Our discipline is Integrative Systems + Design. What does that mean to you?
If you’re drawing out a map and you’ve got a bunch of different disciplines and you’re talking about a big multidisciplinary project, you’ve got the mechanical structure of a car, you’ve got the electrical system, you’ve got the controls, you’ve got all these bits, and then you’re connecting them all together. Those lines, when you’re building out everything to me, that’s integrated systems. You’re figuring out how you actually make it mesh. How do you get computer engineers to work with mechanical engineers and then do it under the MBAs budget and then at the same time convince everybody this is the path they need to move forward with, break down those silos, and really look at how a product should be and how a system should be. How do you find the best solution?
Why is the field of ISD so important?
The field of integrative systems and design is so important because what usually ends up happening is people become very deep in their knowledge. So if I was an artificial intelligence engineer, I would become very deep in that field. I would understand the different methods by which I would gather data, sort of make it as clean as possible, and then how I would build up my whole system, even maybe getting to the point of the power requirements for it if I was running it in the field. But is that system that I’ve developed actually important for the overall system that is a car or overall system that is like an API advertising type system? It might be, it might not be, but that very deep knowledge gives you a very good focus on what your particular area is good at.
What is the future of ISD? Where will it be ten years from now? 25 years from now?
The future of ISD? The future is the ability to formalize what right now is really good work. So we are kind of in the infancy of how everything is working with design science and with systems engineering. As that becomes more and more of an applicable field for more industries, really getting to the point of formalizing a bunch of that work and also at the same time communicating it out and showing the importance of it. There’s a lot of big companies out there and a lot of big industries that have been very siloed off having thought they have everything correct. It gets a little complacent occasionally. The future of ISD is showing how it needs to be a constant process of evolving in order to keep everything interconnected so everyone can be agile and move really fast in a world that’s never resting.
What is the value the field of ISD provides to society?
The value ISD brings to society is the ability to translate between multiple different disciplines. So I could design a perfect crash structure for a vehicle. I could design it so the impact force goes directly around the passenger. Right, and they’re absolutely safe. But at the same time, if I don’t think about how the chassis, suspension and brakes need to perform, I might be adding way too much mass as an example. If you don’t have all of those different pieces of a car talking to each other and understanding everything, and how does it actually mesh together? How does the requirement of this impact this other aspect of the system? You kind of end up in a weird, poorly optimized solution, and then if you make any small design change anywhere you like, oh, well, that makes it worse. And so you end up on that value that you can’t get out of. The big benefit of it is being able to cross all of those barriers, understand those different disciplines, and, at the same time, look over the next mountain pass and find the better value to be in. So you might be going uphill for a while, but then you’ll find you’re falling into a much better solution and a much better setup.
Why did you choose to pursue a degree in ISD?
Yeah, so back when I was at the University of Michigan, the first time undergrad, I graduated in the 12 and 13 timeframes. And I was wearing the jacket today, so it’s perfect. It’s vintage now, the Michigan hybrid racing team, I ended up as the first chief engineer for that team and I had to dig into everything. It was the first-year team. There were no established practices, so I’m coming at it from an electrical power engineering kind of standpoint. And we didn’t have a chassis, we didn’t have brakes, we didn’t have an engine. I needed an electric high voltage team. I needed an aerospace team to do a carbon fiber body for it, and then you need a business team because it’s got to all be under budget and then you’ve got to make tradeoff decisions constantly. I loved it. That was being able to be a part of everything, speak the language of everything and really get connected to all of that. It was absolutely wonderful at the time.
How has your ISD degree helped you in your career?
It’s been fantastic. So my esteemed automotive engineering has helped me a massive amount in my career and it’s not just once the degree is finished, then I saw a benefit because I was doing the option of a part-time kind of hybrid schedule. I was taking a class constantly, and so depending on which roles I had in my career, occasionally I was a design release engineer and so I was making tradeoff decisions and how do I analyze data and mitigate risk so I could take all of those classes as I was working through all of those actual real-world problems. So that was wonderful in that each time I was taking a class, it was immediately applicable to everything I was working on. And then if I was running into a problem, it usually had a semester transition plan. I could find a class that would be beneficial for the next four months. So there’s really that opportunity over five years to not only learn a ton of things that will help you later on in your career, but as you’re going through the program, it’s fantastic because you are you’re getting a little bit better each time or you’re learning something that wouldn’t have affected you before.
What specific lessons did you learn during your ISD education that you apply regularly in your career?
The things that really apply every day in my career from ISD are around customer value. The real thing you learn when you go out into the world of engineering is you figure out nearly everything can be done. You could build the entire plane out of the black box material. You could make a car that can go 0 to 60 in 2 seconds. You can make a cell phone with a battery that would last for two weeks, but then figuring out where those different points lie in order to create the thing that’s best if everything that suffices for the customer, that excites the customer, that makes them want what you’re trying to put out in the world and solves the problem that you’re trying to put out in the world.
Why would you recommend ISD to prospective students or professional partners? What’s the value proposition?
I would recommend the University of Michigan’s ISD department to either someone looking to further their career and, you know, pick up a new degree or two companies looking to hire people because of that ability to learn basically anything very fast and then translate it into what’s important to someone else. And so with the way big companies go or disruptive technologies or things like that, on an individual level, we can make a bridge that’s really, really light or something like that.
It’s where ISD sits. It’s figuring out where Plug A gets into slot B and then figuring out how those two people should work together and what’s important between the two. Because probably what’s going to end up happening is or what does end up happening is previously this team was doing a product of this good and this team was doing a battery that was this good and together they ended up being about this good together. And you’ll find if you change this one so it’s more like this and you change this one. So it’s all right here, all of a sudden that number down here will increase and you’ll end up with something that’s better than the sum of its parts. So that’s why I would recommend the department.
What are the best qualities of an ISD graduate?
The best qualities of an ISD graduate are curiosity and the multi-disciplinary approach and the fact those two things together usually encourage someone to have incredible engineering soft skills. So not only are they able to come in and pick apart a design and figure out what’s important for each individual component, they’re able to look at how that entire set of components goes together into a single system and then take that and explain it to someone else, and then at the same time explain to another person why certain changes need to happen and then lay out how it’s beneficial to them, why they need to do this change to their product because it helps someone else
Why did you choose to join the ISD Alumni Board?
I chose to join the ISD alumni group because I want to help build that community and connect to everyone so we can have those conversations. So the few people I’ve met already, just over the last month or so, it’s just an instant connection. And we’re already talking about not only how we build the community, but where we’ve got things on rail networks and how we’re going to solve this and make if you just want to talk about big curious ideas all day long, that’s this alumni group.