We sit down with engineers, product leaders, founders, inventors, and tinkerers to talk about their journeys and the state of hardware development.
For our first edition of the series, we sat down with Susan Kayesar, Product Manager, PCBflow at Siemens, to discuss all things engineering.
What fascinates you the most about hardware development?
I’m fascinated with the relationship between form and function; how the balance of the relationship has developed over time and with advances in technology.
Humans have always been obsessed with aesthetics and have always sacrificed function for the sake of form. As design has taken its place in electronics, you can see the struggle continue there. It might be a PCB layout engineer who wants to make their board as aesthetically pleasing as it is well-engineered, it might be a mechanical engineer who decides that the housing for a component should look as sleek as the car it is going into, and it is sometimes a designer who manages to turn unusual physical constraints dictated by environmental or physical restrictions into a beautiful and functional product.
As technology advances, we have new materials at our disposal, new concerns to allay, such as environmental and energy restrictions, new production technologies, and new demands for faster, more agile development processes for products. I think that digital collaborative platforms are the way of the future (they are already here!) to enable the balance to be maintained. Removing traditional physical restrictions on collaboration is a great way to allow humans to continue the creative process, and maintain the balance between form and function while adhering to the accelerated timelines that today’s world demands.
How did you get started in the field?
I grew up with technology and was surrounded by everything from mainframes (I learned to code using punch cards) to early IBMs – 8080, 8086, 8088 etc; and every variety of Apple that came out. Fun fact: we owned a Lisa! I’ve stored data on everything from magnetic tape reels to audio cassettes to all size floppy disks, and now, thankfully, it’s all in the cloud.
I actually hold a formal education as a Biologist, but came back to technology and specifically the electronics industry in the 90s. I retrained as a software engineer, and made the transition from QA and dev to customer support and customer success, service provision, customization and implementation. Now I’m on the product management side of things.
Over my >20 years in this industry as a professional, I have had the pleasure of meeting and helping PCB designers, fabricators, and assembly houses all over the world. I have come to a deep understanding of the challenges they face and the solutions available. I recognize the individual challenges for each unique setup, but I have also learned that there are many common challenges we could approach better, mostly through stronger collaboration to build trust between all players in the industry.
If you could travel a decade into the future, what would you be most excited to see that has evolved in engineering?
I’m excited to see where we will be 10 years from now with human interfaces to technology. Devices for augmented reality, or replacements for monotonous interactions such as providing basic information about services offered (bank, medical etc), as well as more complex interactions such as remote surgeries or remote mechanical tasks in dangerous or inaccessible environments. I’m really interested to see how those products will look in terms of customer journey, UX, UI and whether advances in technology will enable new forms of input/output on the human side such as tactile, vision tracking, even “brainwaves”. Will technology be implanted? Wearable? Or will we still be walking around clutching little black rectangles?
What does successful product management look like in the engineering space?
Product management is a balancing act that continually invokes the 80:20 rule to achieve MVP but must go beyond that to be really successful. It starts by determining your users’ needs, and accurately differentiating between what they need to become successful and what is overengineering that will actually hinder their success. The next step is visualizing product features that will meet those needs, and conveying that to the dev team, who may not have ever actually performed the tasks that the end customers need to. Once functionality has been developed, you need a way to push it out to the field and get real-world feedback about whether it meets or misses the mark. The cycle continues as needs change and markets evolve.
Product management is ultimately a collaborative effort too. Listening – really listening! – to your customers and all members of the dev team and trusting their expertise, will land you with stable architecture and robust infrastructure to support evolving code. We have an international team, so effective internal collaboration tools are really important to make sure that nothing gets lost between intent and execution. A sense of humor, endless patience and nerves of steel also help.
Developing a SaaS product is an incredible privilege because the development cycles are so short that we can really tweak the functionality to respond to customer feedback. Agile development allows us to move forward quickly and the cost of changing direction is minimized. We have the luxury of being able to make mistakes, fail fast and pivot even faster to correct them and continually improve.
What is PCBflow?
PCBflow is an online collaboration space for PCB designers and manufacturers. We offer a secure online platform for designers to perform comprehensive DFM analysis (powered by Valor NPI) using DFM rules defined by real fab and assembly shops. The results can be viewed in a convenient online viewer and you can easily take the xy location of issues back to your CAD tool to make fixes. Designers and manufacturers can easily collaborate on projects, including communication, pricing and secure handoff of design data. This improves communication, reduces friction between designer and manufacturer and significantly reduces time to market for NPIs.
Do you see an overlap between engineers who use PCBflow and ones who may use AllSpice?
Absolutely! First of all, engineers who are using AllSpice already understand the power of collaboration and are open to the idea that “The Cloud” can be a very safe environment to achieve that collaboration.
These are users that understand that first-time-right manufacture starts with testing of their designs to uncover issues before handoff. We understand that PCB designers don’t have the resources (or knowledge) to accurately define their manufacturer capabilities, or DFM rules for testing and often that is the reason they don’t perform DFM, or leave it up to their fabricator/EMS. That’s why we source those rules from the manufacturers themselves and provide them to PCB engineers to use to verify their designs any time, from anywhere.
After running DFM analysis, we provide easy ways to contact your preferred manufacturer to clarify findings, get a price estimate, or continue with your order. PCBflow is, in many ways, an extension of the AllSpice paradigm, providing valuable collaborative feedback during the PCB design process. Many designers choose to run DFM analysis several times during the design workflow to verify that they are starting off right and haven’t introduced new issues as changes and finalizations are made.
Are there any hardware development resources (books, videos, podcasts, etc.) you’d recommend?
With so many resources out there at the click of a google, I’m going to select one with a bit of humor… I’m glad to know these guys, and they did a great job of presenting some of the typical pain points in the designer-manufacturer interaction.
Susan Kayesar, PCBflow Product Manager, Siemens
Susan holds a BSc from Tel Aviv University and brings over 20 years of experience in the PCB design and verification industry. She is an expert at cultivating creative software solutions to meet real-world customer needs and in the past has provided support, training, and consultancy services for both simple and complex product implementations. In her spare time, Susan enjoys travel, meeting new people, and [lots of] coffee.
How to get in touch with Susan:
Email: [email protected]