What Makes Your Great Engineers Great?

great engineer

I’ve worked with a lot of great engineers over the years. Arguably, these engineers might be the best in their field.

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Of all the great engineers I ever worked with, my favorite was Dave Bingham. Dave was one of the founders of Maxim Integrated Products, one of the most successful Analog IC companies ever.

Before helping found Maxim, Dave was General Electric’s Scientist of the Year, so he had a track record of success long before I worked with him.

You want engineers that think out of the box.


In your engineering career, you’re lucky if you develop one industry standard product. Dave had a string of them, two of which, the MAX232 and MAX690, created whole new product lines and businesses.

The launch of the MAX232 family is particularly insightful. Charlie Allen, a brilliant, customer focused, applications engineer, noticed that our customers were using a product called the ICL7660, which Dave also designed, to provide the negative power supply for RS-232 line drivers and receivers.

So, Charlie approached Dave, and asked Dave if he could design an IC that integrated the functionality of the ICL7660 with an RS-232 line driver and receiver.

On paper, this looks really easy to do. However, the challenge was overcoming a phenomenon known as “latch up” where the device will short circuit.

The thing I loved about working with Dave was he loved a challenge. So, Dave came up with a clever way to prevent latch up.

A problem was solved, and a $200 million per year business segment was born.


You want engineers that focus on the business challenges as well as the technical challenges.


The success of the MAX232 did not go unnoticed by our competitors. Even though we had patented the hell out of the MAX232, fourteen competitors eventually emerged, including industry leaders Texas Instruments and Analog Devices, making MAX232 knock off products.

The competition put us under intense price and margin pressure. One day, Dave asked me how things were going, so I told him that we needed to find a way to significantly cut our costs to sustain our margins and hold off the competition.

Literally the next day Dave came by my office and explained a way we could take advantage of our fabrication technology to cut the size of our chip in half. It was a brilliant idea that only someone like Dave would come up with.

Dave and I presented the idea to Maxim’s CEO, Jack Gifford. Gifford loved the idea, and he approved our project. This sustained our market dominance for the next several years.


Brilliant engineers don't have to be the best coder or designer.


As brilliant as Dave was, his achilles heal was his lack of attention to detail. Dave was great at the ideas and the general concepts, but his implementations weren’t the best.

The solution was finding a young engineer, Peter, to pair with Dave. Peter would essentially make sure all the “I’s” were dotted and all the “T’s” were crossed. It worked well for everyone, especially the company’s bottom line.

For me, it was a joy working with someone like Dave, and it was a sad day when he told me he was retiring. Working with someone that skilled and creative doesn’t happen every day.

It wouldn’t be until years later when I started my company that I experienced working with someone of Dave’s caliber again, this time it was Greg. But that is another story that you can read more about here: https://www.brettjfox.com/why-you-should-hire-experienced-engineers/


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