The purpose of this blog is to inform those who are interested about my journey as one of three students from around the world who earned placements at Infiniti-Red Bull Racing as a result of the Infiniti Performance Engineering Academy. Family, friends, colleagues, aspiring engineers, and any other followers are welcome to visit this page and, if desired, give me feedback or ask questions. It is an effort to streamline documenting the next 12 months for all of these varying audiences, some of which do not participate in social media.

I have never written a journal, never written a blog. This is a first for me. This being the most meaningful and fantastic opportunity I could ever dream of, I would like to share best I can the details of what goes on in my day-to-day during the academy. I am incredibly honored to have won a placement at Infiniti-Red Bull Racing, and I seek to make this opportunity worth everything it possibly can be.

I will write once or twice a week, depending on the accumulation of events and catching up on the previous few days. If you'd like, you can sign up for email notifications for when I create a new post! See the link toward the bottom of this page. I hope you all enjoy, and thank you so much for visiting!

Tuesday, 26 May 2015

Tips to Launch a Career as an Engineer in Motorsport

For this post, I’d like to take the opportunity to reach out and put forth my advice for aspiring engineers, especially those seeking to get into motorsport. 
The price of winning is always the reduction, if not the elimination of playtime.  However, since racing is basically playing any way you want to look at it (real people make their livings by doing something that they hate), we can't bitch too much. 
Carroll Smith

I will let you know now that this post is absolutely massive.  I worked on this for over two months, and it’s quite detailed.  It is also far from perfect.  I’ve organized my thoughts into fifteen sections that I feel are most pertinent.  Ideas do naturally overlap the sections of course.
  1. Drive
  2. In it for the Money or for the Passion?
  3. Go Beyond the Classroom
  4. Focus on Fundamentals
  5. Fail Successfully
  6. Communicate Effectively
  7. Get Out of Your Comfort Zone
  8. Ask Questions
  9. Get Organized, Manage Time, and Keep Documentation
  10. Fabricate
  11. Lead, Follow, Teach, Collaborate
  12. Know What You Don't Know
  13. Create Your Own Opportunity
  14. Consider the Long Term Big Picture
  15. Have a Life!
Although my experience of how I’ve gone through getting a dream career off of the ground is not at all the only way to do so, I do feel that my advice can help others.  I do not claim that what I say in the following words are empirical truths; they simply reflect my experience and how I got to where I am today, and I’m certainly still working on a lot of them.  I’m sure there will be some of you who have experienced the opposite and others who plain disagree.

So that said, take from them what you will.  I wish you the best of luck as you push forward with your career.


First, I’ll give some background about me.

I grew up in Hamilton Square, New Jersey in the USA.  Growing up, I didn’t have any exposure to racing, nor did I get really dirty under the hood of a car.  However, my dad had been a mechanic back in the day, and so he taught me how to perform oil changes and change spark plugs.  He and I would learn together over the years.

I started working when I was 14.  My first job was on a farm along with other kids my age, and we packed produce for market at 5am 6 days per week.  Since then, I’ve always had a job, have been in school, or both.  I learned early to work hard, and I credit my family for teaching me that. My mom, dad, brother Steve, and sister Jen would always push me to do well.  With their love and help and that of my peers and teachers, I made it to the University of Maryland in 2007.

In my first year of university, I nearly failed.  I couldn’t get organized, and I had no study skills.  My GPA after one year was below 2.0, and I was on academic probation.  The following semester I sought help, and I turned everything around.  I would later graduate with a 3.3 GPA.

In the spring of 2009, after my first good semester, I decided to draft a resume and go to the career fair to get some practice for when it would really count.  There was no way that I expected to secure a job.  I was wrong.  Four months later, I began my first internship, working on military vehicles at the US Army Aberdeen Test Center.  It turned into a 9-month co-op.

Going to a career fair to practice speaking to recruiters resulted in getting this job for 9 months!

After that, I studied abroad in Italy.  I’ll spare you details, as I go into some of that later in this post.  But, what a life-changing experience.  Upon returning to university, I went on to complete 2 seasons of Baja SAE and 3 seasons of Formula SAE.

In 2011, I went to the inaugural Baltimore Grand Prix, where the American Le Mans Series and IndyCar were racing.  I went from paddock to paddock talking to engineers about how to get into motorsport.  They gave me useful advice, and I made some great connections that lasted for quite a while, but nothing took hold until 2012.  The Viper returned to racing with SRT Motorsports, and I was introduced to the road racing manager.  After an interview months later, I secured my first job in motorsport.

In my last month as a student, I found out about the Infiniti Performance Engineering Academy with roughly a week remaining.  This was only after a fellow FSAE teammate asked me if I’d seen the email from our Co-op and Career Services office.  Since I’d been working toward an offer from Chrysler, I deleted all of those types of emails as it wasn’t a concern.  I found the email in my trash folder, said “why not?” and applied.

And you know the rest of the story.

My path was not one of extraordinary luck, money, growing up racing, or having had connections.  I didn’t have an engineering family background.  I barely got any scholarships.  I found something I loved, something I became truly passionate about, and I fought hard to create and seize every opportunity.

I may have made this for myself, but I damn sure didn’t get here on my own.  I have the utmost gratitude and appreciation for everybody who has had any influence on my life and career, even the ones who tried to hold me back or told me I wouldn’t get there.  It’s been inspiring and motivating to have the immense support that I have.

Some of the awesome people who have helped me along the way.
There are a lot of people not commemorated in this picture who certainly should be!  Honestly, this collage should by 10 times this size to fit in everybody who has given me their support over the years.  Thank you to all.

Before we dive in, let me start you off with some inspiration.

1. Drive

If everything seems under control, you're not going fast enough. 
Mario Andretti

How can you expect to excel at engineering in motorsports without a basic first-hand understanding of what it’s like to race?

Whether it’s a kart, getting some seat time in your Formula SAE/Formula Student team’s car, or your own machine for an autocross, get behind the wheel and do some performance driving.  Even if you don’t have much extra spending cash, at least one of these options is certainly financially accessible to you.  And as far as autocrossing goes, it doesn’t matter what you take there.  Maybe a bus isn’t the ideal choice, but short of that, just get out and drive.

Left:  Driving the TR11 for practice and evaluation
Right:  Driving karts at Summit Point in West Virginia

Furthermore, if you don’t know how to drive a manual transmission vehicle (looking at my own country here), learn!  It doesn’t matter if the cars you go on to design have a manual transmission or not.  Learning how to drive a manual will deepen your understanding of how the driveline works, give you a more basic feeling of being in contact with the road, teach you about shift points and throttle control, and a lot more.

When you start to get a feel of a car pushed to its limit, you will learn to speak the language of the drivers.  The more variety of cars and setups, the better, as you will be able to discern differences.  As most drivers are not engineers, they generally will not be able to interpret the feel of the car for you back to anything other than perhaps the basic adjustment of standard components.  This is particularly true for less experienced and younger drivers.

It is the driver's job to tell you how it feels and where, dynamically, the capabilities and limitations are.  It is your job to be able to understand and interpret the feelings the driver has and in turn tune the car, redesign as necessary, or make recommendations and other educated judgement calls.  This will also help you qualitatively describe what you see in data telemetry with what is experienced by the driver.  The more you understand driving, the more you'll understand the driver.  You are the catalyst.  You perform the translation and engineer the car.

Oh, and don’t street race.  Beyond the stupidity, it will teach you nothing useful.

2. In it for the Money, or for the Passion?

Without passion, we might as well be dead already. 
Antti Kalhola

Despite the appeal of making a great deal of money as an entry-level engineer, particularly in the United States, you will not find that in motorsport until you get to the higher ranks.  So if you are convinced you need a $70,000/year starting salary, skip reading whatever is left here.

Generally, a lot of very talented people want to be in motorsport.  It is a competitive job market.  Think supply and demand.  It’s the opposite in many other engineering industries.  The pay follows this sort of idea.


Though I could take more lucrative jobs in the United States or in the petroleum industry, I would not enjoy them nearly as much, particularly while I’m young.  As long as I can afford to see my family, my girlfriend, and my friends, the monthly payments on my student loans, taking care of my health and fitness, and a few basic luxuries, that’s all I need.  I’ll make the sacrifice now while still having a life and patiently waiting for the money side of things to improve.

Passion usually outweighs money, but of course there is a limit to what you’re able to live with financially.  But guys…don’t follow the money, especially when you’re at the intern stage in your pre-graduate career.  Pick the opportunity that has the most value to you, not the most financial reward. Volunteer for a time if you have to, in order to gain experience.  Again, do what’s best for the long term and whatever makes you happy!

3. Go Beyond the Classroom
Above all, try something. 
Franklin D. Roosevelt

To achieve your dreams, following the basic and minimal requirements to obtain an engineering degree is not enough.  You must seek challenges elsewhere.

Student competitions such as Formula SAE (FSAE, also Formula Student, or FS), Baja SAE, SAE Aero Design, other SAE competitions, Human Powered Helicopter, and a myriad of others are huge opportunities for you to tremendously improve your skills by learning fundamentals and applications beyond what you would in the classroom.

It’s not just about competitions like these.  Read journal papers and textbooks beyond what’s required.  Get a cheap project car to tear apart, troubleshoot, fix, rebuild, and run.  Join a local race team and do what you can to learn and help.  Get involved in a research project with a professor, become a laboratory assistant, and help publish a paper.  Go to conferences, symposiums, and expos.  Go to a race!  And don’t overlook putting tremendous effort into getting internships, placements, and co-ops.  Get some experience any way you can.
Testing the TR14 on a beautiful spring morning

FSAE was and is my preferred choice extracurricular.  But I was also involved in Baja SAE, completed three summer internships and one co-op, volunteered as a tutor and mentor, worked as a research assistant, and studied abroad in Italy.  However, this was over an atypical seven years of education while I pursued degrees in both mechanical engineering and aerospace engineering.  Nonetheless, there are a lot of great opportunities beyond the walls of the classroom to build yourself into something unique and valuable.

For those interested in a career in racing, note that what you do does not have to be racing related!  It helps of course, but do not sell yourself short if you have done extracurricular work in the medical field or something you feel is unrelated.  It is much more about the fundamental sciences, which at their core are generally fairly common throughout engineering.  Being able to apply them universally in problem-solving is the mark of a great engineer.

The concept of the annual FSAE competitions, of which there are several throughout the world, is that a fictional company has contracted a student design team to develop a small open-wheel race car.  The rulebook is wide open.  You must design, build, and race a car from scratch.  In doing so, you have the opportunity to be involved in a huge variety of facets of engineering, including advanced machine design, vehicle dynamics, applied aerodynamics, composite structural analysis, data acquisition and analysis, applied electronics design, ergonomics, internal combustion engines and other powertrain principles, and much more.

Beyond the theory and design, you must also manufacture a vast majority of these components, quantify the cost of every last component, present your business strategy, and defend the car's design to industry professionals.  It is an absolutely massive undertaking, and there is an unbelievable amount of potential for all sorts of aspects of professional development.

Putting all of this together to work in harmony and with sufficient reliability is no small feat, and many teams’ cars do not finish the competition.  That was my experience, every year, and it is heart-breaking.  It is also tremendously character building.  I’ve never felt so proud to help create something alongside a number of talented individuals, and I learned a lot of lessons from my years in FSAE and Baja SAE.

Speaking of lessons learned, now it’s time for some important caveats regarding FSAE involvement.

DO NOT assume that because you worked in FSAE you will land a job.  It is not the golden ticket some people think it is.  In fact, I’ve found a lot of the opposite of that in motorsport, and I can see why.

Back in the day of 10-person teams, the resources were smaller, and the cars were more basic.  For a variety of reasons, this meant that each student was generally a healthy contributor and received a great deal of broad experience in return, thus being very useful in industry as well.  In today’s world, teams are ever more massive.  Although not universally true, my experience and having talked to many other large teams tells me that there is generally a small core percentage of students on the team who are significant contributors.  Often, this is due to a lack of organization and management rather than a lack of effort from junior students. 

Since FSAE is still considered a great pool to recruit from, a lot of students will ride the FSAE wave, contribute very little, and still get interviews simply from having FSAE on their resume/CV.  Sometimes this works…if you’d like to design toasters (apologies to any toaster designers out there).  To get to the job you really want, especially in racing, you will fail the interview the moment you are asked about what you did for the team and cannot describe what you did or why, or if your team leader is contacted as a standard point of reference.

Often, even committed students in FSAE will perform a lot of tasks without knowing the fundamentals.  So, you may know what you or your team did, but you may not know why you used a safety factor of 2 as a rule of thumb in your mechanical design, why you focused 5 weeks of your time on “optimized” front wing endplate design to reduce yaw sensitivity by an arbitrary 15% which gained you 2lbs of downforce on the inside front corner during a 23mph skid pad, why double shear is typically a more sound design than single shear, why you’re measuring and reporting your design camber to the hundredth of a degree when your camber compliance per G of lateral acceleration is likely at least an order of magnitude higher than that, or why you chose the chassis layout you did.

Also, how well your team places does not mean much, particularly when you get to the interview.  It’s much more about what you are able to do with the limited resources you have, often a result of the team dynamic and modus operandi.

You don’t need to understand to the microscopic or doctorate level of specialty on things, but applied projects mean nothing if you can’t show that you understand the science behind them.

If you can understand this, you’ll go far.  That is the point of these projects from a development point of view.  Get involved in something that challenges you, that helps push your thinking and knowledge above and beyond the norm.  There is a massive amount of potential in programs like these!

4. Focus on Fundamentals

If you can't explain it to a six-year-old, you don't understand it yourself.
                                                      •  •  •
Everything should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler. 
Albert Einstein

A long one here, as this is arguably one of the biggest shortfalls I witness.  Hence, lots of advice!

These Einstein quotes are, like the man himself, brilliant.  Yet throughout engineering, particularly FSAE, there are innumerable examples of applying technology beyond the scope of understanding.  You cannot expect to exploit science successfully without understanding why it works.  Start simple and keep it as simple as functionally necessary!

Knowing the “why” and the “how” is much more important than simply knowing the “what.”  Your primary focus as an engineering student (indeed even as a professional) should be on understanding why things work the way they work.  There are times to jump into the implementation of technology to advance your learning, but innovate only once you’ve totally and completely understood the basics.
Explaining the race car to (roughly) six-year-olds!  Not just any six-year-olds, my niece and nephews!

In the summer of 2012, I was visiting a friend in Wisconsin whose dad was a collector of vintage automobiles and other things.  He was excited to show me some of the cars, how one could adjust the ignition timing from the cockpit with simple mechanical linkages, the suspensions and controls, and other cool things.  It hit me.  Despite two years of Baja SAE experience, one season of FSAE experience, and working on a few modern cars, I realized I had no idea how a lot of it worked.  At that point, I knew that I needed to rework my understanding of a lot of basics.  Since then, I’ve had a huge appreciation for classic cars and their relatively simple technology.  I’d highly recommend taking a look at classic cars when you get a chance and seeing what you really know.  That was a big turning point for me.

As it is such a big part of today’s engineering world, I am often asked which software to focus on learning.  To be honest, anybody with a basic understanding of computer operation can learn how to operate software as well.  It is true that basic experience in CAD, in coding, and in numerical methods-based applications is very useful.  And I would highly suggest learning to love MATLAB.

However, it doesn’t take a great engineer to watch a 10 minute video tutorial on how to use SolidWorks finite element analysis (FEA), then apply boundary conditions and forces to an object, mesh it, run it, view the results, take the peak stress and divide it into the yield strength of the material of interest from a book to find the safety factor, then take out bits of low-stress excess material until a lightweight design is achieved.  It is the same thing with computational fluid dynamics (CFD), to a much more ridiculous extent.

What does take a great engineer is to understand how the software works, what the numerical methods are, how a valid solution is reached, when and why peak stresses in FEA are false or why a solution needs a smaller mesh size to converge, or why any multibody system needs a relatively small time step iteration to solve, all balanced with understanding the basic capabilities of computational resources.

Don’t try and design a rear steer system if you can’t fully describe the vehicle dynamics of a basic car with front steering alone.

Sometimes, learning fundamentals in a classroom or textbook can feel tedious.  It can be hard to see the point of learning certain material without the help of a professor to see the context.  Try to find the application of and motivation for learning the fundamentals, or I promise you it will hurt you down the road when you try to master their respective applications.

Context is hugely helpful for finding this motivation.  For me, it was hard to learn many concepts in the dry and non-relatable or context-free ways they are often taught in a classroom.  Take differential equations for example.  I didn’t know why I needed to memorize the solution types and criteria for use of each.  But once I was interested in equations of motion for a single-cylinder engine for the sake of bushing selection and transmissibility of vibration, not only did I find that I wished I paid more attention in my course on differential equations, but I voluntarily enrolled in a course on linear algebra (for some crazy reason, it was not required at the time I took it).  I also paid more attention in my course on control systems and subsequently improved my ability to understand control theory and use software such as Simulink intelligently to solve a transient set of equations.

Later, I wanted to understand applied aerodynamics and design.  Beyond enrolling in aerospace engineering as a second major, I enrolled in a graduate-level CFD course despite being an undergraduate.  Among other things, I learned about the Courant-Friedrichs-Lewy number and how that applies to solutions of implicit and explicit partial differential equations and the numerical methods based on them.  With this coursework, I immediately was able to run more educated simulations for my FSAE car and confidently develop full aerodynamic maps.  Interestingly, these principles also helped me better understand aliasing and phase shift in sampling rates and filtering for data acquisition.

Simply put, I find that an engaging application of fundamentals helps significantly to reinforce those and related principles.  Try to find those applications that matter most to you.

As a side note, memorization as a learning technique is not ideal, and I often hear students complain about the need to memorize things that appear useless.  Understand that each course affects each student differently in terms of career direction and scope, so the material is designed to encompass traditional career options.  In truth, you’re not expected to remember every little thing taught in class, hence the popular idea of a “cheat sheet” with formulae.  This mimics the real world in that you will have equations readily available, but you need to know when, where, and how to use them.  The long-term idea in a course is generally to help you gain familiarity of the fundamentals for future reference.  Try to look at it from this perspective, and see if things make more sense in terms of how a professor teaches a class or administers examinations.

Finally, it is not easy to explain fundamental concepts of quantum mechanics to a six-year-old.  This is not what is meant by Einstein’s quote.  It is to say that you should aim to be able to break complex things down into their functional and physical basics.  Always remember that regardless of your aptitude, you were a non-engineer once.  Teaching concepts to non-engineers, such as interested family members, helps to reinforce practical understanding.  Try it sometime.  When you fail to do so to their understanding, take the opportunity to evaluate how much you really understand the concept yourself, and try again.

5. Fail Successfully
One who makes no mistakes makes nothing at all. 
Giacomo Casanova

If you haven’t failed, you haven’t pushed yourself.  You cannot know your limits without pushing beyond them.  Simple as that.

Pistons shouldn't look like that...

It’s not about the mistake, it’s about what you do following it.  We all know we can learn a lot from failure.  Often times, however, we’re too afraid to fail to even get to the point at which we can learn, or we beat ourselves down for failing and sulk our way into a self-pity party.

Hate to fail, but do not fear it.

Once you do fail, the essential part about doing so successfully is taking into account what happened and why.  This is now a great opportunity to grow!  What could have been done to avoid failure?  What could improve the result?  Be constructively critical of yourself and of the process, and take an honest account of the situation.  In appropriate cases, discuss with others what you could have done better.  Learn everything you can, and improve your resiliency.

On that note, we often forget to learn from our successes as well.  We celebrate them, but too often they are taken for granted as an opportune learning tool.  Take a second to reflect on what made your successes.  Use that as an empirical result, just as you would a failure.

Painful as it may be at times, when taken constructively, there is no better teacher than failure.

6. Communicate Effectively
The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.
George Bernard Shaw

There’s not a lot that frustrates me more than when I hear an engineering student relate his or her ineptitude with spelling or grammar to being an engineer.  As a joke, I get it.  Haha.  However, when used as a legitimate excuse, this is one of the most idiotic things that I’ve ever heard.  There is no correlation between being good at math and bad at communication or vice versa.  You don’t need to be pursuing a degree in writing to know when to use their, they’re, or there.  Get a grip, get a dictionary, and get a thesaurus.

Use precision in your words.  Know what they mean, know what they don’t mean, and use them intelligently.  Avoiding misunderstanding is most easily achieved when words are used in the correct original meaning and context rather than being bent to your intended meaning.  Refrain from using absolutes such as nothing, everything, always, never, etc., except for where completely necessary.  One of the better pieces of advice I received, while being coached for Formula SAE judging by my friend CJ, was to learn how to use “and” instead of “but” in every instance possible.  That is very powerful.  Combine all of this with being concise, one of my weak points that I continually try to improve.

Beware of misinterpretations of implied tone in written communication!  Emoticons, though not appropriate in formal communication, are used literally as emotional icons because it is a brilliant way to explicitly convey tone and intent.  However, since body language and tone of voice are missing from writing, be careful about and sensitive to how you write.  Avoid sarcasm.
Giving my IPEA presentation!

Beyond spelling and grammar of written communication, speak well.  Whether it’s a single person you’re talking to or a large audience, make eye contact.  In the case of an audience, pick out a few individuals as you scan the room.  Make them feel important.  Speak clearly, audibly, precisely, concisely, and at a reasonable pace.  Train yourself to stop using “like” or “um” or any other filler words (think about this consciously), and stop speaking with an inflection!  Ask occasionally if your audience follows what you are explaining, and invite clarification.

Speaking well comes from practice.  Put yourself in scenarios where you can practice so that when it comes time for the real deal, you’ll be a step ahead of the rest.  Also, embrace public speaking.  I used to, and I still can, shake and tremble at times.  I know it’s not easy for everyone.  I find that the more confident and passionate you are in the subject you are presenting, the more relaxed you’ll be about speaking in front of an audience.  However, it’s acceptance of being out of your comfort zone (typical in university assignments) that will prove most effective in helping you overcome stage fright.

Work up the courage to break the ice.  Whether that’s asking a question in a classroom, introducing yourself to a colleague, or meeting a new guy or girl at a bar, it’s all valid practice for networking.  Learn how and when to approach somebody, be respectful and opportunistic in getting their attention, and value their time and effort.  I see LinkedIn, Facebook, and other social media used very awkwardly to break ice and “connect.”  Stop doing that.  Send a brief message and invite the conversation to continue, preferably via email.

Another important tool in communicating effectively, especially when answering questions as in an interview, is to learn how to pause.  Take a moment to think about your response before beginning.  Ask to return to the question later if appropriate.  Don’t rush yourself.

If you have a chance, learn another language, preferably while studying in the relevant country.  Self-awareness of your communication becomes second nature when you start speaking another language.  This can also happen from spending significant amounts of time speaking English to those whose primary language is not English.  This extends to any primary/secondary language couple.  You’ll quickly realize when and where it is appropriate to use colloquialisms and slang, and more importantly, you will learn to be more precise about the words you use rather than altering their intended meanings to suit yours..

Different cultures think differently, and this is true not only for different countries but even regionally or locally.  Languages that genderize words (i.e. romance languages) may have totally opposite connotations of the same word purely due to which gender role it assumes.  Even more relevant, different ages think differently, different genders think differently, and individuals think differently.  Everybody follows a different set of logic when forming meaning from a set of words.  So it is reasonable to expect that just because it makes sense to you in a certain way, somebody else may need a different type of explanation to understand, and that has no bearing on how smart that person is.  Learn how to convey things in multiple ways so as to be amenable to different ways of thinking and logic..

Know your audience.  There is no universal best approach.  Tailor your communication style to the likely requirements of the person or group you are addressing.

Finally, communication is a two-way street.  Learn to listen rather than simply waiting for your turn to speak.  Good listeners will show interest, consciously comprehend and interpret what is being said, and, where appropriate, repeat in their own words what they understood (in an effort to clarify, if nothing else).

There’s communicating, and then there’s communicating with intelligence.

7. Get Out of Your Comfort Zone
Challenge yourself.  It is the only path which leads to growth. 
Morgan Freeman

I’ve already mentioned “comfort zone” several times in this post.  It’s not trivial to face any fears, big or small.  How you approach this in an engineering context will ultimately play a massive role in defining what type of an engineer you are.

As you gain experience in engineering, you’ll undoubtedly come across things you like and things you don’t like.  Obviously, these typically translate into things you are good at and things you’re not, respectively.

If you stick with what you’re comfortable with, odds are that you will develop into an engineer who is able to use only a limited toolbox to solve a problem.  The lack of tools at your disposal will cause you to struggle, even in that job you are so familiar with, because you will have a narrow scope from which to think and perform.  In any case, you will not excel at much.

Flip the discomfort of the unknown by making it something known.  If you’re unfamiliar or uncomfortable with a particular subject and find yourself in an opportunity or tasking that requires you to build your knowledge on it, go for it.

Get in the mindset of saying ‘yes’ to things like this, and do it without hesitation!  In general, be open-minded to more than just those things that fit your primary interest or skillset.  Work on new projects and embrace new challenges.

I was asked during my first full year in FSAE to lead a couple of teammates and endeavor to model a single cylinder engine’s vibrational output.  I hinted at this in an earlier section.  The goal was to quantitatively evaluate bushing choices for mounting the engine to the chassis which would best reduce vibration forces transmitted to the chassis and unsprung.

I had not been an excellent student in vibrations, nor had I yet had any leadership role in FSAE, but I tried to do it to the best of my ability.  As a result, I now understand a lot more about leadership and providing resources and a plan of attack, steady state versus transient engine forces, the effects of eccentric offsets in high-speed rotation, coupling differential equations with linear algebra, the weight of particular variables in relevant equations and how that relates to damping and stiffness properties, the use of Simulink, transmissibility, and global suppliers for bushings.  The fundamentals that I reinforced were related to my controls course, as well, and I subsequently aced that course.

Venice, Italy during study abroad in 2010.  Two weeks earlier, we five were complete strangers.

The single most valuable experience of my life, in both a personal and educational sense, was studying abroad.  (Yes, here we go again.)  I grew more during this time in my life than any other up until that point.  It is why I push people to do that, especially those that “don’t have time” or will graduate a semester late.

Typically the real problem is waiting until you’re in your fourth year to consider it, at which point there are few common courses to be taken abroad.  So, don’t wait!

When you’re the foreigner, the status quo changes.  You become more aware of who you are, what you do, and why.  You learn to get immersed into the culture.  You notice how others approach the same problems.  You realize that particular words and expressions don’t translate literally into other languages, or perhaps the cultural connotation is different, and you start to open your mind and appreciate these things.

There are varying degrees of going abroad.  By this I mean, for example, for English-native speakers, studying in an English speaking land is a bit less difficult than going to a country that speaks a romance language, which is a bit less difficult than studying in a country that speaks an Asian language, and so on.  It really doesn’t matter if you go to Australia, the Middle East, South America, Asia, or Europe.  It doesn’t matter if it’s for three weeks or a year.  Go anywhere that’s different to where you’re from. 

It is likely that you will never so freely get such a chance to do something like live in another part of the globe while you are anywhere near this young.

These are just a couple of examples of how to get out of your comfort zone.  As Morgan Freeman said, challenge yourself.  Grow.

8. Ask Questions
It is error only, and not truth, that shrinks from inquiry. 
Thomas Paine

This is one of the biggest things I see students falter on.  Not everybody’s logic follows the same path, and thus, not everybody learns in the same way.  Something that is obvious to you may be confusing to the next guy, and that has nothing to do with being smart; there are different techniques for comprehension, and each one is as valid as the next.  I, for one, tend to need visual aids for new concepts, and I often find myself needing several explanations to fully understand certain concepts.

We talked to Claude Roulle for over an hour after the end of an already long 8-hour day of lecturing during his OptimumG seminar in 2014

Learn how and when to ask questions, clarify something, and request help on a solution.  Equally, learn when not to.

Don’t nod your head and settle for accepting things blindly, like rules of thumb, how your group leader designs something to particular loads or specifications, or why and under what circumstances an equation can be simplified.  If something isn’t totally clear, work to understand it and try your best not to just assume you understand, which will likely result in a lack of both competence and confidence.  I find that asking why (especially in front of a class) or admitting that one doesn’t know something that could be considered basic, is often forgone out of fear of humiliation or embarrassment.  That only hurts yourself!

To be fair, this can be hard to overcome.  If you can’t raise your hand in the middle of class or ask questions in front of a group, spend a few minutes to approach the lecturer after class to clarify something.  Good leaders will be happy to answer you and will not condescend in their response.  If somebody isn’t approachable on the topic, work with others (teacher assistants, classmates, etc.) to achieve the understanding you desire.  Don’t let somebody shut you down. 

If you think something is wrong, inaccurate, or misleading, challenge the lecturer in an appropriate way (usually after class and as a polite inquiry), explaining what you thought to be true.  Look up sources if necessary.

On the other hand, it isn’t always appropriate to go ask for help.  Put in the effort to think, learn, and perform research on your own before asking for help on a solution or project.  A good leader will provide thoughts and resources to help nudge you in the right direction rather than simply giving you the answer or solution.  In any case, don’t ask for your hand to be held through something; it is not useful for learning anything. 

That doesn’t mean that it isn’t beneficial to get help to think through something and see if it makes sense!  By all means, perform sanity checks with others to ensure your work and thought process are solid.

Know what balance to strike, but above all, look out for yourself and take the opportunity to ask questions.

9. Get Organized, Manage Time, and Keep Documentation
Progress, far from consisting in change, depends on retentiveness...Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to fulfill it. 
George Santayana

You can put all of your time and effort into trying to learn by remembering the technical content of your course of study, what assignments are due when, what events are coming up, or what work you’ve performed lately.  It will work for a time, but it will be in vain.

Let’s face it: for those of us who do take notes in class, a lot of those pages never see the light of day again.  Maybe they’ll be opened when doing homework or studying for an exam, but unless there’s a hard deadline approaching that requires those notes, it’s rare they’ll be opened.  And then, often it’s hard to find what we want, or we’re missing some context.

Take good notes.  You don’t need to write every piece of information down that you hear or see.  You’ll likely be playing catch-up for the entire class, and you won’t absorb much of anything, which of course is compounded if you don’t look back at those notes.  Write down the date and the section of study in the same place day after day.  Focus on paying attention in the course and listening when the teacher is presenting.  Write your own summary of what is said and written rather than copying word for word what is written on the board.  Pay attention to examples, and summarize as you see fit.  You will, by paying attention rather than writing, follow along better and understand more.  You’ll end up with some well-defined questions that you should ask.  You may also miss some things you wanted to write down.  Ask a classmate or the teacher in that case.  Always think about what this will look like when you go back to read them, and ensure it’s clear and that you have the context to be able to approach the problem again.

Use a different notebook for each class.  Plant a tree later.

Also, if you’re reading a book on your own, take notes as well.  Reread through what you wrote, and see if it makes sense.

My Outlook calendar towards the end of my student days

Use a calendar application such as Microsoft Outlook to organize due dates and events, and set reminders.  This was probably one of the most useful things I put into place after I nearly failed out of school my first year.  Enter the entire syllabus and course schedule into the calendar at the beginning of the semester, and make sure you update things as they come along.  Look ahead by a week or two to see what’s coming up.  This will avoid surprises.

Time management goes hand-in-hand with organizational skills.  The ability for you to know when you can do something and how long it lasts is important.  Procrastination is not the worst thing in the world, but you should have your limits to it.  The worst part is starting!  I promise you, everything gets better after that. 

When taking an exam, read the exam from front to back before taking it.  Do the same thing with a problem before answering it.  Then budget your time accordingly.

We have a scarily accurate rule of thumb we often use in FSAE called the rule of pi.  However long you think it will take you to do something, and however much you expect it to cost…multiply it by pi.  Then you’ll be closer to target.

Something like that, anyway…

Learn how to schedule and plan ahead.  Know what a Gantt chart is and how and when it can be useful, and know when it’s overkill to use something like that.  There is yet more software good for this as well.

Start using color-coded everything!  Use highlighters and pens and other labels to mark things into an appropriate category or to mark as important.  We do this all the time when using Excel or calendar applications, why not use it everywhere else too?

If you’re finding yourself procrastinating heavily or having a hard time reading continuously, reward yourself every so often with some sort of break.  Watch a show (better yet, half of it) or play a game or something.  Do that for say, 20-30 minutes, and then commit yourself to returning back to working for another minimum length of time.

When working on a project, I cannot say enough how critical it is to document what you do.  Treat it like a journal, a necessity.  You should write down things as you do them, and you should note for yourself what you’ve done or where the project stands at the end of the day.  You will not remember this sort of stuff for long, and it’s often very difficult to work back through the steps of what you did if you have left little to no clues for yourself.  Microsoft OneNote is great for this for larger projects, where people can collaborate and create an entire virtual binder.  There are plenty of other good applications for this too.

Taking time away from the project to document it is absolutely crucial and should be part of your time budgeting to begin with.  It is an investment.  Your long-term productivity will be significantly higher, and you will learn and retain more information.  Others working with you will benefit as well, as you will be able to point them in the direction of your information which will help them follow your thought paths and get up to speed more quickly, thereby more easily making a contribution.  Meanwhile, you’ll get more time to make gains and progress because you won’t have to retrace your steps. 

Organize documents on your computer into folders and subfolders in a structure that makes at least some sort of sense.  Limit how many different places you need to look for a document by saving things that have yet to be organized to a common directory.

Nowadays, most of us have some sort of a smart phone and maybe even a tablet.  Rarely do we go anywhere without something of the sort, so there’s no excuse to not record information.  The incredible power of some of the applications available on these tools will help you to organize your thoughts as you think of them, and you should be able to sync between devices so things retain commonality.  Take the time to note things down and to learn how to use these tools effectively.

Learning to manage your time and continuously improve your organizational skills is a critical foundation for success.  Your efficiency and productiveness will be tremendous.  It is a fundamental building block to extracting the most out of your potential.

10. Fabricate
For the things we have to learn before we can do them, we learn by doing them. 

I’m going to adapt Aristotle’s quote as it being necessary to learn how to design something by first fabricating it.  Design, particularly for performance applications, is tricky to learn without at least a small amount of basic fabrication experience.  I’ve seen plenty of designs, including my own, that would perform brilliantly if only they were actually possible to manufacture or assemble!

If you intend to design, you really need to understand the manufacturing process.  Manual fabrication is best for the purposes of learning the things that matter, as it gives a much more restrictive and in-touch approach to the process.  There is so much that goes into proper fabrication.  You need to know which tools, speeds, materials, and processes are best for any given application.

Try to get experience in manufacturing with isotropic materials, such as metals and plastics, as well as with anisotropic materials, such as epoxy-based composites like carbon fiber, fiberglass, or Kevlar.  With the increasing dependence on additive manufacturing, it is a good idea to develop an understanding of those unique manufacturing processes as well.

Fabricating something black during an all-nighter in 2014.  Nope, it's not carbon dust!

Get on a lathe or mill, learn to TIG weld, press fit a bearing, program a 3D-printed part, bend and form a sheet metal component, shape a high-density foam mold, perform either a wet, pre-preg out-of-autoclave, or pre-preg (in-autoclave) layup and know the difference between the three, oil quench a steel rod to specification, and learn how to properly use taps and dies to create threads.

Assemble (and disassemble) components and learn what it means for something to be serviceable and to account for fastener clearance and room for installation, including tools.  You’ll find that the more common the fastener in a subassembly, the quicker you can change out the assembly.  The importance of modularity, where appropriate, becomes apparent.

Universal and semi-universal standards of all types exist for thread engagement, drilling, geometric dimensioning and tolerancing, water jetting and laser cutting, symmetric layup specifications, shaft and gear splines, anodizing, and much more.  These standards are a result of people having done the same thing before over and over again long before you.  Learn from that and understand where the rules of thumb for design come from.

There is a lot to learn in terms of what’s possible and how to do it.  Once you understand the differences in manufacturing and their limitations, then go and design.  Create parts and assemblies in CAD as a fabricator would envision the process.  The more you are familiar with these concepts, the more you’ll be able to utilize the resources available to you or perhaps even introduce new resources.  The more broad your experience, the more tools you’ll have at your intelligent disposal, and the more effective a designer you will be.

11. Lead, Follow, Teach, Collaborate
In the long history of humankind (and animal kind too), those who learned to collaborate and improvise most effectively have prevailed. 
Charles Darwin

Here’s another long post with some do’s and don’ts, and maybe a couple of rants.  For those who are able to do these things effectively, they will easily set themselves apart from the crowd.

Firstly, I want to say that there are times to work together, times to work independently, times to step into a leadership role, and times to fall into alternative roles as a student or teammate.  These are not mutually exclusive!  The most respected leaders are those that do not act as though they are above their students.  You also do not need to be in a leadership role to gain the most valuable experience out of a project or make the best contributions.  This is subjective and often within your control, i.e. it’s what you make of it.

That being said…

Teaching is absolutely one of the best tools for learning.  When you have relatively good competency in a subject or a particular example, helping your fellow classmates or tutoring or mentoring others is a great opportunity to reinforce your understanding.

You do not need to be a master of a subject to teach it or discuss it intelligently.  Step into a leadership role as it opens, take charge of it, and perform it as best you can.  What you need to do as a leader is provide guidance, planning, and resources for those you lead.  It takes practice.  Of course you will be expected to be relatively competent if you are in a teaching or leadership role, but you are not expected to know everything.  Remember that!

If questioned, don’t take it personally.  Use the opportunity to explain as best you can and to really examine whether or not you understand the particular material as well as you should.  Be honest with yourself.  If you need to, figure out how you could explain better.

Generally, this awareness should lead to wanting to fill in gaps in your knowledge by researching and studying.  You’ll find that you start to ask yourself some questions about particulars where you’re not totally confident. Ultimately, if approached with humility, it’s an accelerated path to a much more confident understanding of the subject, which will be evident in how you convey the relevant concepts.

Hand holding, however, is not the way things should be done.  I hinted at this earlier.  By this colloquialism, also referred to as spoon feeding, I mean that when answering a question, do not provide the entire solution.  This does not help your student learn.  Help by giving guidance and suggestions, restating the fundamentals or asking for the student to confirm them.  This leads students down a path and offers them a chance to solve the problem on their own.  This should always be the case.

If you are the student, you should approach questions with these expectations, too.  Some leaders may jump to the conclusion that you want to be spoon fed; in this case, make it clear what you are trying to get out of the question and what your overall intent is. 

Whether you are teaching, leading, following, or collaborating, you need to let go of your pride.  I cannot stress this enough.  As said before, admitting when you don’t know something is absolutely crucial.  It also helps your students and peers to trust you.  There are times where it is appropriate to assert an assumed understanding, provided that it is offered as an explanation according to your educated rationale rather than an absolute certainty.  Leave room for ambiguity when facts and certainty are not forthcoming or well-known.

On that note, misleading (even if you’re technically telling the truth) is one of the biggest disservices you can do to yourself and to those you lead.  It is one of the most immature and worst qualities somebody can possess.

Also, avoid being condescending.  There really is rarely a need for it.  You will not be respected or known as an approachable person if you treat somebody’s questions as stupid.  How can you expect others to want to learn from you if you’re condescending them?

Collaboration in general is the sharing of knowledge.  If done productively, as described throughout the above, this also one of the best ways to improve understanding of fundamentals and their application.  Combining the various ways different people, particularly different cultures, understand or solve the same problem generally leads to a rock solid comprehension.  This includes utilizing multiple sources to better understand or clarify concepts, as what works well for one person is not necessarily what works best for the rest of us.

Racing against the clock in the car challenge during the 2014 IPEA

I will admit, it is often hard to balance competition and collaboration.  Where is that line?  If you are challenging yourself in a competitive environment, it can seem like you shouldn’t help others.  Usually this is out of fear that doing so will result in somebody else being better at it or reducing the competitive edge.  There is a time and a place for this, but it is rare.

To use my ever-present experience in FSAE as an example, I’ve seen a lot of people act as though the things they know in FSAE are ground-breaking or revolutionary in a way that should be kept secret and undocumented.  Sometimes I’ve seen this within teams, where upperclassmen will not help junior engineers gain even a basic understanding, which is absurd.  Generally speaking, this type of behavior is not only unconstructive but actually destructive.

Let me tell you something important.  You are not likely to develop something so innovative in FSAE that warrants total secrecy.  It’s almost never the case.  If you develop something innovative, write a journal paper, get published, and speak at a conference!

Unless you hand somebody an exact solution, almost nobody can copy your unique design.  Sure, they will understand the concept and should be able to work out their own solution if their understanding is at the appropriate level.  But if somebody can completely quantitatively reverse engineer your aerodynamic package by examining a few images of a surface pressure contour representation of CFD results of your car, then they should graduate immediately and get interviewed by the best teams around.  Stop worrying about that crap in FSAE.

Sharing and collaboration are extraordinarily valuable.  Use it to build networks, teams, and partnerships, and find mutual benefit in combined strength.

12. Know What You Don't Know
The prima donna type of mind is useless in engineering. 
Maurice Olley

Confidence and conviction in the things you know are great traits to have.  In any case, arrogance is not a requirement.  There is a fine line to draw between conviction and arrogance, but those who toe that line well will find themselves likeable and respected, and that matters whether you’re filling a role as a leader, a teammate, or a student.  This is humility.

I have been fortunate to work with some of the most talented people in the world, and the best of them are an approachable blend of assertive and humble.  They know there is a lot to be learned and valued from those around them, and even if they are the master of their trade, they never assume they are the better than anybody else.  That person who acts entitled, like he or she is the smartest person in the room, or acts with disrespect will not make it far and will in turn not earn respect.

Terps Racing teammate Tony and I talking to Claude after the design event at 2014 FSAE West

Understand that you are likely very good at some things, but that doesn’t make you better than the next guy.  I mean this in the philosophical sense.  You will always have a lot to learn, and you should accept and admit when you do not fully understand something, especially if you are in a leadership role.  Otherwise, you will be far out of your comfort zone and on your way toward embarrassment.

Quit being sentimental about your designs or ideas, and let them go if they aren’t the best or most appropriate solution.  In the case of being a student, this can mean being a “good soldier,” swallowing your pride, and accepting your leader’s decision.  Learn how to have an objective discussion rather than an emotional argument.  As a sensitive person, for a long time I tended toward the latter.  For me, I found that focusing on not taking things personally was the greatest asset in turning that around, and I also found that approaching people objectively was generally effective in achieving a productive outcome. 

Deception to yourself or others, intentional or not, can result in serious consequences.  Don’t do that disservice, and if you see it in someone else, don’t let it continue.  I am thankful that helped me see this early in my career.  Recognizing and admitting that mistake led me to putting in tremendous effort to advance my knowledge and expertise.

Self-awareness in this regard, essentially being honest with yourself, will serve you well.  Be strong enough to know your weaknesses, and then improve on them.

13. Create Your Own Opportunity
A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty. 
Winston Churchill

Treat every chance and every opportunity like you can’t afford to miss it. If you want to stand out and go from good to great, you have to make that happen yourself.  This includes experiential opportunities as well as networking.  For those of us who don’t have things fall in our laps, we need to seize opportunities to assert ourselves.

Create opportunities by introducing yourself to people, getting yourself involved in projects and events, and generally putting yourself in the position to capitalize on anything and everything.  For example, experiences such as university engineering projects are often limited to upperclassmen or those of a particular type of engineering degree, etc.  As another example, jobs are generally limited to somebody with a certain GPA or number of years completed at university.  I can tell you that both of these examples are obstacles that can be overcome if you approach them correctly.

Left:  Seeking advice from race teams during practice day at the 2011 Baltimore Grand Prix
Right:  As a direct result, less than two years later, shadowing SRT race engineers at the 2013 Grand Prix of Mosport

If you settle for the status quo, applying for jobs through the normal channels, waiting for opportunities to come to you, accepting how things are run as some black-and-white truth and letting the chips fall where they may, you let others dictate your future.  With this type of mindset, you will be part of a flock.  Don’t do that.  Go outside of “normal” channels, regardless of what others think, and go talk to people.  Do something different.

Your biggest asset in this game is talking to people.  It is true, especially in motorsport where it can be hard to break into the field (particularly in the US from my experience), that it helps to know the right people.  So if you don’t know the right people, get to know them.  If you see somebody that you’d like to ask their advice or work for, do it.  Put yourself out there, front and center, and make yourself known.

When you do get an opportunity you were hoping for, do every bit of it to the best of your ability.  If that means sweeping floor or getting coffee, doing things outside of your job description, do it.  Those things will help your team do things more efficiently, even if your contribution is indirect and seemingly below you.  At the same time, push to take further opportunities and get involved with shadowing your colleagues and learning from them.  Moonlight to get even more opportunities!

One of the bigger complaints I’ve heard is when one takes a job and is stuck in a role they are not happy with.  I’ve been there!  This is especially frustrating when you are in a summer internship for only a few months.  Rather than settling for what your leader told you to do, learn to approach your superiors and respectfully ask for what you want.  One viable option is to ask to be put on another project for a few hours per week, and don’t dismiss your commitment to your main duties.

If you get refused, don’t give up.  Your resilience and perseverance are great qualities to improve and put forth.  Not everybody gives in to this, and you need to know when to call it quits and be respectful.  But if you really want something, don’t take no for an answer.  Be prepared to state your case, the why…it’s always the hardest question to answer, but it should come more naturally if you are truly passionate.

On this note, make sure that you take time to actively communicate expectations to employers and request feedback for how you are performing.  Don’t just wait until it is offered!  What have you done well?  What could be done better?

Never miss an opportunity to simply ask for advice from anybody who you think could offer it to you.  I do this constantly, both with my peers and my supervisors.

Be careful; there is a fine line between creating opportunities that you’re genuinely interested in and shamefully using people or experience as a stepping stone to get what you want.  It’s easy to tell the difference, and the latter is not flattering.  Commit to everything you do.

Alternatively, if you’re offered an opportunity you decide isn’t best for you or that you’re not interested in, be flattered you were considered for the opportunity.  Never act as if it’s below you.  Regardless of what that opportunity means to you, it meant that you were valuable to somebody.

Finally, do NOT lie or mislead to gain your position.  You should be able to sell yourself on your current abilities, your desire to both learn and contribute, and your humility.

Creating and taking advantage of opportunities will help you go far.  And if you want to go further, you need to do more.  Don’t let a single thing pass you by, and make the most of it!  

14. Consider the Long Term Big Picture
In terms of days and moments lived, you'll never again be as young as you are right now, so spend this day, the youth of your future, in a way that deflects regret.  Invest in yourself. 
Victoria Moran

The biggest thing I’m referring to here is graduating “on time.”  The need to graduate within four years is like any other false deadline.  For certain things, finances can be a limiting factor.  That’s why loans exist.  I am in debt up to my eyeballs, taking seven years to graduate with both degrees.

Let me be emphatic:  I would never change a thing.  Never.  That includes the scenario had I not received this placement at Infiniti Red Bull Racing.  I was able to get incredible experiences and opportunities throughout my summers and extra years in school that I would have had an exceptionally difficult time obtaining otherwise, and it has paid off tremendously.

A company’s investment into a temporary student hire in an internship, co-op, or other industrial placement is miniscule when compared to a full-time position.  This also includes flexibility in the role and job description, since typically it is extra help.  All of this adds up to a greater potential to launch your career to the next level.

Piazza del Duomo with Justin and Cameron

I could go on for days about studying abroad, but I’ll keep it short.  Most excuses I hear from people who are interested in studying abroad but are afraid to pull the trigger is related to graduation time.  Come on!  Open your mind to how another culture solves an engineering problem, how it operates, how the language shapes understanding and the thought process.  Especially in motorsport, you will likely work with talent from around the globe.  As I said earlier, being able to communicate with people whose primary language is not English helps you not only to communicate with them, but to be more precise in how you speak and improves your own language skills.  The same goes for your understanding of various engineering processes and technology.

A common theme is that your growth as an individual is affected more during studying abroad than at any time previous, and often afterward.  This improvement of yourself is in addition to all of the amazing people you will meet and sights and experiences you will get to have while traveling abroad…which is something that for most people is unlikely to ever again be an opportunity at such a young age once a career takes off (mostly relating to Americans in my experience).  Nearly every person that I’ve talked to that has studied abroad has said it was one of the greatest experiences of their lives.  Some of my best friends are those I met during my time abroad.

For everybody, doing what’s best for them is something different.  For me, I’ve had a hard time moving away from my family and friends at home, but I know I’ll put aside a budget to see them several times per year.  I’ve given up several limiting relationships that held me back from achieving my dreams.  None of that was easy.  At such a young age, however, I wasn’t ready to compromise on that.  I’ve been fortunate to retain a small, solid base of friends who have been supportive of my ambitions.  Those are my true friends.

These decisions can be difficult and life altering, or they can be simple and short-term, but hopefully they come easily to you. My only advice is to carefully weigh what you really want and to be honest with yourself.  Commit to doing what is important to you and best for you.  Don’t live with regret.

15. Have a Life!
Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all. 
Helen Keller

Ready for something ground-breaking?  There’s more to life than engineering!

In the US, there’s a rampant culture of working to death, as if it’s some sort of honor or makes you better than the next guy.  It doesn’t.  Of course, as Carroll Smith points out in the opening quote, it will be necessary to work hard and push yourself, making concessions and sacrifices as necessary.  My assertion would be that you absolutely should work to death when it’s a necessary solution to perform well, not when working to death and logging as many hours as possible is the sole reason itself.  The rest of the time, get your work done, and then go play! 

Get off of your computer.  Get out of the FSAE shop.  Stop reading to the point you don’t remember what the last sentence said.  Go meet friends for a game of volleyball, a movie night, a barbecue, or a beer.  Go party.  Make time for family.  Take an hour or two and go for a run or to the gym, or find another inexpensive way to release energy.  Sacrifice the overtime and take some days off from work to go on a vacation.  Travel.  Play a sport, even if you’re not the best at it.  Go skiing, go camping.  Be spontaneous. Spend some money on things you won’t be able to do later in life.  Live!

Paddleboarding with my cousins' dog, Maggie

Then, when you are doing your job as a student or a professional, do it well and do it efficiently.  Learn to manage your time and only procrastinate as time allows.  Take a break from something and come back to it.  Allow yourself appropriate time away from the hard work.  This is the essence of “Work hard, play hard.”

Learn to talk about something besides engineering and video games.  Be good at other things and learn something new once in a while.  For example, play an instrument, learn a language, get into photography or video editing, do craftwork, cultivate your own food, learn to cook.

Don’t do any of these things for other people, though.  Do them for yourself.

With the time you spend working in university, look beyond the short term.  You could spend 60 hours in the shop every week with your eyes glazed and burning yourself out.  Or you could take some happy time off to relax your mind and get sane.  You’ll end up with more effective time spent in the shop when you also take a little time for yourself.  This is the same for your studies, work, or whatever else you’ve got going on.  Happiness will help you learn and do everything else more efficiently.  How your body feels affects your mind’s ability to process thoughts.  So take care of yourself!

Additionally, if you’re leading a team, invest in their happiness as well.  Give them breaks and off days.  Organize social events and special outings.  Reward them with barbecues during those long evenings of working hard.

How you spend your life is completely up to you, of course.  To me, it helps to always have something to look forward to rather than investing purely in one thing.  Just don’t lose sight of living!


  1. Wow Eric, thanks for all the great advice! Was cool to see you mention things other than the "normal" qualities needed to become a successful engineer. Will definitely try and implement these skills to better my chances of becoming a IPEA winner. Thanks again!


  2. Amazing read! Read every word here. I am surprised why this is not noted by many more people.

    I came up to this after some googling, dejected from my rejection at 2016 intake for the Middle East region in the Academy.

    I could relate to most of what you have written, and since this is the first time Infiniti came by to UAE, I hope they come again next year and allow final year students to participate as well. (As I'll be in my 4th/final year in 2017 :P )

    So I hope to try again.

    I also wish if you can write a new post updating on your exciting life since 2015 ^_^