Talent Spotlight on Mike Kahn, Director of Electrical + Firmware
Talent Spotlight is a regular feature profiling the employees of Product Creation Studio. See the Talent Spotlight archive for more interviews.
What led you to a career in product development?
I was always either taking things apart or building them throughout my childhood. My father, also an engineer, encouraged this and built an outdoor shed equipped with a work area and tools for my projects.
I had a natural gravitation toward physics, programming, and math classes in college. Two years into Western Washington University I discovered they did not have an electrical engineering program so I applied and got accepted into the EE program at the University of Washington (a time when they were accepting few applicants).
Prior to graduation, I worked as an engineering co-op student for Fairchild Semiconductor in Puyallup, Washington. There, I identified a need and created an automation tool for statistical processing that turned into a part time job during my last year of college. This then became my first engineering job post-graduation.
Throughout my early career, I gravitated and excelled at embedded software and electronic design projects at Boeing Electronics where I developed ASICs, embedded software, and hardware in the flight controls group.
After Boeing, I went on to Intermec (now Honeywell) where I ascended from a Junior Engineer to Principal in just seven years. My role was to support the product development process - from concept to production - creating architectures, embedded software, ASICs, and electronics for portable barcode handheld computers.
What excites you most about your job?
I am very fortunate to work with an enthusiastic team that loves what they do.
I love helping a group of very capable engineers keep focus on the client's problem by removing obstacles and providing a clean glide path for them to perform their magic.
I get to do this while also having the opportunity to provide technical contribution by filling gaps and routinely taking on system engineer and electrical engineer roles, as well as people manager roles.
It has been uncommon in my career to have such a high concentration of people that collaborate and support each other so effectively. No really -- this is very uncommon!
In some of the larger companies were I have worked, with the ebb and flow of engaging projects combined with competition between internal departments, the environment has not always fostered the most effective free-flow of information and cooperation necessary to efficiently get to the best solution.
Larger companies with established engineering teams sometimes engage Product Creation Studio to get things done much faster than is possible internally.
The time saved can be quite dramatic: a large company that faces over-developed internal process controls, combined with multiple levels of management needed to make decisions or grant approvals, could take a big project from a year (done internally), down to months with our scrappy, focused, and collaborative team.
Describe your most rewarding work experience to date.
One of my more rewarding projects was completed recently where we had an opportunity produce a rapid prototype of a product that served a key humanitarian need. In addition to having an impact on the public good, several key components made this project great:
- We were picked from a group of other bidders because we were able to show a path for an aggressive parallel tracked approach; identifying key areas of risk, and developing a project plan that de-risked quickly while allowing progress on non-blocking critical path elements.
- Our team had to develop a system architecture for a complex networked system that appropriately leveraged off-the-shelf components in order to reduce both technical risk and development effort.
- The client was great! They worked as part of our team, responsively adjusting project priorities and requirements as new information was uncovered.
- We successfully applied an Agile project management approach that fostered close collaboration with the client, reviewed features and tasks in detail, adjusted priorities accordingly, accounted for performance requirements, and included features that helped us meet a fixed budget and schedule constraints.
- Team members produced amazing results with creative solutions to complex problems that had no identified solution at the start of the project. For example, the project manager personally filled gaps when new tasks were identified and tuned our weekly reports and reviews to better communicate and address client priorities.
- All these factures combined to make this a great experience for both myself and my team, in addition to creating another happy client!
What is the most unusual or interesting job you’ve ever had?
After several years as a Product Development Engineer, I did a brief stint in technical sales.
First, I worked at Xilinx as an FPGA field application engineer where I got to see which companies were working with engineers to help their designs in the Greater Seattle area. Next, I worked as a manufacturers’ representative for key semiconductor providers, including Intel. I had the opportunity to understand consultative and strategic sales approaches while working and accommodating a diverse set of personalities.
What is something about you people would be surprised to know?
I had a distinct Aussie accent when I was young. I only learned this when I was older, after listening to a recording of myself.
I am a Seattle native, born in Bellevue, but spent my first six years growing up in Melbourne, Australia where my father supported airlines for Boeing Aircraft.
Prior to starting Junior High, I had lived most of my childhood years abroad in Australia, Spain and Israel.