Ed Perkins is an electrical engineer and cyber security guru who is a candidate for 2017 President-elect of IEEE USA, the U.S. group of the biggest technical society in the world. Ed talks with us about what makes engineering cool, the importance of STEM, and the future of technology.
Ed Perkins CIA CERM is also the developer of the Certified Enterprise Risk Manager® – Cyber Security™ certificate and is an expert on the NIST Risk Management Framework.
Can you tell me a few things about yourself?
My name is Ed. I grew up in New England on a small farm. My older cousin got me interested in electronics via Ham radio and I started building my own equipment. In high school, my teacher told me I should go to an engineering college. In college I discovered computers and programming, so I focused on software. A friend and I worked nights on weekends to write our own operating system. We created a backup system for the computer center, which was much faster than the original system so they used it. One day I got called out of class because they needed to do a restore and wanted me there just in case, but it worked perfectly!
What type of engineer are you and what are you doing now?
I got my degree as an EE (electrical engineer), but focused on software. I wrote embedded systems back when it was called ‘microcomputer programming’ since there were no PCs. Then I got into computer-aided design and later worked on virtual testing here in Portland. Today I work in risk management, cybersecurity risk, and assurance. I am in the process of finishing the development of a course and writing a handbook on using the Federal Cybersecurity Framework.
What have been your biggest engineering challenges?
The biggest challenge is complexity: Making sure the specifications and requirements are clear before starting a big project, and being flexible to adapt to changes. I worked for a startup that didn’t appreciate the complexity of what they were developing and by the time they realized it and brought in people with the right expertise, it was too late.
How and why did you get involved with IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers)?
I joined IEEE as a student, since it was the professional society in my field. I was a member for a number of years, then I was working for a large company and received a card that there was an organizing meeting for a new chapter and my boss’s boss’s boss was the organizer. So I went since I had never met this person. He tried to give everyone a volunteer job, and I picked the most innocuous job – publicity. Little did I know I would end up working with him and the company’s director of research who was planning the meeting topics. The boss didn’t have time to run the monthly events, so I went, and then the Section people asked me to volunteer for them and I was then asked to help with the program for a large expo. So here I was meeting all sorts of people I would never have any reason to meet and doing things I would never have a chance to do. This was great. So I became hooked.
As I became more involved with the society, I discovered that as a volunteer for IEEE, I could be entrepreneurial and do lots of cool things and meet people I would otherwise never meet as long as I followed the rules. Today people do much of this using the internet, which is making it hard for associations unless they figure out how to change their approach.
If you become president of IEEE USA, what do you want to do in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math)?
STEM is critical. While not everyone needs to an engineer, everyone needs to understand technology. IEEE’s members are concerned about STEM but there is no local organization to encourage people to participate like they do with technical interests.
How do kids apply STEM to real life?
STEM is the basis for all modern technology. From cell phones, games, airplanes, and drones, STEM is applied to everything. If you don’t understand technology it is hard to make informed decisions.
What problems do engineers solve?
All sorts of problems. That is why being an engineer is fun – you get to solve interesting and life changing problems.
What makes engineering an innovative job?
There are many applications that need to be developed and perfected. Driverless cars, drones, the sharing economy (Uber, Airbnb), things we haven’t even thought of yet.
Why are problems solving and decision making skills important in engineering?
Engineering is all about problem solving and educated decision making.
What engineering problems will future engineers solve?
Medicine, sustainability, energy, humanitarian technology, cybersecurity, entertainment, privacy – who knows what else. The sky is the limit for the next generation of engineering explorers.
Thank you very much Ed for your time and your story. I think you would be a great President of IEEE USA. Your views on STEM and the future of engineering are inspiring.