Manufacturing was very interesting and useful experience. I wouldn't have minded staying there another few months to get into some of the initiatives we had originally planned, but that were superseded by new product introduction activities.
There's a perception in some circles that manufacturing engineering is less prestigious or desirable than design, that it demands less creativity and "real engineering". It's wrong. Manufacturing is often quite tactical, since small problems on the line have to be addressed immediately, but it's not all about that, and even that can be pretty challenging stuff. The biggest difference I found is that while design is about things, manufacturing is about processes, and that means that it's about people. Nothing is more complex than a person, except a group of people. As a result, manufacturing engineering usually finds solutions that are incremental improvements but fall far short of hypothetical optima. That can be frustrating, but seeing immediate results from one's work makes up for it!
My new assignment is to lead a hardware design group in a major new project, really a program which will involve multiple projects. (The details, of course, aren't public!) My opposite number in software and I seem to be getting along, and we've tentatively divided the high-level stuff with him taking more of the project management and me taking more of the product management, which suits me well. It's an exhilarating time to be on the project, because only the loosest sketch of the direction is in place. I'll be making the early decisions (in collaboration with others, of course) that will shape the project and product(s), rather than being saddled with a project in which all of the strategic directions have already been set.
This involves more "things" work than my manufacturing gig did, but there's a lot of "process" work too: we're trying to be much more intelligent and disciplined about specification design and project management, and that doesn't just happen by itself because someone issues a directive. I'm also trying to build manufacturing involvement into the process early on, which is important but challenging. Primarily, my work is about people here too, but now in a more directive than consultative role.
There are some things I'm not 100% satisfied with about my company, but there are a lot of really good things about it too, and many of the negative aspects are showing signs of improvement. The good points tend to be, as described in the video linked from my previous post, intrinsic motivators. Autonomy is probably the toughest thing for a small company with a few really bright people at the top to grant, but it seems to be coming, albeit not blindingly quickly.
I could make more money elsewhere, but it will take more than that to extract me from this job... I may be tired at the end of the day, but I'm seldom disheartened!