May 9, 2024

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David Guasca's engineering across all nerddom and overshooting California to land in Asia

Product design isn’t only about customer experience, elegance, or art; a lot of fundamental engineering goes into making beautiful shapes and clean lines into a product you can actually use. OSOM’s David Guasca is a  senior product design engineer, and while you know his work from our products, the chances are good that you’ve used some of the other gadgets he’s worked on over his decades of experience. 

I admit, I creeped on your LinkedIn a bit, because I haven’t worked with you as much as some of the other folk on the team, so I was less familiar with your history. And I found some pretty cool stuff!

I’ve been lucky [laughs]

Let me start with the low-hanging fruit here, because it’s 9 PM for me, but it’s only 8 AM for you. One of the perks of working for a remote company is not heading into an office in California every day. You’re in Bangkok, right?

I’m near Bangkok, about two and a half hours away. But I do go to Bangkok pretty often. I live in a small city south of there, near the beach. It’s nice and chill. Bangkok is nice, but it’s too hectic, there’s too much traffic — it’s hot and there’s no beach. It’s nice to have a city nearby where you can go shopping for essentials and then get out. 

That’s how I do it! Though western Mass is a far cry from Singapore. 

I’ve been working remotely or based in Asia for the past 10 or 12 years. I work in mechanical engineering and manufacturing. At my previous gig at GoPro, I spent a lot of time traveling in Asia and ended up living in China for about five years. It was, for the most part, a manufacturing gig, managing critical product engineering validation builds, preparing parts and material doing design for manufacturing with suppliers, and then transitioned more into the late stages of product design: preparing production validation builds and less off the initial product development stuff. 

I did a lot of the initial product development for Hero 3, which required that I travel quite a bit, and I was based in Shenzhen, then transferred to a PM role. Moved to Hong Kong for two years, ended up in Singapore for a year, and traveled some times to Thailand until right before the pandemic.

After that, I took a year and a half off doing my own thing, just making electric off-road skateboards — designing and tinkering. When the pandemic hit, I was living in my Jeep JK camper outside of Half-Moon Bay and in the desert outside Vegas. I’d charge my electric skateboard and laptop off solar panels, ride into the city for supplies, then head back to the Jeep. I then started working for Boosted Boards out of Shanghai, and that’s how I ended up in Singapore since our suppliers were a ferry ride away in Indonesia. Basically all my past experience has been in Asia — I moved to California in 2011 and overshot it, though I still think of California as home. 

I was expecting a different reason like, “Oh, I have family out here.”

My family is in Florida, of all places — the complete opposite side of the planet. I try to go back, but it takes 30 hours to get there. I keep getting further away, and there are no direct flights unless you go to Singapore. In the end, you spend two days going each way. It’s just insane. 

So one of the companies you glossed over in your history there, and the one that caught my eye as someone who enjoys video games, was Alienware. And you worked there before the Dell acquisition — golden era Alienware when they were doing really unique stuff. 

I went to school in Miami, and I lived near a Best Buy, so I spent a lot of days just looking at gadgets and stuff. And these guys started popping up in the PC section. At first they weren’t that fancy, just desktops in eye-catching neon green and blue. Alienware started making a name for themselves, and I was lucky enough to get a gig there early. This was my second job out of college; my first was making thermal printers, but this was a “real” tech gig. 

This was like 20 years ago. They were starting to develop media centers, and I was in the media center division. Of course, no one has heard of any of this, because we never launched that product, but we were trying to make this little box to control your home entertainment and TV, based on an Nvidia platform. It had RF and radios to control other devices. I worked there for a while, then got pulled into the Desktop division, working on cooling systems and the Predator 2 cases, which looked sort of like an H.R. Giger sculpture — I inherited all that. 

They were doing great, sales were amazing, they grew and grew. We started to make a dent in sales on the Dell XPS systems, and Dell noticed, “These guys are selling too many gaming PCs, and their brand is great.” So they just bought the company for the brand and basically dismantled the Miami development. [Laughs]

I was lucky enough to be working on the flagship stuff, so they offered me a position in Austin. But I didn’t want to move, so I stayed in Miami for another two years as Dell took over the projects. I transitioned to mechanical engineering for legacy projects and new product development for products Dell started launching, including Area 51 R1 desktops with the Alienware brand and the M14-M17-M12 notebooks. The new desktops had automatic “gill” vents for cooling that would open and close depending on temperature. It had dual GPUs, a crazy water cooling system, lots of airflow analysis, and was too heavy to carry. More about the cool factor than anything, lots of lights. 

I became like the lead sustaining guy for the product development team in Austin. After the acquisition, Miami just became a sustaining organization as all the product development moved to Austin. I was there for another year, then Dell shut down all the engineering in Miami. So I packed my bags in my Jeep and drove to the west coast without a job. 

You just rolled up to the GoPro offices and asked for work?

At that point, GoPro was very small. I’ve been very lucky to find these niche companies in niche markets that explode as soon as I join. So at this time, GoPro was literally just a 2 story house in Half-Moon Bay. A friend of mine was into mountain biking and really liked their cameras, and that sounded interesting. They were looking for a mechanical engineer, and I applied. My cousin was living in San Francisco, so I stayed with him and commuted to Half-Moon Bay. 

There were just three of us on the mechanical team. I was the third mechanical engineer at GoPro. But I got there as they were launching Hero 2 and starting work on Hero 3. And things just exploded. The ramp-up was insane and we simply didn’t have enough product to sell. I joined on a Thursday, and they told me, “On Monday, you’re going to China.” My first job in California, and I got shipped to China immediately! I was bouncing between two JDMs in Taiwan and China and almost never went home for two years. I was paying rent just to store my car in California. One trip took six months, just living out of a backpack. 

It didn’t really make sense to travel for such long periods, so GoPro agreed to cover my expenses so I could stay there the whole time, and I lived in Shenzhen for three years. Then things started growing like crazy, I worked on Hero 3 and Hero 4, I did program management for Hero 5 and 6. I also worked on Hero 4 session, which had a smaller form factor. That’s probably one of my favorite products I ever worked on, but it wasn’t that successful. Nobody remembers it, but it was even smaller than a normal GoPro, basically just the size of the lens cover. No screen, just two buttons. Weighed nothing, still popular with some drone enthusiasts. 

I was project manager on the GoPro Fusion 360-degree camera, but left GoPro after two months on that. 

You have a very wide variety of product engineering experiences — cameras, computers, off-road electric skateboards. How has all of that helped you in your work now on smartphones? What sort of things carry over? 

Working on a phone is when you graduate as an engineer. I was lucky enough to have a gradual introduction to consumer products from large to small. In PCs, you have a ton of real estate and few constraints — you can fit anything. But my work got progressively smaller. GoPro’s cameras were pretty tight, and you had to really optimize for space and tighter tolerances. And early design becomes even more critical when you’re working with large volumes. You have to make sure your TAs are accurate and that you do enough analysis so everything actually works when it goes into production. 

When it comes to all that, phones are the most challenging and require the most expertise because of the limited space. You don’t have any space inside; every millimeter needs to be utilized. It’s extremely challenging and every component has minimal size

That’s what I like about OSOM, how challenging the work and products are. Aside from our privacy focus — I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but I’ve usually got tape on my camera prior to meetings. I don’t like to have cameras pointed at me all the time. 

You’ve worked on enough tiny cameras that can be easily hidden, so that’s understandable. 

And, of course, being fully remote is the biggest perk. We’ve got a great team, everybody does their own thing, and we work together really well, continents away from each other. A lot of people don’t know how to work from home. But I’ve been “remote” for 20 years now, and I haven't even had an office since my second year at GoPro. After that, you get a little bit spoiled. 

Every time I come back to the US, I take a few months fixing my car, which spends years at a time sitting. Then I go on big road trips: camping, off-roading. 

One last question — and everyone gets this one. What is your favorite feature on Saga?

I like the Seed Vault crypto wallet features and the extra control it gives. I’m not a big crypto holder, but I am a Solana fan, and I like the ability to really carry your stuff around with you.

I know it’s the start of your day, but it’s the end of mine here. Thanks for chatting with me about all the cool stuff you’ve worked on, David!