Dean Holman, President/Executive Director, VITA
Dean leverages over three decades of leadership in the Aerospace and Defense industry to unite competitors, producers and end users in the successful development of next generation, leading edge interoperability standards. His experience as an FPGA and board designer, systems engineer, sustaining engineering manager and senior director of global mission assurance helps him guide VITA members as they develop these open standards to enable future system designs.
WORKING WITH VITA
1. What is one of the more significant standards that VITA has developed, and why?
Aside from the original VMEBus standard released in 1982, which eventually drove a revolution in the embedded space, I would say ANSI/VITA 65 OpenVPX is the most significant. Based on ANSI/VITA 46 VPX, 65 has proliferated as THE base standard upon which other Open Standards groups (i.e. SOSA, etc,) base their work, which is being applied across most new system designs.
2. How are VITA’s standards being applied in modern communications systems?
A good example is how the ANSI/VITA 49 VITA Radio Transport (VRT) standard is offering a consistent protocol for Software Defined Radio interconnect systems that drives improved interoperability, maintainability and upgradability.
1. Did you always want to be an engineer? If so, why? If not, how’d you wind up here?
No. I wanted to follow in my father’s footsteps and become a commercial airline pilot. My dad flew two tours of combat as captain of a B-17G bomber in WWII, then spent 35 years flying for Northeast Airlines, then Delta. The only thing that held me back was I wore glasses. Back in the 70s and 80s, you had to have perfect vision to be a military pilot, which was the prime way of eventually flying commercially. The chief pilot at Delta suggested to my father that I get an engineering degree and my private pilot license. Then sign on with a 3rd tier airline (like Cape Air) and build up my time. Then apply to 2nd tier carriers like UPS and FedEx, and eventually get picked up by Delta or American.
I earned my BSEE from WPI and started working as a Systems Engineer at MITRE, while earning my private pilot license. Low and behold, I found that I REALLY enjoyed engineering. That was 38 years ago, and I'm happy with the path of my career.
2. What has surprised you the most about the work you do with embedded computing? (or engineering in general)
Looking back, I think learning how rewarding it can be to solve a complex technical problem is what surprised me the most. The satisfaction I felt of finally getting to the root cause of an issue through methodical detective work and designing an elegant solution that resolved the problem is what made my engineering years so enjoyable. I have learned that you can extrapolate that methodology to leadership to resolve personnel and organizational issues with a similar rewarding feeling.
3. What is one of the biggest issues currently facing engineers?
I would say the impending “grey tsunami” is one of the largest issues facing our industry today. There are a great number of engineers fast approaching retirement. Companies need to focus more to facilitate knowledge transfer from these experienced engineers to the “junior talent” in their organizations. Mentorship is a key method to accomplish this passing of the torch.
I see this issue at VITA. We have a large percentage of representatives from the various member companies who are very senior in their organization. I have taken on a goal in my new role at VITA to help highlight to the leadership of member companies the need for them to get junior engineers involved in standards development. By having them work closely with the experienced engineers, it would provide them with exposure to a treasure trove of experience and help facilitate that information transfer. It would also provide our industry with the next generation of engineers skilled in developing open standards to carry our industry forward for decades to come.
4. What advice would you give to someone looking into this field of engineering?
First of all, I would strongly recommend engineering as a career! Not only is it rewarding from a personal perspective (the most important factor), it is also relatively stable and you are well compensated. If the person is in high school, I would say to get involved in any STEM-based clubs. If possible, get internships or summer jobs with engineering companies in their area in order to get exposed to the career.
Once high schoolers or college students are committed to the field, I would also urge them to NOT focus completely on technology. We all know the stereotypical “geeky” engineer persona. I would urge those starting down the engineering career path to make an effort to become a well-rounded person. Participate in clubs, social events and team-based activities in order to become more outgoing. It will help you in the long run.
Off the cuff: Tell us your favorite joke.
An engineer was crossing a road one day, when a frog called out to him: "If you kiss me, I'll turn into a beautiful princess," said the frog.
He bent over, picked up the frog and put it in his pocket.
The frog then cried out: "If you kiss me and turn me back into a princess, I'll stay with you for one week and do ANYTHING you want."
Again, the engineer took the frog out, smiled at it and put it back into his pocket.
“What is the matter?” the frog asked. “I've told you I'm a beautiful princess and that I'll stay with you for one week and do anything you want. Why won't you kiss me?"
"Look,” said the man. “I'm an engineer. I don't have time for a girlfriend, but a talking frog - now that's cool!