My Engineering Journey: Learning by Doing
Lumenance engineer Masao Aguilar sat down with writer Grant Francis to describe his journey to become an engineer and shares stories and practical advice.
How did you come to work for Lumenance?
Masao’s previous job had been on the product development side of engineering, but after five years of doing the same thing, he was ready for a new challenge. A friend told Masao about Lumenance, and he contacted the recruiting team. “I was interviewed by Ted (one of the managing partners), and I was very impressed.”
What impressed you about Lumenance?
“We talked about Lumenance’s model and Ted’s philosophy. I liked his philosophy because it is engineer-focused.” Masao feels like a valued member of the company. He has attended many Lumenance events and interacted with others in the company. He fits into the business and works with people who care about his interests. He noted with a chuckle, “Some companies don’t pay you when you go on vacation, but Lumenance does.” This is one of many benefits he enjoys about being a Lumenance engineer.
What kind of work do you do for us?
Masao is an Automotive Styling & Surfacing Engineer who provides engineering support to Honda Research & Development for Lumenance. He joined the team in 2015 to work in the design studio in Ohio. “Honda has a bigger studio in Los Angeles, but they also have a studio at the R&D facility so they don’t have to send everything to California. L.A. works on concepts; we make changes during development or production.” Masao specifically works on Class A surfacing, which he described as anything that you can see on the car. Basically, he smooths the surfaces of the vehicle exterior, instrument panel, seats, etc.
Styling is challenging because it follows strict rules. Everything must match because, when the part is produced, even a small bump can be very noticeable between two surfaces. They must be precise to within 0.169 degrees! Stylists take part designs and use special software to deliver smooth and aesthetically-pleasing surfaces.
Before Masao became a stylist, he didn’t understand why stylists took so much time. But now that he is one, he absolutely gets it. “It’s ironic,” he pondered. “Perhaps all engineers should do a little of everything so they can understand what it takes.”
“I like this job because I’m able to see more of the entire process as it starts from a concept and transforms into a real product.” Masao enjoys his work and is happy he made the change.
What’s a project you really enjoyed?
In college, Masao joined a team of 10 students who developed an all-terrain vehicle for a competition through the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE). Masao liked this project because they carried it through the entire design process: they took the SAE specifications and developed a concept, designed and developed a vehicle, and produced it. They even promoted it with an advertising video. They were very successful in Mexico and took 3rd place at the national SAE event. Then they traveled to Utah for another competition and finished roughly in the middle. It was successful, challenging, and rewarding.
Their group grew to 20 students the following year, and they decided to develop a formula car this time. This was a daring project because nobody else in Mexico was doing it. They had a mentor who worked on race cars for rallies, and he let the students use his workshop near the school. They also received help from a professional who understood electrical cables. They bought their own materials and a 600cc engine. Masao said they sold Krispy Kreme doughnuts as a fundraiser.
However, Masao admits that “we tried to run before we could walk.” The formula car presented a lot of unique challenges—it had a larger engine, a turbo, and other requirements. In retrospect, they should have started simpler and allowed the project to grow, but it was still enjoyable the whole way. Unfortunately, the engine wasn’t working three days before the competition in Michigan. They tried anyway—the students drove for three days straight to get there—but they didn’t perform well. Despite the result, Masao said he has no regrets. It was a great learning experience.
How did you become interested in engineering?
Masao enjoyed building things growing up. His dad had a shop with any tool they needed, and they worked on many projects together. His dad helped him build a tree house complete with bunk beds! They tinkered with bicycles and cars. When they needed a desk, they made it from the materials they had around. If they didn’t know how to do something, they tried something and learned by doing it. Sometimes the projects didn’t turn out, but they learned from the experience.
In high school, Masao dreamed of being an inventor to create things to solve problems for people. When he got to college, he considered both electrical and mechanical engineering and had difficulty picking between them. In the end, he settled on mechatronics because it blended the two and electronics.
Do you still build things for fun?
Masao is always occupied with some project. He had a VW Bus—“a hippie van” he clarified when the interviewer seemed confused—that he was turning into a camper. He added a floor, a seat that folds into a bed, and a poptop roof. It was a challenge because of the limited space, so everything needs to be measured carefully to optimize space. Masao decided to leave it in Mexico, but he admitted, “I kind of miss it.”
What advice would you give to a young engineer?
Masao learned by experimenting with his father. Not everything they tried worked, but they applied what they learned. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes because that’s how you learn. A good engineer is always learning.
“In college, try lots of different things that interest you,” Masao also recommended. “Join groups, join competitions. You will learn a lot about time management and handling pressure. What you do in college prepares you for the working world.”
Where do you see the automotive industry heading?
The industry is changing, and Masao pointed to electronics. The electronics industry changes quickly, and the automotive industry tries to keep up. The faster electronics change, the faster the automotive industry must move. Masao also speculated about how companies like Uber may change the industry. “Not everyone needs to own a car now.”
It will be interesting for us to see how the industry changes, but we are sure Masao has the right idea for handling it: don’t stop learning. Be curious, try things, be ambitious, make mistakes, fix them, and enjoy your finished product.
Published 2/20/17. Based on an interview with Masao Aguilar. Written by Grant Francis. Reviewed by Dawn Garcia.