Want a job at Apple? Reha engineers a few tips
By Lana Sweeten-Shults
GCU News Bureau
Grand Canyon University students tapped into the brain of an Apple engineer last week.
Dave Reha, hardware engineering director for Apple, peeled back the apple, at least a bit, on working at the global tech giant in his standing-room-only talk in the Engineering Building. He was the first speaker of the academic year in the Provost Speaker Series.
“We’ve never had Apple on our campus. Can I get a yeah?” said Strategic Employer Initiatives and Internships Program Manager Aysha Bell, who told the enthusiastic students gathered at the lecture — one of whom asked if Apple would please bring back the iPhone headphone jack — that the University plans on continuing to bring big names and big companies to campus.
Reha, whose brother, Mark, is the computer programming lead in GCU’s College of Science, Engineering and Technology, spoke about how he got hired at Apple (know people, he said). He also talked about the need for more printed circuit board engineers, who don’t get the rock-star attention they deserve, along with some of the challenges his engineering teams have faced and some tips for career success.
Reha said he started working in PCB engineering “by happenstance, if you really look at it.”
After landing his electrical engineering degree, he moved from the Midwest to the heart of Silicon Valley.
“At that particular time, startups were happening right and left,” he said. Reha jumped into that booming tech scene, even working at one startup with brother Mark — “He’s actually the smartest in the family and got all the good hair,” Reha said with a smile.
When one of the companies he worked for went downhill, he took a side job at a small technical college. It was where he learned a lot about PCB engineering and used those skills at another startup.
“That one little stopping-off point was kind of a turning point in my career,” he said. “That’s what got me into PCB engineering.”
It was through someone he knew at one of the startups that he got connected to Apple, where he has worked for 30 years. He now manages more than 220 engineers.
“Aside from when I graduated from college … every other position I got was either by somebody I knew who worked there already or somebody who knew someone. That’s the first thing I want to lead with — start building your network. … Get introduced to colleagues, people in companies, conferences. That’s really a key thing.”
Reha is in charge of engineering teams from different disciplines, from the component engineering team to the mechanical computer-aided design and electronic computer-aided design teams.
But it’s PCB engineering that’s close to Reha’s heart:
“It’s basically working with a double-E (electrical engineer), who captures the design, the circuit that they want, and they hand it over to the printed circuit board engineer to figure out how to put it together, how to interconnect all the components.”
Building anything Apple builds, he said, takes teamwork.
“The electrical engineer can’t do it by themselves. The PCB engineer can’t do it by themselves. It’s a collaboration of these two individuals and a bigger cross-functional team.”
Reha told the overflow crowd of students to consider PCB engineering as a career.
“This is an area of engineering that is really going to be expanding over the next 10 years for a couple of reasons. One is roughly half of the PCB engineers in the United States are going to be retiring in 10 years.
“Think about that for a moment. … You’re just starting out, so there’s going to be opportunities. … This is also a type of engineering that doesn’t get a lot of love in academia. I very rarely have interviewed people that have had a college experience in printed circuit boards, so we’ve got this dynamic where you have an older workforce that’s ready to go sit on the beach and we have another dynamic where, how do we get young engineers engaged?”
PCB engineers, he said, are at the center of every project at Apple. They work with engineers from audio, power integrity, manufacturing and just about every discipline.
“You’re going to be very popular in this space, and you will learn a ton from the engineers you work with,” he said.
He spoke about a number of PCB technologies used across various products, from rigid-flex design, which means it includes both flexible and rigid parts, to MSAP, which is used in component package substrates, to SiP, which stands for system in package.
“There are very different design requirements and manufacturing requirements for each of these PCB technologies.”
Reha spoke about the iPhone 8 and how these computers-in-our-pockets contain “something like a million times more computer power … than all of NASA had when we sent man to the moon in 1969. I think we probably take that for granted.”
For desktop computers, the challenge turns from space constraints to performance – how fast and how powerful systems can be, and then how to take all that power and control the heat that will be generated.
“Now you’re looking at how fast signals can move through the product. … You’ve got to keep these signals so far away from these other signals because they WILL interfere with one another if you get them too close. The designers really focus on how to manage constraints, because there’s literally thousands and thousands of these constraints.”
Reha also spoke about seven keys to success:
- Pay attention to details: “The smallest mistake can be costly. … When we design at Apple, we actually have hundreds and hundreds of checks we run on every single design almost every single day. … We’ve kind of learned over the years what to check for. … But make sure you’ve got a process for yourself. That’s your safety net.”
- Study, plan, strategize and execute: Reha said his engineers will be in the middle of a design and a team will approach them and say, “We need a hole right here.” “Don’t be upset that it’s not perfect the first time. Accept the fact that change is going to happen.”
- Visualize: Being creative is important, he said. “If I were to give 100 PCB engineers the same design, I’d probably get 100 designs and they’d all work because everybody has their own unique way.”
- Value working with your peers: “This is probably the most important slide in the deck,” Reha said. In interviews, count on being asked, “Tell me about the last team you worked with that you liked. Tell me about the last team you worked with and it was an awful experience.” He told students to look for opportunities to work on teams while they’re at GCU.
- Strive for perfection.
- Make designs reflect your passion.
- Continue to learn: “Don’t think that once you graduate you’re going to stop learning. … Look to see how you can become a better engineer. Look for new ways of doing things. If you are in engineering, look to get exposed to new technologies.”
Reha said, in the end, it’s all about making those connections, looking for opportunities and continuing to learn — especially as part of a team. Any and all of those things might lead you to unexpected places, as it did for him: “You just don’t know where you’re going to end up.”
You can reach GCU senior writer Lana Sweeten-Shults at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 602-639-7901.
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