UTC Aerospace Systems’ Lead PCB Designer Presents at Designer Day
I sat down with Stephen V. Chavez, lead electrical designer for UTC Aerospace Systems, at IPC APEX EXPO Designer Day, to discuss his presentation at the event. Chavez, who provides leadership to a global team of PCB designers, spoke on the importance of workplace communication with international teams.
Kelly Dack: Stephen, let’s start by telling me a little about you and your company, and then about your part in Designer Day events.
Stephen Chavez: Thanks, Kelly. First, I am the lead PCB designer for UTC Aerospace Systems at our Electronics System Center [ESC] division in Phoenix, Arizona. We are an engineering center of excellence, and we service other service business units (SBUs) within the company, as well as our international teams. I lead teams in Phoenix, Arizona, and Bangalore, India.
I presented at Designer Day on the topic of successful leadership and communication of an international team and gave an overview of the day-to-day activities, how to be successful, what doesn't work, and what to be aware of.
Dack: About how many teams in India, and between the U.S. and India, are involved?
Chavez: At the division in India, which we call the Global Engineering Center India [GECI] there are about 800 employees. Of those employees, there is one large PCB team comprised of 18 PCB designers that I integrate with, as well as help lead, mentor and facilitate PCB design training. Any IPC knowledge that I gather and am able to share, I then pass on to all the team members, which may include not only PCB designers but electrical engineers and mechanical engineers as well.
Dack: Are these dedicated designers and are they UTC Aerospace Systems employees?
Chavez: Yes. All 18 PCB designers at that division are dedicated UTC Aerospace Systems designers and every one of them are all direct employees of UTC Aerospace Systems. When the opportunity arises and there is a surge or overload in required project support, we will bring in external company resources. When we do this, we use companies outside of UTC Aerospace Systems as contractors and on an as-needed basis.
Dack: Tell us how the teams work, and how the work is digested and acted upon. In other words, when the product requirements for a new board design come in, regardless of where the design originates, does it come to your location, and where are you based?
Chavez: Because not all SBUs within UTC Aerospace Systems have electrical design capability, or may not have enough engineering expertise/resources within their own SBUs to fulfill their external customer requirements/needs for a specific project, my division—ESC—is a division within our company that those SBUs can partner with to meet their customers’ expectations and requirements. A combined proposal is created between those SBUs and ESC and submitted to the external customer.
Once a proposal has been approved and that SBU has been awarded that specific contract, work begins. I (ESC) will take action per the required SOW which includes the project’s specific requirements, deliverables, and schedule. If the work is ITAR related, that work will remain in the states and be completed by ESC and/or a U.S. based division of UTC Aerospace Systems. If the work is not ITAR related, work will be allocated to the GECI as necessary, to meet the project’s needs.
Typically, I meet with the respective ECAD technical lead at GECI to initiate a project kick-off meeting. He and I discuss the project details, to include milestones and overall project schedule as it relates to ECAD. As a team, we then allocate the required resource(s) as necessary to complete the required tasks. The project goes through our typical design cycle, which includes many back and forth hand-offs, handshakes and phase gate checks per our internal processes.
Since ESC is located in Phoenix, it is more than 12 hours behind GECI’s time zone. This can prove to be a challenge at times, but actually we here at ESC see this as a huge advantage because this gives us literally the ability to truly work on a design around the clock, 24 hours a day. Combine this advantage with certain toolsets capabilities, and you’re talking seriously shortened turnaround or design cycle time.
Dack: You had mentioned challenges. With so many people and such distances and time differences, tell us about the challenges and how you overcome them.
Chavez: The initial challenge was the time difference between Arizona and Bangalore. How are we going to communicate? How is the data going to flow? These were serious questions that had to be addressed up front. In reality, the twelve-and-a-half hour time zone difference was a blessing in disguise. It quickly had a positive effect because it allows ESC and GECI to essentially work around the clock as a team on any given design and at any given time. The way we attack a project as a team works very effectively and is very simple. We accommodate our India team’s work schedule so that they're actually in the office when working on the project each day during their portion of the hand-off stages of the design process. When we hold meetings, WebExs or conference calls, or even video conferences, we do it during our evening time and from our homes here in Arizona, because the infrastructure in the U.S. can better handle it (phone, internet, etc.). This way, our team members in India are actually in the office where there's more dedicated, sustainable energy regarding the power blackouts that often occur there, which are a non-issue in the office. The phone infrastructure is better; conference rooms are readily available for teleconferencing or videoconferencing with the entire team.
Dack: Tell us about your team. You have a team organized onshore at your facility in Phoenix. You've already mentioned up to 800 resources at GECI, but tell us about the average engineer in Bangalore and the average designer. Give us a description. How does it work?
Chavez: At GECI, we have the full spectrum of engineering resources that includes a good mix of both males and females. We have designers, electrical engineers, mechanical engineers, software engineers, quality engineers, configuration management, etc. The way the team works is very simple. Individuals know that it starts with you. Have a positive attitude, have full team buy-in, and by all means, have communication, communication, communication.
Dack: Can you describe the resource? The basis of my question revolves around the stereotype of the engineer from India as highly educated; maybe it's very economical to hire very educated people to do the work. Tell us about that.
Stephen: All of our team members at the GECI are very educated, hardworking, talented, dedicated and dependable team players. The India culture is a peaceful, spiritual one. Most engineers are courteous, extremely friendly, generous and eager to succeed, not only as individuals but even more as a team. Education is extremely important and very competitive in India. All of our PCB designers there are either IPC CID or CID+ certified; UTC Aerospace Systems values the importance of the IPC industry standards and education. As for the economics of it all, in general, the cost of an India resource is about one-fourth in comparison to a U.S. resource. That is why many U.S. companies have set up business units in Bangalore. I’m told by many of my local GECI colleagues that Bangalore is also referred to as the new “Silicone City” or “IT City.”
Dack: You mentioned that as a team leader, you're willing to work late into the night or adjust your hours or your team's hours so that it gives the team in India more normal working hours. What are the typical working hours for a PC board designer in India?
Chavez: Typically, because of the very heavy traffic due to the city’s population density and growing city infrastructure, many companies will bus their employees from specific focal points throughout the city to help mitigate the traffic and employees’ daily commute. Since it’s extremely expensive to live in the city of Bangalore, even by U.S. standards, many people choose to live outside of the city, which causes lengthy daily commutes. In many cases, people will travel up to two hours each way to and from work. Usually, PCB designers at GECI will start around 7–7:30 a.m. and end their shift around 3:30 or 4:00 p.m., as dictated by the company bus schedule. In some instances, a designer may not follow the typical working schedule because he or she is willing to work whatever hours are required to get the task done. In those instances, an individual may drive into work or take a taxi or city bus.
Dack: Stephen, tell us about some of the cultural differences. I know there's the American designer and there's the Asian designer. Tell us how the Indian designer is different or the same.
Chavez: The difference, in my opinion, is that the Indian designer will always maintain his or her composure and be very professional and respectful at all times. Where they lack in experience, they more than make up for it in knowledge of the tools. In my experience, when I initially started working with them, they would follow instructions exactly as I laid them out and not deviate or question them, even if they didn’t fully understand them. If I would ask, “Do you understand?” I would always get a “yes” response, along with a head nod, even if they did not. It took a bit of time to get away from that mentality and to draw them out of their shell. Once we got past these cultural differences, we truly started creating magic. It is amazing what can be accomplished even though we are thousands of miles apart; we function as if we are one. I always say that it is an honor to work with such colleagues and that I can truly call them my friends.
Dack: How about some of the physical constraints in operating work in India? I think I heard you mention challenges like rolling blackouts, and cows that cause traffic jams. Tell us about some of these things.
Chavez: That was a surprise to me on my first visit to India. I usually travel to India once a year, sometimes twice. The traffic congestion is a shocker, but the biggest thing is the rolling power blackouts. I was there last October, and in one day I counted twelve. Two days later I counted twelve again. It's a challenge there, but the majority of companies mitigate that by having backup generators, so work loss is usually a non-issue. It helps that several of them have laptops so they have battery backups as well. Many families in Bangalore have battery backups or power generators in their homes so they have power continuously. So it’s not a big deal, but for someone coming from the U.S., it is surprising to witness. As for the cows causing traffic jams, in India cows are sacred so they roam freely about the city. That means they may end up walking in any street or open highway. Traffic is bad enough. Add in freely roaming cows to the mix and it’s definitely a sight to see.
Dack: I don't want to get into any political differences between the countries and I certainly don't want to get into any proprietary information with your company, but what can you tell us about benefits and pay?
Chavez: What I'll say is that for the majority, the pay is about one-fourth of what you would receive in the U.S.
Dack: But still, from a standard of living standpoint, it's equal?
Chavez: I would say that it is not equal compared to the standard of living in the U.S., but it is fair to their standards. Of course, anybody in the world wants to make more money and do better for their families—all of us do!
Dack: How competitive is the workplace? With the understanding that Bangalore could be a very competitive workplace as far as jobs go, are there many engineers and few jobs, or is it just the opposite?
Chavez: It's just the opposite. There are so many opportunities for engineers with the right talent and experience. As a matter of fact, there are many companies moving over there and taking advantage of the talent and the resources. I don't mean taking advantage in a bad way; I mean, the cost is cheaper and they can get more engineers for the money. Benefits are similar such as medical and dental coverage, just the way you would have in the U.S. Yes, the pay scale is different compared to the U.S., but for the most part there are many opportunities for engineers. Finding a good job in a good company in Bangalore is not as difficult to achieve as it is in the U.S.
Dack: Stephen, you've given us really good insight into the cultures, the workplace, and the workers at UTC Aerospace Systems in India. Thank you very much. Also I want to congratulate you on your new status as a Designer Council executive board member. What are some of your goals and aspirations on the board?
Chavez: Since I have been the vice president of our local IPC chapter in Phoenix for several years now, I feel very strongly about IPC and what it stands for. So it was an honor to be selected as a new executive board member. My long-term goal is to make a difference and to help take IPC into the future and grab the next generation of engineers and share the passion and bring it back to where IPC was when I first started in 2003. I heard the buzz of what it was just to attend a convention, much less any IPC training or certification courses. There was so much excitement just to be a part of IPC and to be involved at that time. I'm hoping that with a lot of effort, positive thinking, and a positive attitude, we can make a difference and bring that buzz back to IPC. That's my goal—to try to do whatever I can to help IPC Designers Council move into the future and be sustaining.
Dack: We certainly wish you the best. We wish you the best within your company, and within your teams, and in your endeavors with the Designer Council. Thank you very much.
Chavez: Thank you very much and thanks for allowing me to offer insight into my international team in India. It is a great thing to be a part of.