You may already know that a hard working team of Toshiba engineers focuses on developing hard disk drive products near Tokyo, Japan. However, I want to tell you about a team of Toshiba engineers in San Jose, California who are focused on bringing innovative storage products to Toshiba’s customers and some of their day-to-day activities.
Engineering a hard disk drive provides a myriad of technical challenges ranging from chemistry and physics to software development and motion control. With steadily shrinking dimensions along with higher storage capacity and ever faster devices, the designs of this team of engineers have physical dimensions measured in a fraction of billionth of a meter and timing accuracies measured in a billionth of a second. Every day the team designs innovative methods to manipulate those tiny dimensions to reliably bring continuously increasing storage capacity to the end user.
Engineering team members in San Jose manage data flowing into Toshiba storage devices at rates well over a billion bits per second. This requires wide-ranging technical expertise. Daily activities range from designing sophisticated electronic circuits incorporating state of the art chips developed by Toshiba and its partners, to designing the details which bring the user’s data from the electronic circuits and into the magnetic recording head for writing onto the magnetic media. This requires integrating expertise in recording physics and signal processing with efficiently written software. Clearly, the Toshiba engineering team has a broad range of expertise.
Of the many hundred billion bits of the user data stored, every single one must be placed in exactly the correct location. This requires the design of control systems to place the bits with timing accuracy measured in billionths of a second and positioning systems with accuracies of a few billionths of a meter. Once the head is positioned correctly to write data bits, a precisely controlled magnetic field is generated by the head for a few billionths of a second to magnetize a small area of the disk as it spins past the magnetic field from the head. This stores the information magnetically on the thin magnetic coating on the disk surface. User data resides dormant on the disk surface, sometimes for years, but it may eventually be read by the head. At that instant, the bits which make up the user’s data then must be processed quickly and reliably by the drive electronics and returned to the user exactly as it was written years before.
Daily engineering activities in San Jose have a familiar rhythm. Early morning may find one catching up on e-mail received overnight from Asian colleagues or co-workers visiting Asia, followed by collection and analysis of data from overnight tests of drives. Informal meetings happen spontaneously at lab benches to discuss data, engineering challenges, specifications and plans. More formal or regularly scheduled meeting may also punctuate the day. Between these consultations with colleagues, an engineer will work in their lab area to make measurements,, summarize results and prepare reports into concise recommendations, instructions, and computer code aimed at providing an excellent product. The late afternoon affords an opportunity to speak live with colleagues in Asia as our working hours overlap then.
One of the joys of working for Toshiba is the opportunity to travel and visit Toshiba sites in Japan to work side by side with our Japanese engineering colleagues. While our Toshiba colleagues in Japan have English proficiency, they have a different experience base and cultural context which provides a different and valuable perspective. We often will spend more time discussing an engineering point together than we would with only Californians present to make sure that the important points being made are understood by all. Once we have discussed and selected an appropriate design, we establish a test plan. Later we will meet face-to-face to review the results of testing and decide the best path forward.
The San Jose-based team of Toshiba engineers works closely with their counterparts in Japan to ensure consistent and compatible engineering approaches and solutions. This provides Toshiba with designs which embody the collective strength, expertise and wisdom of the engineers in both locations. Once we’ve completed our engineering tasks, we often go out together for a great dinner of fresh Japanese food and celebration of the job well done. I have enjoyed working in such a collaborative fashion and it is one of the rewards of working for Toshiba with two strong engineering sites for storage products.
During my career I have witnessed the tremendous growth in computing capability, enabled largely by corresponding advances in storage capabilities. The hard disk drive has been a foundation of these advances from the truly world changing internet, to the wide availability of ever more capable personal computing devices, to digital storage of our memories -- first in still picture and then video form. I always enjoy chatting casually to end users of HDD technology, who may not even realize they are using our products, and explaining the advanced engineering needed to provide these devices. For example, once I met a fellow traveler and we passed a trip together discussing our respective work. He was truly amazed, even incredulous, that such a sophisticated device as a hard disk drive could work at all, let alone be made by the millions and at a cost less than a pair of athletic shoes.
The life of an engineer working for Toshiba is varied, exciting and always interesting. While pursuing novel new designs to provide ever more value to our customers, we exercise our engineering skills and work with a variety of colleagues to improve the design and performance of Toshiba’s storage products.
The views expressed on this post are my own and do not necessarily reflect the views of TAIS or Toshiba.