Being an Engineer

S2E24 Working at Apple, Premium Products, & Superior Project Management | Joe Moak

May 28, 2021 Joe Moak Season 2 Episode 24
Being an Engineer
S2E24 Working at Apple, Premium Products, & Superior Project Management | Joe Moak
Show Notes Transcript

Joe Moak shares his experience with the podcast working at high-profile companies such as Apple & Sonos, and also gives us a glimpse into “the best place he has ever worked” (Maestro PD). Companies are always looking for those elusive “A” players to join their teams, and it is very clear that Joe qualifies under that definition. Check out this wide-ranging discussion from what makes a good project manager to maintaining design focus to innovative tools for your office.

The Being An Engineer podcast is brought to you by Pipeline Design & Engineering. Pipeline partners with medical & other device engineering teams who need turnkey equipment such as cycle test machines, custom test fixtures, automation equipment, assembly jigs, inspection stations and more. You can find us on the web at www.teampipeline.us.  

Premium Quality 

With the proliferation of products in the market claiming to be of premium quality, Joe ensures shares how you can ensure clients that your products are genuine.  More than this, he says that a product is of premium quality if it is made with extra care and can provide the best user experience. He also shares his experience working with Apple TV, where specific addition of details led to a better customer interaction with the product. 

“The big idea behind premium is it's the things that customers care about and then it doesn't necessarily always mean high cost. It just means that we're paying attention to those important details.” - Joe Moak

Working at Apple

Apple had been a great stepping stone for Joe in his career. He became more effective in recruiting, prioritizing, collaborating, and creating products. He shares that since Apple is composed of highly talented individuals, he pressured himself to be at the same level. On top of that, Apple taught him the value of prioritization which has been helpful in his succeeding engineering jobs and while he was building his company, Maestro. 

“One of the interesting things about working at Apple is we have subject matter experts for anything. If you name a thing we could either find the best or engineer the best instantiation of that thing at that time which was really cool. The trick that I have found is through prioritization, figure out what it is about this product that really matters most to customers, and then figure out who you need to bring in or what expertise you need on the team.” - Joe Moak

Superior Project Management

Joe believes that the performance of a team doesn’t depend on size, but on whether the members have a clear direction of what needs to be done. That said, he is very specific with people he lets on his team and follows two criteria in selecting people: collaborative spirit and can apply engineering fundamentals to solve real engineering problems. In addition, a good project manager can also be a great help for the team in making work more efficient. 

“I think the common thread is that each person on the team has to have a clear direction on what it is they need to be doing. They understand the higher level product goal, they're all shooting toward the same Northstar.” - Joe Moak

To learn more about Joe Moak, listen to this podcast. 

Links:

Joe Moak
Maestro PD 

Aaron Moncur:

The Being an Engineer podcast is a repository for industry knowledge and a tool through which engineers learn about and connect with relevant companies, technologies, people, resources and opportunities. Enjoy the show.

Joe Moak:

So the trick that I have found is, again, through that prioritization, figure out what it is about this product that really matters most to customers, and then figure out who you need to bring in or what expertise you need on the team. Do you have it on the team? If you do great, if not, go find it.

Aaron Moncur:

Hello, and welcome to the Being an Engineer podcast. Our guest today is Joe Moak, who holds a degree in Mechanical Engineering from Cal Poly. Joe also worked at a plethora of high profile OEM and product development companies such as St. Jude Medical, Soto's and Apple, and is currently the founder and chief engineer at Maestro PD, a product design and engineering firm that helps deliver premium quality hardware products to market. Joe, thank you so much for being with us today.

Joe Moak:

Thanks for having me.

Aaron Moncur:

Okay, first question, what made you decide to become an engineer?

Joe Moak:

It's great question. It was the Sony sports handycam.

Aaron Moncur:

Oh, it's so specific. I love it

Joe Moak:

Very specific in about 1986. I remember, our families saved a bunch of money. And my brothers and I loved riding motorcycles. And we had our eye on the video cameras for a long time. And that Sony sports handycam just, you know, checked all the boxes, durable, sturdy, waterproof, we could take it out in the woods with us out to the motocross track. And I remember the first time I got my hands on that thing and saw all of the latches and the seals. And you know, the shiny finishes on the plastic, and the matte finishes on all of the interface elements. There was a motor that he checked it the tape, it was just an incredible, incredible piece of kit. And I was I think 12 at the time. And I remember thinking, man, there was a time when this thing didn't exist, but it exists now. And humans had to have been involved in the, in the creation of this thing. And when I grow up, I want to make stuff that's as cool as this.

Aaron Moncur:

That's such a great story. I'm so impressed that at 12 years old, you had the depth of thought to to realize that. Were you a very contemplative youth grown up.

Joe Moak:

I don't know that I go that far. But I did spend a lot of I mean, we grew up in rural Oregon, I lived a mile up a dirt road. My dad was a log truck driver, there was always a lot of broken heavy machinery around lots of tools. I learned to weld about the same time, we got that handycam at about the age of 12. So yeah, I've always spent a lot of time tinkering with with the matter that's in front of me.

Aaron Moncur:

Nice. I that sounds a lot to me. I know it wasn't a farm, or I guess I don't know that maybe it was but it sounds a lot like the description of a farm with meal machinery all around and welding and I hear so many stories from people who grew up on farms about it was that, you know, the best preparation for becoming an engineer because constantly there were problems to solve and tools to solve those problems.

Joe Moak:

Absolutely. Yeah. Yeah. If there's a if there's a second influence, it's MacGyver.

Aaron Moncur:

No. I love MacGyver. What a fantastic show. I remember the first one I ever watched even what a great show. I'm so thankful that you brought that up. It's bringing back all these memories now. Well, I have a question for you about Cal Poly. Their motto, at least now is learn by doing which I absolutely love. Was that their motto back when when you attended the University?

Joe Moak:

Yeah, yeah. It was it there was no backup.

Aaron Moncur:

no backup. Okay. Tell. Tell me a little bit about that. What What made you decide to go to Cal Poly? And also I'd love to hear about how they incorporated that model into the curriculum.

Joe Moak:

Sure. Oh, man, great question. It's been a long time for those of you who were not watching the video, there's enough gray in my beard that talking about the gray in my beard because I'm stalling running the query on the database.

Aaron Moncur:

Wisdom.

Joe Moak:

You know, the, the curriculum was in that now that I've been around a while and I've worked with a lot of people from a lot of different schools. I think that the fundamental engineering curriculum is very similar. The way that they brought in sort of the by doing part is there was still a lot of time in the lab. So there was a lot of you know, here are the formulas. Now we're going into the, into the thermal lab. And here are the things that actually get hot here, the thermometers here, the chambers, and you're going to actually take measurements and there was a lot of sort of correlating the empirical evidence with the theoretical calculations. And it was a lot of building grades. I built a bicycle I built a robot among, you know, many other things. But yeah, stick. Yeah, the labs were good, the shop was cool.

Aaron Moncur:

Hearing you talk about labs, maybe it reminded me of an experience I had when I was in college and I was in a lab, I think it was a heat trend class, we had a lab for it. And the the instructions for doing this lab exercise kept talking about this thermo meter, and I was like thermo meter, what is the thermo meter? My groups like a thermometer. Anyway, neither here nor there. Okay, Maestro helps clients deliver premium quality hardware products, not just hardware products, but premium quality hardware products. What is a premium hardware product? And conversely, what what's an example of a hardware product that you wouldn't consider to be premium?

Joe Moak:

Oh, yeah, that's a great question. Um, you know, it's a, maybe a bit of a made up word. But when I think of premium, and the idea, the reason I use that word, the is the idea I'm trying to get across is, you know, we, we pay a lot of attention to the experiences that the products deliver to customers. And there's, there's an experience. So when you say the word premium, you're setting expectations, that the object of that advice, the product that you're going to interact with, has some niceties that maybe unexpected, maybe it's a level of performance, maybe it's a level of fit and finish. The the big idea behind that word premium is that we, we care a lot about the customer, and how they interact with the product. And there are things that designers and engineers can do in the design and development of a product to really elevate that experience. And then there are things that designers and engineers can do to detract from that experience. And, you know, we continually strive to apply engineering rigor to those touch points that we know are going to be important and resonate with customers. When working with startups, it's really important to not over index on features that, you know, maybe some people or some beliefs push you to apply engineering rigor to that might not matter. Right? So anyway, that's the big idea behind premium, it's the things that customers care about. And then it doesn't necessarily always mean high cost. It just means that we're paying attention to those important details.

Aaron Moncur:

Have you found it challenging at all to differentiate yourself as a, you know, a premium service firm? Because it feels like everyone these days is claiming that, "Yeah, ours, our widget, our service where premium", you know, this is the Platinum level here, and the word has almost lots of lost its meaning because everyone is claiming to be premium or platinum. What do you what have you been able to do to really differentiate your firm is is truly like, we pay attention to this stuff. We spend a lot of time looking at these items.

Joe Moak:

Yeah, yeah, we talked about the specifics of those customer touch points. And then, you know, honestly, there's nothing like portfolio piece sitting in front of you, where you can you can bring out the parts, you can bring out the products and say, yeah, you know, many other organizations would choose to ignore some of these details, when you choose to embrace these details and understand that your customers might actually interact with this product and experience these details here is how they might resolve and how they resolve differently when you pay this level of attention and care and execution. And you compare that to a product where you know, that type of attention hasn't been applied.

Aaron Moncur:

Can you think of a product or project where maybe you had the opportunity to kind of gloss over one of these premium touchpoints but you didn't you decided, Okay, this this is one of those features that's going to make the product premium. So let's spend the time and let's really work this out and figure out that feature. Can you think of any examples of that?

Joe Moak:

On the first Apple TV, there's where the bottom cover intersects, the aluminum rang on the outside, if you look underneath, there's a form on the sheet metal that tucks underneath the lip on the inside underside of the Apple TV. And we use the form cutter that was the same shape as the bend on the sheet metal, right at the point that it intercepted the ring. So that when you tuck the sheet metal into the slot, as the cutter pulled away left behind a surface that matched the sheet metal.

Aaron Moncur:

That's so great. I just got chills listening to that. I love it. Okay, this is cool for a few reasons. First of all, I have a first gen Apple TV, and I'm going to go take a look at that now. And second of all, I don't know if I call myself a fanboy for Apple, but I really do like their products. I have a bunch of Apple gear. I actually don't have any of the IMAX. I know that's something that you worked on no offense. I like my PCs as well. But you know, the iPad, the iPhone, AirPods. I can't wait to get some of the what are the air trackers that they just came out with? Air tags.

Joe Moak:

That's what Jack's yeah,

Aaron Moncur:

Very cool. So if you don't mind, I'd love to spend a few minutes just talking a little bit about your experience working at Apple. Sure. Okay, so you were there for I guess, close to seven years contributing on all sorts of products from the the iMac, the Mac mini iPad, Apple TV? What, what, if anything, do you miss about working at Apple?

Joe Moak:

There are a few things, I'm the easiest thing like the first thing that comes to mind is the people. Very few organizations have that sort of concentration of really passionate, really talented, really intelligent people working, just working their tails off.

Aaron Moncur:

Premium quality people working on premium quality products.

Joe Moak:

It's a cliche as it sounds, man, there are not a lot of Joker's around there. Well, and you got to bring your A game every day.

Aaron Moncur:

Yeah, that's awesome. How does how does Apple cultivates such a high quality team?

Joe Moak:

When I was there, it was it was sort of from the top, you know, Steve and Johnny, were running the show. Man, though, those two guys are just incredibly talented, incredibly capable. And they had a really good sense for what was possible. With regards to technology, and manufacturing, and marketing, messaging. And I feel like there's sort of a personality type that kind of gravitates toward that kind of challenge. And, you know, the bar was just set really high. You know, I felt like I had to work my tail off to keep up with a lot of folks.

Aaron Moncur:

How did they communicate expectations to the team? Like how does how do you? I mean, now you kind of No, because apples is a huge thing, but it was kind of in the earlier days of Apple back then. And how did how do people know coming in that this the really hard high bar is what is expected of me.

Joe Moak:

You know, my first experience with that happened in the interview process, okay, without giving anything away. The questions that they asked me were, were pretty, pretty in depth, pretty challenging.

Aaron Moncur:

Technical standpoint?

Joe Moak:

Yeah, from absolutely technical standpoint, for sure. You know, I remember distinctly my interview with John Turnus, who was a manager at the time, he's now VP of hardware. Man, he drew a problem up on the wall, and, you know, gave me the challenge. And I said, okay, well, you know, here are the ways that you could solve it. And I was coming from a place where my boss was always telling me, okay, that's good enough, like pencils down, just, you know, ship it. And so I got to a point in this process where I'm like, Okay, well, the answer is about like this. And he's like, "Okay, what next?" And I'm like, Oh, you mean I get to I get to keep going, like you want me to, like, do the calculation. And he's like, "Yeah, wow. Okay, great". So I started to calculate Yeah. And, and I'm like, holy smoke man, if we get to apply this level of rigor to these Kynos, seemingly nebulous and fluffy interaction points like this, this is going to be a fun job. Yeah. So that was my first exposure. And then, you know, on the inside, it's almost, you know, it's been a while, my memories that are coming back there, it's more sort of like, tribal. Kind of like a teamwork type of mentality kind of driving everyone to achieve, as opposed to, you know, some, you know, traditional carrot or stick? Yes, more like, Oh, yeah, like, we're all going to make this thing that's like going to be the best of this thing that's ever been made. No one's seen a tablet before that speaks for him in some language is..

Aaron Moncur:

A really great product, as opposed to I hope we get my quarterly bonus, or, you know, that sort of thing.

Joe Moak:

I didn't see much, or if any of that at all, it was, you know, how awesome Were you able to design that thing? How, how great did the parts come out? What tricks did you do with the injection molding to achieve at these, you know, really aggressive goals?

Aaron Moncur:

Very cool. This is a total starstruck struck question here. But did you have any experiences with Steve Jobs? Or Johnny Ive?

Joe Moak:

Yeah, yeah. Just a little bit with Steve. But yeah, pretty, pretty close with Johnny on in that, you know, he was the ID exec. And we were doing, you know, weekly, or bi weekly reviews, you know, we work through all of the details that were that were under investigation, and we'd present them to Johnny and say, Alright, here's, here's what you asked for, here's how we can achieve that, or here's how we can't achieve it, here are the things that we're doing to try to achieve those goals.

Aaron Moncur:

Were there things that they did as leaders, or maybe things that they didn't do that that really helped the teams excel and be their best?

Joe Moak:

You know, I, I would guess that each engineer would probably answer that question a little bit differently. What's coming to mind for me was, again, it's like the team and sort of the, you know, we're all in this together mentality. You know, when I showed up, man, I thought that I knew engineering pretty well. And I understood design a little bit, and I understood and then now I realize I knew just a little bit about engineering, I didn't understand design at all. And, you know, I've been in the room where, where designers have looked at apart and, and the designers have come up with the tooling solution and everything. And all the engineers in the room just kind of shake their heads, and they're like, oh, man, that that'll actually, yeah.

Aaron Moncur:

We just lost to the designers that that that'll work.

Joe Moak:

Not me at that point. I'm, I'm glad that they're in the room, you know, yeah. Yeah, your question, but that's, that's what's coming to mind for me.

Aaron Moncur:

That brings up the next question I wanted to ask you, which is what what did you learn at Apple that's been useful in your subsequent engineering roles?

Joe Moak:

Really good question. I think the biggest, the biggest thing that I took away from it is that as a design engineer, we spend a lot of time looking at CAD on the screen, spend a lot of time looking at prototype parts, and sort of vetting our design, through prototyping, it's pretty standard process. In high volume production, I started to think of my parts is, like really terrible pieces of clay. It's just kind of how I conceptualize it. Nothing's flat, nothing straight. Nothing is it none of the geometry is as resolved as I'd like it to be. And I've started to imagine these these sort of tolerance clouds around all of my surfaces. And I've implemented some CAD practices that kind of helped me in early architecture stages, prioritize feature sets prioritize assembly so I can start to, I can predict manufacturing yield, when I'm developing architectures, try to get it, you know, down to that fundamental level of refinement at the architecture level. For tolerance analysis is incredibly helpful tool, as is finite element analysis. If you've got, you know, certainly structural concerns, you know, your parts in addition to never being plumb level or square, they're also never infinitely stiff. They're all flexible to some extent. And I've been really surprised about the metal parts that have moved in assembly. Really think, oh, everything yeah, this thing is going to be super steep. Well, it turns out, if you stack up, you know, three other layers and then bolt them all together, like the metal might actually move, it might it might actually detune an antenna. Or you get might, it might create a discontinuity and a surface that reflects light in an unfavorable way. And now it looks unflagged when it should be flattered. All kinds of little things that can happen. So anyway, that idea of you know, even though it looks clean on the screen, and this machine prototype works really well, we start making millions of these things. They're all going to be just a little bit different.

Aaron Moncur:

You talked a little bit about some strategies that you use architecting at the beginning of of your project, even within CAD, what CAD are using?

Joe Moak:

Annex.

Aaron Moncur:

Annex, okay, what can you touch on some of those strategies that you use to help keep things organized? And I don't know, ensure your tolerances are where they should be?

Joe Moak:

Yeah, yeah, it's, for me, it comes down to priorities. I, fundamentally on most projects, I engineer the product, two ways to start off sort of outside in, if we have an ID proposition, I'll start by prioritizing all of the visible interfaces. And I'll try to fit everything inside. And I'll try to engineer all of my data interfaces, so that I'm minimizing the visible variation in gaps and offsets, and any other alignments that are important icons to LEDs, connectors to connector openings, whatever those touch points are, I tried to make those the first priority. And I asked myself, okay, well, if I care about this reveal between these two parts that customers are going to see what are the mechanical features that I can engineer into these two parts, so that when I put them together, the variation and gap and the variation, that offset is as small as it could possibly be? So that's thing one, and then think two or design process to is outside in, when we actually stack up the real technologies that are required to deliver these features to the customer? How much room do they take up? Yeah, and where and where do the big pieces have to live? And how can we reconcile this technological requirement with these ID goals?

Aaron Moncur:

Alright, I'm gonna take a very short break here and share with the listeners that teampipeline.us is where you can learn more about how we help medical device and other product engineering or manufacturing teams develop turnkey equipment, custom fixtures and automated machines to characterize, inspect, assemble, manufacture and perform verification testing on your devices. And speaking of pipeline, we started out what is it now 12 years ago, something like that, as a general product design company. And one thing I always found challenging about such a business model is it takes a long time to get really good at all the different disciplines required to run an effective PD company right the industrial design and electronics and engineering and understanding supply chain designing for plastic injection molding and metal machining and sheet metal. There's just so many different disciplines that you really have to know to be successful in that model versus just specializing in one thing that you can do over and over and over and get really good at much more quickly. Do you ever find this to be the case and and have you found it to be more effective to have several kind of like Jack's of all trades on your team or a few specialists on your team in you know the different areas of product development?

Joe Moak:

Yes, yes. And yes, it's super, super hard. I often feel like I end up being a part 3D real estate agent and part therapist.

Aaron Moncur:

Tell me more about both those.

Joe Moak:

Were engineering designing products. All of the cross functional team members needs some amount of volume inside the product. Electrical Engineers need board space and component AI. Antenna RF engineers need place for their antennas. Acoustic engineers need back volume and open area. Thermal engineers if you're lucky enough to have one they're gonna want metal or graphite for spreading heat, they're gonna want fins, they're gonna want to blow or they're gonna want open area and minimum gap. Like they're just all of these different groups that have a stake in the product. And in through most of my career, it's been me and my team who own the master CAD files. And you know, on paper, our deliverable is 3D CAD and 2D drawings. In order to develop that 3D CAD and 2D drawing package, to a point that when all of the parts are manufactured to the specifications and put together, you have premium product coming off of the line, it's just an incredibly intense, iterative process with every single one of those cross functional teams. is so so yes, anytime we can bring in subject matter experts on the key touch points on the product, super important. One of the interesting things about working at Apple is we have subject matter experts for anything, if you if you name a thing, like we could either find the best or engineer the best instantiation of that thing at that time, which was, which was really cool. Now, as a consultancy, you know, we don't have those resources, not all other resources available. So the trick that I have found is, again, through that prioritization, figure out what it is about this product that really matters most to customers, and then figure out who you need to bring in or what expertise you need on the team. Do you have it on the team? If you do great if not, go find it.

Aaron Moncur:

Great advice. What What has been your favorite place to work and why?

Joe Moak:

Oh, oh, I'm just gonna say Maestro because yeah, I built it so that it would be the my favorite place.

Aaron Moncur:

And what what elements of designing Maestro, were intentionally incorporated to fulfill that that desire that being the best place that you could work?

Joe Moak:

Oh, man. There, there are a lot of things number one was recruiting. We were able to bring in a lot of really great talent. Not just engineering talent, design talent, and project management talent. Our space, we have a 3200 square foot warehouse. 500 foot square feet of bins dedicated shop. Yes, the layout of the place is is a bit interesting. All of our desks are like early. Early night, sorry, early 20th century kind of sheet metal engineering desks kind of still. Still case tinker style. Yeah. Yeah, yeah, the interior is all OSB is just sanded OSB, which works really nice. It's inexpensive. Number one, so when you're a bootstrap consultancy, that works nice and it just it kind of looks cool.

Aaron Moncur:

This, this really gets into the minutiae. Here we are, more than likely going to be moving into a bigger space in the near future. And I wonder how people organize their spaces. Tell me how are your desks plays? Like do you have? I don't know two desks up against each other with people on either side. So they're kind of facing each other? Or are the desks spread out like facing the walls around the the bullpen area? How do you arrange that?

Joe Moak:

Great question. Our desks were in a grid and the middle of a large room with actually quite a bit of space around each desk. And the wall is behind us and the open design space is out in front of us. Okay, so everyone's sitting at their desk is sort of the you know, looking up and seeing, seeing the room seeing the open space.

Aaron Moncur:

And is it like a classroom where everyone is pointed, facing the same direction or different people facing different directions?

Unknown:

Yeah, everybody's everybody's desks are facing in the same direction, though. At any point during the day. It's yes, pre-COVID times. It was rare to have everybody actually in their seat at the same time doing work. There was always something happening in the shop always, you know, meeting happening and one of the conference rooms. My brother built a super sweet live edge table with blue epoxy down the middle, Siberian moment. That's right in the middle of the of the room near the whiteboard, we call it the design review table. I find that incredibly helpful just having an open space with it with a clean table with a whiteboard next to it. incredibly useful. We also have a TV on an on an a frame roller that we roll around goes and shuttle goes into the design view room, conference room. Yeah.

Aaron Moncur:

And he can just like cast onto that TV base. That's right. Oh, that's a great idea. That's right. Very great. Okay, what else? What else do you have in your, in your shop in your office that has been really useful?

Joe Moak:

Let's see, what do we use? often just, you know, the the model shop, we ended up using a lot of the hand tools really often you know, I have a, I have a Bridgeport, and I have a micromill that have gotten me out of many a pinch. You know, the manufacturing folks listening to this will, will laugh at their really low utilization that those machines see. But man, when you need it, and you have it, and you don't have that send a part out and wait a week or two to get a modification made. It pays for itself. Absolutely.

Aaron Moncur:

I can think of more than one occasion where I have jumped on our bill, which is not a great meal but it you know, it works for punching some high precision holes or slots in aluminum. And you know, to in the morning, I'm out there. Yes, putting some new holes in very precise locations. And hey, save the day deliver? Yeah.

Joe Moak:

Yeah, yeah, I think those Yeah, those capabilities. They don't look sexy in your brochure, or on your website. But man when you're shaving weeks off of the schedule, because you can walk into the shop and do that. Yeah, incredibly valuable.

Aaron Moncur:

Yeah. Your tagline on LinkedIn is "I build and lead teams that design an engineer premium hardware products for high volume manufacturing". Can you tell me a little bit more about building and leading your teams? For example? What what are? I don't know, like? This sounds kind of cheesy to say it this way. But what are some of the top two or three things that you've learned about building and leading successful design and engineering teams?

Joe Moak:

Yeah, I think the first thing that comes to mind here is I'm always learning. When I'm thinking about building a team, I'm thinking about a recruiting process. I'm had a great opportunity at Apple, to learn to interview folks and conduct technical interviews. When I was at Sonos helping build the team there. I got to practice more the interviews around behavioral aspects and personalities and understanding not just technical abilities, but also a lot of companies use culture fit, but it's, it's kind of beyond culture fit. And I don't know how to articulate it, because I'm just I'm not good at it yet. So enter interviewing, and recruiting is one thing. And yeah, go ahead.

Aaron Moncur:

Go back to interviewing and recruiting, have there been any, I don't know, go to questions or, or like pro tips that you've used to interview people, and pretty quickly assess whether whether there'll be a good fit for the team?

Joe Moak:

For sure. I I like to conduct my interviews for Maestro, you know, we're we're less structured than like a Sonos, or an apple where, you know, we've got a panel and each person's asking their, you know, particular questions, I like to frame up a series of technical questions that are that are hard enough and open ended enough that we can have a kind of a brainstorm conceptual design discussion, man and dip into some technical details. And really, I'm looking for two major things. I'm looking for a collaborative spirit. Again, oh, is this candidate going to be okay, in a world where they don't have all of the boundary conditions? And they have to make some assumptions? And they have to kind of deal with some ambiguity? And can they work their way to finding an answer? And then number two is, you know, the technical ability, like, is this candidate able to apply engineering fundamentals to solve real engineering problems?

Aaron Moncur:

A lot along those lines, what are some of the common roadblocks that you see engineering teams falling victim to?

Joe Moak:

In terms of recruiting or just in general?

Aaron Moncur:

No, just in general.

Joe Moak:

I'm mistaking at activity for progress. We built a bunch of prototypes. We did a bunch of calculations. We ran a bunch of analyses.

Aaron Moncur:

I was busy all day.

Joe Moak:

See all day? That's a that's probably one of the most one of the more common mistakes I see teams making.

Aaron Moncur:

How have you helped or how have your team's helped each other? Identify when you're just being busy as opposed to productive?

Joe Moak:

Oh, it's really easy. What problem are you solving? And why does the customer care? Got it?

Aaron Moncur:

Got it. And if the answers to those questions is not, you know, aligned with what it should be, then you know, you're just getting busy.

Joe Moak:

Yeah, yeah. And every day, I'll ask the team, why are we not shipping this product right now?

Aaron Moncur:

Nice. That's a great question to ask. Yeah.

Joe Moak:

And if there's, is there like Joe? I mean, haven't you seen the MIL? Course? I've seen the ML IV. Let's talk about the priorities on the MIL. Are they the same today as they were yesterday?

Aaron Moncur:

Can you define MIL? For those who may not know what it is?

Joe Moak:

Master Issues List

Aaron Moncur:

Great. Okay. You've worked at a few PD service firms. And I'm curious what your take is on how to charge for this service time and material or fixed price?

Joe Moak:

Oh, it's, it's all the same to me. I tell I tell my clients, it's all the same if you if you have a really clear statement of work, and you can clearly define the, the deliverables and everyone can understand the state really well and you have confidence that you and your client are speaking the same language, then fixed a bit. Sure that that's typically works out fine in those situations. It can sort of simplify the billing, and the end the administration. So if you care about those kinds of things in your life, then a fixed bid can help alleviate some of that back end work. When the client has trouble articulating an end state, or when you get the sense that you have a long road ahead, and there's some learning to be done. Then timing material starts to make sense. And I've started a few engagements that way, you know, where clients show up? And I've had startups behave this way. And I've had giant mega corpse, behave this way. No, Joe, we know exactly what we want. This is this is the project. You know, your, your colleague, Billy told me to call you or whoever it is, and how the connections made, right. And I say, great. Where's your Where's your PRD? You said that you've already built something like this. Where's the thing that you've built already? What is it about that thing that works? Well, what doesn't work? Well. And through that discussion, I've arrived at a point where I will say things like, it sounds like I might be able to help you put some of that information into place. It's going to take enough effort and enough time that I'm not going to be able to do it all for free. I'm not going to I got to justify my time expenditure to the CFO, CFO is not going to let me put it this level of effort. It's not going to cost you much but let's start there.

Aaron Moncur:

Yeah, yeah, that's a good way to put it.

Joe Moak:

That where a scope of work will emerge.

Aaron Moncur:

Yeah. Nice. What are if you can think of any What are one or one or two of the, like, boring, mundane, seems too simple to make a difference habits or routines that that actually end up making a huge difference in the end, and our practice by the best engineering groups that you know, from the outside might might seem like, wow, that's such a small, insignificant thing. Surely it can't make all that much difference.

Joe Moak:

Let's see the small insignificant thing that I see design engineers, certainly in the product design world, sort of glossing over or deferring all the time tolerance analysis.

Aaron Moncur:

Hmm, okay.

Joe Moak:

Yeah, anytime a candidate tells me "Oh, I don't do tolerance analyses till I have a drawing", or I don't know what the nominal is if I can't do a tolerance analysis. Like that's a giant red flag. Or, you know, we just need to do some learning. So that's the simple thing. The big thing that's really valuable and easy to gloss over is a design review of any kind. Oh, all related conversation that I had recently with a colleague of mine who's kind of a one man show on a kind of a complex system. And he was telling me a story where his client was looking over his shoulder, and he was putting the parts together and they didn't fit. And the clients like, I thought you knew how to do this. I thought This is why these parts not fit. And it's, you know, one of god in that building probably had, it was on the order of 100 custom parts. Wow, big sheet metal plastics, some 3D printed parts, like it was a fairly complex system, many moving parts, there was like a fairly large mechanism holding a really expensive element at this particular price is really, really high and stuff. And he was, you know, we were talking about this over a beer and he was just shaking his head, like, I can't believe I messed up and that bowl didn't line up with the hole in the enclosure. And I said, well, how much time did you give yourself to review that before you kicked off your parts? And he's like, well, and did you have anyone else review it for you? He's like, well, no, I actually I didn't. I said, you have a lot of parts in that assembly. And that is a really high expectation of yourself. Yeah, everything all complete and tidy and forever, all of those parts to actually fit together when they're manufactured.

Aaron Moncur:

Absolutely. I'm surprised only one part didn't line up.

Joe Moak:

That's exactly what I told him. And so anymore, you know, if it's, if it's me, often it is working on something, you know, really fast, really tactical? Yeah, I'll give myself an extra day to do nothing but cut cross sections, and run interference checks, and then go through and nudge surfaces. And, you know, check all my gasket compressions, and go through all of my tolerance analyses and make sure yeah, like in the heat of battle, when I was in the CAD, I didn't actually change the dadums around and everything still lines up. Okay, good. And then at the team level, it you know, design reviews are one of those things that are, you know, they get to be a pain in the neck takes time to track you're not getting work done. There are all kinds of reasons to not do them. I encourage everyone to scrub their design thoroughly with their cross functional team, certainly before kicking off tooling.

Aaron Moncur:

Yeah, absolutely. What, what is your design process? Like when you're starting a new design? Do you start with some sketching first and then maybe move into CAD? Do you start in the shop doing like some cardboard benchtop? Prototyping? How do you go about that process?

Joe Moak:

We've done all of the above, it depends on the particular thing that we're designing. And it depends on the start point, right. So the client comes to us, and they have a functional prototype. And they have a CAD file within that's the start point. We've done projects where the client will, the client has shown us their current product and told us about all of the problems and told us explicitly, we don't want any CAD, we just want concept sketches. So we've done entire projects, where it's literally just concept sketching, here are the parts, here's how they could fit together, here, the data structures here how the different parts assemble, in which order and yeah, so it's really, it's really project specific, if I, I'm not trying to evade your question bBut I would say so most often, there's some whiteboarding upfront and will relatively quickly jump into CAD just to kind of check our work, kind of check our sketches. And and then we often start building, I mean, he asked me about the process, it's kind of, it's kind of a look at the project, look at the product holistically, and then break it apart into its, you know, sensible sub assemblies or, or sensible challenges. And then either assign engineers to the subsystems, assign engineers to the challenging elements, and get, you know, many brains working in parallel. And depending on the particular problem, you know, maybe it's simulation and CAD studies, maybe it's building things in a shop. Maybe it's, you know, a tight interaction with ID, where we're sending files back and forth, have some tricks to helping ID converge quickly.

Aaron Moncur:

Do you have any best practices as it relates to Team sizes? Like, do you find that, you know, a teams of up to four people or eight people or whatever it is tend to work pretty well but beyond that point, too many people are involved, the process gets bogged down.

Joe Moak:

Yeah, that's a really good question. I've, I've worked on small teams that are really effective in small teams that are ineffective, and I've worked on large teams that are effective and large and ineffective. So I think the common thread is that Is that each person on the team has kind of clear direction on what it is they need to be doing. And they understand sort of the higher level product goal, they kind of have a nurse, they're all shooting toward the same Northstar. The, the problem that I've seen is when, when too many people start joining the team, without great context without great onboarding, you know, maybe they're brought on to look at a particular element of the of the product without the context, without, without that tribal knowledge, yeah. Which is another hard problem. You know, as much as I try to encourage engineers to document their work and you know, kind of create that really lightweight design history of how they made the decisions they've made, it's really hard to do. And even then it's, it's even harder to pick up. So we end up in the heat of battle, building that tribal knowledge. Thinking back to some of those teams that were super effective, you don't want the technology products on the on the consumer products, you know, if you've got circuit boards, connectors, screen antennas, that you know, that kind of a feature set, I've had a lot of success when we have a product design lead, a technical lead, and an engineering project manager. And then same story tech lead and project manager on the electrical side and tech lead and project manager on the software side, can keep those folks you know, really, really tight knit, and really working well together, then they can sort of drive their, you know, some of their closer cross functional partners toward that Northstar.

Aaron Moncur:

I would love to hear your take on project management. What do you see as the role of a project manager? How do they add value to the team?

Joe Moak:

It's a great question. You know, the best project managers helped me do my job better. And, and the way they do that is through prioritizing, prioritizing the work, they helped me delegate the work and they helped deconflict. So anytime there's conflict, on the end, I'm not talking interpersonal conflict. That's one thing. There's also, you know, the electrical engineer doesn't have enough board area. That's a conflict that has to get resolved and being able to identify those conflicts. And then the best project engineering project managers that I've worked with, are actually way out in front of me. And they're building bridges. I had a project manager that I worked with, at Apple. And it was it was incredible. I'll just describe it like one scene for you. To give you some idea. I get off the plane, drive into the factory, and I show up and I sit down my bag, and he comes Joe Mak drum up. The parts are on the table. FBI forms are there, I need you to review all the parts. I'm gonna go talk to the electrical engineers, their SMT schedule screwed up and getting us out of here a day early. And that and that was it. He left the room and I greatly the parts. He pre vetted all of the inspection reports, while the parts were there, all the inspection forms were filled out correctly. I don't know how many he sent back because they were filled out incorrectly. But I know he did. And he came back whatever it was two, three hours later, and he says, "Are you done yet? We got to build? Yeah. See, here's here are the ones that are approved here. The ones that are waived. And here are the ones that we got to fix". Nice, like great. Like, are we getting out of here earlier way? We get down here early. That's a great project manager.

Aaron Moncur:

That's awesome. So he kind of lays the groundwork for you. So when you come in, you can just do your thing. You don't have to worry about where's the thing? Where's that thing? Do we have the right people here?

Joe Moak:

That was factory and that and he was he was like that with every cross functional team? He was? Yeah, he had our back and supported. Well, you know, in this particular case, it was Apple, and we're just all trying to ship a great product. You know, we're trying to make our customers happy. And yeah, he was just really good at helping us all keep our eye on that ball.

Aaron Moncur:

I like to define, I think what you said is very much in alignment with the definition that I like to use for a good project manager which is someone who aggressively and proactively identifies and mitigates risk, right day, all those things.

Joe Moak:

Brilliant. Brilliant.

Aaron Moncur:

No, I'll take that as a huge compliment from you Joe Moak. Thank you. All right, well, last question for you, what are one or two of the biggest challenges that you have at work?

Joe Moak:

Oh, that's a good one. That's a good one, um, with, with all of the things that are going on all of the projects that that I have on deck, that the bigger challenge is figuring out where I need to apply my time and my effort versus where I need to delegate. And then with that delegation comes sort of the engineering management and the people management, which, you know, frankly, I've, it's not my thing, like, yeah, I ended up like building and leading teams, just because I didn't know what one of my colleagues said, Joe, sometimes if you're the person holding the candle in the dark room, people are going to be around you. Right and look to you. And I feel like I've found myself in that position through through most of my career. Yeah.

Aaron Moncur:

Well, how can people get ahold of you, Joe?

Joe Moak:

Oh, ah Let's see. I check Twitter once in a while. I'm just at Joe Moak. That's probably the easiest way. My email address is [email protected] I have a Facebook account that I check. I don't know, intermittently. I'm really terrible with the social media stuff but the easiest way is probably email or Twitter.

Aaron Moncur:

All right. Well, Joe, this has been such a treat to talk to you. Thank you so much for for sharing some of your time and your wisdom today. I really appreciate it.

Joe Moak:

Likewise, thanks for having me here. And it's been fun.

Aaron Moncur:

I'm Aaron Moncur, founder of Pipeline Design, and Engineering. If you liked what you heard today, please share the episode. To learn how your team can leverage our team's expertise developing turnkey equipment, custom fixtures and automated machines and with product design, visit us at Teampipeline.us. Thanks for listening.