Make Some Noise

Make Some Noise

If you’re considering working with us, we’d like you to get to know some of our team members a little better! Below is our Q&A with Gareth Kenworthy, Product Development Engineer & Team Lead at Inertia.

Q: When did you know you wanted to be an engineer?

A: I’m honestly not entirely sure. I know in high school I became aware of engineering as a profession and I’ve always been pretty math/science-y. I can recall a conversation with friends near the end of high school where I was considering my options. I was thinking about going into business, engineering, or performing arts (I was a math AND theater nerd in high school!). I realized while I was waiting for my friends to stop laughing that the latter was not a good option, and perhaps I should stick to engineering.

Q: Describe a tough engineering challenge at Inertia that you
had to solve recently?

A: The challenges come in many shapes and sizes.  Some of the hardest problems are seemingly benign, like how to make a part cheaply moldable while ensuring good exterior surface quality or how to make a latching mechanism work reliably.  I love those ‘Rubik’s Cube’ challenges that take a deep understanding of the problem combined with some cleverness to solve.  Admittedly as I spend more of my time managing the people and process, I have less opportunity to solve those types of problems.  Lately I’ve been finding it most gratifying solving the system or product level challenges. It’s truly awesome when my team can build and execute on a plan or product strategy that addresses all the project’s needs, like an early delivery of a prototype, while concurrently building toward a production release. 

Q: And/or: What’s the toughest engineering challenge you’ve solved?

A: I don’t have a one particular engineering ‘solve’ that sticks out in my mind and I believe that’s partly because most engineering challenges get broken down into successively small chunks until the solutions are fairly obvious. To be honest, I don’t think I’m particularly inventive or creative, but I am good at finding ways to reason through problems by applying basic principles. The toughest challenges usually require getting something done in a short period of time and that’s where my team have had some big wins.  

Q: Name one innovation in the past 5 years that has captured your
imagination? Why?

A: I know it’s a bit cliché, but it blows my mind that SpaceX has successfully created a (viable?) private space enterprise.  They’re building some extremely large and complex systems, which have been too expensive or hard for private companies to tackle in the past.  And I’m a big fan of space travel in general! 

Q: What advice would you give to someone who is considering
a career in engineering?

A: Engineering is all about working through the details of a problem. A lot of those details require strong math and science skills, so be prepared, but I’ve found that it’s often the ‘soft’ skills that unlock a new dimension of problem solving. You’ll need to find a balance between being the introvert in the corner, hunched over the computer working through the numbers, with someone who can realize that the solution might not be in the math and go out and talk to people, investigate, discover, explore, to find new insights and solve bigger problems.  

Q: What are 3 pieces of advice you would give to an individual or team
working on an early stage prototype?

A: It depends on what you’re working on, but most often the question that needs to be answered is “Would someone want this?” It’s a loaded question, because it requires knowing more about the product’s form, function, cost, and performance than you can know up front. It’s often possible to build some tests that can test some of these aspects, without doing much work. For instance, a market research study might just use a sketch or render of a concept to test demand. Sometimes a cardboard box with a handle is enough to transform an idea into reality with a bit of imagination. It really depends on what the problem is. Other times the key aspect is feasibility (where most engineers start) but you need to be careful about how far you take it before you validate your overall product hypothesis…if you build it, they may not come. Finally, don’t confuse your novel technical solution with the product. It turns out that a cordless drill motor, a battery, and a couple of switches is enough to make a hoverboard work, which is A LOT simpler than the Segway (no offense Dean Kamen, still a huge fan).  

Q: In your opinion, what's the most challenging part of evolving a
prototype into a manufacturable product?

A: From my perspective at Inertia, it’s often managing client expectations. It can be very easy to slap some parts together to prove-out a concept, but it can take a lot of work to refine it into a finished product. It’s hard to escape the 80:20 rule (80% of the benefit for 20% of the work) – I’m always trying to take advantage of that effect at the prototype stage to go fast. Moving from prototype to production requires doing the last 20%, which is 80% of the work, and it can be a grind. The devil is in the details and it takes time to refine a concept into a good product.

Q: If you weren’t an engineer what would you be?

A: That’s hard to answer…if I was talented enough, I’d be a professional musician or rich enough, I’d own a Formula 1 team. More realistically, I might consider something in economics. I’m a big fan of the NPR podcast Planet Money and I like how they use economics to understand the way things work. You could probably argue that economics is a bit like applied math (engineers are sometimes called applied scientists) and at my core, I like using my technical skills to understand the world around me.

Q: What are the qualities that make a great engineer?

A: Attention to detail, the ability to communicate your ideas, and a little creativity!

Q: Would you rather fight one horse-sized duck, or
100 duck-sized horses? And Why?

A: Definitely the 100 duck-sized horses.  If I can beat one then I figure I have a chance at beating them all.  But you have to ask, why do I have to fight them?  If mini-horses are anywhere near as awesome mini-goats then I’d definitely consider keeping them all.

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