Just Ask Heidi Barnes: The Exclusive Compilation

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We asked for your questions for Keysight Technologies' Heidi Barnes, and you took us up on it! We know you all enjoyed reading these questions and answers, so we’ve compiled all of them into one article for easy reference. We hope you enjoy having another bite at the apple.

EMC Failures

Q: We waste a lot of time with EMC failures. It’s constant. What are your thoughts on EMC?

A: Maybe it is too simple, but if one does a great SI design, then all the energy goes from Tx to Rx and there is no radiation. It’s the same with PI: if one does a great PI design, then all the energy goes into delivering power to the load and not feeding EMC resonances. The biggest culprit is often the layout of the return path, which is trivialized in schematics with a simple ground symbol that magically connects all grounds together. As EMC/EMI expert Dr. Bruce Archambeault is often heard saying, “Ground is a place for potatoes and carrots.”

In electronics, we have return current paths. Obviously, it is never that simple in engineering and one always needs to make trade-offs. I find that even the simplest of EM simulations can start to provide significant insights into ways of reducing potential EMC problems from resonances and crosstalk.

'Hot' Engineering Disciplines of the Future

Q: In the future, what EE disciplines (SI, PI, EMC, etc.) are going to be the most in demand?

A: I am partial to power integrity (PI) because I am now 100% invested as the power integrity product owner for Keysight’s PathWave PI solutions. Signal integrity (SI) is challenging, but even SI needs PI to work. PI is the foundation, and to still find so many conflicting design rules and industry arguments on best practices makes it likely that we will see a growing demand for PI engineers to define best practices and better standardize the industry.

I also like to have an ideal approach to EMC that says if one does the SI correctly so that all Tx power goes to the Rx, and if one does PI correctly and the power delivery is matched to the load, then there should not be any energy going into EMI/EMC. This is rather simplistic, but it does highlight the benefit of good PI and SI designs to reduce the need for additional hardware to mitigate EMC problems.

Attracting New Designers and Engineers

Q: Many of my colleagues in PCB design and engineering are retiring soon. We have a few new, young EEs in our company, but not many. How can we attract more young people to this career that I love?

A: I have high hopes that the recent investment in STEM activities for high school and elementary level students will lead to a growing interest. Also, the success of the commercialization of the space industry is very inspiring for the next generation. In terms of filling immediate needs, I still remember my most favorite things when starting work with my first job at Hewlett-Packard. They were a fully supplied electronics stock room, state-of-the-art test equipment/computers, and an engineer’s machine shop. Simply put, it was having the engineering tools to be creative and think outside of the box. Just as important for attracting and retaining engineers are the people, with social activities and projects that make it easy to network across organizational boundaries. 

Biggest Challenge for Today’s Design Engineers

Q: What do you consider to be the biggest challenge for PCB design engineers today?

A: I would have to say impedance, and the fact that electrical signals with fast digital edges and low voltages are much more sensitive to this than ever before. Designers need to start thinking in terms of return paths and impedance to better understand how layout can have an adverse impact on PCB performance. The engineering trade-offs can be quite complex between performance, cost, and risk. Innovative solutions often benefit from the ability of EDA tools to do pre-layout “what-if” simulations using measurement-based models and manufacturing tolerances.

Most Rewarding Part of a Design Engineer Career

Q: What is the most rewarding part of your job, and your career overall?

A: Finding an elegant solution to an engineering problem and then sharing with colleagues through the publication of a technical paper. Engineering tools like PathWave ADS make it possible to look at an electronic engineering problem from the simplest rules of thumb to the complexity of full electromagnetic (EM) simulation. In the process of looking at a problem from more than one direction, it is possible to identify the critical parameters and develop a more elegant solution. Conferences like DesignCon make it possible to publish papers that not only document the engineering solution, but also provide the flexibility to go into the details of applying the solution to real-world applications.

China vs. U.S. EE Graduation Rates

Q: Do you think China is still graduating 5-10 times more “electrical engineers” than the United States? 

A: I don’t know the exact statistics, but I can say that in China, they are very proud to talk about their government leaders with technical engineering backgrounds. Engineering is considered a very well-respected career path in China. In the U.S., I think the push for STEM is having an impact at the elementary school level. I also like to think that the recent success of the commercialization of the space industry in the U.S. will inspire a surge of interest in engineering.

NASA’s Silver Snoopy Award

Q: I’ve never heard of the Silver Snoopy Award. How does someone win one of those?

A: The Silver Snoopy Award is a special award given by NASA astronauts to men and women contributing to spaceflight safety and mission success. While working for NASA at Stennis Space Center in Mississippi, I had the privilege of working on hydrogen fire and gas detection systems to improve the safety of operating liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen rocket engine technology. Growing up, I used to see one of the original Silver Snoopy Award pins on display at the ice rink in Santa Rosa, owned by Charles M. Schulz. Charles Schulz designed the Snoopy pin during the Apollo space program, and every pin flies in space before it is awarded to the Silver Snoopy recipients. It was a proud moment when I had the opportunity to let “Sparky” Schulz know that one of his local skaters had gone on to be an engineer for NASA and receive the Silver Snoopy Award. 









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