October 10

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An Embedded Life: Jack Ganssle

By jaime

October 10, 2020


Man, I’m a lucky guy. I’ve had the good fortune of interviewing TWO of my engineering heroes. The first was Max Maxfield and, this time around, I got to interview a man who has made a name for himself in the Embedded System Design space: Jack Ganssle. We talk about everything from working in the Apollo space program to sinking a boat during a trans-Atlantic race. Enjoy the interview video then check out the Top 3 Takeaways below.

Top 3 Takeaways

#1: Speaking and writing will help further your career

Jack says he hated writing papers when he was in school but, later in his career, he realized, “if I wanted to further my career, I would have to learn how to speak in public, which is another thing I was terrified of doing back then.” He set about teaching himself about speaking and writing by giving talks at IEEE conferences and sometimes writing articles for magazines like Circuit Cellar.

Jack was later invited to write a column for Embedded Systems Programming magazine by, then editor, Tyler Sperry. Interestingly enough, Jack recognizes other technical writers for their own communication skills. Writers like Jim Turley; “Jim has a way with words I could never achieve.” It’s nice to see someone as accomplished as Jack give praise to others.

Jack says the best thing about writing is the immediate feedback he gets from readers. He says he gets “hardly any death threats.” Boy, angry nerds can get really ornery.

#2: Get out of the lab

Yes, I know that right now attending a conference in person is out of the question due to the pandemic, but Jack says, “one of the big mistakes we make as engineers is burying our head in our current project. You need to go out and be exposed to things you’ve never been exposed to before.” He says Google is great for getting momentary answers but, “there is no serendipity; you don’t trip across things that are unexpected.” Attending conferences will give you opportunities to get ideas you’ve never thought of before.

#3: Get an advisor

When I asked Jack about having a mentor he said, “I do believe in mentors.” Jack says he once hired a business consultant and, even after the sold that business, he kept meeting with the consultant. The point was to keep “bouncing ideas back and forth” about how to get better at business and that’s helped him in his present business even though it’s just Jack and his lovely wife. Jack has this piece of advice for engineers who start their own business, “Even if you can’t hire all the people you want, go out and get an advisor.”

Afterthoughts

There is a lot of knowledge in Jack’s brain. I fear that this short video doesn’t do him justice. Still, it was a lot of fun to finally talk to him one-on-one and I’m honored that he accepted my invitation.

Whether you’re a seasoned Embedded Systems developer, or whether you’re just getting started, I encourage you to head on over to his site at ganssle.com and find out more about him. Or you can search Embedded.com for the many articles he wrote there. And you should definitely take a look at this list of all the books with Jack’s name on them that you can get at Amazon.com (this might be an affiliate link, don’t freak out).

About the author

I'm an engineer and, sometime, public speaker.  I believe technical presentations don't have to be boring.  I believe the world will benefit when engineers become better communicators.

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