to have that network that they can build relationships and get to know each other, and have people to ask and learn from. I think mentorship is extremely important, and participation in the IPC Designers Council provides those options
Matties: You're here at AltiumLive. What's your purpose for being here?
Jaster: I’m here to support the designers. I still want to learn, so I'm very interested in learning about Altium and what Altium can do. I'm here for myself to learn, but I'm also here to help and support the Designers Council, and to talk to individuals. I've talked to a number of people about our CID and CID+ training program. I've talked to a number of people about our Emerging Engineers program. The other thing I'm trying to do is learn what IPC can do for the design community.
I'm relatively new to this, but I've heard multiple times that IPC APEX EXPO doesn't have a lot for designers, or it's really not design-focused. I want to understand why people think that, and what we, IPC, can do to help support the design community. I'm very passionate about getting more designers engaged in IPC. Because I think they can learn so much from participating on our standards committees, being part of that, and I think we can provide them education. This is a great forum, but there's so much that we need to teach, and school only teaches so much, so we need to take it to the next level in how best to learn from your peers and from experts in the field.
Matties: Coming into this position, you're not just a manager, but you're coming in as somebody with real-world manufacturing and electronics experience, right? Just tell us a little bit about your background.
Jaster: I have a background in manufacturing and design, yes. I got my engineering degree a long, long time ago. I won't say the year.
Matties: You wear it well.
Jaster: Thank you. I'm one of the unique people who have both manufacturing and design experience. I was lucky enough to go to work for Western Electric when it was still part of the AT&T umbrella. So I started on the manufacturing side, worked in capacitor manufacturing, then did auditing, then product engineering in an assembly and board shop. Through the name changes, I then worked for Bell Labs, working with our developers, and produced a hardware methodology workshop. Understanding the process and getting everybody to one common design process, one common library, implementing one tool across the whole corporation and getting to one common part numbering system. A lot of things happened on the corporate side, at an Alcatel-Lucent level, to try to improve our margins so that we could design anywhere, manufacture anywhere.
When we decided to outsource our factories, I was responsible for working with our contract manufacturers and I learned a lot about the differences between going external and staying internal, because we didn't necessarily talk the same language. And so, I had to help our design community understand “Okay this is what they mean and this is what they need when we talk about a bill of material,” because we weren't necessarily sending them everything they needed because we were so intertwined for so many years. It was new to us. So, I worked through that.
Matties: So you really brought some process and structure to your area?
Jaster: Yes. A lot of process improvement and a lot of common process. When Alcatel bought Lucent, our product margins were incredible. We actually were able to reduce our costs because we now shared an inventory across the whole corporation, so we didn't strand inventory in one location. Designers don't necessarily think about that, but that's important for the design community.
Matties: We have all the acronyms in design, DFM, so on. For me, it's DFP, design for profitability, and that's what you're talking about right here. Smart design can drive profitability. Smart systems and structure drives profitability, and profitability begins at the beginning, not at the end.
Jaster: Correct. You've got to start thinking a bit early, up front. We had a way of talking about it: the “whats vs. the hows.” The whats, there were some areas where we wanted a lot of commonality. We wanted all of Lucent to use one component library because that would allow to reuse those parts, and even reuse circuits. But how you implement that, we allowed the designers to do what they wanted to do, and use their creativity to do that in the design.
Matties: But the process they followed.
Jaster: Right. So, there were certain areas where we would say, "We really want it the same." And in other areas where we said, "blue sky," and it really helped improve Lucent.
Matties: What was the morale of the designers under this new change? I would think that it was a much happier place for them to be in.
Jaster: Well, nobody likes change.
Matties: But once you're in it, and you're following the structure and the process, and you're seeing the results...
Jaster: They were happy. I believe they were happier, because they didn't have to worry about certain things, because certain things were now taken care of by the process.
Matties: Rather than reinventing it every time, and it sounds like that's what you went into, was a lot of reinvention with part numbers, tools. You standardized it?
Jaster: We standardized it, yes. It seems silly, but the number of screws we used to use was ridiculous, and part of it was because our designers didn't necessarily have a database that made it easy for them to find the right screw. So, we put it down to a small number and said, "Hey, these are the screws that you want to use. If you need a Philips head at this length, this is the part number you use." Then it made life easier for them. They only had to choose one; they didn't have to go search and come up with a new part number or specify something new or different, because it was already in the library.
Matties: Let's just shift gears here. You've had the role since January. In that time, certainly you've had some blue-sky visions.
Matties: I know nothing's set in concrete, but why don't you share some of your conceptual ideas.
Jaster: The first thing is: I don’t know, and I don't think anyone at IPC knows, the status of all the chapters right now. So, the first thing I really want to do is a reach out to all the chapters and introduce myself. Say, "Hey, here I am. What can I do for you? Is there anything you need from me? Can you tell me how active you are? When you have a meeting, let me know, and I will make sure we will send an email blast to let people know about this."
Matties: Just provide good support.
Jaster: Support. And the first thing for me to do there is to understand who's currently active, and who isn't. Then if I see there's a big area where there may not be a chapter, or a chapter may be struggling, maybe help that chapter try to get a little more support to get them going and moving again. Because, as I'm sure you know, designers are aging, so we need to get newer people in and some younger people learning how to do the design work. I think Designers Council chapters can help do that in getting people the experience that they need to move forward in their careers.
Matties: Let's just talk about this point for a moment then. IPC is a global association. Are your chapters global?
Jaster: We're starting one in Italy now.
Matties: Because you're right. If we look in North America, the United States specifically, you're right. There's an aging population of designers. If we go to India, or we go to China, it’s not the case. We see where the young designers are. So as a global association, shouldn’t we be having chapter meetings there too?
Jaster: Yes. And we actually do have a Southeast Asia chapter.
Matties: Are they active?
Jaster: I just got an email from them, so I would say that they are active. But again, I need to reach out to them. I would assume we have one in India, but again, I don't know the activity level yet, and then we have one in Australia and we're starting one in Italy.
Matties: Now the needs of the regions will be different. So that'll be interesting to see the contrast that you come up with. I'd like to know more about that, as time progresses.
Jaster: Talk to me in six to eight months, and I may have a totally different story for you.
Matties: That would be interesting. Because when I think of Designers Council chapters, it's always been a U.S. kind of thing. You don't really hear about the rest of the world, yet we're a global industry, a global economy, and we're all connected.
Jaster: Well, we now have a staff liaison, specifically a standards development manager, Andres Ojallil, working out of Estonia, who supports standards development activities in Europe. The other part of my job is I'm a staff liaison, and I do support a number of standards. So if we build European chapters, I will be looking to Andreas to help me with those chapters. Just like we have a team in China, I would hope the IPC staff in China would be able to help me. And the staff in India that I've actually gotten to know through the NetSuite project I was working on, hopefully the folks in India can help me as well. I think IPC's got the bones of the structure there to do that. I'm just not connected enough in at this point to make it happen overnight.
A lot of that gets back to me in having to understand exactly where my active chapters are. What information do I have to give a chapter that is starting out? I've talked to the leadership team, or the executive board, and we've talked about putting a package together with a welcome kit or a startup kit that tells them how they can go ahead and start a chapter. So those are other things that I want to do, is to make sure that we have that.
The other thing is I need to make sure all web pages are updated. An idea I had today listening to the Altium users group that maybe I need to talk to all the CAD vendors, not just Altium. I know Altium supports me, but find out when all the user group meetings are, because I'm assuming Mentor has them and Cadence has them. And list those, because I don’t want to look like I'm favoring one tool over another. If I can get them all to give me that information, I want to put that on the webpage so maybe we can get some cross-pollination between the user groups and the Designers Council.
Matties: Because the tool is one part of the equation, but it's really the problem solving and creativity that is probably the largest part.
Jaster: Yes. But it can be very helpful if there are resources or meetings that are happening, like an Altium day, or Zuken or Mentor day. Then we can let people know, "Hey, there are all of these local events." Not just an IPC event, but other events that you can go to and learn from a design perspective.
Matties: Sounds like you have a big challenge in front of you.
Jaster: Yes. And I want to start student chapters of the Designers Council.
Matties: What would a student chapter, in your mind, look like? Are they connecting with local chapters, or are they forming their own groups?
Jaster: I would love them to connect with local groups. Let's pick San Diego as an example. The San Diego Designers Council knows what schools are here, and let’s reach out to those schools to get them involved.
Matties: Yes. I think Mike Creeden and all of those guys do a great job.
Jaster: So, I want that. But I also think that the student chapters could have a little bit of a different role, in that I think that the student chapters can help us with STEM activities because they're closer in age to the kids. Again, I'm thinking it’s going to be U.S.-based. I know that before I went to college, I was trying to decide what to do, and I had no idea what an engineer did. I think so many kids don't understand engineering. I’m a big supporter of the STEM programs that we have today, and I want us to do something to help them. I'd love to have the college kids do something in a STEM program. So, their focus may be slightly different to help encourage the next generation. But again, these are ideas at this point.
Matties: There are all these different associations that all have the similar need of bringing young minds in. It seems like we should be aligning all the associations and creating a program just for this on a national basis. Ultimately it would be global, but North America has the labor problem right now. They've already invented the wheel, why do we have to reinvent it?
Jaster: That's an excellent point. It would be nice if there was. I do a STEM project with the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago, and to me, it seems that the STEM programs are so disconnected. There seems to be a lot of information, but it doesn't seem like we've got somebody really standing up and organizing it. And for the electronics industry in particular, it would be nice if we could get all those organizations together. Because then we can also expand it to not just one location, because we're going to be in San Diego for the next five years. So unfortunately, it's only going to be the San Diego schools that are going to get the benefit of this program.
Matties: Unless they're sponsored by Google, or somebody, and we bring them in. Because the idea is it's not just this one show. If we build a network, then it's the SMTA show, it’s the IPC show, it's the RF show, etc.
Jaster: That's a whole other job. I would love to do that, but that's a whole different position. That's a full-time job for somebody.
Matties: What if this started with the chapters? You could start it with your chapters. And what's their purpose, other than educating each other? Now the chapters would be driven to, not just educate others, but to compel the young minds to a higher level and set it up like that.
Jaster: That's a great idea.
Matties: I think you probably would get more benefit out of that effort than you might get out of just having chapter meetings communicating. Because you bring purpose. And the old guys, they want to start teaching. Let's look at Happy Holden. His attitude is, "Here, take the information. We need to pass it on." There are a lot of people like that out there.
Jaster: That is why we started the Emerging Engineer program at IPC. Because we need to start getting those younger engineers involved and start learning. Not that we don't love our members and our chairs who have been with us for a long time, but we need to start bringing in the next generation.
Matties: You need a succession plan.
Jaster: Right. Because otherwise nobody's going to be there to support IPC-6010.
Matties: Well, you're in a great position, Nancy, to make real change in this world.
Jaster: I'm trying.
Matties: It's a tough weight to have on your shoulders, and I don't want to add extra weight to it.
Jaster: I'm going to be all gray (laughs).
Matties: However, there's real opportunity, and there's nothing wrong with being the one who can change the world.
Jaster: And I'm trying. I do the STEM activity on my own for the Museum of Science and Industry. I know what it was like to be in high school to have no clue what engineering was, and back then it was, "Oh you're a girl, you're going to be a teacher or a nurse." Luckily, I had teachers and counselors who said, “That's not your limit.” Many kids today just don't know what is available to them. If you would have told me 30 years ago that I would have loved the electronics industry, I would have said you were crazy.
But having been out of it for a number of years and coming back, I realized how much I missed it. It may not seem like the sexiest career or industry, but it's so interesting and rewarding. It’s always changing, always on that cutting edge, and anything you look at nowadays, electronics is everywhere. So, it's important.
Matties: You're in a great position to change the world and I really look forward to seeing the results of your efforts. Is there anything that we haven't talked about, but you feel like we should share?
Jaster: I'm excited about getting the Designers Council revitalized and giving them the support that I think that they need. And like you said, maybe expanding their charters to start doing some of these STEM activities we discussed. When we talked about the Design Forum last year, the question came up again about the next generation. And it really is all of our responsibility. We all really need to find some time and step up and try to work to get these young kids interested in things, in whatever little way we can do so.
It's relatively easy to do, but we just have to make the time to go do it. When I went to engineering school, less than 10% of the class was female. Well, I don't think it's changed much in those many years there, and I think it's mostly because young women, young people, just don't understand what engineers do, the capabilities, or how you can change the world through engineering. Whether it is doing electrical design, or even physical design, mechanical design, chemical engineering, or environmental engineering—there's so many different areas in which kids can participate. Obviously, I think electrical engineering is wonderful, but we need to encourage our young people to go in that area. And hopefully I can get the designers on board, and I think I will, because most of the designers understand. The people that show up for these things are people that are really engaged and are very interested. They have an enthusiasm that we need to spread.
Matties: And foster, too.
Jaster: Yes. That's a big part of it, just spreading that enthusiasm and keeping it going and getting people really excited about it. It's doable. In my career, I have done so many different things just because of my education, and the fact that I was willing to learn and grow. So, it's a wonderful field that we need to get more and more young people involved in.
Matties: I always say, if we made a video game about designing circuit boards, we would have no shortage of circuit board designers.
Jaster: You're probably right. We'll have to get Dave Bergman working on his peanut butter and jelly circuit board.
Matties: I think that's a good course for these kids today. Nancy, thank you so much for taking the time to talk with us. And congratulations, and we wish you all the success.
Jaster: Thank you.