Engineer finds art in simplifying the complex, nurtures deep technical expertise in others

In our ongoing series, ‘One to Watch,’ we profile TIers who are making a difference through innovation or citizenship.

One to Watch: Art KayMoon launches and space shuttles captivated Art Kay as a kid, but back then he didn't see himself as a budding engineer. "To be completely honest, I wasn't the greatest student, and I didn't realize math could be so interesting," he said.

In high school, Art took vocational classes in electronics and then enrolled in a two-year program to become an electrician. That's when he started to really enjoy learning and, he said, "realized I could do a lot more." And indeed he did, earning a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from Cleveland State University and a master’s degree in the same discipline from Georgia Institute of Technology – where he gained teaching experience as a grad assistant – before landing a job as a semiconductor test engineer with our company in Tucson, Ariz.

A lot has changed since his first day on the job, when he was set up on a mainframe-connected terminal and wondered what email would be used for.

Today, Art is an analog applications engineer at our campus in Tucson. His day-to-day role includes managing a group of engineers who support customers by answering questions from the TI E2E™ Community, as well as building hardware evaluation modules and collaborating on designs and schematics. But the part of his job that he is most passionate about is creating and delivering training materials.

Simplifying complex concepts

Art's gradual evolution from so-so student to stellar engineer was "slow going," he said. That might explain why he's now driven to help others learn how to master analog technology as quickly as possible.

"My favorite thing to do is teach and help people learn – to take things that are complicated and try to make them simple," he said.

In engineering school, "it was, 'figure it out for yourself; sink or swim'," Art said. "You had mentors, but they had their own projects and you might be afraid to approach them until you had your ducks in a row. You were forced to learn things on your own." He added that, with new graduates of engineering programs vastly outnumbering senior engineers in the field, "something has to happen to help all these young people get ramped up more quickly."

Toward that end, Art has been a key player on the team that developed our Precision Labs video learning series and support materials, used by thousands of customers and new employees around the world to get up to speed on analog electronics. Art has also presented segments of the program in live one-day seminars to groups of engineers in China, Europe, Japan, Korea and Taiwan.

Analog measurements such as sound, pressure, temperature and flow must be converted to digital signals before they can be processed by a computer. But new engineers whose studies have focused on digital technology need time to comprehend that process, Art said. "It takes a while before you know enough to piece parts of the puzzle together. There are buzzwords and certain prerequisite material you need to understand."

Precision Labs videos are sequential, building in complexity with an approach that combines teaching by example with illustrations. Engineers can start from the first video and go to the 40th, learning in a logical order. Young engineers who complete the program can, within a few months, gain the knowledge it once took years to achieve. As Art points out, it's not just great for individual careers – our company and customers benefit too.

Respected by colleagues

Art has also gained acclaim as an innovator for authoring two popular books that convey analog electronics concepts. The Analog Engineer's Pocket Reference and a companion manual, The Analog Engineers Calculator, provide formulas, equations, tables, common circuits, conversion factors, utilities and calculations to help engineers in their daily work. In addition, he is an industry expert on analyzing noise in operational amplifier circuits and authored the book, Operational Amplifier Noise: Techniques and Tips for Analyzing and Reducing Noise.

Tim Green, an analog applications engineer, coauthored the Pocket Reference with Art and has known him for 15 years. His stories about their working relationship are reminiscent of the Odd Couple comedy: one believes in writing equations, the other prefers to analyze intuitively; one is notorious for misspelling, the other is a stickler for grammar; one jokes about the other, "I taught him everything he knows." But, said Tim, "We get along because we believe in working ourselves out of our jobs. We believe in proactive collateral that customers can easily learn from and do it for themselves."

What's more, Tim said, "Art is very humble. As smart as he is, he's not a know-it-all. If he doesn't know the answer, he won't blow smoke. He'll say, 'I don't know, but here's how I'd approach that problem.'"

Pete Semig, an analog applications engineer who has known and worked with Art since 2008, bonded with him over a shared passion for teaching. “Art is a professor at heart who loves learning and explaining things," he said. "He'll dig in and stay up all night trying to prove that he's right, and he does it to understand it for himself, not to prove another person wrong."

To illustrate Art's tendency to go "all in," Pete recalled a team-building exercise that Art spearheaded several years ago. "With Art, it's not, 'Let's go bowl a few frames and drink a few beers or hike a short trail in Tucson,'" Pete said. Instead, Art organized a three-day, 20-mile camping and hiking expedition for 15 colleagues to Havasupai Falls in the Grand Canyon.

As for those childhood fascinations with the space program, Art parlayed his engineering creds into an exciting hobby. He and his son have built 7-foot-tall high-powered rockets in their garage and then launched them, with clearance from air traffic controllers, in the Arizona desert.

"When Art does things," Pete said, "he does them on a grand scale."