Darwin E. George: Seeking PCB Design Job at Retirement Age

Barry Matties and Andy Shaughnessy, IConnect007 | 10-29-2018

Some of us dream of living a life of leisure at 70. But not Darwin E. George. This septuagenarian wants to find a job designing PCBs.

We met up with Darwin at AltiumLive, where he was networking and trying to get his foot in the door with one of the many companies that are hiring now. Darwin told us about his career in PCB design, his experience learning a new EDA tool, and why he would rather design high-speed PCBs instead of playing shuffleboard for the rest of his life.

Andy Shaughnessy: I'm here at AltiumLive with Darwin E. George. You're a new user of the tool, but not a new designer. Tell us about your background.

Darwin E. George: Thanks Andy, I’m very excited to be here at AltiumLive. I've been designing medical devices for about 38 years, actually. I started with this same company called VIDCO about two years out of college. I had an associate’s degree in electronics engineering technologies. Initially, I worked up to own about 30% of the company. It didn't have any real marketing, so I met a guy in college that could do the marketing and I told him, “If the owner won't get behind marketing program, I'll leave and go try something with you.” So I sold out for a dime on the dollar to go compete.

Then I got married and I had a pregnant wife, and I had to give it up for my kids. Then the owner of VIDCO bought the technology I developed with this other guy, Tom Inloes, in a company called Bit Mapped Systems. I've been back with VIDCO ever since. We've done OEM type of devices, but all of them geared toward patient monitoring.

Shaughnessy: Your story's interesting in that you're of retirement age and you're learning Altium Designer for the first time.

George: Yes, it's because I really love what I do, and I didn't feel like I wanted to be done. So when the business closed, it wasn't my choice. It's been difficult finding anybody that'll hire me at my age.

Shaughnessy: So you're probably better off doing consulting.

George: Yes, that's why I thought about getting a copy of Altium Designer. I thought about learning the tool and going out and doing some consulting jobs for either PCB design only, or hardware design and PCB work. I've only been at it about two months so far.

Shaughnessy: What tools have you used in the past?  

George: OrCAD 386+. That's a dinosaur.

Shaughnessy: What do you think about using the Altium software? I hear there’s not much of a learning curve.

George: Well, I don't know about that. It's very complex compared to OrCAD 386+! It certainly offers a lot of current state-of-the-art capabilities. It's got great constraints and design rules. Maybe it's a lot of upfront setting it up for what you want in terms of your rules based stuff. Maybe the backend becomes a lot easier, but I haven't got there yet.

Shaughnessy: When you hit retirement age, did you totally retire? 

George: Oh no, I've been looking for work ever since. I took two months for R&R after they closed the doors and have been looking for work ever since with no luck.

Shaughnessy: So you’re coming up on 70 years old. I think it's kind of cool. I would definitely embrace that. It's great because we had an issue a couple months ago about all these designers retiring, and who's going to fill their shoes? You might be one of the people filling these shoes.

George: I've been trying to fill some shoes. I was high on the list, supposedly, on a couple of interviews, and they were very high-speed designs. That was another reason I decided to get a copy of Altium and come down to this seminar, because it focused on high speed design.

Barry Matties: Why don't you talk a little bit about how the technology has changed?

George: Sure. The tool itself has a lot of capabilities that the old tools didn't, like the 3D, 2D types of images you can put out for design manufacturing, and the constraint-driven stuff. This is quite an advanced tool compared to what I've experienced. I imagine learning is a little slower for me at 70 than a young guy, but I know I'll get there.

Shaughnessy: You did it before.

George: Sure, I'll give it a shot. That's one thing about engineering; it's on the move always and trying to keep up with technology is a challenge.

Matties: Are you surprised about the rapid changes in PCB design and the demands facing designers today?

George: Actually, I've seen it progressing throughout the years. My company didn't want to spend the dollars to stay state-of-the-art. They didn't want to use the new processors because we already had a design that worked.

They didn't want to spend money on new tools because they cost so much money. I had to make do with just my own abilities to lay stuff out and make them function. There were no differential signal routing, line length matching, or signal group auto routing capabilities, plus so much more. I did the whole thing, from the microcomputer platform hardware design, through the board layout and design, to the board bring-up, and user software application.

Shaughnessy: You've got experience and I think once you master the tool you should be able to do some contracting. We see people are retiring all the time. There are open jobs that have been open for months.

George: I guess for me the most frustrating thing is to think I still have something to offer, that I can still design the hardware, analog and digital designs, and provide high-speed layout. But I haven’t found someone yet that's been willing to say, "Come to work."

Shaughnessy: Well, you see these guys teaching here, Lee Ritchey, Rick Hartley, I think they're around 70.

George: I know, all these guys, I see a bunch of gray hairs in there. Though unlike me, many still have hair.

Shaughnessy: Well, coming here was a good idea. How did you narrow it down to Altium?

George: It was a tossup between the OrCAD toolset and Altium’s. I had been looking at Altium for many years and they appeared to integrate more capabilities in the base product.

Shaughnessy: I think they’re going to have a dedicated high-speed tool, eventually, but even now people are using it for high-speed design.

George: Yes, with the design constraints and rules you can put into them. Of course, you have to have some of the knowledge about stackup and materials, all those kind of things, to actually attain high-speed integrity.

Shaughnessy: And it's a good time to be doing this for you, because with 4% unemployment, there are a lot of opportunities. You're on your way.

George: I interviewed for one job that wanted to get into 100 gigahertz bit rate designs. It's totally state-of-the-art. They were doing a design with Cavium processors, a Marvell network processor that’s got about eight lanes at 100 giga bit/sec.

Shaughnessy: That's crazy. Well, thanks again for your time today, Darwin. And best of luck in your job search.

George: Thank you, Andy. Thanks for letting me share my story. If anyone would like to contact me, my email address is darwingeorge@comcast.net.