h5. How did you get into electronics engineering and when did you start?
It was a toy motorbike with a rider sitting on it that I had as a 6 year old that got me interested in engineering without me overtly knowing it. The motorbike would go around in a circle and every now so often the brake light would turn on, the motorbike would stop, the rider would dismount while one of his hands was still on the handle of the motorbike, the rider would remount the motorcycle after a short break and off the motorbike would go for a few more rounds. In the miniature world of the 6 year old kid I was, the toy motorbike and rider seemed real and I marveled at how the toy was built until one day I took it apart but never could put it back together. In that moment I realized I’d have to study a little about motors, resistors, capacitors and printed circuit boards to get my toy working again. This is what got me started. When I grew up, I got a Bachelor’s degree in Electrical Engineering and a Master’s degree in Computer Science and later learned the skills to build bigger and more complex “toys”. I’ve now built toys such as switches and routers, broadband access solutions over cable and telephone lines and high performance storage devices.
h5. What attracted you to the engineering profession? How did you end up in such an offbeat, unconventional and unique career?
Besides being influenced by the toys that had electronic components with which I had a lot of fun, another reason I was influenced to be an engineer was that my dad worked in aircraft maintenance. As a little kid I remember my dad taking me a few times to the aircraft maintenance “hangar” where teams of aircraft maintenance engineers worked furiously overnight to get an aircraft all checked out and safe for the next day’s flight schedule. The huge aircrafts looked even bigger given the fact that I was a little boy. Without knowing the physics of airplane dynamics, I would wonder in amazement how 2 engines mounted on the wings on either side of a plane could lift up a massive plane into the air and make it move at very high speeds. By the time I was graduated from high school, computers took my fancy more than planes and this is why I chose to become a computer engineer.
h5. What differentiates you from most engineers and/or professors?
In many ways I am much like most of my fellow engineers. And because I have imbibed and assimilated from my professors, I think in similar ways as them. I agree that engineers are a form of a brotherhood of nerds that my colleagues tell me lack in social skills (yes we can poke fun at ourselves) and that we think differently compared to doctors and lawyers. If I have to be so presumptious as to think I am different from most engineers then the only thing that comes to mind is my work ethic. There is a wise saying “Success is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration”. No doubt it helps to be smart. And there are a lot a smart engineers in my chosen profession. After 25 years in the business, I know that “smart and hard working” is a very good combination.
h5. What are your favorite hardware tools that you use?
Even though I studied hardware and have worked on teams with hardware board engineers and chip designers, I interact with hardware teams in a capacity of a systems architect. And in this role I have not had to use hardware tools to help me deliver a product. I have used logic analyzers, protocol analyzers and in-circuit emulators. But these hardware tools were used to diagnose and analyze a system rather than specific hardware components.
h5. What are your favorite software tools that you use?
As a software engineer, the source code debugger has to be the tool that is used on a regular basis. But I have not always had the luxury of working in environments where source code debugging facilities were available. Until recently, embedded systems development environments were limited in the tools that they offered and development typically entailed tracing tools that each developer had to implement on their own. I’ve always appreciated development environments where I had the benefit of working with source code debuggers.
h5. What is the hardest/trickiest bug you have ever fixed?
Bugs that involve the processing of a specific set of events within the order of milliseconds where the order and sequence of the events is not controllable are typically very hard to solve. During my career as a software engineer, I have had the satisfaction of hunting down a few of these bugs. While these bugs are hard to solve, they are much like a detective working on a criminal case. One can get consumed chasing down these bugs to the extent that I have worked all night while I was on the hot trail of the bug and have even thought about solutions in my dreams. Talk about work taking over your life. Fortunately, such episodes were few and far between and I was able to maintain a balance between work and personal life.
h5. What is on your bookshelf?
I’m currently reading The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins. After spending 25 years in the world of science and technology where conclusions are made based on evidence and reason, I have started to think about the world of the spiritual. I am for the first time wondering if there is more to life than what is visible to the human eye and what is perceived by the human mind. I am fascinated by what may be the ultimate scientific problem – a proof that GOD exists or a proof that GOD does not exist. I know that the greatest of the great scientists such as Galileo, Newton and Einstein believed in GOD. Einstein said “At any rate I am convinced HE does not play dice”. But then Einstein also said he did not believe in a personal GOD, which brings us to the problem of the definition of GOD. I also know that 95% of the scientific community does not believe in GOD which could be so because they start with the wrong characterization of GOD. I was intrigued by Dawkins’ book because he is convinced that GOD does not exist. But now that I have read half the book, I am disappointed by the case he makes against GOD. His case is made based on the common man’s definition of GOD and the explanation that evolution explains that GOD does not exist. Based on what I have read of the book so far, I am sure Einstein is right and Dawkins conclusion is wrong just because Einstein did not make assumptions about GOD nor did he limit his definition of GOD to the most common definition of GOD. Einstein effectively conceded that his brain was too small to understand the GOD phenomenon and the world of the human spirit.
h5. Do you have any tricks up your sleeve?
HA HA, I know a few card tricks. I cannot say I keep these tricks up my sleeve nor do I walk around with a pack of cards in my pocket. But of course… I know the question is not about my card tricks. I cannot say I have tricks that help me gain an advantage in my chosen profession. What I have is a few tools that I seem to use over and over again as I go about developing new solutions. Between the tools and my previous experiences, I am able to deliver better product on every new project I work on.
h5. What has been your favorite project?
I think my boss will be happy to note that my current project is my most favorite project amongst all projects I have worked on in the last 25 years. I am hoping he reads this interview and gives me a raise
just because I feel so passionately about my project. I am currently leading a project that adopts a completely new architecture to build systems that store data in very large quantities at throughputs and latencies that took a lot of very complex engineering to deliver on over the last 25 years. We are working on a system that uses NAND Flash as the core building block. NAND Flash based systems represent a sea change in data center infrastructure just because hard disks (HDD) – the only component in the data center infrastructure that uses mechanical parts – were the weakest link in the chain of server, network and storage devices that together make up the compute infrastructure stack. Whereas best of breed HDD based storage arrays offer performance in the range of a couple of 1-2 million IOPs and latencies in the range of 2-3 milliseconds, a single NAND flash based system has the ability to deliver a billion IOPs and 80 microsecond latencies. With the storage bottleneck gone, database and other information systems will see a tangible improvement in performance. Consumers are going to experience improvements in search applications, online transaction processing systems will become markedly faster, content delivery will become fast and reliable, the medical industry is likely going to store all patient information on electronic media, archival and data protection services are likely going to protect a larger percentage of data leading to lower levels of information loss.
h5. Do you have any note-worthy engineering experiences?
I’m proud to have led a team that demonstrated the first network based storage virtualization solution in the world while I was at a company called Nishan Systems between 2000 and 2002. Virtualization of servers, networking devices and storage devices offer ease of use, efficiency of use and more comprehensive services. By way of innovation from VmWare, server virtualization has now become endemic to the point that I am personally using a Virtual Machine that runs the Linux operating system to develop the product I am working on even as the native system is a Windows/Intel platform. Storage virtualization solutions are the next type of virtualization that has gained traction.
h5. What are you currently working on?
I’m currently at Skyera (www.skyera.com), a leader in the field of NAND Flash based storage that is developing a storage solution whose deployment will result in a sea change in data center architecture. The introduction of NAND Flash based storage systems will see an order of magnitude improvement in space requirements, the amount of power consumed and the amount of heat dissipated.
h5. What challenges do you foresee in our industry?
Rather than challenges, I see a lot of opportunity. I see the age of information technology continuing for another 20-50 years. As with any industry, we are likely to experience phases when available technology capacity outpaces demand, but such imbalances are temporary. Demand eventually will catch up with capacity and surpass it and then we have to start the next cycle of capacity innovation.
h5. What do you enjoy outside of electrical engineering?
While I do not have the talent, I would have liked to have become a rock-n-roller. I am at best a B-grade guitar player and so I play guitar for my own amusement. I listen to a lot of recorded and live music. I go to listen to local musicians play at pubs nearly every week. I also try to catch 4-6 big name concerts a year. My favorite all time rock and roll song is Stairway To Heaven. I find listening to music allows me to rest my brain and become more creative.