Under The Microscope

Celebrating 5 Years

Way back when Rogue Amoeba was nearing its third birthday, we were excited to bring on our first employee – Mike Ash. On September 30th, we’ll celebrate our eighth birthday, which means Mike has been with Rogue Amoeba for five full years!

When I noticed this milestone approaching, I knew we should celebrate it somehow. We have a form of profit-sharing here, as well as annual bonuses and other gifts (iPads for all! Apple TVs for all!), but this occasion called for something a bit more special.

We wanted to give Mike something both useful and personalized. After kicking around some ideas, we settled on engraving a solid state drive (SSD), the ultra-fast, ultra-not-inexpensive new storage technology. To make things more interesting, we decided to do the engraving in-house. Co-founder and CTO Quentin describes the process:

To The Engraving Machine!

About a year ago I picked up a small bench-top CNC machine for making circuit boards and electronics enclosures. Configured correctly though, it can also do simple engraving.

The process starts with designing what you want to engrave as vector-based artwork. Naturally this task fell to Christa, who made the initial design in Adobe Illustrator. From that initial artwork I then generated tool path code (using Cut2) for the CNC machine to follow and do the engraving.

For the first prototype run, I used machinable wax to see how things looked:

A wax test run

If you look carefully, you’ll see that Ammo’s head hasn’t engraved correctly here. Engraving is a rather precise operation – this engraving was cutting only three thousandths of an inch of material out of the wax. Because the wax block was not held perfectly parallel to the engraving bit, by time the bit traveled to the top of Ammo’s head, it was no longer touching the block at all.

This posed a problem for engraving the SSD enclosure itself, as it would have to be held flat within two thousandths of an inch to get a good looking result. To hold the SSD within the required tolerance, it was disassembled and a custom fixture was made to hold it as flat as possible. Despite my best effort though, I could not achieve the required parallelism, and so engraving the SSD itself was abandoned.

Thus was hatched Plan B: engrave something simpler and then bolt it to the SSD. This provided the benefit of being much easier as well as making it possible to move the engraving to new hardware when the old drive went obsolete. As luck would have it, I had nice black anodized aluminum sheet metal, perfect for engraving:

Halfway done with the final product

The final plate required three more prototypes before all the bugs in the process worked out. Here you see the “Rogue Amoeba” logo being engraved on the final production run. The engraving bit is a 0.01″ 60 degree half round engraving bit, spun at 11,000 RPM, moving at 10 inches per minute. WD-40 is applied generously to both cool the bit and lubricant the cutting. Total machining time for the final run was around 45 minutes.

The Final Product

Once Quentin was done engraving, he attached the plate to the drive itself and sent it to Christa for final preparations:

Final engraving

Christa packaged up the drive along with the very pretty card expressing our thanks:

Card and SSD

Mike received our token of appreciation yesterday, and got it set up. How did he like it? We’ll let his tweet answer that.

One More Time

We said it privately, but I’ll do it one more time here on the site. Thanks for five great years Mike, and here’s to many more to come!

22 Responses to “Celebrating 5 Years”

  1. Harvard Irving says:

    You give your employees Apple TVs? Couldn’t you just stab them in the face with a fork, instead? I thought the idea of gifts was to give someone pleasure, not pain.

  2. highpass says:

    I can tell you’re the popular one at the parties

  3. Jaddie Dodd says:

    What a neat gift! I bet Mike will never forget it.

    Congratulations to all of you.

  4. Chintan says:

    I admire how much thought and effort you put into deciding the gift. Awesome work.

  5. J says:

    That’s awesome, sounds like a dream job!

  6. Matt Thomas says:

    That’s such a wonderful gift. My only problem would be this: I wouldn’t want to put it inside my machine. I would want to somewhere for the whole world to see.

  7. Amazing Rando says:

    @Matt Thomas: The engraved panel could be removed and framed. Once the life of the drive has run out it the plate could be reattached and framed.

    -Amazing Rando

  8. Michael Critz says:

    Now, that’s a classy gift! As a point of comparison when I worked at ABC-7 in El Paso for five years they gave me a lapel pin of the company’s logo. *sad trombone*

  9. Jobes says:

    That’s the kind of attention to detail which makes your products so good as well. Kudos, nice to hear a company has a great, personal and heart-felt way of rewarding employee loyalty.

  10. Rob L. says:

    Can we all come work for you?

  11. Dustin Wilson says:

    That’s how you say thank you to your employees. Jesus. That’s excellent.

  12. Mark says:

    Will the screws get in the way if he installs it in a laptop?

  13. Mike Ash says:

    Thanks everybody. It was a complete surprise and very nice to receive.

    I got it installed in my Mac Pro without too much trouble and moved my OS and home folder over to it. Things are fast! A clean build of Airfoil takes about two minutes now. (I don’t remember exactly but I think it was more like five minutes before.) More importantly, so many things that used to take time, like starting apps or incremental builds, now don’t. Hooray!

    I left the plate on it for now. I can’t see it that way, but I like keeping them together. It causes no trouble inside the Mac Pro. If I ever put it in a laptop and the plate interferes, or if I just want to show off the engraving, it is really easy to remove.

  14. W. Ian Blanton says:

    That is just flat-out awesome. That is definitely the way to do it….

  15. Michael peanuts says:

    Wow. I didn’t get so much as a thanks. I handle more than. Million dollars a year in accounts and I got nothing. It says alot about a company who goes these lengths to show appreciation for an employee. Sadly things like this are few and rare.

  16. Thurletta Brown-Gavins says:

    A hearty congratulations to all of you on your Eighth Anniversary, and a special pat on the back to Mike as he celebrates his Fifth Anniversary.
    Your software is awesome! Your staff is awesome!
    Thanks so much for all of your hard work!

  17. One upping you says:

    @Michael Critz: you think you had it bad. At 5 years I got a lapel pin. At 10 years I got a… lapel pin with a “stone” (note the quotes). At 15 years I got a… lapel pin with another “stone” (different color. yay!). Welcome to life at a prominent LA hospital.

  18. penguirl says:

    What a cool, thoughtful gift! I knew there was more than just the software to like about Rogue Amoeba, you guys rock. And congratulations on your five year anniversary Mike!

  19. His Shadow says:

    Nice, thoughtful gift.

    Also, glad to see Irving carrying on the tradition of first posters being dicks.

  20. Dave Ovad says:


    I’m certain that you had a hand in the great applications that I enjoy everyday!

    Thank you!


  21. mare says:

    Nice and smart gift! Now Mike’s build times are shorter so he’ll be more productive. If he had gotten a gold watch for this anniversary he’d have peeked at it constantly to check if he could go home already and would be less productive. It’s a win win!
    (too bad I’m self-employed)

  22. Tiziano Dal Betto says:

    Hurra for Mike and, btw, I’ll send you my CV…

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