When do you first recall wanting to become an engineer?
I've wanted to be an engineer as far back as I can remember; even before I knew the right words for it. At the very young age when most kids want to be firemen, astronauts, or cowboys, I wanted to be an inventor. As I got older I got more specific, and wanted to be a “robot maker.” By the time I was a teenager, I was making plans to become a professional Software Engineer.
How long have you been at NI and how did you get here?
I started as an intern in 2005, and took a bit of a circuitous route. I left Georgia to attend college in Oklahoma with the intention of going into the games industry after I graduated. (I found 3D graphics and AI interesting problems to work on.) During college, I had several internships at “boring” companies, working on things like cash register software, and this reinforced the importance of doing interesting work. After a couple of summers like that, I took a part-time job in retail and spent most of my time working on an open source game for my portfolio.
When it was time for my final summer internship I applied to NI at the recommendation of one of my friends. I'd never been to Austin before, but after living and working here for just a few months, I loved the city and the company. It turned out that NI had lots of interesting stuff to work on, like a graphical programming language! I also discovered it had a great working environment, and offered better pay and hours then I would find in the games industry. So I decided to stay with NI full time after I graduated, and I've been here ever since.
What's been your favorite project at NI?
Working on the Multirate Diagram for LabVIEW Communications System Design Suite was really interesting. It combined graphical programming, software defined radio, FPGA, asynchronous execution, and graph theory into an amazingly powerful tool that allows engineers to do incredible things with radio frequency communications. The project involved a lot of interesting challenges and I feel like I made a real, concrete contribution to the advancement of technology.
This year's theme is "Dream Big." Engineers engage their creativity and technical know-how to transform dreams into reality. What's your big dream?
Back in the 90's, when I was a teenager, there was a brief period when it looked like Virtual Reality had arrived. It turned out to be far too expensive and low-quality, but I did get the chance to try it before it died out. Ever since, I've been looking forward to the day that VR technology re-emerges. In the last few years, the technology has come so far (far better quality, far lower price), that I think it might be back and here to stay. It is my big dream that Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality will become ubiquitous, and change our day-to-day lives just as much (if not more) than the smartphone revolution did.
However, there are still many technical challenges with VR and AR, and a lot of engineering to be done. One big challenge is wirelessly transmitting the massive amount of video data that a VR headset needs to display, within the very strict latency requirements needed to avoid dizziness. Luckily, this is exactly the sort of problem that engineers can now work on more efficiently thanks to the LabVIEW Comms product that I worked on!
If a student asked you why they should pursue engineering, what would you say to inspire them?
Science and technology have the potential to improve the human condition, not only now, but in perpetuity. Just as we build upon the research and engineering done in the past, future generations will build upon what we discover and create today. Contributing to this body of knowledge is an investment in human civilization itself.
About Engineers Week
Engineers Week - the only event of its kind - is a time to:
Celebrate how engineers make a difference in our world
Increase public dialogue about the need for engineers
Bring engineering to life for kids, educators, and parents
This post is a part of a series highlighting engineers from NI and their stories about how and why they became engineers.