Flex Talk: Old-fashioned Networking


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I attended IPC APEX EXPO this year determined to find an answer to a question that I had been asked and couldn’t answer, even after some fairly extensive internet searching. So where did I go for answers when the internet wasn’t helpful? With thousands of people in attendance, I couldn’t imagine a better place to search for PCB information. Knowing that I had three days to find the information I was looking for, I started with the shotgun approach. I walked up and down the aisles, kept an eye out for related items, and asked questions when something caught my eye.

After realizing this probably wasn’t the most efficient way to look for the information, I turned to the IPC APEX EXPO 2019 app on my smartphone and the hard copy of the showguide. This helped narrow my search, and I went off to investigate. While I did learn a few new things in this investigation, I didn’t find the answer to my initial question while walking the expo aisles. Thankfully, as I stopped to talk to a long-time industry friend and mentioned this search, he referred me to someone who had the answer I needed.

We live in a connected world. Our smartphones connect to our cars, music speakers, household lighting, and appliances, and there is a full issue of this magazine dedicated to connected factories. Information is collected at an astonishing rate, and people are working diligently to put this information to good use. It is new, fun, and exciting. So many industries are exploding with applications, such as home appliances, medical applications, agriculture, energy management, retail, and the list goes on.

I sometimes wonder what is going to happen to the good, “old-fashioned” networking. You know, not networked devices, but the act of going out and meeting people in our industry, learning about their story and expertise, and sharing yours—mutually beneficial sharing of information and resources. Seeing a long-time industry friend at IPC APEX EXPO 2019 certainly helped me answer the question I was looking for.

For many people, when they hear the word networking, it causes a little panic and brings to mind images of walking into a room of strangers, trying to find someone to talk to, and feeling awkward and out of place. Truthfully, even I find it a little intimidating, and I host networking events! I also find that once I get to an event, it is almost always interesting and enjoyable.

In this column, I want to challenge you to attend some of the industry events that are available and be intentional about meeting at least one new person. And I want to challenge the industry associations to find creative ways to make the act of attending these events less intimidating. Where do you start? Here are a few places to review when looking for events nearby.

Design Tool User Groups

Altium, Cadence, Mentor, and others regularly host user groups. These events provide a great opportunity to learn more about how to better utilize your design tool of choice and meet other users at the same time. Not only are the tool experts available to answer questions, but attendees can meet with experts and other users to make connections that may help answer a question the next time they are struggling to solve a challenge.

Geek-a-Palooza

Geek-a-Palooza was founded specifically to bring all aspects of the local electronics community together for an evening of food, fun, and face-to-face interaction. The annual event has been held in Minneapolis, Boston, and Orange County with plans to continue expanding to other locations. Geek-a-Palooza is unique in the fact that the event serves all aspects of the electronics community: raw materials, designers, fabricators, EMS, component manufacturers, component distributors, manufacturers reps, and industry associations. This is an excellent opportunity to meet new people and expand your resources and network. To learn more, visit geek-a-palooza.com.

IEEE

Another organization supporting the advancement of technology is the IEEE. An excerpt from their website explains, “IEEE local geographic organizational units (sections, chapters, affinity groups, and student branches) provide unique opportunities for members to attend technical presentations, create strong peer-to-peer connections, and participate in leadership opportunities that can make a positive distinction in IEEE members’ jobs and careers.” To learn more, visit ieee.org.

IPC

IPC serves designers, board manufacturers, assembly companies, suppliers, and OEMs. An excerpt from their brochure states “By being the hub of knowledge in the electronics industry, IPC provides standards, training and certification, market research, education, and public policy advocacy to help member-companies achieve their goals. We are here to help our members create better-quality products, enhance the skills and knowledge of their employees, reduce costs and waste, comply with regulations, and be ready to capitalize on what is next.” IPC hosts many conferences and events worldwide, such as IPC APEX EXPO, and provides excellent opportunities to meet new people with similar interests. To learn more, visit ipc.org.

IPC Designers Council

These local chapters provide excellent opportunities for networking and technical training. According to their website, an active IPC Designers Council chapter consists of a minimum of 12 designers and meets at least four times per year. Structure of the meetings will vary, but most chapters focus on technical education and networking activities. Also, most chapters host roundtable discussions, facility tours, and presentations on hot topics in the PCB design world, including DFM, EMI, RFI, high-speed design, ultra-fine pitch design, etc. Some chapters have formed designer certification study groups to help prepare their members for the PCB designer certification exam. To find information on local chapters, click here.

SMTA

SMTA is a global organization working at the local level. An excerpt from their website states, “For electronics engineering and manufacturing professionals seeking to improve processes through best practices and real-world solutions, SMTA offers exclusive access to local and global communities of experts as well as accumulated research and training materials from thousands of companies dedicated to advancing the electronics industry.” SMTA hosts several large expos and events and is also very active with smaller, local programs. Local chapters host smaller expos with technical information and opportunities to interact with the supply base. Throughout the year, local chapters host chapter meetings geared to toward technical training and facility tours. These are excellent opportunities to meet new people with similar interests. To learn more, visit smta.org.

Summary

Overall, while the world of connected devices is fun, new, exciting, and without a doubt is going to change the way we do business, I hope this column serves as a reminder that building personal connections with each other is something that will never be obsolete or outdated. I regularly reach out to people I know when I need help answering a question, usually after I have tried an internet search first; in turn, I am regularly asked for advice. Knowing people with expertise in other areas has been invaluable. I issued a challenge above for those of us in the electronics industry to get out to events that facilitate meeting new people and a challenge for industry associations to make that even easier for us to do. Do you accept the challenge? If so, I would love to hear your comments and experiences.

Tara Dunn is the president of Omni PCB, a manufacturer’s rep firm specializing in the printed circuit board industry.

This article was originally published in the March 2019 issue of PCB007 Magazine.

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