This interview appeared in SPARK in the Orange County Register. Sunday, April , 2014
Commentary's Spark of Innovation feature spotlights local engineers and scientists to encourage Orange County
students to see career possibilities for themselves in science, technology, engineering, and math.
What kinds of projects does Omnica typically work on?
Earl – The real beauty of working in the creative end of the product design and development business is that there is no typical. We literally don’t know what’s going to come in the door next. I like to describe our business as “Santa’s workshop”.
In our thirty years, we have designed products ranging from parts the size of a grain of rice to large integrated systems (and everything in between). Because of our medical product background and body of work, 80% of our business is medical. Our customers range from venture-funded startups to Fortune 500 device firms.
You mentioned thirty years: Do you think companies like yours can compete in the world market and survive?
Earl – I firmly believe that the U.S. in particular still holds a prominent place with the world’s imaginative minds and innovators. We have lost ground in other areas like manufacturing, but we still hold the edge in creativity. It’s part of our culture.
I’m always surprised to observe that most people don’t stop to think that everything they handle, buy or use was designed by someone. The products that are well designed are usually the most successful.
How do you help companies develop new products?
Earl – Every client has different needs, so I again can’t be too specific. What we are is a fully equipped and accessible engineering team that our clients can call their own. We work with the client’s team to define their product, work out the marketing needs and functional details, build the working prototypes and create the documentation for production.
What about your company is most important to you personally?
Earl – Our people are our best asset. By hiring and keeping talented mechanical, electronics, software engineers, Industrial Designers and scientists, we tend to feel that no challenge is too difficult. That engenders job satisfaction: the average tenure at Omnica is over fifteen years.
What is the very best part of your job – when do you feel the most satisfaction?
Earl – Holding the first working prototype or part off the production line is magical. It’s a little like witnessing a birth and everyone is excited. "Art to part"’ is the essence of creativity.
Why did you choose this career and what makes you particularly well suited to this work?
Earl – I’ve always had creative energy; taking things apart, building things from found materials and loose parts and drawing and sketching. When I discovered Industrial Design as a course option in college, I immediately changed majors. It was a monumental coincidence and life changer that the university I was attending offered Industrial Design.
Where did you go to college?
Earl – The University of Kansas.
During high school and college, which courses helped best prepare you for your current position?
Earl – Looking back, high school physics, sciences, drafting and art comprise recognizable parts of my foundation. In college, besides my major’s course work, I think English composition, speech and a healthy dose of liberal arts gave me credibility when I needed to communicate ideas with others. Being somewhat of a generalist (well rounded) is useful when you’re being considered as a potential product development professional
What is the best advice you received that has helped your career?
Earl – Build your portfolio. Keeping records and examples of your body of work, no matter how indirectly related they may be to a position, can persuade someone that you can do the job. Examples and real stories are much more convincing than GPA’s, titles or even advanced degrees. And keep in touch with those references. This is advice for starting out and it’s still true for our company today.
What qualities do you look for in a prospective employee?
Earl – I first look at experience, then education and course work. Then I look at personality. We tend to hire people with character, aptitude and a love for the work. That translates well to our clients and establishes trust. Confidence without ego, the ability to work well with others and an unending willingness to learn are all strong traits employers seek.
What advice would you give to the student who may think math, science or engineering are “too hard”?
Earl – These types of courses are all about satisfying curiosity and solving problems. To today’s computer game generation, I’d point out that most games involve solving puzzles, riddles or tactical situations. It’s fun. Solving math, science and engineering problems should be even more rewarding. If it’s fun, it’s not even work. And don’t lose the wonder when looking at things that involve science. Science is amazing.