Michael Munroe: A tribute

Valerie Andrew |

Never one to do things the conventional way, Michael Munroe took his first step into retirement right as the Great COVID19 Pandemic was emerging. As far as we know, he hasn’t looked back, so we shall, in honor of his remarkable career and contributions to the open standards and interconnect worlds.

Michael entered the interconnect packaging and backplane industry in 1986, working for early pioneers like AEG, Mupac, and ERNI. He eventually settled in with Elma Electronic, from where he recently retired as the principal backplane architect. The passion he shows for his subject matter expertise is virtually unrivaled in our industry; he’s the first to offer help on a topic and will help to research the answers or solve the problem if he doesn’t already know the answer.

Michael is a former secretary and treasurer of PICMG and a former vice-chair of the VITA Standards Organization (VSO). He is now a Fellow in both VITA and PICMG and is a professional member of the IEEE.

Michael has contributed to and authored many industry articles, published in such magazines as Connector Specifier, Electronic Products , Electronic Design, EE Times, COTS Journal, Military Embedded Systems and Military & Aerospace Electronics. He is a major contributor to embedded computing standards including PICMG’s CompactPCI, and AdvancedTCA specifications, as well as IEEE 1101.2, VME64x, VITA 46.x, VITA 65.x, SOSATM and many others.

Last year, VITA interviewed him as part of their series to honor outstanding people in the open standard community. In an excerpt of that interview, which VITA Executive Director Jerry Gipper kindly shared with us, you get a sense of what makes Michael such a unique person, someone who has not only given his all to the standards community, but to so many of us individually.  We thank Michael for his enormous contributions to PICMG and to every one of us with whom he’s shared his gifts.

1. Did you always want to be an engineer? If so, why? If not, how’d you wind up here?

I have wanted to be an electrical engineer for as long as I can remember. I was first excited to build small motors from nails and magnet wire for a Boy Scout Merit Badge. I went on to obtain my Novice Amateur Radio License and my first copy of the A.R.R.L. Handbook and started building Heath Kits.

However, college was not what I expected, and I dropped out and went to work becoming a machinist for such companies as DuPont and W.L. Gore and Associates. Later, working as a technician in the field of photovoltaics, I eventually found my way back into industrial electronics, where I combined my interest in electronics with my training as a machinist. There are many ways to arrive at any destination, and I can honestly say I have found enjoyment in every job that I’ve held. I come from a family of teachers and I find that much of my work within this industry is really just another form of teaching. I enjoy introducing young and old engineers and technicians to new open architectures.

2. What has surprised you the most about the work you do with embedded computing? (or engineering in general)

The bandwidth and data rate of backplanes continues to astound me. When I first entered this industry, a 3 MHz computer bus was considered very fast. Today, new backplane architectures are being designed where every channel will be capable of 25 GBase-KR signaling. This is astounding. The ability of silicon to reliably decode information out of a sea of noise and discontinuities makes much of this work possible.

3. What advice would you give to someone looking into this field of engineering?

Follow the IEEE Code of Ethics and learn to enjoy collaboration with others. Share your knowledge and always be aware of what you don’t know. Remember, if you can’t measure a process, you can’t control it. Every electrical and optical behavior is controlled by physical elements, defined by measurement.

4. Off the cuff: What’s something interesting you do outside of work?

I am a hobby beekeeper, enjoy photography and spend too much time on Facebook keeping in touch with old friends and my children.