Monday, June 8, 2009

The Arc of an Automotive Engineer

Today I start work. Actually, I keep reminding myself that I'm starting a new career. As long as the auto industry doesn't entirely collapse (insert awkward panic laugh), I imagine I'll be working at Honda for a while. This weekend I've been reflecting on how I got here. It has certainly been an interesting journey for me, and for those of you keeping track at home, here is a summary of how it all went down:

Fall 1993: Apply to colleges. On my applications I put myself down for the mechanical or electrical engineering programs. Went to Carnegie Mellon with Chris Demas to check out the school. Met with one of the mechanical engineering professors. He showed us mathematical models of air flow inside jet engines. I remember thinking that was "cool."

May 1994: Graduate from high school (yeah CHS!).

Sep 1994: Go to UMass as an engineering major.
Oct 1994: Transfer out of engineering program and become a math major.
Feb 1995: Drop math major and become a sociology major.

Summer 1997: In South Africa, I was riding in a car with some friends on a long trip. Their Honda CRX suddenly stops working. We find a mechanic who says he can fix it. I remember thinking "I wish I knew how to fix it."

Spring 1998: During my last semester at UMass, I "volunteer" to help out at a local Midas shop. I offer to sweep up and help clean the shop if they'll teach me things. Surprisingly, they were fine with that. And they taught me some things.

June 1998: Graduate from college (Part I).

July 1998: Start working for Jiffy Lube. Official title: "Lubrication Technician." Amazingly, I still can't think of any jokes about that title. Upon getting hired, the boss told me my sociology degree made me a "good candidate for management."

July 1999: Move to Phoenix, AZ for car school.
July 2000: Graduate from car school, move to Portland, OR to work for Ferrari.
Nov 2000: Ferrari career comes to an abrupt halt.
Dec 2000: Start working at Jim Fischer Volvo. Basically I do oil changes, install roof racks, and inspect new cars before customers take them home. 

2001: Get promoted to full mechanic at Volvo. Get to do new things like timing belts and brakes.
2002: Become an ASE certified Master Mechanic as well as and ASE certified Advanced Engine Performance Specialist. I also got certified as a Volvo Master Mechanic.
2003: Get to do bigger jobs at Volvo, including pulling transmissions and cylinder heads.

Dec 2003: Move to Boston, MA and decide I want a change. Decide to work for "ze Germans" and take a job with Audi.

Mar 2004: Back to work for Ferrari, this time at Ferrari of New England, Newton MA.
Jan 2005: Get to rebuild the engine in a Ferrari 355. And it worked after I was done (bonus!).
Feb 2005: Get introduced to a customer who brought his car into our shop. He happens to teach in the mechanical engineering department at Northeastern University in Boston. I'll call him Prof. Ferrari.

Sept 2005: Head to Northeastern University for another undergrad degree. This time I stay with mechanical engineering all the way through.

Spring 2007: Take a class on internal combustion engines with Prof. Ferrari.

Summer 2007: Prof. Ferrari tells me he has an invitation to attend a conference with Honda over at MIT. He can't go. Would I like to go? Sure. He gives me his invitation. When I get to the conference, I find my nametag, "Scott Heines, Northwestern University."  Eh, close enough. I meet a design engineer in the suspension department. We talk for a while. We are both a bit unsure of why we are at this conference.

June 2007: Email Mr. Suspension Engineer at Honda. He puts me in touch with someone in the Honda HR department. I email Ms. HR Department and tell her I'd like to do an internship with Honda in 2008. I get an interview, but I don't get the internship.

Oct 2008: I email Ms. HR Deparment again, reminding her who I am, and saying I am still interested in working for Honda after I graduate. She says my timing is good; they are getting ready for interviews and she'll put my resume in the pile.

Dec 4-5 2008: Honda invites me out to interview. During the 2 days I built a tower out of marshmallows and toothpicks, played some Wii Bowling, and won a stuffed Stewie doll.

Dec 23 2008: After a whirlwind of a week, I accept the offer from Honda to be a design engineer in the automatic transmission department.

May 1 2009: Graduate from college (Part II).

Personally, I like "Design Engineer" better than "Lubrication Technician."

(Special thanks to Chris Demas for getting me interested in cars in the first place.)


  1. ok, professors at northeastern can afford ferraris? i think i've found a new career...

    congrats on your long, strange trip! have fun @ work!


  2. What about your internship at altitude?

  3. Rebekah, I only know the 1 prof who can afford one, and it's an older one. You could buy his ferrari for about $30k. He can't afford the ones that are around $250k.

    Adam, I sort of skipped over the internships at Draper and Altitude. The story got kind of long, and while I certainly like reflecting on everything in my life, I chose to leave some things out. But you're right, that experience helped shaped me to. I am a simple ball of play doh after all.

  4. I'll continue to pass on the opportunity to boast, "My son is a lubrication engineer."