Interview with Bob Cooke: IPC President’s Award Recipient


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IPC first began presenting the President’s Award in 1966, and for many years it was the only award bestowed on IPC volunteers, to several individuals each year. In recent years, however, IPC has limited this award to one or two people each year. According to IPC:

The President’s Award is given to IPC members who have exhibited ongoing leadership in IPC and have made significant contributions of their time and talent to the association and the electronics interconnect industry. Individuals can receive this award only once.

This year’s recipient is Bob Cooke with NASA’s Johnson Space Center (JSC). After speaking with Bob, I understand why IPC chose to award him with this honor.

Patty Goldman: Bob, congratulations on this award. Please tell me a little bit about yourself.

Bob Cooke: I grew up in NASA. My dad started with NASA as a research physiologist studying the effects of high altitude flight environments on humans. At one point, my mom decided that I needed to be motivated to do something with my life, other than work on stage as a special effects technician or be a semi-professional photographer, and insisted that my dad take me to work. After he completed his flight experiment for the day, I got to play with the flight chamber. I’m probably the only person at NASA that has operated a flight chamber through explosive decompression multiple times at the age of 15! After that, I got interested in electronics, although I’m not sure mom was too happy about me dragging old TVs home from the dump, taking them apart, and then reassembling them.

The NASA design ethic of “design and assemble the hardware to survive the worstcase mission environment because someone’s life may depend on it” became a driving force behind my first job as a senior design engineer. I designed sensors for cryogenic (-195°C) and extremely high temperature (+350°C) applications for use in the petrochemical industry. I also designed sensor systems that could survive the electromagnetic pulse (EMP) and surge effects of lightning.

Eventually I went to NASA as one of the agency’s subject matter experts (SME) on electrical/electronics assembly. The work at NASA is both fun and challenging. I solve problems. Sometimes I’m a traffic cop enforcing the rules, sometimes I’m a design consultant helping a project, and sometimes I’m a referee between a project engineer and quality. I’ve worked with the astronauts on a couple of projects. They are real people with a very strange job, and they can have a very dry sense of humor at times.

BobCooke_JohnMitchell_IPCAward.jpg

Goldman: So, the President’s Award is all about your volunteering with IPC. How long have you been involved with committees?

Cooke: I seem to remember going to a couple of the conferences way back in the ‘80s, but I wasn’t really involved in the documents. I started actively working with the IPC documents in late 1995, when NASA JSC Engineering began investigating whether commercial design and workmanship standards could be used for the design and assembly of hardware for space flight applications. At one point I created a draft of a space addendum to J-STD-001B, which was (in retrospect) typical “Bob”—excessively detailed. Eventually, that draft was boiled down to what became the Space Addendum to J-STD-001C. For the past couple of years, I’ve been the general chair of the 7-30 group. I’m also the chair of 7-31K, which is the cable and harness task group, and 7-31M, which is the fiber optics task group. Those two task groups have created seven documents, so far.

Goldman: What were your thoughts when you got the call here about this award? What were your thoughts when you learned you were to receive IPC’s President’s Award?

Cooke: Well, the first call came into voice mail and it was, “IPC management wants to talk to you - click.” Okay, what did I do wrong? Am I about to lose all my chairman positions because someone’s decided that I’m not playing nice (I can be rather grumpy at times) or something like that [laughs]? I was surprised. It’s very humbling to have this type of recognition that you not only are doing good and you’re helping, but that you’re recognized for it. Getting this award… I suppose I’ll have to show up with a suit and tie, and I don’t wear suits and ties. It’s humbling to be recognized this way.

They said, “We want to nominate you for the President’s Award, so you can talk about what it’s like to come to some of these big meetings like the IPC-A-610 or the J-STD-001.” Well, if you’re a general chair, you’re trying to help the committee chairs control the chaos, and it’s kind of like herding cats. You’re in a room with 150 people, that all have different technical needs, and don’t always agree on the need for a requirement, much less the wording. Having a heavy hand won’t work, and sometimes the best thing to do is sit back and just enjoy the theater.

For folks who are considering attending the Standards Development committee meetings, I can advise you that (based on personal experience) it can be a bit intimidating when you first walk in. The major meetings on Saturday and Sunday (IPC-A-610 and J-STD-001) are kind of special, and the discussions can be rather spirited at times. But, don’t let that stop you from participating. You’ll soon discover that even though the attendees come from differing market sectors, and even other parts of the world, we all tend to have the same technical issues and we work together to help each other. All the committees have a common goal—to create documents that the industry can use. Plus, we always need more participants to broaden the IPC’s body of technical knowledge.

To read the full interview, which appeared in I-Connect007’s Show & Tell Magazine, click here.

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