The Digital Layout: Education Unlocks the Golden Door to Freedom

“Education is the key to unlock the golden door to freedom.” —George Washington Carver

This month, I speak with the PCEA Educational Committee regarding the team’s take on the PCEA’s role in education. What do they have in store? Next, PCEA Chairman Steph Chavez weighs in on the strength of the Education Committee and why it is crucial to the PCEA’s mission. Finally, along with our normally provided list of professional development opportunities and events, I give you a preview of what is in store for next month’s column.
PCEA Updates

The PCEA Educational Committee discusses the importance of well-rounded technical curricula, as well as how they started in the industry. They cover available PCEA educational resources, including technical books, papers, and lunch and learn webinars, as well as chapter presentations and field trips. Upcoming presentation topics include materials, high speed, advanced placement and routing, power distribution, and flexible circuits. You will also learn more about the PCEA’s mentor pairing program.

Kelly Dack: Today, I am speaking with Rick Hartley, Mike Creeden, Tara Dunn, Gary Ferrari, and Susy Webb. Thank you for coming together as members of the PCEA Educational Committee. One of the main goals of the PCEA, along with collaborating and inspiring the electronics community, is to find ways to engage our membership in the realm of education and seek out ways to fulfill their needs. How is that going?

Rick Hartley: Over the past few months, as we were generating content for our website, we brainstormed ideas about what to offer our audience and how best to reach them. What you are going to hear from us is about efforts to share knowledge with our industry peers.

Susy Webb: Our website is chock-full of technical information. We provide informational links to guide industry professionals through links to technical papers. The topics range from general electronics theory to high-speed SI, EMI, power, flex design, HDI, and DFM. It is a very comprehensive list.

Mike Creeden: Not only do we provide a full page of content links under our technical info section, but we also have another full page of book references in our books section. We list works from authors including Bruce Archambeault, Eric Bogatin, Clyde Coombs, Clive Maxfield, Christopher Robinson, Lee Ritchey, Howard Johnson, and many more.

Dack: Let’s talk more about what value-added content the PCEA Educational Committee is bringing to the electronics PCB engineering community. Do you have any plans for programs offering financial assistance or scholarships for young engineers?

Creeden: We have a spot explaining our mentor pairing program on our website. Our website is becoming quite automated, and we now have a way of taking feedback request data entered on the site and matching it with other solution data on the site. 

Readers can find that on the education page of our website under the topic “mentor pairing.” It is a very simple process to sign up for this service. We have a section to fill out if you would like to be a mentor or be mentored. Then, we have a place to fill in your areas of expertise and the software you use or are proficient in. This keeps users of the same category of software tools in the same family. We make the introduction to facilitate the mentoring relationship but then allow the mentor and mentee to take it from there. We feel this is a very good solution to fulfill the collaborative commission we speak about. 

Dack: Gary, you’ve served quite a lot in the PCB fabrication industry. How did you get your start? Were you mentored?

Gary Ferrari: I did not have any mentors on the electronics side. On the mechanical side, I was mentored in doing castings and other machine gears and metals technology through meeting contacts and by job shopping in the early years. Even as I moved around the country, I always had friends. Wherever you work, you should make connections and find somebody to share knowledge with. It’s about planting seeds for lasting relationships.

Dack: You learned on the job from your co-workers and peers, which transformed into a network of friends and colleagues that you could tap into for advice wherever you found yourself. 

Susy, you teach so many PCB design classes. Where did you fill your head full of knowledge early on?

Webb: Back then, PCB layout was an art. Now, it is definitely an electrical engineering trade, which is dramatically different. I gained a lot of knowledge by attending the many electronics trade shows and conferences that began to spring up, especially in the ‘90s. I learned so much from the speakers at these shows that I felt a compelling need to share the knowledge I’d gained with others, so I started teaching my own subjects at these conferences.

Dack: Tara, I know from first-hand experience that you are well-versed in teaching and mentoring folks in the electronics industries about flex circuit manufacturing and flex design and DFM. Did you start with a mentor?

Dunn: I got my start in the electronics industry just out of college, working for a small flexible circuit manufacturer. Working with a small company provided the opportunity to wear many hats and learn the PCB fabrication process and industry quickly. I was fortunate to work with several mentors helping me understand both flex technology and the PCB industry in general. Because of the foundation that effort provided me, I feel strongly about mentoring and helping others new to the industry, or new to flexible circuits.

Hartley: In addition to what we mentioned earlier, there will be a great emphasis on local presentations to our local chapters whose members have incredible backgrounds and much to share.

Dack: Susy, you emphasize the importance of going to these shows to connect and learn. Do you feel a need to facilitate education by getting your students out of the classroom and into a PCB fab shop or EMA site for a more tactile learning experience?

Webb: Getting our membership out to see the equipment that makes design so important is not to be underestimated. This practice has been implemented in many of our local chapters over the years. We have discussed ways of doing this in a virtual fashion recently with COVID-19. But there is nothing like showing up at a PCB shop with boots on the ground. It makes it easy to ask spontaneous questions and get feedback. Without feedback, it’s hard to become a good designer. 

Creeden: Rather than tell stories of mentoring, which people don’t fully get, I explain it like serving as an apprentice under the guidance of a tradesman. We all grew up in the companies that hired us, and they modeled the designer hierarchy similarly by calling us first junior designers. As we gained knowledge, we became designers and then senior designers. The electronics industry has bypassed that system of gradual learning. Without understanding the complexities of the trade, management now just hires a new engineer and says, “Here is a 32-layer board design that will require HDI. Get ‘er done.” 

Our industry has lost the apprenticeship. New EEs today may have taken a couple of day-courses in PCB layout or can find a 40-hour class offered by an organization, but there is nothing that will systematically build our profession like the unions of the trades. 

Dack: In a sense, all company structures can facilitate an apprentice program in some way if they have the experience existing already within their staff. But if their staff is not experienced, they may suffer from intellectual inbreeding. Is this where the PCEA comes in? Does meeting within a local chapter fill this gap of outside knowledge by bringing it into the chapter via presentations?

Hartley: Not only that, but it couples with the mentoring that we discussed earlier. Combatting intellectual inbreeding requires getting out of the office and being subject to new ideas and methodologies. Our presentations and mentoring are not only about learning a software tool; it can also be about a method or a process. A junior designer could mentor with any of us in the PCEA; besides some colorful language, who knows what they could learn! (laughs) 

Webb: It is important to continue this type of education throughout your career because if you have only designed one board—and you think that if it was somehow built successfully, you are a board designer who can design anything—you might be surprised. The importance of continued learning is critical because the next board design could have an entirely different scheme of technology, which could cause you to fail miserably.

Ferrari: I’ve mentored several people over the years about how to grow their long-term career paths. I’ve guided them to look out for the future and where they want to go. Mentoring is all around, and we want to be a part of it because we feel we have the right experience in the PCEA to help. Our local chapters are dialed in to help, too. There is a lot of opportunity in our local chapters to ask questions and get help through presentations and peer review.

Dack: It has been really good to hear about your progress and plans for the upcoming months. Thank you deeply for your service to the industry.

Message From the Chairman by Stephen Chavez , MIT, CID+
Another month has gone by, and I am still amazed at how the PCEA continues to expand globally, as each day, week, and month comes and goes. There is so much positive activity taking place regarding the PCEA, as our membership continues to grow along with our sponsorships. As I take a moment to collect my thoughts on all the activities taking place, I can’t keep myself from feeling a sense of euphoria that is still in the air from our grand opening in early July. 
When I think about the powerhouse of industry professionals on the PCEA Education Committee, the first word that pops into my head is, “Wow!” The PCEA Education Committee consists of five main individuals whose combined industry experience is easily over 200 years. The PCEA is blessed to have the following individuals that make up the

Education Committee: 


  • Susy Webb, senior PCB designer, Design Science PCB 
  • Rick Hartley, principal engineer, RHartley Enterprises 
  • Tara Dunn, president and founder, Omni PCB
  • Gary Ferrari, executive consultant, Ferrari Technical Services Inc.
  • Mike Creeden, technical director of design education, Insulectro (vice-chairman of the PCEA)

At the core of the PCEA, our mission is to collaborate, inspire, and educate. These five people have been doing that on a daily basis for a very long time. They are more than industry professionals; they are also very close and dear friends of mine whom I have had the pleasure to come to know for over 15 years now. 
At many industry conferences and workshops around the world, Mike, Tara, Gary, Rick, and Susy bring it. They pack the house every time they step up to the microphone, walk on stage, or set up to lecture as a featured speaker on many industry webinars. These five professionals are true industry icons. When I think about how blessed the PCEA is to have these five amazing professionals on our Education Committee, I strongly feel that we could not be in better hands moving forward. 

Again, the most important thing that our PCEA Education Committee brings to the table is its combination of over 200 years of industry experience, along with endless wells of industry knowledge when it comes to printed circuit engineering. 

If you have not yet joined the PCEA collective, I highly encourage you to do so by visiting our website ( and becoming a member. I continue to wish everyone and their families to be healthy and safe.

Next Month: Chapter Reports 
You can distance this body but not this mind. You can’t keep good folks down. This virus has certainly tried, but our PCEA chapter leaders have been working in the background on building plans for events to bring the membership in local areas together. Next month, I am looking forward to pulling our local chapter leadership together for some behind the scenes reaction to the challenges of COVID-19 and what they are doing to overcome its attempts to shut down our collaboration engines—the local chapter meetings.
Our chapter activities are coming alive, and our membership is benefitting from the synergy of their collaboration. Please look forward to my Zoom meeting interview with this dynamic group of leaders in next month’s column.

Upcoming Events

  • January 23–28, 2021: IPC APEX EXPO (San Diego, California)
  • January 26–28, 2021: DesignCon (Santa Clara, California)
  • May 5–6, 2021: Del Mar Electronics & Manufacturing Show (Del Mar, California)
  • May 11–13, 2021: IPC High-Reliability Forum 2021 (Baltimore, Maryland)
  • November 10, 2021: PCB Carolina (Raleigh, North Carolina)

Spread the word. If you have a significant electronics industry event that you would like to announce, please send me the details to, and we will consider adding it to the list.

This column originally appeared in the September 2020 issue of Design007 Magazine.



The Digital Layout: Education Unlocks the Golden Door to Freedom


Kelly Dack speaks with the PCEA Educational Committee regarding the team’s take on the PCEA’s role in education. What do they have in store? PCEA Chairman Steph Chavez also weighs in on the strength of our education committee and why it is crucial to the PCEA’s mission.

View Story

The Digital Layout: It’s Official—1,000+ PCEA Members Worldwide


Kelly Dack reviews the virtual PCEA grand opening, which took place on July 14, 2020 and featured guest presenter and PCEA educational committee member Rick Hartley. He also checks in with the PCEA education committee, and PCEA Chairman Steph Chavez also shares his satisfaction with the PCEA's recent open house.

View Story

The Digital Layout: The PCEA’s Grand Opening


Kelly Dack interviews Rick Hartley about the presentation he has prepared for the PCEA’s grand opening on July 14, and PCEA Chairman Steph Chavez shares a timely message on how our time working from home is a serious matter, and how letting our guard down could be a mistake.

View Story

The Digital Layout: An Expectation of Collaboration


Kelly Dack shares updates on the PCEA website and reports on some inspiring communication on collaboration taking place between the PCEA and a well-known industry organization. Kelly also includes a "Message From the Chairman," Steph Chavez, as well as professional development opportunities and events.

View Story

The Digital Layout: Life During COVID-19 ‘Wartime’


This month, Kelly Dack shares updates on the progress the PCEA staff is making toward establishing a web presence and reports on what the PCEA is preparing in support of the PCB engineering community. Though PCEA chapter activities, as well as professional development and event opportunities, have been limited because of restrictions due to COVID-19, PCEA Chairman Steph Chavez also offers his perspective on the challenges of staying connected without using traditional means.

View Story

The Digital Layout: Onward!


In Kelly Dack's debut as the new author of this column, he provides updates on the direction and leadership of the PCEA and upcoming professional development and event opportunities, and Stephen Chavez shares his first "message from the chairman." In addition, Bob McCreight, president of the Silicon Valley Chapter, discusses their most recent “lunch and learn” event held in February.

View Story

The Digital Layout: The Foundation of the PCEA Is Being Laid


Stephen Chavez highlights the Orange County Chapter’s recent meeting and their transition from IPC to PCEA affiliation, recent PCEA activities, and the evolution of this column, including introducing Kelly Dack, CID+, PCEA's new communication officer.

View Story

The Digital Layout: The New Printed Circuit Engineering Association


Stephen Chavez takes a first look at the new Printed Circuit Engineering Association (PCEA), including an overview of members and membership and why we established the organization. He also looks at the mission of the PCEA, and how it will unfold to the industry.

View Story

The Digital Layout: A New Beginning


In this column, Stephen Chavez shares a letter from the Legacy Officers and Board Members of the IPC Designers Council, introduces the formation of the Printed Circuit Engineering Association (PCEA), and invites readers to consider future professional development and event opportunities.

View Story


The Digital Layout: Fall 2019 Recap


As the second half of the year is quickly passing by, the IPC Designers Council has seen lots of continued activities within our industry regarding PCB design. PCB West was held in mid-September in Santa Clara, California, and as usual, the show exceeded expectations. Stephen Chavez provides a brief breakdown of fall activities within local chapters.

View Story

The Digital Layout: Recent IPC DC Chapter Activities


We’re onto the second half of the year now, and we’ve seen lots of activities within our local Designers Council (DC) Chapters, including a few international chapters as well. Here's a snapshot of what has taken place so far from several of our active chapters.

View Story

The Digital Layout: New and Thriving Chapters in Mexico


This month’s column highlights the Monterrey Designers Council Chapter located in Monterrey, Mexico. The chapter was established November 23, 2017, which makes it a younger chapter compared to several other global chapters currently in existence today. I also share news about a new chapter forming in Nogales, Mexico.

View Story

The Digital Layout: Spotlight on the Orange County Chapter


So, what’s so special about the Orange County Chapter? For starters, we’re fortunate that a large number of electronics companies are located in Southern California, so there are many PCB designers in our area who are thirsty for knowledge. We are also lucky to have many local PCB fabrication and assembly companies from which we draw attendees and speakers. All of the major CAE vendors have offices and technical field personnel here and have been very supportive of our chapter in hosting lunches to help us keep our costs down.

View Story

The Digital Layout: San Diego Chapter Updates and More


This month’s column is packed with recent activities, including a spotlight on the San Diego Chapter and an interview with Luke Hausherr, the new chapter president. You’ll also find an update from the IPC Designers Council Executive Board as collaboration with the new IPC Education Foundation continues to evolve and recommended reading featuring an interview with a young designer.

View Story

The Digital Layout: Greater Phoenix Chapter Revived


The Greater Phoenix chapter was revived in late 2018 after being largely dormant over the past few years. It has also undergone some leadership changes. As the former president, I have taken on a more active global role at the executive level of the IPC Executive DC Board as the communications officer at large. I will stay on the leadership committee for the Greater Phoenix Chapter as the VP at the request of the newly elected president, Randy Kumagai. Randy and I have already started to brainstorm with ways to kickstart the chapter’s activity in 2019.

View Story

The Digital Layout: Designer Highlights From IPC APEX EXPO 2019


The IPC Designers Council Executive Board meeting took place on January 29. Executive Board members in attendance included Gary Ferrari, Mike Creeden, Cherie Litson, Kelly Dack, Thomas Romont, and me. We also had Michael Schleicher, a guest representative from Germany, in attendance. Further, Dr. John Mitchell, Dave Hernandez, Colette Buscemi, Teresa Rowe, Aaron Birney, and Charlene Gunter du Plessis represented IPC.

View Story

The Digital Layout: Cascade Designers Council Chapter and 2019 Activities


Our CID+ class had four people enrolled who came from around the area. All who attended learned about how board materials affected their designs, including EMI, EMC, impedance control, power distribution techniques, board stackups, and placement strategies in more detail than what was in the CID. Further, participants took the exam first thing Friday morning. This allowed us time to attend the Designers Council “lunch-and-learn” meeting, and the Altium user group met afterward in the same location.

View Story

The Digital Layout: Chapter Highlights and Certification Successes


This month’s column highlights the San Diego chapter, which is also where IPC APEX EXPO 2019 will be held at the end of January. You will also find updates on recent CID and CID+ certification success stories, a recap of the PCB Carolina event from the Research Triangle Park (RTP) North Carolina chapter, and upcoming events, so mark your calendars for next year.

View Story


The Digital Layout: Chapter Roundup and CID+ Certification


This month’s spotlight is the Silicon Valley Chapter. We held our fall quarterly meeting on October 25, 2018, at none other than Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, California—yes, the site of Super Bowl 50 and the soon-to-be 2019 College Football Playoff National Championship game. This was made possible by our host, Sierra Circuits, and sponsor, Altium. We thank them both graciously. Out of 33 total RSVPs, 24 were able to attend the lunchtime meeting. Fun fact: of the members who RSVPed, six of them were CID certified and 10 were CID+ certified, with Faisal Ahmed being the most recent (hear more from him later).

View Story

The Digital Layout: Designers Council Update and PCB Carolina 2018


Welcome to the first edition of "The Digital Layout." As a current IPC Designers Council (DC) Executive Board member and a long-time active IPC member, I was nominated to be the chairman of the newly created communications subcommittee. In this role, I will be the main point of contact for global chapter communications and will work with local IPC chapter leaders to publish content in this new column. We want to utilize this column to help spread the IPC DC Executive Board’s goals like a virus.

View Story
Copyright © 2020 I-Connect007. All rights reserved.