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Get a (garage) job | Cypress Semiconductor

Get a (garage) job

Back and fresh from our (US) nationally sanctioned overeating holiday, digging through reams (or the electronic equivalent) of missed correspondences, it might not be a good time to suggest taking on another "job". Especially one that is likely NOT employer-funded and might not ever pan out. But that is exactly what I am suggesting, no, imploring you to do. If you don't have one already (and some folks already have several) - get a "Garage Job".

What's a Garage Job?

For the answer check out this recent article with the subtitle: Engineer's stealth design leads to new business gambit. The formal title was less informative, other than pointing out the employer: Novel Sensor propels HP into sensor networks. An engineer at HP slipped one of his pet projects into a buddy's mask set containing "sanctioned" projects, and, over the course of 6 years, discovered a  new, better, lucrative accelerometer design, by essentially "running the design backwards".

HP is well known as a company that emerged from the garages of Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard, and that mindset continues to be encouraged. Other companies also encourage their employees to explore areas not currently covered by their current assignments, some even pay them for it. 3M Post-It notes came from one of these (it was the combination of a failing current project to find a waterproof adhesive and a scientist-engineer coloring outside the lines). 3M continues to officially express a policy of employees spending 20% of their time on outside projects. Google does too, but something tells me that spending 20% of your 200% work week isn't too big of a concession on the company's part. 

More important than how it is supported are the benefits of a Garage Job, both to employee and employer. Since your manager may also read this, let's cover the employer's gains first - 1) possibly a new entry into a multi-billion dollar market (an outside chance), 2) a happier, more satisfied employee (because they are doing something they control and interests them), 3) lessons-learned that can be applied to future projects, and, the most intangible benefit, 4) a smarter, more self-motivated, independent thinker (also potentially more dangerous and less manageable, depending on management style imposed). All-in-all, a great deal for (almost) every manager and employer.

So what is in it for the employee? 

A Garage Job is a chance to color outside the lines, follow a path you might have discovered during a sanctioned project and not had time to explore. This can lead you to: 1) a great new product (although these tend to be evasive when chased, as stated in the Tao of Steve), 2) a better implementation or algorithm than typically employed (since there is time to explore many forks in the road when a deadline isn't looming), 3) a better understanding of why the current methods are reliable (again, it's the forks), and/or 4) general increase in knowledge. In short, this is classic engineering-problem-solving-muscle training - finding new problems to solve or new ways to solve the same old problems. 

Now that you know why to get a Garage Job, what about ideas on how to get started or what to do?

The key is to start with what you like (or love). In the case of using PSoC© as a part of your Garage Job, much of the "how" is easy and inexpensive - you have an enormous mixed-signal toolbox to work with. To get ideas for "what" look around you. Is there a product you own/use with an accessible design that you can replace part of with a PSoC-enhanced implementation? Maybe replacing a bunch of 20th century pushbuttons with 21st century CapSense buttons and/or proximity sensors. Can you augment something you find or use with a wireless interface? This might mean sensing an analog or digital signal, converting it to packets of data for CyFi™ and back to analog on the receiving end (as they say, all that's inside PSoC, even the user module to connect the CyFi radios). The result might end up in your garage or your kitchen, depending on how nice it looks when finished.

There are some days, like when you are slogging through the clean-up of a project, that a different, more creative outlet can put new life in those hours. Looking forward to your Garage Job definitely helps. Sharing the results (both positive and negative) is good for you and others, including your employer. And if you publish your results (choose the most lucrative outlet you can) everyone benefits including your professional standing.

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