Chandrakant Patel, chief engineer for HP Inc The Engineer

Chandrakant Patel

For HP Inc’s chief engineer Chandrakant Patel, the relationship between hardware and software has never been closer

As a mechanical engineer in the home of software, Chandrakant Patel sometimes has to remind his colleagues that the real world isn’t made from ones and zeroes.

“Having been in Silicon Valley for 35 years, I used to work with [HP co-founder] Bill Hewlett. I was there when the first disk drives came out, when the chip design was done, when fabrication was here, when a lot of physical fundamentals happened,” said Patel.

The theme of fundamentals is one to which Patel returns frequently. If the 19th century was the age of machines and the 20th century the age of information, HP Inc’s chief engineer regards the current century as the time when the two will fully merge. It’s an era he refers to as the “cyber-physical”, characterised by the expansion of the internet of things (IoT).

“A Tesla, or an electric car… it’s an example of a cyber-physical system,” Patel explained.

In this new age, software skills in isolation will no longer suffice, and engineering fundamentals will once again come to the fore in Silicon Valley, he believes. Coding expertise will remain vital but increasingly it will need to be complemented with domain knowledge.

“If you thought civil engineering, mechanical engineering, materials science, heat transfer, fluid mechanics was no longer interesting, you’ve got another think coming,” said Patel. “In the cyber-physical world, that’s more important than anything else.”

According to Patel, HP’s hardware heritage should serve it well in addressing the challenges of the cyber-physical. And some of the company’s existing solutions could give it a distinct advantage in certain areas.

Over the past three-quarters of a century, HP has straddled virtually every aspect of IT, from oscillators to software services. Despite that, it is still perhaps best known for its innovations in…

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