Profiles in Test: Steve Sandler

-August 09, 2013

I met Steve Sandler in person at last year’s “Best in Test” Awards at DesignCon where he was a Test Engineer of the Year finalist, but I already felt like I knew him before that thanks to email. Steve has a great sense of humor, an interesting technical background, and he is one of the most curious and enthusiastic people I’ve met. So, I recently asked him to be a part of my Profiles in Test series for EDN.

By way of background, Steve spent the late 1970s and early 1980s working on various projects for the US Space Shuttle program. During this time, he received a US patent for a magnetically modulated feed-forward power supply used on the F-16 airplane. In the 1990s he became product manager of Signal Technology Space Power, where, among other things, he was responsible for the analysis and testing of satellite electronics.

In 1993, he put on his entrepreneurial hat and founded Analytical Engineering Inc., a company specializing in the analysis of satellite systems. In 2000, he sold the company but continues as the acting CTO at the company, which is now known as AEi Systems LLC. AEi is known for troubleshooting/analyzing high-profile projects, such as the accelerator at CERN as well as nuclear power plants and GPS atomic clocks. In 2010, he founded S.M. Sandler Holdings (DBA Picotest), a company that specializes in high fidelity measurements of high-speed analog, power, and instrumentation equipment.

In 2012, Steve was accepted into the PhD program at the University of Reading in the UK and he is studying under Dr. Ali Shirsavar. He plans to graduate in 2016. This year, he was contracted to write his fifth book for McGraw-Hill on high-performance analog measurement (it is due out in 2014). He adds, “Most engineers know me for my authentic Italian pizza oven, and most companies prefer to meet with me at home (as that usually involves pizza).”

Janine Love (Janine): Where do you like to work?
My wife refers to my home lab as my man cave.  She knows how important that room is to me, and is tremendously supportive of my efforts (and sometimes warns me I took on too much – do I listen?  Nahhh, I just cry to her afterwards). I have been honing my skills for more than 35 years and continue to learn new things all the time.  I love learning and teaching.  I am fortunate to have a supportive wife that travels with me (on all the good trips).

Janine: Tell me a cool troubleshooting story…?
My dad is a retired engineer in FL.  AEi got a call about a nuclear power plant shutdown in FL, and I was asked to troubleshoot it and get the reactor started.  I asked “why me?” and they said because I am an expert in both nuclear and power and they had plenty of both. It was Father’s Day.  I had my dad go to the power plant and I spent 24 hrs on the phone with him troubleshooting the power plant.  When we got it started, he asked me how I know I could fix it, especially long distance.  I confessed that I didn’t know but I couldn’t let THEM know that!

Janine: Your early career was heavily influenced by “space,” how do your experiences then shape the engineering decisions you make now?
The space background taught me early about the tradeoffs of risk and reward.  Every decision I make in engineering, and in my personal life as well, considers the risk, the likely outcome and the worst perceived outcome.  This process allows you to take risks, but only if you perceive a sufficient reward and can tolerate the worst perceived outcome.

Janine: Can you give me an example?
: Sure: Do I interview with Janine Love? Rewards – Great PR, support for a publication I like and read. Risks – I get so many emails and calls as a result that I have to add staff.  (Oh, wait, that could be a reward) Worst Case Downside – Can’t think of one. Outcome – Here we are…Another example: new cell phone; should I choose a Blackberry Q10 or Samsung S4? Rewards- Blackberry, I have used for years, mine is low on memory and very slow.  New phone will be faster with more memory. Risks – I choose the wrong phone, it doesn’t work for me and I have to go back to my Bold 9700 or buy yet another phone. Worst Case downside?  I lost $600 on a phone. Outcome – Have a shiny Q10 and I LOVE it!

Janine: How did you get started in test?
: In the late 1970s I was going to school for my engineering degree and also working. There was an opening for someone in the development lab to do the testing for the space shuttle projects.  I took the job and learned a lot “on the job.” Later on in the late 1980s, I became heavily involved in SPICE modeling.  When I couldn’t make models agree with the data, I started acquiring my own data.  I learned that a great deal of published data is incorrect, so I always perform measurements myself and often give lectures on proper measurement techniques.  I’m currently writing a book for McGraw-Hill on the subject, due out in 2014.

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