Electrical engineer says his work goes beyond the cubicle

January 23, 2011 — by Michael Lee

When electrical engineer David Garcia invited me to shadow him, I had no idea what to expect. At around 3 p.m. on Jan. 7, I showed up at Data Domain and waited for a bit in the lobby.

After getting his Bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from Berkeley and his MBA from Stanford, Garcia went to work at HP for 26 years, then took a three-and-a-half years off. He has been an employee of Data Domain—specifically the “consulting hardware engineer of the backup recovery systems division”—since last April.

Data Domain, Garcia later explained to me, specializes in commercial data storage. With its trademark “deduplication” technology, Data Domain can back up new data while skipping over the parts that have already been copied.

A few minutes after my arrival, Garcia walked into the waiting area. On the way upstairs to his conference room, he told me about a bug Data Domain was fixing. There, he introduced me to two other employees, and the three of them began a conference call with representatives from Intel and a manufacturing firm in Hong Kong. For an hour, I observed as they systematically imagined possible causes and solutions.

“It’s a global development effort. [There are] a lot of different time zones, and as a result I often end up with meetings very early in the morning or very late at night,” Garcia said. “People think of engineering as a solo pursuit. The reality is communication is essential—for communicating your ideas, figuring out problems and getting things done.”

While working hard, he told me, “In some ways you caught me at a bad time, and in some ways you caught me at a good time.” I tried to speed up the interview so we would have time to tour the facility. At Garcia’s cubicle, I noticed some computers, numerous flash drives and a sea of paperwork—the supposed standard of all office workers.

After that quick stop, we descended to the first floor. He showed me into a computer lab, except these computers were a much more powerful than the school library’s Dells. Garcia showcased some of the machines the engineers were testing, emphasizing how expensive they were—probably as a warning. After my tour through the sea of wires and equipment, Garcia sent me off at around 5 p.m.

After those two hours, I can say I learned three things. First, there really is more to engineering than making the new iProduct or laptop look good. Next, computers have more uses than writing a report or checking Facebook, such as storing information. And finally, I realized engineering might not be as boring as I thought.

“[Engineering is] great fun,” according to Garcia. “It’s problem solving. It’s working with other people. It’s doing new and interesting things that nobody has ever done before. Engineering can be somewhat all-consuming, as it’s very hard and there’s always something to worry about. But there’s never a dull moment.”

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