Featured Engineer

Interview with Engr. John Williams

Engr. John Williams

Interview with Engr. John Williams - Senior RF Design Engineer at API Technologies Corp.

How did you get into electronics/ engineering and when did you start?

My path towards engineering started at a very young age. My father is a jack-of-all-trades type of guy and I started out as his flashlight-holder and grew from there. Together we designed, built and repaired all kinds of things. Once when I was young, I asked him if I could build a model rocket. He replied, “Sure, but I want you to draw plans first and we will build the model rocket and ignition system together.” Within a few days, and a bag full of Radio Shack parts, we built the ignition system. We installed all the components into the hobby box, wired and soldered the connections referencing the best drawings a small boy could muster. There are a lot of things my dad has taught me over the years, but I think my start in engineering happened during those early years as he taught me how to solve problems and to be curious about how things worked.

Formally, I started as a junior electrical/mechanical designer at a small fiber optic lighting company in 1997 while I was working my way through college. I was fortunate to work under the VP of engineering, Jack Miller, who had authored well over 100 patents. He is a stereotypical inventor and I learned a lot about design and manufacturing from him. Jack is passionate about lifetime learning and I remember several afternoon career discussions and receiving lots of advice about being a lifetime learner. He truly understands mentorship and the ancient Proverb which reads “as iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.”

What attracted you to the engineering profession?

Being an engineer is one of the most incredible jobs a person can have and I love it. Engineers solve problems and require many different skills sets to be engaged at once. At heart, engineers are artists; the canvases are problems, the brushes are science and technology, and the brush strokes are man’s creative ability. As an engineer, I get to blend education, experience, and creativity into a realizable product that helps mankind. When it is done correctly, the solution is elegant, efficient and has the influential notes and tones of the design team.

My passion for RF and microwave started when I was 8 years old and built my first Heath Kit AM radio. I was awestruck as the first sound of a voice crackled through the earpiece. My interest continued to grow while I attended a technical high school and studied electronics. During high school, I had the opportunity to encounter a cavity filter. For those unfamiliar, a cavity filter is essentially a hollowed block of aluminum. Within the hollowed portion, metal posts protrude from the floor. I learned that these posts were actually the inductive elements of a resonant circuit. It solidified my career aspirations. By the time I started my undergraduate education, I knew that my career path would take me into the RF and microwave world.

What is on your bookshelf?

I have a couple of books that I am currently reading. One is Chariots for Apollo. It is a fascinating book that paints a great historical picture of America’s developing space program and catalogs the many sacrifices and triumphs. There are, of course, the engineering and physics staples from authors like Mathai, Young & Jones, Pozar, Thomas & Finney, Griffiths, Jackson, Schiff and many reference data books. Honestly, I wish I could remember more of what is in them. I am studying the Bible as well, particularly the Epistle of 1 John. The Epistle is an amazing piece of inspired literature and is worth reading.

Do you have any note-worthy engineering experiences?

My most memorable experience, one that has made a permanent impression, occurred very early in my career. I was tasked with developing a high power diplexer. The end use was in support of the war effort in Iraq, and the product would protect the lives of America’s military personnel. During one of the customer technical meetings, a senior manager who was working for our customer emphasized the critical nature of the program and that a single field failure was too many. He looked directly at me and asked me a question. “Would you put your son or daughter on that HUMVEE that used your part?” I have asked myself that exact question many times since that meeting and I still remember the intensity and sincerity in his voice. That question is sobering because what many engineering and manufacturing professionals do in the office, on the floor, and in the lab affects the life and safety of someone. I am thankful for that manager and his insight.

What are you currently working on?

Currently, API Technologies has seen an increase in the number of requests for high power PIN diode switches and switched filter banks. The RF2M division is developing a line of high power switches and filter banks. We currently have developed some models with a maximum input power of up to 300W CW that provide harmonic rejection in the VHF and UHF bands. This is exciting because it addresses a market that is not currently being served. There are not a lot of companies that develop products designed to operate at those power levels.

Another development effort that I currently participate in at API is to utilize our high performance planar filter structures to reduce the size of our integrated microwave assemblies. With API’s vertical integration and breadth of technological resources, our electrical and mechanical design teams are really able to shrink the foot print of many integrated assemblies while squeezing out every bit of performance.

What challenges do you foresee in our industry?

There are a lot of challenges facing the RF and microwave industry. Of course, the “faster, smaller, and cheaper” mantra will continue to exist. But beyond that, I think there is a huge challenge looming as the baby boomer generation retires. My fear is that these pioneers in various disciplines leave our ranks without passing on their decades of sage wisdom, tribal knowledge, magic tricks, and don’t touch that warnings to the next generations of engineers. Industry would be wise to invest and encourage mechanisms that allow their more senior engineering staff to participate in mentorship, job shadowing, and high school and college STEM opportunities. I think engineers share in this burden too by being open to those same opportunities. You never know what may happen when you ask some child to hold a flashlight for you.

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