Volunteer spotlight: Cool Connections, Hot Alumni
By Steve Seepersaud
A Binghamton University graduate has played a key role in creating one of the most popular toys on the market, and he recently shared some of his experiences with current students.
David Wong '95, director of engineering for Fisher-Price, the maker of Tickle Me Elmo, talked to about 40 students via videoconference on Oct. 17, as part of the Alumni Association's "Cool Connections, Hot Alumni" virtual career speaker series.
Wong, who majored in electrical engineering in the Watson School, oversees all aspects of electrical components in the company's toys. He says that he's most proud of his work on the 10th anniversary TMX Tickle Me Elmo, which was released in 2006. The production team had a lot at stake, trying to complete the project and ship Elmos to the United States in time for the holiday shopping season.
"We pulled it off under tremendous time pressure and it involved me flying over to Asia and living there for about a month, and working with the factory and developers," Wong said. "We were in jeopardy of having to air-ship it and, in the toy industry, you never want to air-ship it because that eats into all your profit. Typically things are shipped by boat, which is much cheaper but takes a lot longer."
Wong also talked about some of the complex circuitry involved in getting Elmo to come to life, and said the coursework in the Watson School had prepared him well.
"These Elmos were semi-robotic," Wong said. "The TMX laughed so hard that he fell onto the floor, beat the floor with his hands, rolled onto his back, laughed some more and then got back up."
Wong's career path has taken a few twists and turns over the years as he started in medical electronics then designed elevator controllers. He wound up in toys serendipitously; he wanted a shorter commute because his then-employer moved to New Jersey.
He told students it may take some time to land the job that best suits them, and they shouldn't feel troubled because of that. "I think figuring out what you don't want to do is just as important as figuring out what you do want to do."
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