Industry Profile: Ride Snowboard Designer Paul McGinty
03 Aug, 2010
Job Title: Design Engineer – Snowboards
Employer: Ride Snowboards
Years on snow: 18
Days on snow: Optimistically ~50 days.
Currently Riding: Protos (white top and a single black sprayed paint rat on the left side of tail).
Currently I am: plugged into my IPod with: ‘Manic Street Preachers’ – track: ‘Revol’ in a bar in Hong Kong.
Shay: Tell us a little bit about yourself
Paul: Born 1975 Swansea, South Wales – UK. Left Wales at 18 years old and moved to Bath in the SW of England to study Aerospace engineering. Started snowboarding at University on Dendex. Graduated and left England at 22 years old to move to Detroit, MI, USA to engineer automotive components and subsequently after about 5 years moved into product management of engineered automotive components and programs ~ Detroit rocks… Detroit is hands down one of the coolest cities in the world ~ period.
About 3 years after moving to Detroit I started a small super low volume snowboard company designing and building snowboards in my garage. What started as a simple vacuum bag hobby lasted 7 or 8 years and became a very elaborate full micro factory with pneumatic presses, dye sub capability and full on Wintersteiger tuning equipment… always nights and weekends and all hand built by yours truly. Then I closed the workshop about 3 years ago and left Detroit to move to Seattle WA to design full time for Ride.
Shay: How has snowboarding changed your life?
Paul: Snowboarding is the pivotal thing in my life ~ Family and friends are #1 and #2… but snowboarding follows closely behind and interlocks between all that is good. You can’t turn it off, your riding or your thinking about riding or your thinking about something else which leads you to riding. All roads lead to it. Snowboarding is that constant, reassuring white noise. Without it there’d be an uncomfortable silence.
Shay: How did you get your start in the industry, who or what opened up more opportunities for you?
Paul: Perseverance, attention to detail, and a DIY attitude to execution eventually got me in to the industry.
Jeff Stenger nudged me to start designing boards back over a decade ago ~ Lisa (my wife) kept me going when I was working out the “bugs” and eloquently screaming in the workshop in Detroit… Jason Broz, Dan Graf, Lindsay Rogers, Eric Luthardt and Paul Maravetz all kept me motivated and moving forwards through the decade and then cut to present day and Draper and Sanders opened the door to me at Ride and welcomed me in…
Shay: How has your previous education or work experience helped you in your current job?
Paul: Science is everything and nothing. Studying Aerospace in England at Uni taught me how to think and use data to reach a goal but Detroit ~ MSP, working as an Engineer in the early days in a forging factory taught me to question everything ~ reality is not printed in size 10 font in a text book. Write your own text book and it has to end with a product that is a solution that some one can touch and feel a benefit from ~ the greatest ideas mean nothing on paper, execution is everything.
Shay: Tell us about your role at Ride and a description of the work you do?
Paul: Big picture I organize and document ideas and data ~ Problems and areas for improvement are identified everywhere, all around you every day you ride… from coworkers, management, our test team around the globe and our pro team all directly feed into the design process to identify areas we should target for any new design to improve or eliminate any given issue.
More literally ~ I design the boards: sidecuts, rocker profiles, fiber placement and type, wood core designs etc. etc. etc. and then I work through the details of how we can best execute the new concepts with our in house R&D team in Seattle ~ there’s about 4 key people in the R&D team that work through the details of any new concept with me ~ from tool design to molding layup to finishing all the fine details are developed in Seattle with a small but highly experienced crew.
Then starts the fun, our R&D facility in Seattle WA, USA is huge and we can setup more or less any process ~ and we start building, and we build full working proto after proto after proto. We tweak one variable at a time. One by one narrowing down the key variables that work and equally importantly the key variables that fail.
Months later after an amazing amount of caffeine and prototypes we learn… and once we learn the details are locked down, specs are written and the whole learning curve is documented in a manufacturable, repeatable package and shipped out to our production facility (its our own factory which is awesome)… at which point I follow through and go through the learning curve on site with our crew in the factory in Asia ~ generally I end up spending 6 to 8 weeks in the factory between product start up, production run off and general helping out.
So essentially I document problems, define them, define solutions, test solutions, refine solutions, and implement them into production working with some of the industries best R&D personnel that having being doing this for decades.
Shay: What’s an average day like at work for you?
Winter is the pure R&D learning curve, a lot of prototypes, a lot of blind test feedback forms, a lot of over analyzing the tiniest details and tiniest tolerances and filtering those tiny details into the next proto… and of course riding as much as possible with the test teams to get direct feedback.
Spring through fall is the production ramp up and buy off timeframe ~ now we’re taking what we learnt in the winter and making it repeatable and scaling up the science from prototype mode to production mode.
But yeah, bottom line is every day is hectic but every day is brilliant.
Shay: What are some memorable experiences from working in the industry?
Paul: Black river street chicken and bad beers after 20 hour days in Asia, PNW blue bird powder day(s) and zero degree bulletproof ice in Stowe ~ all of it adds up to “another day at the office” ~ after working in the automotive industry for so long and living through the sometimes “office space” scenarios of TPS reports and such I now get to take first tracks and call the mountain “my office” and then when the snow melts I get to embrace the factory’s neighborhoods in Asia and subsequently experience different cultures on a slightly more local scale ~ not being a pure tourist anymore…so really in this industry there is never a dull moment …12 months – year round its memorable and pretty awesome!
Shay: What do you think are the biggest challenges that the snowboard industry faces and what changes would you like to see for the future?
Paul: As an industry we need to keep focused on clear, accurate information. The science of things has evolved so rapidly in the past 5 years that there is a sea of information and mis-informnation out there. From the consumers perspective I can only imagine how confusing it is right now being engulfed in a hundred types of rocker and camber profiles.
This is where having a solid rep army in place like we do at Ride is critical in getting the right information to the right people, this is where shop kids come into there own to guide consumers into the right product, this is where grass roots blogs like yours Shannon are critical in giving real unbiased feedback…
I think our biggest tangible challenge as an industry is getting accurate information on what ideas work in the hands of the consumer in a manor that is not overwhelming or totally confusing.
Shay: Education vs Experience…which do you think is more important?
Paul: Both, you never stop learning once you start ~ the main thing to acknowledge and act on is the whole “starting” bit… once you start learning, experience kicks in and keeps you moving forward and subsequently learning… but experience in itself is education. I didn’t stop learning after graduating from university ~ I learn every day, every conversation, every failure is the start of the next success… don’t under estimate anyone you meet, be gracious and accept ideas from everyone, understanding there’s a million fail points for any one success but keep pushing forward, keep learning.
Shay: What advice would you give to people wanting to work in the industry?
Paul: Keep at it, if you truly want it keep at it, but understand this industry is small and such acknowledge you may not get in over night just by default of the volume of positions in this industry. It may not be a reflection of you or your resume or qualifications it’s just a small industry and attrition of existing insiders is low.
If you want to be in say snowboard product design then take the first step and get into any product design… maybe you spend a decade designing automotive systems, cell phones, staplers, whatever it is… use these experiences to learn ~ learn about forging, die casting, thixo-molding, compression molding… learn, get your hands dirty and learn.
Every time you get to learn a new process, or develop a new material mentally translate that into how it would help you design a board or a binding. Keep gaining hands on experience in product design, process design, on site production control, lean mfg., Kaizen, ERP, global sourcing, budget control, P&L etc. etc. etc. and keep mentally translating your experience and learning curve into the perspective of “if I was designing a snowboard I would XXXXX” ~ there are so many alternate industries doing great things on a design and production level having experience in “other” industries will only make you more rounded. Take any and all experience offered to you and learn from it.
And then during the learning curve ride as much product as you can and mentally reverse engineer it, input vs. output, over analyze everything and assume nothing. Keep your eyes and ears on “the industry” and contribute where ever you can ~ help reps, help small brands, talk to people and give as much as you take… above all else learn and keep moving forward…
By pushing forward when it seems like no one is listening to you in the industry you will quickly gain experience that makes you a well rounded and valuable asset to any company and such when the dream job gets posted you’ll have a much better shot at getting “in” and ultimately your perspective as a designer will be that much more unique and effective based on the broad experience base you now have.
Closing comments (I made this question up):
Paul: Thanks Shannon for the blog ~ The interweb and the likes of yourself have made the global snowboarding community that much more connected and in the loop ~ And ~ thanks for the opportunity for me to blabber on, I probably wrote way too much but I hope at least my grammar was ok!!