PCB Design Is All in the Family With Nicole Pacino


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Some PCB designers warn their children to never even consider designing PCBs for a living, but some designers like to pass down their talents to their offspring. Nicole Pacino is one such offspring.

I shared a flight with Nicole on the way to Altium Live in Munich, and she mentioned that her father was speaking at the show. In Germany, I asked Nicole to tell us about how she got into this industry, and what we could do to draw more young people into this career.

Andy Shaughnessy: I’m here at AltiumLive Munich with Nicole Pacino, a design team leader with Cobham, a defense contractor. She is also the daughter of one of our good friends and PCB design instructors, Mike Creeden, who is speaking at the show. Nicole, can you tell us about how you got involved in the industry?

Nicole Pacino: Sure. Obviously, you know my father has been in the industry for a long time. And he actually started me out when I was really young. I was 11 years old and had a knack for mastering those old school-classic staple computer games like Tetris and Solitaire. I figured out in Tetris that at a certain point the high score stops and starts counting backwards; so my scoreboard in the game was actually all negative numbers. With Solitaire, I had figured out the equation it uses to keep score and could win with any number someone requested before I started a new game. 

So my dad noticed that I was showing an aptitude towards the type of skills that might translate to PCB design. The first time he presented it to me to see what I would do with it, he actually explained it like it was another computer game because he knew I would want to try to master it like the others. Surely enough, challenging me to this new game worked and I haven’t stopped trying to master it to this day.

Shaughnessy: So where are you working now and what kind of designs are you working on?

Pacino: I’ve been with Cobham in Pennsylvania since last year. I work on defense contracts developing new technology in aerospace communications and electronic warfare systems for the US government. And unfortunately, working with the DoD means I can’t give any further specifics about which programs I’m involved in.

Shaughnessy: I understand you’re working on a design that has hundreds of pages of schematics.

Pacino: Yes, these systems are definitely some of the most complex and advanced designs I’ve ever seen. We’re pushing every boundary in regard to capabilities and then going another step further to explore how we can advance current standards and evolve the next generation of technology development.

Shaughnessy: You're one of the younger people in the industry. What do you think we should do to attract more young people into this field? Do people your own age know about this as a career option?

Pacino: No, most people my age have never heard of what I do as something you can specialize in. As I get more involved in the industry, I’ve realized even more that there really isn’t much of a younger generation here at all. I think most pursue the broader umbrella of career possibilities in electrical or mechanical engineering and only briefly learn the extreme basics in PCB design. I find it interesting that it isn’t emphasized that this specific part of the process is extremely integral, necessary and vital when creating new technology and can be the sole determining factor in a project’s success or failure.

To read this entire interview, which appeared in the March 2019 issue of Design007 Magazine, click here.

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