Consulting Life Podcast

So Chris, Where Have You Been?

Well,  a lot of places.

But not around here too much. And when I’ve been here, it hasn’t been the most in-depth writing I’ve ever done (except my unusually thought out post comparing engineers to a fictional character, check that out if you haven’t, not many people noticed it). I can’t say I will be writing again full time in the near future, but maybe in the future after that. So here’s a quick rundown of where I’ve been and what I’ve been doing if you don’t already know:

The Amp Hour

Reading through a few posts or sidebars on this site and you may have noticed The Amp Hour, my weekly radio show with Dave Jones of EEVblog. It’s been going really well so far I think. We just finished episode 23 and have about 1000 regular listeners. It’s been really interesting getting my thoughts out in a different manner than writing and I’d be lying if I didn’t mention that I’m now spoiled by getting my thoughts out “Off The Cuff”. However, there is still a place for planned out articles and this is the place I intend to put those thoughts.


Earlier this year, I started a company, Analog Life, LLC. I began consulting for projects outside of my day job (in a non-related industry, with full approval of my day job, of course). I hadn’t really mentioned it on here before, but since it’s already linked in multiple places and listed on my LinkedIn profile, I figure I can explain myself.  This has been the biggest consumer of my time lately outside of work and has been a wonderful learning experience. From the business side of things, to the work I am doing, to the juggling of tasks outside of regular work, all have been new experiences for me.

Pondering My Future

In the remaining hours of my days before collapsing into bed at night, I have been thinking about long term plans and how it might affect the path I am on currently. First and foremost are my personal relationships. If you’re working 14 hour days (effectively) and don’t think your relationships will suffer…well, you’re probably working with the other person. And even then, the relationship can be strained. So I’ve been talking over and considering how working more will cause tradeoffs in my personal life. Am I willing to give up time with my family in order to pursue work that might advance my career? Is the work I’m doing actually advancing my career or just making me money? If it’s the latter, is the money justification enough for not spending time with them?

In talking with others in my field about this subject, other questions have bubbled to the surface, some even relating to consulting. Why am I consulting and what is the eventual goal? Will I need more education to continue in a technical role in engineering? Is consulting enough of a real world education in order to not require an MS in engineering?


There is really one question that drives all other conversations: What do I want to do (when I grow up)?

I like the idea of being my own boss and owning a business and even selling some sort of product someday (aside from design services), but right now I have neither enough experience with it to say if I like it nor any idea what kind of product I might sell someday. The latter isn’t too much of a concern, but not knowing if I desire that lifestyle could influence my present day decisions.  Here’s the highest level decisions I see myself having to make in the near future:

  • If I plan on being in a technical role at someone else’s company (i.e. employed by a corporation that is not mine) for an extended period, I should go get a Master’s of Science Degree.
  • If I plan on moving into a management role at someone else’s company, I should go target an MBA or a Master’s of Engineering degree (somewhat like a combo MS and MBA).
  • If I plan on consulting for a while longer, I should continue to build relationships and seek out new clients for more work (an ongoing struggle from what I hear from my consulting friends).
  • If I plan on trying to start my own company with a viable product, I should get on my way trying and failing (believe me, I don’t expect to succeed at that at first if I do it, but I understand the value of failing in electronics). I should also begin learning to pitch to investors, as I realize this is the most critical skill of starting a business.
  • If I plan on being a technology media personality, I need to work at it more. It would involve trying to make revenue through blogs, videos, sponsorship, advertising, etc. If this is the case, I had better post more often than once a month, eh?
  • I could not worry about this for a few years, keep my head down, keep learning and hope I’m rewarded for my efforts through my day job. While this is part of any of the plans above, I don’t really feel like this is a “plan” (though I’m sure some would advise me to do just that).

I love hearing peoples’ advice and stories about their own careers, but I’m very realistic: no path is the same and what is good for someone else is not necessarily good for me. That doesn’t mean I won’t listen though, because in talking to a just a few people, I have learned SO much. So I guess for anyone else out there wondering the same things as I’m wondering, my advice would be talk to people. Weird advice from an engineer, I know, but I’m not your standard engineer, am I?

So go forth! And chattify! Or chat in the comments. Yes, I prefer that actually. Thanks for reading.

By Chris Gammell

Chris Gammell is an engineer who talks more than most other engineers. He also writes, makes videos and a couple podcasts. While analog electronics happen to be his primary interests, he also dablles in FPGAs and system level design.

6 replies on “So Chris, Where Have You Been?”

Hey Chris, I can't offer you any advice but I do wish you success in resolving these issues and happiness from making the right one or maybe there's 2 answers?
The Amphour is good. You guys balance eachother and you do a good job of reminding us there are some really nice American people left still.
I love the ongoing debate over making chips at home. And for the record I think you are both right. Dave in that it will never be possible to make them in their current form but you also in that new technology will see chips made differently and making it possible. Probably near term printed electronics possibly long… long term self assembly.
I do read your blog and it is slowly updated but you have to use your time where you can maximise returns. Especially when you are young and have a family.
Anyway Happy New year and best wishes for a satisfying and prosperous year ahead.

I'm about to finish my Master's this coming May, and just like undergrad, everything I learned could've been learned by self study out of a nice textbook with homework solutions. The only thing I can do at school that I can't do at home is the use of a vector network analyzer. Woohoo. My thesis is nothing revolutionary and I'm getting sick of spending hours and hours working on it when I could be working my 40 hours and actually making some money to put in my savings account instead of eating rice and beans.

Sometimes I wonder why I didn't go work right after graduating with my BS. It's true I'm more educated after taking a hodge-podge of graduate engineering courses where I've learned a bunch of stuff that I may never apply to the job I get after graduation. It's also true that if I had not gone to grad school, I would've saved 60k in my savings account. In the end, I think I should've gone to work with my BS and then gone for an MBA.

One reason I didn't was because I thought the grad school time commitment was more reasonable than undergrad. Nope, it's about the same. I'm still the pastiest whitest guy in my group of friends who spends Friday night working in my office. BTW, I think you're crazy for consulting on the side. My free time is precious and once I graduate, I plan on working my 40 hours and then going home as much as possible. I hate taking work home with me.

Maybe I'm just aggravated and burnt out. Who knows! I'm gonna go back to work now. Happy New Years!

Building relationships, starting your own company w/ a product, learning to pitch a business plan, being a public EE personality could all go together.

Regarding the time spent building a business, the goal is for it to work eventually so that you can hire people at good rates of pay and get your time back. If you stay on the consulting path, you will not be on the 14-hr day plan forever. Eventually you rate per hour will increase and you will learn to outsource tasks. Then you will have a job that's more family-friendly than anyone with a FT J-O-B.

Regarding a Master's degree, I learned a lot in mine. I did not get an MBA, so I'll probably always wonder what it would have been like. I did my master's one class at a time, with my employer paying for it. I personally would not have done it if I couldn't get the company and later the school to pay the tuition.

No matter what you do, I think you should do carry on with the connection building and build up networth. Having a little bit of money is the most important thing, IMHO, for building a business. Even if you go raising money in the form of grants, early-stage angel money, VCs, banks, etc; all of them will look favorably on you having put a big chunk of your own money into it.

Obviously you won't just "keep your head down" b/c that's just asinine. Rather you should take risks. If your employer isn't exciting you and giving you things that help you grow, you should be on your way to something else. I say this because I had a job where I really learned a lot for a few years and then stagnated for a year or two. I kick myself for that year I won't get back.

Just wanted to add if you really think you want to work for yourself I highly recommend taking a stab at it while you are still young. Once you get settled into working for a big company it's very hard to break out of that comfort zone to try anything else. I used to change jobs every 2 years or so, with the intent of getting enough experience and to build enough of a network to work for myself full time (I was doing it on the side).

Well that was at least 15 years ago, and now I've clawed my way into middle management every year that goes by (both with the company and on this earth) it's harder to imagine leaving the "security" of working for a Fortune 100 company.

Yet the knowledge and experience I have would be far better working those 60,70,80+ hour weeks for myself than "the man"

Go for it, be it your own company, technology media personality, or consulting the time is now.

Take it from a "I wish I did when I was young" sideliner.

even after a few decades of working I ask the same questions.
The 'trick' is to be honest with yourself about your capabilities (I don;t know you so its no comment on you)
If you are a good people person , then management may be your forte
if you are good technically, then getting an education may be your option
If you are a risk taker and can sleep at night worrying where the next dollar or client is comog from then start a business. Oh amd you need to have a constant stream of ideas to keep the business growing.
In my experience I haven't found many people with all three capabilities. Which is your strength?
If you play to your strengths you are more likely to be succesful.

That raises the question of what's success. Is it money; relationships; acceptance or applause? Everyone craves something different. Its not necesarily so that being applauded as a business model actaully equates to having a lot of money (look at how many dorcom entrepreneurs, lauded in the day are now broke).
The lasy piece of advice I can give you is to build ion what you have now. Don't go from being an EE, and try to run a restaurant. It won;t work. But you could try running an electronics supply store.
That way you don;t throw away the investment that you have already made.
Good luck. And remember that one of the options you have to consider is to continue of the path that you are doing now. (its not a cop out if its is a carefully considered option.


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