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“John wanted to do an exceptionally challenging senior project,” recalls his former adviser, Electrical Engineering Professor Herb Hess.

“With the great education that U- Idaho had given him, his love for his music and his enthusiasm for his electronics left little doubt that he would succeed. That’s been my experience with many students at Idaho.”



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Been There. Done That. Could You Hand Me the Other Guitar?

U-Idaho engineering alum offers a winning approach to the job interview

By Donna Emert

When John Elliot (’99) applied for his first job after graduating from the University of Idaho with a major in engineering and a minor in music, he brought his senior design project with him to the interview.

The job at JBL Professional, one of the largest speaker manufacturers in the world, required three years of experience. They hired Elliot straight out of college. JBL produces the coffee-hut sized speakers that share the stage with the likes of Mick Jagger.

John Elliot album recorded in 2003

The cover from an album Elliot recorded in 2003.

“The first piece of audio equipment I designed was as a student,” said Elliot. “It was an acoustic guitar preamplifier, designed to accept the signals from an electric guitar and an acoustical guitar, sculpt the sound, and put it out as sound that was processed and ready to listen to.”

Traditional sound pickups for acoustic guitar are very different than the electronic interface for electric guitars. By developing hardware that deals with both types of signals, Elliot created the audio electronics necessary to play both guitars at the same time.

Elliot’s U-Idaho senior design project was key to breaking into the profession, and his passion for music played a strong supporting role.

“The interview showed them that I had the ability to design products like that,” said Elliot. “It was an amazing first job to get. It was exactly what I wanted to do. I didn’t expect to go straight into the industry like that.”

“It’s funny. I didn’t originally want to be an engineer,” he confesses. “I didn’t like the math, but I was good at it. It wasn’t until I was able to apply mathematics to developing an electronic circuit, based on the calculations, that I got excited about it. To apply math to objects in the real world --to make a computer, or to make a speaker-- that’s when it really becomes exciting and compelling.”

In that first interview, JBL also valued the two internships Elliot completed while he was a student. His first, the summer after sophomore year, was with Maxtek in Beaverton, Ore., test engineering electronics. The second, the summer after junior year, was product engineering for Micron, in Boise.

Elliot has a personal as well as a professional stake in solving technical problems related to acoustics. “I actually started as a music major,” said Elliot. “It’s always been a passion and great area of interest for me.”

Since that first job, Elliot has owned and operated his own recording studio, worked for Telex Communications as a hardware design engineer, for Audio Partnership as electronic design engineer and at Logitech as senior electrical engineer and technical lead.

Alumnus John Elliot wearing a Lightspeed headset

John Elliot wearing a Lightspeed headset.

He is now director of engineering for Lightspeed Aviation, a company of 36 employees, including the two mechanical engineers and two electrical engineers, one DSP engineer and one PCB engineer he oversees. He also serves as project manager for products in development, and as one of the company’s technical experts, providing input on technologies and technology strategies, “looking at what products we’ll be developing in the future,” he said.

Elliot is currently finishing a master’s degree in engineering and technology management at Portland State University, so has less time lately to play and perform music. He’s glad to have started out as a music student at Idaho.

“I learned an incredible amount about music in that first year of study, particularly in music theory and aural studies classes,” says Elliot. “Music is something that I’ve never stopped pursuing, as a performer and a song writer. I don’t do well if I don’t have that creative outlet.”

His passion for music continues to provide balance in his life and insights into his profession. His engineering education also is empowering.

“A degree in engineering holds a lot of weight,” he said. “The main thing you learn is how to solve problems. Those thinking skills are so valuable you can pair the training with business, go into marketing, work for government, or pursue other areas. It’s a degree that has value in the real world.”