(Sinclair User, June 1982)
ONE OF Jim Westwood's first
pieces of engineering wizardry was the contraption which enabled
him to carry-out soldering work from the comfort of his bed.
Were it not for the fact that he was only 12 years old at
the time, that might be mistaken for the sign of an extremely
lazy character. As it is, it merely emphasises the trait of
ingenuity which has helped him during his 20-year working
relationship with Clive Sinclair.
During those two decades, he has had a hand in such innovative
products as the Sinclair pocket calculator, the three more
recent computers and the promised flat-tube TV, not to mention
the transistor radios and hi-fi equipment of the early days.
Today, at 34, he is known as senior, or chief engineer, with
Sinclair Research, a role which combines engineering and management
It is a far cry from the early 1960s when he joined Clive
Sinclair and one secretary straight from school and relied
on trial and error, as much as natural aptitude, to take him
through his first days as a technician.
"Engineering of a kind was always my hobby, even when
I was very young. Wherever I went you could be sure of finding
a trail of broken torches in my wake. I had to take everything
to pieces and gradually I was able to put it together again",
It is that consistent, if unorthodox, philosophy which has
stood him in good stead for so many years and ensured that
the products in which he had a hand were always at the forefront
"I think it must be unusual to find someone like me
in a fairly senior position without formal training",
he says modestly, "but when you are always working unconventionally,
as we are at Sinclair Research, I don't think training matters
very much. Aptitude is more important".
From his small office in Cambridge, surrounded by an orderly
chaos of electronic equipment, he seldom works on fewer than
three ideas at a time. Of those, few come to fruition and
only a handful reach initial design stages.
"The most difficult part is deciding what we want to
achieve in the flrst place. We start with a mess which we
call a breadboard. That has a very basic outline of our concept.
"All of us here have electronics in our bones and so
when we first discuss an idea we know roughly its chances.
Because we always produce 'firsts' we can be reasonably sure
there will be no competition.
"The real worry is always whether it will catch on.
You might feel sure there is a certain demand in the market
but you are never sure just how it will sell".
Westwood admits that he still flinches at the sound of some
of Clive's ideas but adds: "It's a challenge managing
to achieve something without using expensive components and
I like that challenge.
"Of all the products with which I have been involved
I think the ZX-80 is my favourite. It was a real breakthrough
in the use of cheap components. It is something which ought
to be in the Ark by now but I am still proud of it".
Westwood is a modest and unassuming man, dismissing his early
role at Sinclair simply as a matter of "fiddling with
the components and trying to get the thing working".
His confidence grows as he talks of Sinclair generally and
it is clear that he recognises the combined talent in the
company, a team which would be sadly incomplete without him.
"We are always surprised at how long it takes the rest
of the world to catch up with us. After working with Clive
for years, you learn that it is worth trying to do things
other than the straighforward way. It has amazing benefits.
All our products show imagination and inventiveness; they
make other people envy us and want to work for us.
"We spent a long time getting all the people together
and now we have a very strong team, which is one of the main
reasons for our success, in my view".
Westwood, who is married to a former teacher and has four
children under the age of 10, is adamant that his family will
not be reared on a diet of TV games.
A seemingly bad advertisement, perhaps, for his work, but
he is already introducing his children to the concept of computers
as an aid to living - and they love it.
"My only adverse reaction to the whole thing is that
the instruction manuals leave much to be desired when you
are trying to teach children".
Aside from the sheer technology of his job, he has become
involved increasingly in management, taking part in the decision-making
and ensuring that ideas are carried through the system.
He enjoys decision-making and the follow-up process, including
the field trials which, for the flat-tube TV, will take him
round the world.
"There has not been a great deal fo travelling so far.
Of course, I go to Dundee often and our private aircraft has
made a huge difference to that; it beats the sleeper anyway.
"It will be another challenge to work on the field trials.
We will have to set up small laboratories or take the equipment
with us, trying it and perhaps modifying it slightly to suit
the various surroundings".
Ask what follows the flat-tube TV and Westwood is overcome
by a sudden vagueness, at odds with the forthcoming nature
of the rest of the interview. He may be untrained, he may
be shy, but Westwood knows when he is being tapped for a secret;
and, like all good engineers, he is giving away nothing.