Breaking bread (or drinking beer) with some amazing minds

I spent some time recently at the Ben Franklin Museum in Philadelphia. Obviously, it was filled with Ben Franklin artifacts and also his “isms,” if you know what I mean. It got me to thinking, wouldn’t it have been great to spend some time with him, picking his brain on engineering-related topics.

That led to this blog, where I asked some of the members of our esteemed Advisory Board, some of the brightest minds in the current engineering space, “If you could have lunch (or a beer) with one person in the technology sector, who would it be and why.” Note that the person needn’t still be with us. Here are the responses I received.

From Scot Morrison, General Manager of Embedded Platform Solutions at Mentor Graphics:

That’s a tough one.  So many good choices.  Since I have to pick one I would pick Alan Turing, who was a key contributor to the foundations of computer science; arguably even the inventor of “Computer Science” and the core concepts of AI.  A tragic life unfortunately, but a great visionary and technologist.

From Jim Ready, Software Entrepreneur:

Chatting with Charles Babbage would be very interesting. He more or less got it right, his design for the Analytical Engine identified all the major components of a modern computer system, including software, thanks to Lady Lovelace. I’d like to see if he had any idea how fundamentally important his work could turn out to be.

From David Kleidermacher, Head of Security for Google’s Chrome and Android:

Blaise Pascal. He invented the mechanical calculator and seems to have had an uncanny sense of how technology intersects with humanity, philosophy, etc. “Knowledge is like a sphere, the greater its volume the larger its contact with the unknown.” He also had insights into technology marketing and the need for good standards: “truth is so obscure in these times and falsehood so established, that unless we love the truth we cannot know it.”

From Jack Ganssle, Principal Consultant at TGG:

Edwin Armstrong. What a guy! He invented the regenerative, super-regenerative, and super-het radios. The latter was a remarkable design still used to this day. And then he invented FM radio, a huge advance. And this was when active elements (tubes) were expensive. Today, we throw a million transistors at everything; he worked with a (literal) handful of active components.

Alas, his life was tragic, ending with his suicide. He was born roughly at the time of my grandparents. Think how far technology has advanced in the few generations since then!

From Rob Oshana, Senior Director, Software R&D, Microcontrollers at NXP:

I want to drink a Sam Adams with Thomas Edison. He was an inventor of many things and actually first coined the term “bug” in technology. Although Grace Hopper gets a lot of credit for using the term “bug” when she famously helped track an error in the Mark II to a moth trapped in a relay (the first software bug!), Edison had also used this term back in 1878 when he wrote to a friend, “It has been just so in all of my inventions. The first step is an intuition, and comes with a burst, then difficulties arise—this thing gives out and [it is] then that “Bugs”—as such little faults and difficulties are called—show themselves and months of intense watching, study and labor are requisite before commercial success or failure is certainly reached.”  The software world has been dealing with these nasty pests ever since!

From Andrew Girson, CEO of the Barr Group:

Michael Faraday: incredible discoveries in electromagnetism that form the basis for so many areas of modern electrical engineering. He led a very intriguing life and did all his work despite having minimal formal education.

From Jean Labrosse, Founder and Chief Software Architect at Micrium, a Silicon Labs company:

Being that I’m totally into Teslas, I’d say Elon Musk. I’d like to know what drives him, and what he sees happening 10 years from now.

And finally, from Bill Gatliff, am embedded systems expert, who couldn’t limit his choice to one:

Da Vinci—I’d trade him booze for drawing lessons, and get his autograph on my Vitruvian Minecraft t-shirt.

Michael Faraday, to see HIS hair stand on end after seeing Hendrix playing his other signature invention. And then the three of us could meet up with Keith Richards, who isn’t technically dead OR a member of the technology sector, but we’d party like he was anyway.

Enrico Fermi, who had such a tactile grasp of physics that he built the very first nuclear reactor from ”a crude pile of black bricks and wooden timbers.” Anyone who can accurately estimate the power of an explosion by just watching scraps of paper fall to the ground can talk about whatever (eponymous) problem interests him.

And then there’s Richard Feynman, who invented pictures of quantum mechanics so that the rest of us could understand it too. He also delivered the definitive lectures on physics, fixed NASA, played bongos, didn’t fool himself, did alright with the ladies, and said he was glad he didn’t have to die twice because it was “so boring.”