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Erh-Hsiung Chow, a hardware engineer from Apple, shares his career path and the philosophy that has helped him improve as a professional.
Born in Taiwan, Erh-Hsiung Chow went to the United States to pursue a master's degree in electrical engineering at UC Santa Barbara. After graduation, he went straight to San Jose to look for a job and stayed there for about 40 years now. For the past 15 years, Erh-Hsiung works at Apple as a senior hardware engineer. During his time at Apple, he’s been a part of the iMac® system and iPhone® hardware team to help create the next generation products.
Continue reading as Erh-Hsiung shares his experience as a hardware engineer and life philosophy.
(Disclaimer: This is Erh-Hsiung Chow's personal view and does not represent Apple in any way.)
Erh-Hsiung with Apple
Q: What are some of your daily tasks as a hardware engineer?
A: I'm responsible for the power, performance, and thermal of the iMac® system. On day-to-day, we are working on a schematic entry for new projects, working with the board designer on the board layout, or maybe working in the lab testing and debugging motherboards. At Apple, we usually go through a few phases of product development, from prototype to production. For each phase, we would go to the factory in Shanghai to help out. At the factory, we'll build thousands of units, and solve all kinds of problems that show up on the spot.
Q: What is the reason that you chose Apple and what keeps you there for such a long time?
A: Actually, Apple chose me in 2008. After I was laid off during the 2007 financial meltdown, I stayed home for a year. During that time, I got a lot of interviews and almost went to a startup. But then, Apple was looking for a motherboard designer. Since I used to work at Wise Technology designing PC, Apple picked me due to my motherboard experience.
It's a very tough and demanding job working for Apple, but people usually get a sense of accomplishment and pride when introducing new products to customers, especially when it’s well-liked by them. During the pandemic, I was able to help the iPhone® 13 Pro design team because they needed extra engineers to work on the next generation iPhone®.
The woodworking area in Erh-Hsiung’s garage
Q: What inspired you to be a hardware engineer?
A: I’m really into building stuff by myself. In college, I was the president of the Electronics Club and I got to lead a team in building an audio amplifier. At Apple, engineers are expected to be handy. Knowing the theories and reading textbooks isn’t enough. We have a lot of employees with PhDs, but they still go to the lab, to run simulations a lot, so they can act on actual measurements.
Q: What is the most interesting and challenging part of being a hardware engineer?
A: Every time there is any quality issue, that's a huge problem. Everybody would focus on trying to solve the problem, which is both exciting and challenging. When we figure out why and resolve a problem, it is a win-win for the company and for the consumers. So that is a very rewarding experience to solve that kind of big problem. Also, we are always being challenged to figure out and adopt new technology, so, quality and new features are how we can differentiate and how it becomes interesting and challenging on every new product.
Q: Can you share 3 things that you think are the key to success?
A: One is knowledge. You need to care a lot about the fundamentals. If you have a solid foundation, then you can learn and pick up new technology easily. The second one is persistence. There are always a lot of problems, but we need to be persistent to solve them. Engineers need to spend the time and effort to get to the bottom of the problem to resolve it. The third thing is typical for engineers: you must have the desire to learn new technology and embrace new challenges and innovations to bring out a new product that people would like.
Q: What are the details that you care about the most and never compromise during your work?
A: I would say it's a robust design with enough margin. When we design products, we make sure we choose quality parts. We want to make sure there's enough margin, but don't want to spend extra money on something that’s not necessary. We minimize the cost but try to maximize the quality.
Q: Do you have any tips on managing your tasks to have them done on time and perfectly?
A: We usually have a tight schedule, so we just need to think through the priorities and not be afraid to ask for help. Luckily, we have a lot of program managers compared to other companies. They may drive the engineers crazy, but they deal with the schedule, which enables us to focus entirely on the technical side of the projects.
Q: How do you deal with the challenges or errors that you encounter at work?
A: I spend extra time to figure out what is a good solution. For example, we'll add a spare circuit or backup circuit, what we call CYA in the prototype. If this is a brand-new circuit, then I may add something else on the side to make sure that it will still work even If there are errors. It is important to have a Plan B. We build thousands of units at the factory; you cannot change courses or slow down. In order not to break it, you need to have Plan B.
Q: What are some common injuries you think a hardware engineer may have, or you are having actually?
A: I think some common physical issues for engineers are bad posture. For myself, I have carpal tunnel from using the mouse too much and a shoulder problem because I am sitting too low.
Q: Have you done anything to minimize or prevent injuries?
A: There is an ergonomic team, so when you move to a new desk, you can request to have a team member come by to adjust your desk and monitor height. They will also provide a nice ergonomic chair if needed.
Erh-Hsiung’s home office setup with BenQ ScreenBar Halo
Q: How long have you been using ScreenBar Halo now? What do you think about it?
A: I've been using it for about two to three weeks now. So far, I like the features because it doesn't cause any glare and provides decent illumination without taking up a lot of space on the desktop. The wireless controller is very unique, and the dial rotation feels stable and precise. Also, it is good that there is enough friction on the joint to allow the arbitrary angle to fit my need for adjusting an angle on iMac®.
Q: How do you feel ScreenBar Halo can help with hardware engineers?
A: ScreenBar Halo helps by providing a good, gentle, uniform light for illumination. It sits well on the top edge of the screen and seems to be a natural part of the screen, does not stand out like a regular desk lamp at all, it is better than my desk lamp. ScreenBar Halo does its job without becoming too prominent.
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“Dream more, and try to make dreams come true.”
Q: On a scale of 1 to 100, how would you rate your life so far?
A: Probably 85. I’m always going to be looking for new challenges and trying to do better since I’m not satisfied with where I’m at now. There’s always room for improvement.
Q: Being an expert in this field already, what are your future plans?
A: I wouldn't call myself an expert, but I have done a lot in a very specific area. As for my future plans, I think I’m ready to retire. I do have a few hobbies, such as gardening and woodwork. Also, I like HiFi stuff with stereo audio, but I never got the chance to do much there. So, after retirement, I'll go into more stereo audio and possibly volunteer to build houses for poor people.
Q: Do you have any suggestions for anyone who wants to work as a hardware engineer or work at Apple?
A: You need to be very solid at the basic stuff and be creative in solving problems. If you are smart and familiar with the basics, Apple can train you.
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