Tony Armstrong, Director of Business Development for Industrial Energy, Healthcare and Consumer at Analog Devices, Inc., shares his thoughts in an interview with AAC about smart risks, big thoughts, and the importance of reading data sheets.
Throughout his long and broad career spanning two continents, Tony Armstrong has worked in a variety of different positions.
In an insightful interview with Mark Hughes of All About Circuits at APEC, Armstrong shares what he thinks makes engineers better, what simple things EEs can do to make fewer mistakes, and how he found his dream job in the field.
Mark Hughes (AAC): What brought you to the field and what brought you to where you are today?
Tony Armstrong (TA): I was born in England and went to college at the University of Manchester in the north of England and studied applied mathematics. Y obviously that mathematics involved many different aspects and fundamentals of electricity, and magnetism was one of those. Y basicallyIt’s a bit of engineering, but only the math, not the applied part. And when I graduated in the early 80s, I thought, “Well, what am I going to do for a job?” And one of my colleagues had told me that a company called Intel was interviewing people down in swindon.
I interviewed them and they offered me a job. So in 1981, I joined Intel in Swindon, England. And at the time there were a lot of expats in the facility, so I had a lot of exposure with the Americans. One of the things in those days was this “can do” attitude that was present in everything they did. And I thought, “Wow, these guys are great! No matter what the problems are, you just come up with a solution, solve it, and move on. This is great. I have to go to America because I want to do more of this.”
AAC: And how did you end up in America?
RESERVE ARMY: I asked Intel, “Hi guys, can I move to America?” And they said, “Well, you’ve only been here two or three years. You really need a couple more years under your belt.” I was a bit disappointed by that, so I asked a couple of friends if they knew of anyone who was looking for people in America. And one of my colleagues said, “Hey, there is a company called Fairchild and they are interviewing in the future.”
So I gave them a call, they interviewed me and they said, “Tony, we’d like you to come to the United States to visit.” So I walked over, I had a visitor. They like me.I liked them. They offered me the job. And on January 31, 1984 I was on PanAm 101 from London Heathrow to San Francisco.
AAC: What was your first position with them?
RESERVE ARMY: Fairchild had a discreet division in San Rafael. He made diode arrays, MOSFETs, and I was in production control at the time. I got to know the product line and asked to move on to product marketing and they let me move.
One of the guys I had worked for he had left the division and gone to a trade in Southern California, a company called Semtech. And after he was there while he called me and asked me if I would come work for him because he had some big problems to solve and he wanted me to help him solve them.
So I went down there and stayed for eleven years. I started in production control, then I ran product test group And then I he got into Product marketing and then sales. That was an eleven year history.
AAC: Why did you decide to leave that company?
RESERVE ARMY: My wife felt that we should have a change, and we were looking for opportunities in the industry. I ended up going to work for Siliconix in the Bay Area in 1997. And Siliconix made a lot of MOSFETs but they had a small growing power CI group at the time, and I came in to lead product marketing for the power CI groups.
While I was there I was writing articles on 2MHz switches. Dave Bell, who was the general manager of Linear Technology, called me up and said, “I just read one of your articles. It’s quite interesting. I have an opportunity for a product marketing manager here at Linear Technology. Interested? “So I had lunch with him. They interviewed me. And in May 2000 I joined Linear Technology in Milpitas.
AAC: How did you move from that position to your current job?
RESERVE ARMY: I was brought in as a product marketing manager and after several years I was promoted to Director. Then two years ago Analog Devices acquired Linear Technology, so I am now part of Analog Devices. They have allowed me to change the scope of my work. I am nowadays The director of business development for industrial sanitation.
AAC: What would your dream job be in this field?
RESERVE ARMY: I have it right now because I have a lot of flexibility to set my own calendar and schedule. What I try to do with tech groups and business groups. is wOrchestrate out where it can be best used to close more deals or solve problems, so our customers have an easier time dealing with us. I can consolidate relationships so that the customer can go to a point of contact within the factory, knowing that he is their advocate within the company.
I’ve been doing this for the last three or four months so it’s a new challenge for me and I look forward to meeting that challenge.
AAC: What have you learned since you graduated and entered the workforce that you wish you knew back then?
RESERVE ARMY: Good question. One of the things I could say is the key to any engineer, and this was something that also surprised me, is that datasheets need to be read. In Myself career, I’ve been involved in reviewing data sheets and yes, they are long, they are technical, they are deep. But it is the history of the IC. Everything you need to know about that IC is contained in that datasheet.
So when you want to design on your system and get the performance that that datasheet describes, it is critical that you understand what you have to do in terms of the externalities of the IC to ensure that you get that performance. One of the phrases Linear used to use was “Read the data sheet.” And it was pretty funny because nine times out of ten I’d say you could answer a customer’s question just by reading the data sheet.
To save the time of an engineer, who is being pushed even more in these environments due to the limited experience that now exists, use company data sheets. They really put in a lot of time and effort to ensure they are accurate. And if you read and understand them, you will get the design right the first time.
AAC: How would you recommend that someone just out of college learn PCB design?
RESERVE ARMY: I’d say don’t be afraid of PCB layout. Embrace PCB layout. Fortunately, there are many tools available to help you achieve this: software tools, industry standard tools and also from Powered by Linear Group at Analog Devices, we have LTspice, which allows you, on your circuit, to simulate your real-time design. so you can see if it is working properly before going to design.
And then usually within a data. leaf There are design guidelines that are given specifically for the ICs themselves. Although it may seem like a daunting task, the suppliers of the parts you are using provide you with the tools in many cases that you can use to minimize that task and optimize your ability to get it right the first time.
So if you take a little more time up front to educate yourself on how to do it with the tools that are industry standard or provided by the vendor you are using for that design, it can save you a lot of heartache and delay. Nights in the laboratory.
AAC: Are there any common mistakes you see engineers make with power supply parts?
RESERVE ARMY: You know that a ground plane is very important. And having ties to that ground plane for the IC that you are dissipating power through is always a good idea. (Laughs) That’s one of the most common things we see.
AAC: What is your group looking for in engineers coming out of college these days?
RESERVE ARMY: That’s a great question. What we are really looking for is not people who have learned by heart. You can teach someone from memory. What we are looking for are engineers who want to solve problems that they do not yet know exist. We want kids to think outside the box, to be creative, and not tied to tried and true fact. It’s okay to fail, if you learn from that mistake and learn bigger and better things. So free thinkers who are willing to take risks, not risks that are high risks, but some level of risk. Because you don’t really learn anything until you make a mistake, and then you correct it and move on and you don’t make that mistake again. And so over time you will get better and better until you are adept at teaching other people how.
AAC: Is there any other advice you would give to students who want to be EE or who are about to graduate?
RESERVE ARMY: That’s that’s a hard especially In today’s environment. I would say I was one of those guys who said, “Hey, the world is my oyster. I can take care of what I want to do. My only limitations are the ones I set myself.” So think big. There is nothing wrong with thinking big. Yes, you may not make it, but at least you tried.