Why I became an engineer - Brian

Why I Became an Engineer

June 15, 2017
by guest blogger, Brian Hilnbrand, Delphi software engineer

The moon. It seemed so far away, yet it was almost like I could touch it. “What was the surface of the moon like?” I often wondered. I wasn't the kind of kid to be fooled by the ”man in the moon” stories. I wondered what types of matter made up those formations. Both of my grandfathers were involved in the evolution of computing and exploration. One of them worked with early UNIVACs at Remington Rand. My other grandfather was a NASA engineer. Some of my fondest memories are times spent with him, teaching me all about light refraction through water, electron behavior, magnetism — and of course, the planets. He was the project manager for the Apollo 10 Lunar Module — a boy couldn't ask for cooler grandfathers.

Apollo 10 paved the way for the first moon landing, achieved by Apollo 11 just two short months later. During its return from the moon on May 26, 1969, Apollo 10 set the record for the highest speed attained by a manned vehicle: 39,897 km/h (11.08 km/s or 24,791 mph).

As a boy dreaming of space and the engineering that made it possible, I never dreamed I'd ever be part of such a historically or technologically significant event.

But I'm now in the middle of it.

When I joined Delphi in 2015, we had just completed the first-ever cross-country drive in an automated car — from San Francisco to New York. 3,400 miles, 99% of the time in automated mode.

How did a young engineer have the right stuff to be able to work for one of the companies leading the world in autonomous travel technology — right at the epicenter — actually working on the cars?

In addition to my grandfather, I was heavily influenced by my parents, also technologists. They both started their careers as programmers for IBM, where my parents also happened to meet. Yes, I am the proud product of an engineering family. My mother is a fantastic example of determination — there weren’t many female technologists in the 70s and 80s.

My dad introduced me to computer science when I was about 11 years old by working with me to create a calculator as a Microsoft Word macro. Maybe not the typical kid’s favorite pastime, but it was how I loved to spend my time. Solving problems, creating, and proving to myself that I could accomplish my goals.

As much as I loved and looked up to my parents and grandfather, they didn’t quite hold as much celebrity status as my other engineering influence — Bill Nye. Bill Nye the Science Guy was my favorite show, starting at age two — and still ranks high to this very day. My parents tell me I was glued to the TV anytime he came on, sparking the bud of science and creativity in me.

When the chance came to meet him, to provide a demonstration that would be included on his new show Bill Nye Saves the World, I almost jumped out of my chair.

Me. I was working on a technology important enough, cool enough, life-changing enough to be included in his new show. I couldn’t be more proud.

So, standing on the Sony Lot in Los Angeles, California, where the show was being taped, alongside some fellow Delphi engineers in one of our automated cars, I had to pinch myself. We spent two days on the set getting our car ready to be part of the show. Just being around the buzz of Hollywood was cool, but nothing compared to meeting Bill Nye and having him ride in our car, a car on which I had worked. It’s a day I’ll never forget.

Bucket list: meet Bill Nye. Check.

So, for those of you who don’t see Swiss cheese or an imaginary man when you look at the moon, this one’s for you. Find your passion and then set your course towards your goals. You might just reach the moon, and you’ll definitely catch a few stars on the way.