How To Become A Full-Stack Hardware Engineer

Guests Eli Hughes | Uploaded : 12/12/2023

The EEcosystem Podcast

How To Become A Full-Stack Hardware Engineer

Eli Hughes is Principal Engineer, Consultant, and content creator for NXP and other technology companies. Hughes has decades of experience in acoustics, hardware design, embedded, PCB design, and much more. In this conversation, we talk about how he developed both the philosophy and skill that have driven his successful and diverse engineering career.

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								 [00:00:00] Eli Hughes: Hi

[00:00:06] Judy Warner: everyone, it's Judy Warner. Welcome back to this Week's Ecosystem podcast. We've all heard of full stack software engineers, but today I have a friend who coined a term. Full stack hardware engineering. He's gonna talk about his decades of experience doing hardware, software startup teaching at university.

He has a wealth of information and a wealth of wisdom that'll teach you to think differently and really, Engineer with purpose. I think you're really gonna enjoy this conversation with Eli Hughes. Make sure you go subscribe and opt into our newsletter and our online community@theecosystem.com. Now let's jump into our conversation with Eli Hughes.

Hi Eli. So good to see you. Thanks so much for joining today on the podcast.

[00:00:55] Eli Hughes: Hey, Judy, thanks for being, thanks for inviting me.

[00:00:59] Judy Warner: It's [00:01:00] always you and I always have so much fun talking. We definitely go down a few rabbit holes. For our listeners, why don't you take a moment and talk about your background educationally, engineering wise, and just give us a brief overview of the kind of work you do today.

[00:01:17] Eli Hughes: Sure. I'm Eli Hughes. I. Currently live in central Pennsylvania state College, Pennsylvania, or Penn State Ney Lions. I'm actually a Pennsylvania homegrown from Northwest pa up in the Allegheny National Forest what they call the PA Wilds. I went to Penn College to learn electronics boy doesn't I say, it doesn't sound like that long ago, but now I say it.

I started in 96, graduated in 2001, was on a five year plan just cuz I was pretty much working full-time as well towards the end. Started my career doing. R and d in power electronics and digital signal processing for a company that did a lot of navy research. And it kinda led me to State College cuz there was an acoustics program.

You could get a master's [00:02:00] degree in the science of sound, which is a lot more than audio. It's the study of basically everything that wiggles, vibrates, compresses, expands in the universe. It. Led me into working at Penn State, a r l, on a lot of different things from undersea vehicles, sonar robotics even some space projects.

Led me through a startup doing some beer fermentation monitoring, using acoustics software electronics. And now I'm just full-time doing technical contracting and content creation as well as some work for NXP semiconductors.

[00:02:36] Judy Warner: So we had some fun together and when I was at all t m you keynoted for us, we did some podcasts together.

And I thought for our audience here on the ecosystem, there was one that was particularly popular that I want to bring back, to unpack here together. And that is this. This term that I think you coined [00:03:00] and as far as I can tell on Google and you on being is the idea of a full stack hardware engineer.

Now we're used to hearing about full stack software engineers, so let's unpack that. Like I think people need know that they need to pay attention to more than one part of their engineering. So why don't you impact that for us? Tell us what you mean by full stack hardware engineering and then we'll jump into the rest.

[00:03:27] Eli Hughes: So I'll start this by giving you one of the best responses I ever heard from a question. I play a lot of music, piano, guitar into a lot of classic guitar rock and one of my favorite vans, EZ Top. There's an interviewer in Guitar Player Magazine. The guitar is from EZ Top and they ask, so tell me.

We just have to know. Is EZ Top a rock band or a blues band? And he's yes. I just loved it. It's I just wanna [00:04:00] lead into yeah, what is a full stack hardware engineer? You hear the term a lot and it's actually when it's used in the soft, dark context, it's actually still pretty narrow, like it's used mostly in the world of like web development in, the internet where it describes someone who you, it's an engineer that can handle the front end, meaning all the things on a webpage, the fancy graphics, the layout, all of that logic. And then someone who can also do all the stuff, all the plumbing, you don't see the databases, all the things that connect that actually make it work.

The plumbing in your house and someone can do both of those. It's called full stack which though is interesting cuz for me, software, while I, Coming up before the internet existed and living through it. In the early days of the web, I'm like, there's a lot of software that doesn't touch any of that.

It's like you're leaving all of that out. There's all the embedded software, the software in your car and your microwave, every embedded system in, in rockets like yeah. In, [00:05:00] and it got me thinking too, even in the hardware engineering space, that it always bugged me that people say I'm an antenna person.

Why do analog? And I'm like why are you bounding your, why would you even say that? Like, why would you say no, I'm here to solve problems. And so when I think about full stack hardware engineer, it's about this idea of service. And I've been really thinking about what it means of when you're asked to help to build something.

Whether it's sweeping the floors, designing the circuit, writing the code, interacting with the vendors, being there on the weekend to help out helping other people. Wh when I think of people like to the left and the right of you up and down, you're in this pipeline. And if you can extend yourself a few steps back and forward to make their lives easier.

That's the essence in the hardware space of there's kind of people before you in the chain, but there's people upstream [00:06:00] after you. If everyone can be thinking about those kind of two directions, that's what that means. So that could be everything from, your analog design, your antenna, but.

It gets to microcontrollers and circuit boards and then the software. So much of a even elec electrical engineer today is software, both on the PC and writing things like in a microcontroller. So it's really putting like a circle around that from the technical side. But then there's another component that's even left out of the full stack side on the software is that you're gonna be limited.

Effectively, one person can do so much, you're only as good as the team around you, right? You've gotta connect with them. You've gotta hook up. That's a social problem that those aren't problems that are solved through pure mathematics or you're trying to like connect with other people in the organization.

There's [00:07:00] a whole. Set of engineering around that of how do you work with other people? And when you put those together, to me that's like the full stack.

[00:07:10] Judy Warner: I love that. And I remember when the first time we talked about that, you talked about, I think of it as situational awareness, but we've talked about a term that I remember from a hundred years ago, which was in contextual engineering, right?

Or in situ. Engineering. So to me it's situational awareness. You had used a term that said to have awareness of your downstream and your upstream stakeholders, right? This idea of getting out of the silos and throwing things over the wall and saying, tag it and not knowing whether you've been helpful or hurtful.

And and as we all know, it can get really messy really fast. In your mind I think of you as a full stack hardware engineer because of all the pieces you [00:08:00] touched. I'm sorry, what were you gonna

[00:08:00] Eli Hughes: say, Eli? No, I, so I was just thinking out loud and it, the reason I used like forward and backward in the pipeline, but.

I also think about I'll say up and down because I think there's a component and another thing that always bugged me, and I was conditioned to this and I'm now fully aware of like how wrong I was for a while. And part of it was just how it's taught not only universities and culturally is that if you're in engineering you're thought of we're in engineering and those people in like sales and marketing.

There are these evil liars that are like out to get you and like we're doing the real work and they're doing something else. And something about that bothered me like that it can't be true, that we're always on team good and they're always on team bad that doesn't exist in the units.

Yeah. Like that, that in any, and then I thought, what if you had people in marketing interacting with people in sales, in engineering, In a healthy way that you're [00:09:00] helping each other, what could you achieve? Like it, it's like you have to think about that of what you know, and then stop thinking about these Yeah.

These siloed roles that maybe one day you are part of the marketing team, cuz you're helping teach and explain. And sometimes marketing is helping teaching you of saying, Hey, here's what our customers are telling us. You need to be listening and you're not listening because you're in your silo and there's so much about.

Like listening to other people and approaching it from this point of view of service of you. You're there to help in the serve others in this space. And by doing that you're gonna get a lot out of it, both direct and indirect and so that's why thinking about who's behind you and who's ahead of you.

Cuz sometimes you're doing something, it might be you're doing something that you have to pick up in a few weeks and you're just leaving your breadcrumbs to help you. But. I've just found that buys so much goodwill that people want to keep working with you. Because it's easy. Like you, you're [00:10:00] on the same team and it just makes things a lot easier.

[00:10:03] Judy Warner: And I think we get in those hierarchal traps too. And we believe this stuff we tell ourselves about, all of that. And I, I love what you're saying because, and I'm. I like the idea of an ecosystem. Every part of that ecosystem has value. I think about that video that was out where in Yellowstone, they've killed off all the wolves, right?

And then 10 years later, they reintroduce 'em and they completely transformed the park and. Leveled everything out. And I think it's the same in hardware, and electronics design and development, right? We all have a place and to value our place and another's place and that we're all doing this together instead of fighting over the gold star or whatever it is we're up to.

Yeah, go ahead. [00:11:00]

[00:11:00] Eli Hughes: Yeah, I. And it's hard, it's sometimes hard to put the finger on, but it's always be willing to listen and learn and I don't know, it's that box of I'm a this person or I am that. It's maybe I'm just here to help and maybe that looks different. And I certainly have biases of the things I like and the things I'm passionate about and, we all do of like certain lanes or certain, types of engineering cuz it's personally interesting.

But even within those spaces, there's so many different ways you can plug in and be helpful and that. I don't know. There's just so many positive benefits to it that it's made my life

[00:11:36] Judy Warner: a lot better. Yeah. And me as well, in a different context. So you had told me a story once I, I don't remember Eli, I'm sorry, where you were working, but you had got stuck and your upper downstream stakeholder was like over in another building, and so you took a walk.

Can you retell that story

[00:11:56] Eli Hughes: for our listeners? I [00:12:00] have a couple of them. Yeah, so

It's tough because sometimes when you're, you need to draw upon other people. There are times when you think you have everything figured out, right? And it's X, y, or z. And you think I can do and you see this so much in engineering, whether it comes through like the not invented HEAR syndrome or I've gotta do everything myself.

I can't give up this piece cuz if I give up this piece, it's my piece and there's only so many pieces and sometimes the best thing you can do is put down what you're doing and help someone else because that gets paid back in dividends. And the problem is we think in terms of reciprocity, that what you get back is instant.

What you get back may pay a dividend years down the road. And you have to live with being unsure if you're gonna get paid back. And that's where like the trust and the faith part comes back. But there's been several scenarios [00:13:00] like that, that the best thing I could do was if I'm stuck or having a problem, is help someone else with their problem.

And through that, directly or indirectly, I'm gonna get my solution to what I'm doing. And it made us come out of like from outer space of what it is of the idea that, that kind of helps me break through. But yeah, every time I'm in a funk, yeah.

Putting what I'm doing down and just figuring out how can I help someone else right now? What is it? It could be sweeping the floor, maybe that's all it is, the kind of network effect that it has is incredible. And it's something that people in sales know about.

They've tapped into it because they know about it. Engineers in and I, and it's probably more than just engineers there, there's a lot of people of that ilk ha don't really understand that network effect because they're thinking about causality. If I do X, if I do X I get Y. Then I get, I see, and it leads to this, problem solved q you know, papers done where, a lot of these other soft skills [00:14:00] come from, I'm doing this thing to plant and grow and it's gonna grow in a diff, it's not gonna grow the way I think it is.

But if I do this system over and over, the yield I get down the road is incredible. And I'm okay with if the yield isn't what I expect because it may pay a dividend I could never have planned. So

[00:14:19] Judy Warner: give us an example of how that played out. In your life at some point. I know you've taught at Penn, you Yeah.

Have been on large engineering team. You've been on tiny startup teams. Give us like one of your fave didn't see that coming moments. So our audience can put, have a concrete example of what you're discussing.

[00:14:42] Eli Hughes: Yeah. And I, what I'm trying to do now is not think of the example, but think about.

How I ended up, like the timeframe over which we're talking about, I, I gotta put some bookends on it. Is that is, I'll get a, maybe I'm working on a [00:15:00] job, like right now I am working on a project. It's, a little bit, not secret, it's not advertised. Doing a new guitar design that's gonna tie in some artificial intelligence, some digital signal processing.

And I met someone in Jakarta, Indonesia's, not engineer, and they're like, how in the world did you make this connection? Who can connect you to some guitar factories and this other thing that you can put this all together who are now getting connect to these other people? I'm like that came from, I was doing this other thing and then I did this other thing, and you and you lead it all the way back.

Oh yeah. One time I had this idea and I just told someone about and they said, Hey, do you just wanna show me and. It just led, it was like, it's this whole thing of like yak shaving so that, we use this concept of end up shaving a yak if you just don't put things down and you end up doing, but that also goes the other way, that sometimes how did you end up with this relationship, say with N X P doing these cool chips?

I'm like[00:16:00] it ended up because. 15 years ago, someone asked me, Hey, I don't know how to do this. Will you help me? And I said, I'll just help for free cuz I want to do it. That led to them telling their friend, Hey, this person helped me. He knows what he's doing. They'll ask and I'll say, yeah, I think I know I can help you too.

X goes to Z and you're not putting maybe a dollar figuring on it. You're not saying what's in it for me right now. But it generates this chain that it generates some connections that little thing ended up with me being involved with this big semiconductor corporation doing these cool projects and then meeting someone halfway across the world like in.

It's like the yak shaving thing. You, if you saw this story, it's unbelievable. And if I have to repeat it, I almost can't because I, I can't. I literally can't, cuz I can't remember every shaving. Let me

[00:16:49] Judy Warner: save you from that. Let me save you from that because I actually wrote a blog about yak shaving, which came from Seth Golden.

And I will link below the [00:17:00] blog I wrote, and it's on LinkedIn. So it's about somebody went to get their sweater from their neighbor and whatever, and they ended up shaving a yack. Like it's going down it's not following the track the right way. And you end up, things end up being much harder than they should be.

So anyways, I'll save you from that Seth Godin and I'll link it below.

[00:17:24] Eli Hughes: Yeah, and a lot of time it's. Putting yourself out there. And even my relationship with N X P, it started with their university programs of, Hey, you wanna help us teach students at Penn State? I said, yes. We put curriculum. This led to that.

I started doing blogs and content. It led me being introduced to other members in the team. It circled back to other people in marketing saying, Hey, do you wanna write more blogs and content we saw? And it's this long cycle, and it's related to a different concept that. Actually once I saw it just the other day on social media of there's a [00:18:00] classic kind of meme or theme for like science fiction of if you could go back in time and change these little things, like we could undo the Holocaust and think about what the future could be if we could only go back in time.

The thing that's missing from Pete, I don't think anyone ever connects is we're thinking about here and going back in time. That works the other direction. Things you can do right now can affect the chain of events right in the future. That there's this effect. You can't predict that. You don't actually have to think about going back in time.

You can start actually right now and go to the future. You just might not know what it is. You just have to, you have to take off the analytical hat a little bit and think about a network effect that can happen that. Can be very positive.

[00:18:50] Judy Warner: When you think about electronics device, what would it be?

Without any interconnects. It'd be a dead chip or something. It doesn't work. Yeah. [00:19:00] Or it be, and it's likeor laying on the floor. It, unless all those interconnects, it kind

[00:19:04] Eli Hughes: of doesn't. And that's the, and you see this in across all domains. It's musically, you could be the best guitarist or pianist in the world, but if you don't have an audience to play to, or other people to help record you, or if you don't have the network around you, it becomes somewhat pointless.

Like y So the connectivity is and we see this, whether it be, the internet and ai, the connectivity pieces are as important as everything else, everything from cells in your body and your brain to humans working together. The connectivity piece is really important cuz it's a lesson I learned several times that putting a bunch of smart people just in a room with some money doesn't get, actually, get you anything.

The relationships between them and how they communicate, you can take not the smartest people in the room with great connectivity and make something awesome and it only gets better when you when you have really good people. [00:20:00] Doing really right. Interesting things with good connectivity between

[00:20:03] Judy Warner: them.

And people being givers, like you said, instead of, having poor motives or whatever. Same

[00:20:10] Eli Hughes: thing with rock and roll bands. Some work, some don't. And some of the ones that work the best aren't the best musicians on their own, but when you put them together, yeah. It's something else. Yeah,

[00:20:22] Judy Warner: for sure.

So when you think of. Full stack for civilians like me. What are those pieces you think about circuit design or say packaging, circuit design components, board layout. Like what? What does that full stack, how would you define that? What are the pieces of that full

[00:20:44] Eli Hughes: stack? I'll start with the piece that once I got it.

Was a linking piece. Okay. That linked, it's by itself, not the only thing, but I'll call it like one of the linking pieces. So I started out really young getting Ocean's [00:21:00] software because the Apple two E, in the Nintendo entertainment system programming, I think I was like in seventh grade. And he was in that Altium keynote, like the whole story.

And I thought I was just gonna be software cuz at the time my, my father was into electronics and what I knew of electronics, he fixed old, boring church organs, which was old analog. I was like, I don't wanna do that. That's hardware that's boring. Until I saw that there were people like at Penn College saying, Hey, we're gonna take this board.

We have a robot, we have all these wires hooked up to it, and we have softer controlling the whole thing. And then I'm like, oh, wait a minute. Like actually the full stack. Is all of those pieces. But the linking piece to me was when we actually, and actually learned on Protel before it was Altium.

It was Protel. We had a course in circuit board design, which linked, we worked with devices on breadboards and we learned the theory. We wrote some software, but. The instructor who had us [00:22:00] route learn how to use the circuit board software. We etched boards ourselves so we could put more advanced components in a package to do more advanced things.

But he also took us to three different contract manufacturers to see the upstream and the downstream. Everything from shipping, receiving, bringing it in, parts, getting on boards. 50, women and like when they manually place things to, cuz women are actually just better at it. They are like to the people testing it, to the people programming it.

That circuit board was a piece I saw was a linking piece that I got addicted of. That was the piece that got me from, okay, if I wanna write code, but I have these other chips over here that aren't in the form I want. And I can't air wire it. I need this piece to connect those worlds. And even today when I generate content, I'm making custom circuit boards.

They're like ephemeral. They're just something I use as a canvas [00:23:00] that yes like the skulls back there with the eyeballs, all these other pieces are held together with these circuit boards linking them together that are just for me. That's the piece that tied together everything from raw components to microcontrollers, to antennas packaging.

Then once it's on the board, then we can start thinking about software and everything upstream. And that for me was the, that key piece in the middle.

[00:23:28] Judy Warner: What was so funny to. To jump off that, so I started a million years ago in the board industry and boards, PCBs were thought of Ugh, the components were the sexy part or the.

Programming F PGAs or whatever, and I'm like, I'm just a little circuit board. And it was a mostly manufacturing and assembly, right? But working with engineers to help them make better designs or penalize 'em differently so they would [00:24:00] be cheaper, faster, all those things. And I was thinking, oh me, I'm just a lowly pc.

B turns out. It is the linking piece and it led to me doing what I do now, is to talk to people like you and it's who knew? And the board effects right now, especially with high speed or all that, it's, oh yeah, it's the problem child. So I told my friends who are, Gifted, they work for wolf speed and they designed chips and all this stuff, and I'm like, Hey, guess what?

I'm relevant again. I felt, once everything got outsourced to China, I'm like, oh, I'm, a commodity. Nobody cares. And it's turns out all the crazy stuff's happened at the board level now, so

[00:24:43] Eli Hughes: who knew? Yeah. It's very, it's germane because, Now, all that stuff you learned about like in electricity, magnetism, that you could disregard because of the advances in packaging, chip geometries, everything that, that [00:25:00] board is almost when I think about, I love architecture, I love old buildings, I love looking at old buildings and just how magical they are.

At the same time, a circuit Warby look about the sum of human like endeavors and. Everything we know about materials and everything in chip design and board design, it's like its own little system there. And yeah, that's, for me was really cool. That's interesting. The other thing I relate when I worked at the applied research lab at Penn State, I taught part-time and I did a senior project design with micro controllers.

And one thing I made every group do, whether their plan had it or not, it was a requirement that your project. Not that you went out and bought dev boards and put 'em together, you had to design a circuit board of some complexity, whether you knew how to or not. I said, we're gonna, we're gonna do some teaching here, but your job is to make this circuit board.

And I had some very specific requirements and some of the students would push back, say we weren't ever taught this. I'm like, so what? Like I was never [00:26:00] taught a lot of things, but I'm telling you. But I said, there's a very important reason why most of you, you may never actually do one again.

But some of you might be going to management or sales, but going through the process of raw parts, through prototyping to building, to soldering, to programming, you're gonna you're gonna see that process. To some degree and it's important to have that context. Exactly. You know how you do monitor, it's not just, air wiring on your old breadboards, like doing it once, even if you never do it again, gives you an.

Gives you a certain amount of context. So if you're managing someone who's doing it, you know the importance of it.

[00:26:37] Judy Warner: And that's a good point, is that you can have contempt for things you don't understand. So if you take the time to understand 'em, you'll appreciate it and Oh, yeah.

[00:26:48] Eli Hughes: And so whether it's other humans, other cultures, other technologies most of the time I have a buddy who's. He's really on the softer side and softer. People are really hard on each other when they look at [00:27:00] their work, they tear it apart and they say, why'd you do it like this? I would've done it like this. But he says The reality over doing it for 20 or 30 years, anytime you, when you have that kind of contempt, when you really look at what was driving, why the software it is.

Most people, you would've probably ended up with that same piece of software, give or take. 15%. Because if you don't have the context of here are all the things that are going on, here are our constraints. Here who we have to work with it actually it makes sense. Yeah you're not gonna tear it apart because like you, you'll understand the context a little bit better.

[00:27:37] Judy Warner: Okay. So let's unpack that a little bit. So in your mind, again, because you've been doing this for a long time in a lot of different settings, academically, startup. Laboratories, all these different, and now with doing content for N X P or other companies, you've had this breadth of experience. So in your mind, [00:28:00] I know you're pretty passionate about this subject, so what would you say the benefits are to adopting this mindset and this practice?

And then let's talk about the obstacles also.

[00:28:14] Eli Hughes: Yeah, the benefits, and that's a very good question because it's becoming very relatable right now. There are, I think half of the industry is really scared and half are really excited. Is that, and it ties back to this context, and the reason it's important to understand context upstream and downstream and linking things is that tools and technology are always gonna change.

And they're gonna change in ways you don't expect. So you think about, let's say five or 10 years ago when Tesla was start, Elon was talking about self-driving cars, and then the writing was on the wall. Guess what? Truckers won't have a job, or these certain workers won't have a job, are gonna automate it away.

Guess what actually [00:29:00] happened? Chat G P T three and now four got released. Which can now write some pretty remarkable pieces of software and do creative works that the people who thought their jobs were safe in one turn of events in the context of a year, went from not maybe people, the blue collar workers leaving their job.

Guess what? Trucks are still driving to deliver everywhere. I can now use these new AI tools that one engineer can maybe do the job of three or four, or maybe I don't need, the same amount of people to write these pieces of code because we have tools. So be very careful about whose job you think you're automating away.

Because one change the people that thought were untouchable, we can demand these salaries. Guess what? It changed overnight and the reason this context matters is even in content, someone says why are you doing this? AI's gonna just write these articles. I'm like, yes, AI is gonna help me write these [00:30:00] articles.

But the thing. The thing, if you have context, you know what's garbage and what's not, right? When you have the context of how these things are gonna be used, what the end goals are, sure there's gonna be a lot of noise. How easy then is it to separate yourself from the noise when everything's the same?

It's actually pretty easy. So yeah, having context. Context outside of maybe one piece of engineering that you can link things, you're in a better position to help someone else somewhere else. And it may be using these tools in a different way. And it's this mindset of if I have this thing, my job goes away.

It's yes, having the car meant we have less buggies, but there's more jobs than there ever were because of changes. And Right. Being willing to adapt with it. And also be willing to accept just because you think your job's safe now because Yeah, the self-driving is coming. That turned out not to be.

As it turns out, the creative jobs, [00:31:00] what you have to be creative. ATS now different and

[00:31:02] Judy Warner: yeah. That what fills this help? And I think you're right. And that wisdom comes with age, hopefully. And the things that you think may be safe may put you in danger. And so what I hear you saying is be a hardware engineering Swiss Army nash.

Because with breadth of knowledge and experience, there's more opportunities to both serve and to be useful, right? And it's like everywhere you go, bring value. And do you think 100%. And so what do you think Covid i's done? All this isolation? In one way, here we are, we're podcasting on, a podcast app that's in the cloud.

Yay. We don't have to do it in a physical space. So in one way it's enabling another way. It's isolating. What ways do you see. Benefits and then we're gonna go into the obstacles of benefits of covid, say, and then, maybe [00:32:00] obstacles or ways that we've reinforced working in a silo.

Cuz we are in silos now. Yeah.

[00:32:07] Eli Hughes: I sit on b I have two different probably thoughts that are complete. They're the same but different. They're opposite, but they're not. On the positives. All right, here's what we found out. Companies can be very profitable, even more profitable with a distributed model for certain types of jobs where you don't need a thousand people seeing an hour in traffic to go sit in a fricking cubicle, right?

Those things don't need to exist. We figured that out. That being said it's really opened up to do remote hardware engineering. I was on a project. Six weeks ago with a team in Italy. I'm working with a team in California. I'm working someone in Jakarta. It's beautiful. At the same time, my friend in Jakarta, he's gonna end up in Chicago.

I'm purposely saying we're gonna meet. We have to, because there are times you have to be physically together cuz some of the best engineers. [00:33:00] Once we got aligned and we're in the same space, we could solve problems so quickly. Because we're there, we're just dealing with it. There is a physicality that is very important, but then there's times I just need to be left.

The frick alone, I just want to go in my ba. I just wanna sit here in my lab. I just gotta crank it out. But there's days I have to leave. I have to be interacting with people. Yes. And there's value in there. Yeah. There's a ton of value. And I think the thing that Covid was showing, yeah, there's some things we're doing that are pretty dumb.

We don't need to do this. But then there's also some very important things, humans, whether we like it or, and I was on, I used to be, I don't need other humans. But the reality is we do I. We don't like. It's that no, no man is an island.

[00:33:41] Judy Warner: Yeah. And if we didn't learn that from Covid or from what's happened to our kids or anything else, we didn't learn that from Covid. I don't know what we

[00:33:48] Eli Hughes: learned. Oh gosh. Here's the other thing and this is where I'll be antagonistic, is that part of this full stack engineering is like, how do you get there? Yeah. And you don't [00:34:00] start off doing it.

You start. Like peeling back layers of the onion or like eating the elephant one bite at a time. You're just gonna have to start on one end and crunch through it and it's little bits over time and your time horizon has to expand that it's not just you go to college and learn. It's a continuous process.

That never stops. But here is the challenge of and I'll tie this to what I considered to be, I'll say the full stack mechanical engineer and I wanna talk about, Wade here and God, he was this, he had one sentence that just really changed me, but, okay.

[00:34:35] Judy Warner: Hold on. I'm gonna, I'm gonna time you out right now because I'm really excited to hear this piece, but I don't want us to rush by.

The negative, the obstacles. And I'll let you run it however you want, Eli, but I'm gonna make sure we talk about this whole imposter syndrome thing and sort of the obstacles to be coming that full stack. Sprinkle that into to your thoughts. I'll rewind

[00:34:59] Eli Hughes: a [00:35:00] little bit. Okay. I do have, I was getting to the negative.

Okay. And this was the antagonistic part. All right. But but we'll rewind, so I'll give it like a couple seconds here. Okay, so it, in some of it, it's both one of the negative things of Covid, which was also at the same time, a positive was that we all had a lot of time, we were, in different forms locked down. We lived in isolation. We weren't communicating What even before then probably wasn't enough, but it got worse. So you don't know what other people are thinking. You're now thinking, am I good enough? Engineers have this problem? Am I good enough?

Am I doing the right thing? There's this, do I measure up? Am I as good as Eric Bogatin? Guess what? You don't have to be like, am I as good as Rick Hartley? No, I'm not, but I'm gonna learn from him. I love that he's so wicked smart, because it means I have, I can grow and that imposter syndrome, [00:36:00] like I think it gets worse because if you're not interacting you, you lose that.

Okay. These other humans have faults too. They're not perfect. And they got there through little steps, just o just applying a system over and over again. And it was a, it's a negative part that makes it worse. And engineers, I think because you're already living under this meme or this assumption that you're anti-social which isn't always true, but it is not true amplified, you really are alone.

But there are some things that like. You're even more siloed because you're on the other end of the computer and you're just not talking to people. And it does hurt in those kind. And I see it the imposter thing is really limiting that you are good enough, like even whatever state you are, you just have to do it with a set, you have to, it is hard getting that confidence because you're always gonna run in the people that will bring you down.

But I do think they're in the minority like[00:37:00] yeah. Now that being said here's how I can antagonize and maybe get people thinking of, I've heard engineers and non-engineers alike of if only I had the time to learn about this new thing that would get me, whether it be a piece of software or doing the project.

Yeah. Guess what? You had a year and a half. You were locked up. You weren't allowed to go to the freaking grocery store, and what did you do? Did you do it? Yeah. It didn't sound like it. Why didn't you do it? Why didn't you take 10 minutes a day? What was keeping you? We literally had, we ran the experiment.

Everyone had the time. Like Bec because you were forced to. Yeah. And did you take it and then, yeah. You know that it leads me to what? Oh gosh. And this was so impactful and it was such a small statement. It was, but it's so big. So early in my career, my first job doing some of this research for the Navy, we built this box, I'll just say it, is this big giant box that cost a lot of money, had all this [00:38:00] electronics, these, this dsp, and we drove it to Lawrence, Kansas to another small company who was doing something for the Navy to put it all together.

And there was a guy working there. Who was introduced as like the machinist, but he wasn't a machinist. He had a degree in art as a four year degree and a master's in mechanical engineering. He did things on that Bridgeport Mill and put this mechanical stuff together and bridged the theoretical to the real world.

And on the side, he built battle bots. He was an artist. He built this bird that was completely made of stainless steel with articulating wings and just Wow. I was like blown away. And we were there for a week and I remember we were just, hitting it hard. He was over at the mill doing something.

I said, you know what? I've always wanted to learn how to do this. He's no, you didn't. I'm like and I was taken aback and he is And I'm like, what do you mean? He's you don't wanna do this. He's and I'm like why? He's Eli, get [00:39:00] your head outta your butt. If you wanted this, you would've been doing it already.

Don't say that you have an interest. Just, pick up the drill, pick up the thing, start doing. His point was like, there is a disconnect. Be between saying, I've always wanted to do this, in doing it, and most of the people doing it, it's not because they're geniuses. It's because I'm gonna start, it's gonna start badly, but I'm just gonna do it.

I'm just gonna start out like and that stuck with me when he said no. And he said it in a tone. He is no, you don't wanna do this. And he was a little, an antagonizing. And it was in a good way because it, no, I thought,

[00:39:35] Judy Warner: I know like cold water on your face, it woke you up to go Oh yeah.

[00:39:40] Eli Hughes: Yeah. And I'm like, who the frick am I to have this thing to, to tell this really talented person to say I always wanted to do? Cuz I then I thought I almost belittled him. Yeah. I want to do that someday. And he's you know what, I did it like I took the time. You can too. Don't say you want to do it, just you can start doing it.

And that's why with the time what we've, [00:40:00] we were in a situation where you have time and resources and you, and even if they seem small they're not you can take advantage of it.

[00:40:07] Judy Warner: So I heard to that point, I heard you talking about taking small steps and I think that particularly electronics, because the speed of technology and now I feel like we all work harder and longer than we did before.

Covid. We don't what is this saying? We don't live to work. It's, we don't work at home. We live at work. And so yeah the lives bet the line between our personal and work lives have gotten really muddy. And then in some ways I feel like we're under more pressure.

And so we keep saying, I don't have the time. I don't have the time. And I think the challenges to realize, that old saying that the journey. Of a thousand miles begins with one step, and for me during Covid, to your point, is. I've been sitting in a [00:41:00] cushy office in Loy, California with a gourmet kitchen on every floor, and you would just go grab a bite to this and grab a bite to that.

Once Covid came, I'm like I could walk now. I could exercise. So I did, and it was like short walks when I first started. Now I can walk miles, but I'm like, wow. That really taught me that it was more about consistent effort over time. And those efforts can be small. And I heard someone on a podcast say, if you got 1% better every day over a lifetime, it's probably like your mechanical engineer friend.

You make steps over time. And that's what I hear you saying. It's not, we and engineers can look at I wanna learn that thing, but it seems so big and overwhelming. It's not like eating the elephant, but. I think that's the right mindset is to carve out that margin that's called self-educating or whatever [00:42:00] you want to do, and actually giving yourself that time because 10 years from now you're gonna still be in the same place, or you could take that 1% a day and where could you be in 10 years?

[00:42:13] Eli Hughes: Yeah. For me I've always battled with like weight and diet, and last year I made a change, a few changes and found out, yeah, that it's if you just make very small things, but just even if it's five or 10 minutes, it's b, and I do it now I don't wanna do my fricking dishes. What can I get done in five minutes?

I'll limit it right there. Actually, you know what? More than you think and five gets to 10, and whether it's that, it's like I have this microcontroller on my desk that runs at a fricking gigahertz with all this complex routing. It's like, how do you get there? It's I started with the simplest possible thing and just over time I.

Little bits of just dissecting and doing, a little bit more analysis and just staying after it year after year and not expecting like an [00:43:00] instant result, but just, Little bits at a time. I think it applies to everything. Everything

[00:43:04] Judy Warner: that I can think of. And I really like that point, Eli.

And I think part of what drives that imposter syndrome I can everyone, I think it's a human condition, not just for engineers. But I think it's an interesting thing because I think engineers are perceived as that doesn't apply to them. They're so logical. An imposter syndrome seems like maybe in an emotional response, but I think.

It's because we know where we started and we see these gurus and we measure between, it's our, yeah. Our

[00:43:41] Eli Hughes: references your first of all, your references are skewed. Yeah. Like the ruler you're using to measure isn't right to begin with. Exactly. It, that's the problem is not only do the thing you're looking at, have to be right.

The ruler you're using should be calibrated and correct. That's why. [00:44:00] Yes. You gotta be comparing to where you were yesterday. Not for this other person Exactly, but get them to learn from. But something like a little thing I wh when I pitch like content projects and when I make this statement, it's gonna sound a little antagonistic, but keep in mind I apply this to myself and I think it applies to everyone.

E o cuz we're a human. Is that. And I'm gonna use the word engineer, but applies to scientists, mathematicians, anyone, is that, and I'm gonna read this. Engineers are highly emotional creatures with a very thin, rational facade. Now there's a connecting sentence and they don't know it, but everyone else does.

So all the people that are Engineers think that no one else sees that this is the way it is. They think, oh, they're seeing me, this rational thing. No, it now you're, you see right through it. It's just people know how to interact with you and once you understand that we're these emotional beings and we have these, we're a system.

And you've gotta understand how your own brain works because [00:45:00] that's how you get better at the rationalities. Understanding how you tick internally, and that's really important. And that's not something you necessarily learn in a book, in that there's an easy algorithm you apply to get there.

[00:45:12] Judy Warner: And I think if you look at the horizon at almost like an Elon Musk, go, we're gonna go to Marsh that is so far out there, but the measurement should be where did we start?

And your measurement is where you are today, is to have a reference point in the rear view and say, this is the amount of gain I've made. There's a book I think it's called The Gap or the Gain. Anyways, I'll find it. I'll put it below, but that's what it says. We're always measuring ourself against an unattainable horizon rather than where we were yesterday and how far, how much closer we've gotten.

Because the horizon always looks, it's always in the distance and it's supposed to be, that's how we grow. And so it's like you said, [00:46:00] calibrating that, that ruler,

[00:46:03] Eli Hughes: yeah, me. Make sure you're using the right measurement device. And I do think the unattainable thing. I am one that believes I don't ever want, we always think about humans and intelligence growing, like with this infinite curve, and we actually think about AI will do this.

And I actually, I think there's some, there's probably some, mathematically limiting statement that can probably be made that like it's bounded to the point where you can get close, but you're always far enough away to make that next step is like twice as hard that. I almost don't wanna know the answers to everything, because that's part of the excitement, right?

Is that you? It is.

[00:46:41] Judy Warner: Do you wanna stop learning? Do you wanna ever I don't, yeah, and I don't think anyone in this industry doesn't. I think what drives many of us in the technology industry is the continual pursuit and change. We like that. We like that it moves. [00:47:00]

[00:47:00] Eli Hughes: Yeah. And there's something, and it's, and it can be hard.

The challenge the other side is, it can be with, that's where the mentorship piece comes into me of when it seems overwhelming. This is where young and old can learn from each other. Young people have a different world they grew up in, so they bring to the table something that, like people who are older lived in a different world.

So each has a different context. But there's the mentorship aspect of sometimes when things seem so overwhelming, would you've traversed from A to B, even though it's different. It's that having things in context of someone to say, look, I get that you're working really hard right now. You're gonna get there.

It's just slowing. It's slowing you down a little bit to say it does seem overwhelming, but. Overwhelming doesn't mean impossible uhhuh it means you're gonna keep taking steps. And that's where I think having, the tip is if you can find a mentor like someone or something that can be that.

That [00:48:00] person for you is a big deal, like a really big freaking deal because that's what can help get you through those times that when you're unsure and uncertain of where you stand, having someone else. Talk to you and lead you through. Both experiences are different life experiences, but the fact someone's traversed something over some amount of time is the important part.

[00:48:22] Judy Warner: Again, wisdom and Eli. I know we're out of time, but I think you are that mentor to so many and through your content, through doing things like you do today. I find you, I've learned tons from you, and we've had really interesting conversations because it is a human condition. And it just applies to engineering.

And it's how to get those roadblocks so people can become better engineers or better at whatever it is that piece of that puzzle. We can be better and grow and bring our best and not hold ourselves back mentally. And [00:49:00] emotionally. And I really think you're one of those people that have unpacked that.

And I

[00:49:03] Eli Hughes: really appreciate oh. Trust and I fight a battle ev every day. It seems of it's tough because every day, even someone, even a person who looks put together is not right. Every day. Even the people that look like, they make it easy, it's not easy. That's the secret.

It's not easy, even for the expert. Like they're, when I bring up people like Eric Bogatin or Rick Harley, they still face challenges. It's the it's all in the approach. But, I guess to leave to the kind of three things, Boy, and there's so much to even unpack that.

I think what helped drive you to this like full stack approach, and they're very soft skill kind of things, but they're three things I think humans need in any domain is you need like this one anchor of like curiosity of why things are the way they are. I think a lot of engineers start from there.

It's purely curiosity. There's like another piece of adversity. Things are hard. Okay. Thousands of years ago when we're, when we have [00:50:00] spears and we're just trying to like hunt for food, like our adversity was, do we eat today? But today we have different types of adversity. But it's, I think it's a necessary component for growth. And then those kind of things at the top, like connect to purpose, like purposeful engineering that, and I see this a lot, especially in the social media of engineers building things without a purpose, which is, I do it it's fun, but like then you end up with a lot of things with no purpose and you wonder, what did I do any of this for?

It's that when you tie this to some purposeful thing, and I found the purpose of serving other people to help them through something, I grow. You serve this, it drives you when you face the adversity that you don't think you can get through the purpose pulls you through it. The curiosity of how's this thing, I'm curious, I wanna make this work.

When you have that, this kind of three things, any one of one could be more active at a time, but if you remove one, like it doesn't work [00:51:00] if it's always adversity all the time it's tough, right? But when it's connected with purpose, I'm doing this. Because if I'm work, for example, this, if I'm working for this medical company that's gonna help someone walk again, right?

The purpose isn't your circuit board. You are literally gonna help that child who cannot walk to walk. That person who cannot hear, to hear again the person who like when you can tie to a pur and the purpose doesn't even have to be that big, but the fact that you enabled something else and you're serving someone else or something else.

It's what drives it to be better. And I dunno, for me, I try to keep that as that vision. I don't always what it is, but in days when I'm in doubt I try to keep on that of what is the purpose here? And who am I, how am I helping and serving? I love it. And here's the thing is if you don't know what to do, It and it doesn't have tob engineering help someone else.

Like it's such a default. If you're [00:52:00] just in doubt, it could be sweeping the fricking floor taken out the garbage. Like it could be, cooking or bringing And if in doubt, don't sit and do nothing. Yeah. It

[00:52:10] Judy Warner: just helps someone. And that's a good point, is resist

[00:52:13] Eli Hughes: that. And it could be in software, it could be an open source project, it could be someone else struggling.

It could be and it could be engineering or non-engineering. And through that you're probably gonna learn something and it's probably gonna connect you to another purpose. That's like the, the, the self-fulfilling this motor that you can keep spinning and keep.

Kind of self-propelling like a

[00:52:34] Judy Warner: flywheel.

[00:52:37] Eli Hughes: Yeah, exactly.

[00:52:38] Judy Warner: Eli, thanks again and thanks for coming on today to be our engineering Yoda and teach us from really decades of. Of experience and wisdom you've gained. And I really appreciate you being purpose centric and people centric. And it really shows up in everything you do, all the content you make, all the engineers your help.

So [00:53:00] thanks so much for coming on today. I know you're a busy guy.

[00:53:04] Eli Hughes: I really appreciate the opportunity. It's just a good time to talk and No I'll always talk for free. How about that? There you go. I love doing it.

[00:53:11] Judy Warner: For our listeners and our viewers, I'm gonna put some links, be behind or below for you.

And one of the things I'll do is I'll get, I'll put in Eli's LinkedIn profile so you can at least connect with him virtually. And he's a great person, a great connector, and we'll also put some resources for you there. I hope you've enjoyed this conversation and help you think a little bit more high level about your engineering career, and we thank you for all the work you're doing.

Thank you for being part of our ecosystem. We'll see you next time, but until then, remember to always stay connec