If the phrase “engineer fun” sounds like an oxymoron, you haven’t met Peter Bennett.
Peter is a hardware engineer at Savant. “We build processor boards and controller boards,” he begins. “We used to do touch panels before the iPad came out. The other stuff I do I can’t tell you about.”
Savant builds home automation equipment, with a central computer that knows what’s going on in your house. It’s tied into the web, so you can check up on your house from miles away, or start a dvd without leaving your couch. “It’s an industry that’s in its infancy,” Peter said of home automation. “Right now it’s the realm of very expensive homes with owners who have big budgets for things like this. But more and more you see wireless thermostats that folks like you and I can install in our homes. Just like once upon a time no one had a computer in their house, the time will come when this is everywhere. It will be like smartphones.”
Good at math and science in high school, Peter was directed towards engineering by a guidance counsellor. The only thing he had sorted out in terms of college was that he wanted to go to Colorado, so he began at Colorado School of Mines and then finished his degree at UMass Amherst.
Between Colorado School of Mines and UMass, he took a cross country trip with a friend who was a guitar player. “When we got back a year later I sold my car and used the money to buy an acoustic guitar,” he said. “The car is long gone, the guitar still makes me happy.”
Peter now plays in an AC/DC cover band with Savant colleagues and a lead singer who came out of nowhere. Power Load plays “AC/DC songs and more AC/DC songs. We play out once in a while and get invited to play at parties,” he said.
“It’s not lost on us that electrical engineers are in an AC/DC cover band,” he added.
Not surprisingly, Peter says the best thing about Savant is that it’s a great place to work – in large part thanks to his co-workers. “I work with some fantastic people and good friends. We work as a team and all try hard to not let each other down. We have fun doing what we’re doing.”
While he doesn’t consider himself a creative person, he does enjoy and appreciate the creative environment of some of the companies he’s worked for. “When I think of creative people I think of folks who dream stuff up. Free thinkers,” he said. “I’m more of a detail-oriented person. I have streaks of creativity but mostly I’m an implementer. I’m a person who handles a lot of details and gets things done.”
His first job was at Polaroid, where he dealt with imaging and photography in an educational atmosphere. What he enjoyed about Polaroid is also true of Savant. “Building home automation equipment is so much more fun than building networking equipment. You can see what you’re working on. You can use it. I am really fortunate I get to do this.”
Peter’s advice to people starting their career reflects the best parts of his own journey. “Work hard at whatever you do,” he said. “Make the most out of all your opportunities and experiences. Don’t be too serious and don’t be in a big hurry to start your career. We get into a pattern; next thing you know, the stuff starts to own you and it gets very difficult to do things like take a cross country trip. If you can, get some of that in when you’re still young.”
“What’s really important is to use all different parts of your brain,” he continued. “Practice your craft – the technology – but also practice compassion, music. Embrace diversity. Get out of the house. Go out in the woods. Enjoy the beach. I think its important to have lots of pursuits. If you have fun at work that’s great, and I do, but the pursuit of creativity and artistic stuff – it’s hard to have a fulfilling life without some of that in there.”