The Human Side of Synapse - by Ivy Santos '14

synapse_hi_rez-4492.jpg"Synapse solves engineering challenges from design through manufacturing for the leading consumer electronics and life-sciences companies in the world."

Synapse, founded in 2001, is a team of innovators from wide-ranging fields. Among their crew are engineers of all flavors, designers, marketers, and strategists. Synapse takes a new angle on engineering innovation. Instead of living in fear of failure, the designers at Synapse are encouraged to take risks that more timid designers would discount immediately. This makes for not only a group of employees that love what they do, but also solutions and products that could be thought of by no other group.

"We're called synapse because in the human nervous system, the synapses are the connections between the individual elements of the network.  Information passes from one neuron to another to communicate intent and action."

- CEO and co-founder Scott Bright

(Check out Scott's TED talks at


Halloween-Panorama-2-small.jpgThe Synapse culture of innovation, communication, and teamwork has drawn several Oliners. We have five alumni working there: Bret Richmond ('06), Kate Cummings ('06), Dylan Sanders-Garrett ('06), Pam Darvirris ('10) and Nik Wittenstein ('09), and now an intern as well.  A  few have told us about what they do at Synapse.    

Dylan has recently been assigned the awesome task of expanding the Synapse customer base in San Francisco, as the Business Development Director in that brand new office. Dylan networks and finds new clients, and spends his days talking to innovators about the exciting technologies they're working on.

Dylan liked doing collaborative team-based work at Olin (don't we all?) and saw that Synapse was based on the same principle. As Dylan put it, "If you work on something you're excited about and surround yourself with people you like being with, you will do your best work." The wide range of companies that Synapse consults for are constantly bringing in new and interesting challenges.

The things that Dylan pulls out of the skills toolbox that Olin gave him are not anything he was tested on, but rather his ability to work well in teams, communicate effectively, and manage his time, and the fearlessness to jump into a problem knowing he'll find a solution.

"What separates Olin engineers is all the project-based work that they have accomplished before coming to Synapse. ALL of our work is team- and project-based and having that experience, not only in the applied engineering and product development cycle, but the inherent 'team player' skill sets Olin apart. This is such a leg up from where a lot other grads are during this transitional period and it really pays off in spades in the Synapse culture. "

- Gordon Gray, Business Development Manager, Synapse Product Development

Kate Cummings spends her days working with clients and vendors, a skill set which she attributes to her experience in the SCOPE program. She finds Synapse very similar to Olin partly due to the "we're a big family" feel. She frequently does things with her coworkers outside of work. She's on the Synapse soccer team, and has gone on rock climbing trips as spin-offs of business trips. Also, some of the projects that she works on are Olin-class-project-long (about 6 weeks), but with a bigger budget and more industrial design. The problem-solving skills she gained at Olin have served her extensively at Synapse.  

"For many years, we have found Olin to be a wonderful source of engineering talent. The school's attitude of 'Innovative Engineering in an Innovative Setting' matches perfectly with Synapse's culture of innovation, invention, collaboration, and risk-taking."

- Chris Massot, Vice President of Sales and Marketing, Synapse Product Development



microscope2.jpgBret Richmond is a Mechanical Engineer for Synapse, but does a lot of project management as well. His days are filled with connecting with his clients via email, working on his projects (mainly involving mechanical design and design for manufacturing), and mentoring his juniors who are working on the project.  He is also a project manager, dealing with all the pertinent logistics in addition to being in charge of the ME shop and all its maintenance: not a light job!  When he gets a free minute, Bret can be found playing pool or grabbing a sandwich at Pike Place Market.

Bret likes the entrepreneurship involved in product development and enjoys how Synapse offers fresh exciting projects every few months. It's really the people that drew him to Synapse, though. Even after hours, they spend their free time together. His co-workers at Synapse are also a solid group of friends, which fosters a supportive and trusting atmosphere.  

No one is afraid to ask for help, and anyone can rely on their co-workers to help them move in the right direction if they're stuck. To move as fast as they do at Synapse, nobody can be left alone to "beat their head against a wall," which is a major difference between there and Olin. Bret thinks every Oliner should know: "Don't be afraid to ask for help and get other eyes on your work, but take criticism of your work constructively. You may be a great engineer, but you will make mistakes. Work with others to help you identify those mistakes to help make your designs that much better. If you really want to solve problems, you must learn new things every single day."

"Synapse works very hard to build a culture of empowerment and trust for everyone so that there are little to no barriers for ideas to be discussed. If employees feel empowered to suggest possible improvements and trust that they will be heard, then you will be tapping the true potential of the company." - Ross Collins, President and Co-founder, Synapse Product Development

Bret, Kate, and Dylan all seem to have similar feelings of excitement and camaraderie at Synapse. They are enthusiastic about their jobs and inspired by the content of their projects. Between the Synapse culture of friendship, teamwork, and innovation and their propensity to take on fun and intellectually stimulating projects, why would Oliners want to work anywhere else?  

"Synapse believes in the power of an entrepreneurially empowered culture to overcome obstacles. Innovation means work...but it also means play. Synapse employees believe in the deep connection that comes from trust and respect for their peers. Synapse employees rigorously honor their commitment to make Synapse 'the best job they've ever had.'"

- The Synapse Mission

Posted in: Alumni Speak, Learning about Design, Olin Employers