Desk of an Engineer: the Owen Edition

Deskpionage with SparkX-level clearance

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We’re back with more desk details! This is a series where we barge in on our engineers while they’re working and kick them out so we can document their desks in all their chaotic glory. And because we know that just isn’t enough information, we ransom their offices back to them in exchange for some details on what they have on their desks and why. We do this for you!

Clicking the image will enlarge it, so you can experience the full resolution of each engineer’s home away from home.

Today we’ve inconvenienced Owen, one of SparkX’s engineers! Let’s get into it.


Something unique about my desk is its location. Upstairs, the engineers generally have their own offices adjacent to a shared space, but here in SparkX we are always in the shared space. I’ve found it to be pretty nice to be able to shout in a particular direction depending on what kind of advice I need. And of course if I need to focus undisturbed I’ll just pop in some earphones. Yup, this beats working in a cubicle!

Alright now let’s get down to business and talk about the WYSIWYG desk. There’s no drawers on this bad boy, so my whole existence at SparkFun is laid out before your eyes. I’ll go into more detail moving from left to right.

Computer, cats, and capture

Right now I am setting up to test a new SPI-based sensor. I always start development using the SparkFun BlackBoard for a couple reasons. First, the ATmega328 is the backbone of Arduino and usually the first microcontroller that a beginner will use, so products need special permission not to run on the Uno. Another reason I like the BlackBoard is because we do a lot of development of Qwiic products, and the built-in connector simplifies my life.

When things get weird, my next go-to is a digital logic analyzer like the Saleae Logic 4 in the picture. Usually sensors and modules work the way they are advertised and the failures exist in the interface between them and the controller board. A DLA is like my own X-ray vision for electronics that helps me spot errors on the lowest level. In the upper left corner you can also see the box of microcontrollers that I use in special circumstances. One such use is to recreate GitHub issues and see if I can find a solution. The box includes both an ESP32 and ESP8266, a Teensy3.6 and a SAMD21 Dev board.

Another interesting item is the “Crazy Kitty Game” on the left-hand side of my desk. It’s a nine-card puzzle with an amusing print on top. Nate wrote a program to solve these puzzles, then challenged the rest of us to do the same. The goal is to share all the different methods we come up with so that we can see alternate ways to approach the problem. So far we’ve seen some brute force methods and an intuitive, Eagle-like, rat’s nest GUI, but I haven’t gotten around to trying my physics-based solution nightmare.

Sunglasses and OLED

Not much to see here folks. Its basically the no-mans-land between where I work and where I store tools/parts. In case you think I am sloppy for leaving my solder out I assure you I did that on purpose, cause my arms can’t quite reach my box of tools from a comfortable sitting position! I always keep a pair of sunglasses handy in case George Clinton ever drops by cause, ya know, that’s the law around here. You got to wear your sunglasses so you can feel cool.

Tools, parts, and doodads

Oh man, this is the part of my desk that I battle with the most. When the stacks get too high they spill over into my working area and it drives me batty. In fact this is a pretty neat day for me.

Working in SparkX is a really cool experience because we get our hands in nearly every process of product development. I’ll be contacting suppliers in China one moment and then turn to my right and build the first 50 units of a new product. That’s exactly what I will do with that big pile of parts as soon as I can prove that the hardware works as expected. Easier said than done!

This side of the desk is also where I keep my tools. For the time being it’s a pretty basic set but they get the job done. The turbocharged hair dryer and the Hakko soldering iron are great for melting things, including but not limited to my hair. I’ve also got a pile of resistors, jumper wires and small hand tools. One of my favorite items lately has been the bottle of flux that Seth from production gave us – its a real lifesaver when an IC comes out of the oven crooked.

Finally I’ve got my notepads - whether I’m in a board review and need to keep track of all the changes or I am designing software and need to visualize how the data is stored having a quick way to jot things down is essential.

Well, that’s all folks!

Thanks Owen! You’ve earned your desk back.

Comments 14 comments

  • Your workspace is so organized and looks clean. I have always been criticized for how my office looks and I have been written up twice for my lab housekeeping. I once cleaned it and it was well organized. We got some deliveries and it became a cardboard graveyard in no time!

  • generally, I just try to walk into their peripherals and then make eye contact. I guess its sort of like knocking on an office door to see if they are busy.

  • What’s that piece of cut tape with the big chunky components on the right?

    • isn’t it surprising to see such a large part in cut tape? I’m also trying some FPC connectors that come in 50mm wide tapes. Thats the SMD Barrel Jack that I am putting on some exciting new IoT hardware for powering it in the field! Keep an eye on the new products list in the next couple of weeks and you’ll spot it.

  • One advantage of cubical walls is having walls to hang pictures or certificates on. My cubical office is that way, but the lab is an open no walls area, much less formal, so we shout around as well. I’m assuming the black mat is an ESD mat, which is a good thing, assuming it’s properly grounded. But spare micros in a cardboard box? tsk tsk!!

    • Good thing I didn’t show off my fuzzy pink bunny slippers that I wear when assembling boards ;) But actually I’m open to recommendations for better ways to keep the uCs, how would you do it?

      • I work for a major manufacturing company so ESD issues are always a concern. I think your setup would be fine if you kept the boards in anti-static bags when not in use. When you wear the pink bunny slippers, just make sure you have an anti-static wrist strap on, heel straps may not fit correctly over the bunnies. :-)

  • “I’ve found it to be pretty nice to be able to shout in a particular direction depending on what kind of advice I need. And of course if I need to focus undisturbed I’ll just pop in some earphones.”

    …yeah, that’s my problem with working in open-plan right there. I can disrupt you whenever I like, but if I need to focus I can shut you out.

    • Definitely… something I am getting used to is how to interrupt the other people. If I waited until they looked up then I might be there all day, so generally I just try to walk into their peripherals and then make eye contact. I guess its sort of like knocking on an office door to see if they are busy.

      • Yeah, similar here. A lot of us have wingmirrors on our monitors, and it’s pretty common for someone to walk up behind us (visible in the mirror) and wait for us to turn around. It’s a decent balance between wanting not to disturb someone overly and needing an answer to unblock oneself.

        Sorry, I should clarify the above - I don’t think the speaker is the problem, I think the culture is the problem. And as someone who’s being forced from a decent small-teams-offices structure to a 120-person open floor, it’s something that my group are likely to see first-hand… :(

        • Hmm, I see where you’re coming from on that one - 120 people seems like a little much for a completely open floorplan. To me that says “high school cafeteria” not “workspace.”

  • Hey, what’s the cool looking airplane?

    • Glad you asked! That’s a 3D model of the airplane that a friend and I designed in our senior year at school. The goal for the airplane was to halve the fuel consumption of the Cessna 172 while serving the same mission. So basically it is a glider with a big cockpit. I’m particularly proud of the canopy design because it would provide panoramic views (hard to see in a 3D print though haha).

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