Alumni Profile: ECE's James Steinberg

James Steinberg loved working in labs so much as an ECE student that he never left. He's been working at Georgia Tech since 2003 as an electronics engineer, supporting and managing the various ECE labs and workspaces. Find out why he loves it so much. 

Where did you grow up and how did you end up at Georgia Tech?

I grew up in Warner Robbins, GA. I should have went Air Force, but I went Navy. After the Navy I started school in Florida at a community college then I transferred to Mercer for a year before coming to Tech to finish my degree in electrical engineering. I focused on semiconductors and power. I graduated in 2003 and I started working here right away. I'd already worked as a lab assistant, under Edgar Jones. When I got out there wasn't really a senior design lab. We just had two soldering stations. Then ECE decided to expand the labs and asked me if I was interested in staying on, and I said sure. That was how I wound up here. There was that commitment to expand the design labs and senior design, and it's pretty much gone that route. It's been a long but exciting process.

What is your role within ECE now?

Electronics Engineer James SteinbergI'm an electronics engineer. We have 13 labs we manage and maintain, along with helping with grad student and Ph.D. research. Recently I've also gotten involved with the building of the new IDC- Interdisciplinary Design Commons. We helped put all of the electrical power and other things that they'll need right into the design of the building. We also maintain and help out wherever we're needed, in labs or in non-lab classes. We teach administer 2881- Practicals for Engineers. We're trying to teach them how to do hands on stuff earlier- it teaches them the techniques of basic soldering, advanced soldering, and surface mounts. We also teach them connectors, cables, PCB milling, layout, and stuff like that. It's a mini senior design with much lighter requirements, because we realized a lot of incoming students had no experience with these tools.

How has Tech changed since you were a student?

The building has barely changed at all! The IDC will be a big change, but otherwise Van Leer hasn't changed much. The IDC is going to be amazing though. It's going to be that whole fish bowl building. We're knocking the inside out and it's going to be three floors of invention studio space- one of the biggest in the area. It's going to cater to ECE but it will have standard stuff like a plasma cutter, laser cutter, 3D printer, and stuff like that, but the second floor is going to be all diagnostic equipment with scopes, meters, and other tools designed for double E. We have a lot of students from other majors that come to us- mechanical and aerospace students- that we help with their electrical stuff. And we have students we send to ME for mechanical stuff. Now we'll have a giant facility with more people to help them out. It's going to be centralized, easy to find, and state of the art.

Aside from the IDC, a lot has changed even if the building hasn't. A lot more equipment is brought in and there are way more classes offered. Now hands on work is included in classes that don't have labs. We produce kits for them so they can do experiments in class or take them home to work on them. We want them to be comfortable with circuits. There are more TAs than when I was here and much more help available. There's the whole online system, where you can take classes remotely. We didn't have that. Then there's the studying abroad opportunities at GT Lorraine, and all over the place. They encourage you to get out there and see what the world is like. They do a great job promoting it, much more than in my day. You can go to Oxford, or China. It's amazing, and it helps students expand their horizons and their understanding of the world. The equipment is always changing too. Every couple of years we upgrade it. Technology is changing so quickly, and the students are so smart. Senior design has become a much bigger deal since I was a student, and Capstone is a big part of it. Some of those teams go on to the Inventure Prize, so there's this whole focus on finished products and prototypes. There's so much more interdisciplinary collaboration too. That's really interesting, even when it's difficult. It teaches them to work together to solve problems. MEs don't want EEs holding them up, and vice versa. They have to work together and be familiar with the different areas and different tools.

What are some of your favorite parts of your job?

Aside from the day-to-day duties, it's nice to see the kids grow and get out and get their careers started. They come back and we get to see them. It's rewarding to see how far they've come. I would like to think we're making a difference and playing a part in that. The goal is to get them through this and gain valuable experience. We try to push co-op. You either need that or lab or research experience to set you apart and prepare you for the workplace. It takes an extra year, but it's worth it, and you either end up with a job from your co-op or you're able to negotiate for a higher salary because you have that experience.

Another really cool thing about this job is a program we have with the Christo Rey students from Christo Rey Jesuit High School on Peachtree. They're 14 or 15 and they come here one day per week. It's funded through a grant and their school and they come in and learn about our labs. They clean and help out but also work on projects. We teach them soldering and circuits, and 3D printing. They've built stuff with Andrino boards, as well as how to work in an office or lab. 

We also bring in a lot of kids for camps, or school tours. It's fun to see kids excited and it gives us something different to do. We're never bored and no day is the same. 

Do you think being a Tech grad has helped you in your role?

I certainly think so. I went to Florida Community for two years, then Mercer for a year, and here for two more. I didn't take the normal route here maybe but I went through what they went through. I remember what it's like to be a new student here. It can be intimidating, and I'm able to tell them I made it, so they can too. If they got in here they can make it and do fine. We have so many resources with tutorial labs, online help, our help- I would have loved to have the support they have now. When they complain about a class I can tell them I took it too, and it was probably the same content back then and maybe even the same professor. The fundamentals haven't changed. On the other hand, it's cool to see new professors come in with new ideas and new experiments and projects they want designed for their class, and we help them with that, so I get to keep learning, just like the students.

What are you most proud of from your time here and what are you looking forward to?

I'm so happy to see design labs grow here. We're one of the best institutions in the world, and these projects have taken a lot of time, but when we get the IDC up and running that's going to help thousands of students per year. Thousands. It's going to have longer hours than our labs do and have equipment we never even dreamed of. 

Why do you think you've stayed at Georgia Tech all these years?

I love what I do. It's fun to help the students out and see them accomplish something and experience that satisfaction that comes with fighting and battling so hard for so long, and then succeeding. You can't put that feeling into words. They start thinking they can't do it, then in the end they leave knowing they can accomplish anything they put their mind to. That's the goal. That's what we want to see. This world isn't forgiving, and Georgia Tech teaches kids how to fight through and come out the other side. It teaches them how to take constructive criticism, because a lot of them have never been exposed to it.  But our job is to assist them and guide them, and help them fight. I learn as much from this job as I did when I was a student- probably more. We have these amazing students and professors, and the best equipment in the world. Every day I'm a kid in a candy store with these tools, and I'm privileged to be able to use them, or at least work with people who use them. 

I try to give Tech 120%. Tech has been very good to me and I can't knock it. It's one of the best schools in the world and for the money there's nothing better. Whatever you give to Georgia Tech, it gives back tenfold. I really believe that.