Will work for tools!

Gene BrenimanSeptember 23, 2007

I have always believed that tools are necessary to the creative process. This is something I learned early in life and it's a lesson that has stuck with me to this day.

When I was 7 years old, I made my first trip to see my Grandparents on my father's side of the family. What I remember most about the trip, besides the great food and the company of my Grandparents, was my Grandfather's shop. My Grandfather had built one of the most amazing shops that I have seen to this day in the basement of their home. He had stocked his shop complete with about every tool you could imagine (both hand and power tools) and if he could not buy the tool he wanted, he built it. Over the course of the two week visit, I spent every moment I could downstairs admiring his collection (when I wasn't outside fishing or throwing rocks). Not only did he have tools, he knew how to use them!

At the time, I did not know what an Engineer was, but through my Grandfather, I found out. Not only did I find out, but I decided that's what I wanted to be when I grew up. My Grandfather would most likely be amazed by the things that we can do today, but quite frankly, I am still amazed with what he and his generation were able to do with tools that by today's standards were quite simple. His generation started the electrical revolution which provided the energy and spark that ignited the technologies that we use today.

Through my appreciation (or obsession as my wife calls it) of tools and that creative itch to put them to use, I have gotten pretty far. After college I moved quickly from Technician to Engineer, to Software Engineer, to Senior Engineer and now to owner of my own business (where titles don't mean much). Through the years my own collection of tools has grown. I have several emulators and evaluation boards (everything from 8-bit micros to 32-bit DSP and RISC), but always find that I need more. I have the necessary array of equipment; oscilloscope, logic analyzer, signal generator, DVM, power supplies and home built test equipment, to allow me to create my own tools (and hopefully successful products too).

Most of these tools I have bought through second hand markets (Go EBay!). Some I acquired by attending seminars. Some I have actually worked to own. I have, at various points in my career, worked (side jobs and consulting) in exchange for equipment. One of my favorite ways to obtain tools is out right free. Many vendors have free (somewhat stripped down version) tools. My current workhorse is the ISE™ WebPACK™ from Xilinx, which I use to create high-speed acquisition engines (CPLD based) for most of my embedded applications.

I have worked for companies that have understood the value of tools and others that did not. On occasions I have brought my own tools to work in order to get the job done. I wish that I could now have access to some of the time that I wasted, working for companies that were to cheap to buy the right tools for the job. Now that I run my own company, I no longer have to justify the need for a tool (except to wife/accountant), I only have to reach deep into my pocket and pay for them.

I may have more tools than I need for any single project, but the tools and knowledge of how to use them, has allowed me to grow into the Engineer that I am today. Thanks GrandPa Gene for showing me the value of tools!


Next post by Gene Breniman:
   No, I'm not retired!

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