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2009 TSA winner (now GM engineer): “It’s about the journey”

Six years ago, Ahmad Hares was a high school senior hoping his dragster, Biocrypt II, would achieve what his 2008 car did not: first place in Technology Student Association’s (TSA) Dragster Design.

Of course, TSA followers know that Biocrypt II came in a dead heat with another car but set an event record in the tie-breaking run. That’s not the big story for Ahmad now; the former winner had always dreamed of working in the automotive or racing industries. In March 2014, that dream came true when he became a CAE engineer at General Motors in Michigan.

The young engineer loves the job, citing the challenge of complex problems as part of the reason; however, he is finding other elements of the field just as intriguing.

“You can have people that are extremely skilled in engineering – and they can focus on problems and find solutions – but it’s about bringing all those problems together and all those people together to ultimately build a car, which is a huge feat. There’s so many people involved, so many moving parts, that it’s really an interesting field to be in.”

Ahmad’s work career started well before he graduated high school. His earlier jobs included working on boats, laboring on a farm, and detailing cars in his home state of Florida.

“I’d work on beautiful cars like Bentleys, Ford GTs, Corvettes, and Porsches. That really helps you appreciate what you’re working on.”

After high school, he attended the University of South Florida, but he wanted work that would steer him in a more professional direction.

“Remember that it’s about the journey, not just the final outcome, because these people that you meet along the way are the ones that will shape you into what you ultimately need to be.”

“So I got a job at a machine shop just to be there, learn how to make things with my hands, and make things out of metal,” Ahmad said, though he later helped the company with computer design on its consulting side. After a year, he moved on to Transitions Optical, starting as an intern in the Continuous Improvement area and becoming a production engineer.

“I had the opportunity to learn a lot of stuff about the production environment, working with operators and technicians, research and development, quality, logistics, supply chain, and all those different moving parts that really help make a product happen,” he said. “Whether consciously or not, I was grooming myself to understand the engineering field from all angles.”

Soon, other opportunities came his way. One of Ahmad’s high school teachers and mentors, Richard Platt, said he remembered going to dinner with Ahmad when the young engineer choosing between a position with Boeing or one with GM. Platt said he told him that was a stupid question – Ahmad loves cars.

“I knew his passion was cars, and he followed his heart, which I think is so important,” Platt said. “I’m so proud of him for doing that.”

Ahmad has been with GM for more than a year now, and he’s finding those nontechnical skills he developed are coming to the forefront again.

“I’ve had the opportunity to work very closely in a support role for my director, who is like a manager of other managers,” Ahmad said. “My manager at GM is extremely supportive and has realized that I’m more aligned with these business development/process development kind of roles. I’m not sure exactly where it’s going to take me, but I am planning to pursue my MBA and see where that can go.”

TSA Roots

Success hasn’t gone to Ahmad’s head, and he hasn’t forgotten TSA and how it helped him, citing that the TSA competition steered him to engineering when medicine had been another possibility.

“The leadership part is what really attracted me. I could combine the functional skills with the people skills,” he said. “Most engineers don’t have the best people skills, but I think something that needs to be talked about more is that TSA, at least early on, can help build the people skills that you need.”

All of the skills he learned to make a winning dragster serve Ahmad well.

“Specifically for dragster design, our school and advisors encouraged us to use the tools that were available to us,” he said. “We used SolidWorks for the 3-D CAD design; CFD, computational fluid dynamics, which is like a virtual wind tunnel; and then CNC routers to manufacture the car, at least the outside body. All of those things are relevant in every engineering field right now.

“From a functional perspective, those are very important skills, but to build the dragster you have to use your hands, you have to understand that making something takes time and effort, and you have to appreciate the quality of your work and how small things can affect the outcome greatly.”

Ahmad also competed in F1 for Schools and was part of a US-Germany collaboration team that competed in Singapore, finishing seventh overall and second in collaboration teams.

Platt, who also comes from a work background with places like the Johnson Space Center and several software companies, agrees with Ahmad’s thoughts on TSA.

“What TSA does is replicate that professional world in the technology area. You’re always busting your tail to get ready for a professional trade show or a new product,” he said. “TSA is like that in the sense that when you go to state or nationals, you’re coming with your best stuff to try to win. Those kids will kill themselves to get their projects done to go and compete and win.”

Family and Mentors Are Key to Success

While TSA provided a great vehicle for Ahmad to develop skills, he insists that support from family and mentors was vital to his success.

“. . . these people that you meet along the way are the ones that will shape you into what you ultimately need to be.”

“My father has always been there in terms of doing some of these projects with me, at least in high school, and supporting me along the way,” he said. “My family has always been there.”

Ahmad’s grandfather, who had a successful career in the automotive industry, and his uncle helped him in terms of work ethic, support, and valuing excellence.

He cites teachers Platt and Gil Burlew from Braden River High School in Florida (Platt now teaches at Southeast High School) and Doug Jones, his boss at Transitions Optical, as people who encouraged him along the way.

“I’ve had a lot of great mentors and a lot of great friends, and that’s how I’ve been able to do it. Otherwise, you really can’t stay focused,” he said. “Remember that it’s about the journey, not just the final outcome, because these people that you meet along the way are the ones that will shape you into what you ultimately need to be. I firmly believe that.”