I received a Scalextric for Christmas in 1964 at 12 years of age and within a few days had swopped it for a crystal set radio.
I was on the roof of the home in Harare every day and some nights too, tweaking the antenna to listen to LM radio. This was the start of my never-ending enjoyment of electronics as a hobby and in my working career. And music too!!
I attended ten junior schools as my father was pioneering headache and stomach cures in today’s Zimbabwe and Zambia. He set up distribution points for an American company that originally sold Panado and Milk of Magnesia. I loved my youth as the eldest of five siblings and once the family settled, I went to only one high school, Prince Edward in Harare.
My hobby was a mix of making thermionic valve and germanium transistor projects from scratch. The Philips Electronics kit with the springs and components overlaid with the circuit diagram was not of much interest to me and I did all the projects in a week.
The family was not too well-to-do and I ended up having to go to college to complete a telecom diploma, as the local university did not have an engineering faculty. I repaired radios and radiograms for pocket money in high school. Nothing in my technical education applies today, except the early microwave links, yet the grounding I received in electromechanical principles, valves and transistors was invaluable as everything evolved over the next 10 years to silicon semiconductors.
There was not an iota of time wasted in the experience I gained in my first 22 years of life. Everything I was taught and worked with up until 1976 is obsolete, except in music where the Beatles, Stones, Pink Floyd, The Doors and compatriots have no replacements yet.
My first job in 1972 was with Siemens in telecom and it was a repetitive slog, installing their public telephone exchanges and PABXs. Luckily by 1976 I was in my second job in a lab at the SABC with RF test gear. The SABC lab was fabulous – I was paid to do what I did as a hobby, with fantastic engineers mentoring me. Something of every discipline in electronics happened in that lab.
I needed to earn more money with a second child on the way by 1978, no car, etc., so I left the SABC for private industry and worked in a team linking everything in Eskom with hybrid transmitter and microprocessor-based telemetry systems we developed in-house in Randburg. I also managed their factory in Potchefstroom for a year, where industrial nucleonics was the prime business, which incorporated precision discrete analog circuits and microprocessors.
The founding of Cadshop
One last employer in 1980 was a component distributor with the first PLDs (programmable logic devices), CMOS microprocessors and ever bigger RAM devices. I worked as an application engineer convincing customers to design products using my components.
It was not my company and I did not aspire to becoming rich and acquiring material things. I loved my job and I was happy with my Volkswagen Golf. International travel to exotic places was the norm for sales people (pre-Internet) and I got to know my way around the world in over 100 trips on a mix of business and pleasure from 1983 to 2010.
I met my new mentor, Viv Patz, as a codec component customer while he was designing SA’s first commercial telecom IC. Later Viv worked for ICDC and supported and sold PCAD. Viv and I, along with two other amazing engineers, founded Cadshop by 1986, plus a PCB design bureau and an innovation company where we patented the first electronic detonator in South Africa. It was a good project and became globally successful over the next 20 years.
Today I need a multi-disciplined understanding of what most Cadshop customers are trying to develop in the SA electronics industry: solar vehicles, satellites, antennas, embedded systems interfacing to IoT, industrial, nucleonic, RFID, optics, laser, and wherever innovation in electronics hardware development lurks.
Schematic capture, PCB design and rapid prototyping of electronic circuits is a necessity. This is primarily Cadshop’s line of business. This diversity is complemented by my early development.
The state of the industry
I really appreciate that the multitude of SA contract PCB assemblers have lost a lot of work from their core customers. Long pre-2015, production runs disappeared as the industry appears to be declining, which is not as I see it! They have, however, adapted to providing an invaluable support structure to many emergent, small, innovative companies with great potential by offering short-run production volumes with component procurement skills and quality output unlikely to be achievable in any other scenario.
The industry has innovation and global competitiveness when I look at what my customer base is working on. It is on an upward path to great success and recognition for SA in the future.
The COVID-19 lockdown has been a time for all business to step back and reflect on an optimum structure and identify the products and services that will make them successful this new decade.
Advice for the next generation
All the good stories of success we hear about people are those who have a passion for what they are doing. When you study, eat, sleep and breathe your passion, and you learn communication and fine motor skills, you will be successful.
Aspire to work for a company that you admire, and for a boss that you want to serve, that shares your passion and motivation. If it is not like that, you are going sideways. Your boss is also motivated by your good work; it is a two-way street.
You have to stay with your employer for a long time, to get the experience, not just the know-how. Forgo switching jobs for more money. Get to know the individuals you would like to work with in the future and nurture dreams of working together in your own business in the future.
These are components of a success cycle that have to be completed to be happy and successful. Enjoy a different focus in your leisure hours – at least 16 leisure hours a week are essential.
Interests outside of work
I love the bush, particularly in Limpopo with its huge diversity of animals, reptiles, birds and particularly our indigenous trees.
I also like the Western Cape where I live for the vibrance of Cape Town, its arts and diverse natural heritage, the fynbos floral kingdom beyond to Hermanus and the understated beauty of the West Coast, particularly Langebaan lagoon and sailing my Hobie Cat there.
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