Engineering Tomorrow, Today: An Interview with Stephen Cheng, General Manager, Global Design, Technology and Product Lifecycle Management at Celestica

  • Celestica  |
  • 2020-02-18
Stephen Cheng

This post is part of our Engineering Series, which features perspectives from our team and showcases first-hand how they’re engineering tomorrow, today.

Stephen Cheng, Celestica’s General Manager of Global Design, Technology and Product Lifecycle Management, has always been lured in by the intricacies of complexity. His fascination was sparked as a child when he took apart his brand-new video game console “to see how it worked''. That curiosity started him down a career path in product design and development. Today, Stephen leads a team of engineers who work with Celestica’s customers to turn innovative ideas into reality, and to prepare for the impact new and disruptive technologies will have on their businesses. 

We sat down with Stephen to get his insight on where he sees future technology heading and how he develops ‘readiness’ with the Global Design Team.

What is your role and the role of the broader engineering team at Celestica?
I am the General Manager of Global Design, Technology and Product Lifecycle Management (PLM). I lead a fantastic team of talented people who work closely with our customers to bring innovative, high quality technologies to market.  

We apply three key capabilities to all of our customer relationships: we analyze technology trends and our customers’ needs to inform our product roadmap; work with our ecosystem partners to incorporate the latest technologies into our customers’ products; and direct the entire product development lifecycle. We follow a structured process that starts with a high level concept and moves through the design, verification, validation, new product introduction and mass production phases. Our global reach allows us to ramp up production and launch a customer’s new product quickly, while ensuring the highest level of quality. 

How does Celestica's global design team enable our customers’ products?
Our customers are focused on executing their strategies, driving many of our traditional customers to redirect resources to software and services development.  In this scenario, they look to Celestica to deliver innovation in hardware, relying on us to provide them with customizable hardware platforms that can be adopted with speed and manufactured at scale to meet their unique needs.

We complement our customers’ work by investing in the latest technologies to help them stay ahead of the curve. For example, Celestica was one of the first to offer NVMe (Non-Volatile Memory Express) flash storage hardware solutions and 400G data center switching hardware solutions, which has helped our customers reduce time-to-deployment or time-to-market. 

We stay abreast of market shifts, trends and technologies that will impact our customers’ businesses, because even as our engineers deliver new products through the product development cycle today, they also need to be working on what comes next.

What are some of the technologies and trends that are top-of-mind for you and your team?
The disaggregation of hardware and software isn’t a new trend - it began transforming the PC industry decades ago, and is having the same impact now on enterprise IT infrastructure, particularly in the hyperscale data center environment. The disaggregation of infrastructure continues to generate tremendous opportunity for us to create value for our customers.

Technology-wise, we are excited about 5G and AI. We expect to see a rapid rise in 5G deployments, which will enable us to expand the adoption of our hardware platforms in the mobile edge space.

 Many of our customers are creating unique AI capabilities, often across a large scale data center infrastructure that typically requires application-specific hardware. Our full-stack hardware portfolio and customized hardware design capabilities deliver exactly what they need for these highly custom deployments.

Can you assess the impact the open source community has had on hardware development, and what you expect as we move into 2020?
Open source has become a key part of the hardware development process, and an important catalyst of innovation and ecosystem collaboration. It helps to bring end-users and vendors together to standardize hardware architecture, interfaces, building blocks and drive commonality across multiple customers and vendors to create greater efficiency industry-wide. 

Some may think open source hardware threatens to commoditize hardware, but that is not the case. Hardware matters, and that won’t change in 2020. While multiple design drawings may look similar, the value created through the other steps of product development, delivery and customer services can be significantly different. A robust, well-structured product development process, industry-leading supply chain and manufacturing operations, consistently high quality, and continued innovations in various design disciplines are all key competitive differentiators that enable our customers and drive strong customer satisfaction.

Our customers realize several benefits by leveraging open source software and hardware. For example, a standardized architecture spurs faster development across a broad set of product portfolios. This enables faster R&D, design, manufacturing and delivery processes, while keeping costs in line and ensuring the highest quality. 

How do you balance customer-focused projects with monitoring future trends and disruptors?
We dedicate the time and energy to doing both simultaneously. Anyone with a long to-do list knows it’s easy to focus on today’s priorities at the expense of tomorrow’s possibilities. That is why we devote a certain percentage of our time and energy to conceiving ideas for new products. Many will never leave the drawing board, but the knowledge we gain is invaluable.

We have a group of very talented people on our Technology team, with diverse backgrounds. Some excel at intricate problem solving for our customers’ current needs, while others thrive on developing broadly scoped innovations for the future. My job is to ensure that everyone feels free to be creative and think big. There are no bad ideas. Maintaining this open environment enables everyone to communicate effectively and work as a cohesive unit that draws on individuals’ various perspectives and expertise. That’s critical to conceiving and building the best solutions for our customers today, tomorrow and beyond.