When you see something in the store, what does it take for it to get there? What are the technical challenges? I’ve been really lucky in my career, because one of the first major projects I worked on, the Qualcomm QCP 2035, actually went to market. Working on it showed me that what I really like about engineering is the collaboration.
When I graduated from college in 1998 I was lucky enough to get a job at Qualcomm in San Diego. The company was trying to introduce a new technical standard for mobile phones, so they built a division to make handsets using that standard.
We were assembling these phones in California, when even then most products were already being built in China. So early on I had the rare luxury of working on the product upstairs and then going downstairs to the factory to see it being built.
It was the first time I really came to understand the collaborative nature of consumer product engineering. Watching a group of software engineers, a group of electrical engineers, a group of hardware engineers, a group of marketing people, all come together. It was amazing to see what it actually took to make something, to push the technology. It was very inspirational.
I worked on several of the components on this phone. I worked on the display, the speaker and other components. I worked on the battery pack. I remember working out how the contacts would interface with the board. All the little details. And I absolutely felt a sense of ownership. Even today, looking at each part of it reminds me of all the stories, all the experiences, and all of the things that I learned.
In our discipline, if everybody isn’t successful, the client’s product doesn’t ship. There’s inherent conflict and compromise. Your part isn’t more important than anyone else’s. You might not understand what other people do, but you have to work with them to push everything to the point of releasing the product.
For instance, I’m a mechanical engineer. I don’t pretend to understand electrical engineering well enough to be able to do it, and they don’t understand my role. So we have to compromise. It’s like saying, “Well I need X, but I can give up Y, so you can have Z,” so that we can all make one thing, together.
It’s really, really hard, and it’s still amazing to me when it happens. One of my favorite phrases is, “We’re not done until everyone is equally unhappy.” If anyone’s job is too easy, than maybe they haven’t been pushed enough. Maybe the product isn’t small enough, or fast enough, or it doesn’t have the right features, or maybe it’s still too expensive. If everyone isn’t feeling equally pressured, then we probably haven’t pushed the envelope as far as we need to push it.
I’ll never forget the first time I walked into a factory in China. It was amazing, being on the other side of the planet and seeing people assembling components for the QCP 2035 that I created on my computer. And I still get excited when I see products I’ve worked on come to market, walking into a store and seeing something that I really put my blood sweat and tears into, and people are buying it and using it.