Written By Gary Rosewell
Wise words from an engineer that epitomizes why education matched with early practical experience is so important for laying the foundations to a successful career. At the top of a burgeoning resumé is Alex’ current role with Ford Motor Company, working (among others) across NASCAR, the World Rally Championship, V8 Supercars and advanced demonstrator projects. From Chitown to Motown, we caught up with Alex after an intense end to 2020.
Q. Hello Alex! Please introduce yourself and your experience for our readers.
A. Hello all, my name is Alex Allmandinger, I’m 27 years old and originally from Chicago, Illinois (USA). I now live in Detroit, Michigan, and I am a Motorsport Aerodynamicist with Ford Motor Company. My experience includes placements at Caterpillar Inc, Fiat-Chrysler Automobiles, as well as a 12-month experience with the Infiniti Engineering Academy, which was split between Infiniti UK and Renault Sport Formula One Team. Almost all of my placements have been centered around Aero / Thermal Engineering and wind tunnel testing, including my role at Renault F1, as well as my current role at Ford Performance.
Q. What are the main tasks that you typically manage on a day-to-day basis?
A. Our Motorsport Aerodynamics team at Ford has a very wide range of responsibility across our racing programs, as well as our one-off demonstrators. My typical day spans from working on CAD Concepts, pre and post processing CFD Results, managing wind tunnel programs and operating wind tunnel tests. We get the opportunity to work across a wide range of disciplines, which I really enjoy.
Q. How have your formative years helped you get to where you are now?
A. Formula SAE was a key part of my engineering education and helped to launch my career in Motorsports. I joined the team, Illini Motorsports, as a freshman in my undergraduate studies and fell in love with the challenges that the program provides. The design freedom really pushes young engineers to develop valuable problem-solving skills, and manufacturing the parts you designed gives a first-hand view of the requirements (and costs) of specific production methods. These are important lessons to learn before going into industry.
“My first internships were all with sponsors, which continued to push me to bigger and brighter opportunities”
Furthermore, Formula SAE pushes young engineers to develop soft skills. Students are interacting with potential sponsors, suppliers and industry professionals on an almost daily basis. It also teaches them to work well in multi-disciplinary teams and potentially puts members in the position of managing their peers, something that provides a whole new set of challenges and experiences!
The lessons I learned and the connections I made in Formula SAE were instrumental in launching my career. My first internships were all with team sponsors, which continued to push me to bigger and brighter opportunities.
Q. How important has your education been in laying the foundations for a career in engineering?
A. My engineering education at the University of Illinois has been key to providing a strong foundation for career development. I believe that a good education won’t give you all the answers, but it will give you the tools you need to find them. I’ve found that each of my professional roles has pushed me to learn and develop new skills that I wasn’t taught in the classroom, but the knowledge and problem solving skills I developed at university (and in the Formula SAE program) have significantly helped me to succeed.
Q. Are there any lessons that private businesses can learn from the ultra-fast paced world of motorsport?
A. Motorsport is all about speed, on and off the track. This pushes the development of cutting-edge tools, technology and processes. It is also increasingly about efficiency and extracting the most amount of performance with what you have available. Creativity, innovation and resourcefulness are all important to the business world too, albeit at often vastly different speeds, so I think there are definitely some crossovers here.
“The ultimate feeling and place to be”
Q. In three words, describe what motorsport means to you personally. Why?
A. To me, motorsport is a passion. It’s about constantly pushing the envelope, continuously improving, and always striving for success. It’s where sport and competition meet engineering, which for me is the ultimate feeling and place to be. I also do a lot of karting in my spare time so get to experience those emotions from the perspective of a driver, something I feel 99.9% of motorsport engineers will relate to!
Q. These are incredibly challenging times globally and it can be very difficult to gain practical experience. What advice or words of wisdom would you give to aspiring young engineers trying to make it today?
A. My advice is to find something that challenges you, even if it makes you uncomfortable. This is always the best way to learn and grow and will help make you a more well-rounded engineer. While your first placement out of school may not be your dream job, take everything you can from those experiences because years down the line you’ll be extremely proud to look back on them.
Thank you, Alex, and best to everyone at Ford Motor Company for a bigger and brighter 2021. We look forward to hearing from you again as your career journey continues.
These are indeed trying times for young graduates of any discipline, let alone those of a technical background. The sense of creativity, innovation and resourcefulness that Alex alluded to however, runs particularly strong throughout the engineering community. Make the most of all and every interaction, network where you can, stay positive and the opportunities will come. Wishing all our readers a fantastic week and a successful year!
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