Most students never know just how much that first job out of college can influence your career. For Garrick Hu, the University of Michigan played a central role not only in advancing his academic journey but shaping his industry focus with that one first job.
Garrick’s first undergraduate degree in theoretical mathematics and computer science provided him the right skillset for a job at the University of Michigan’s Transportation Research Institute (UMTRI) as a computer programmer doing the first digital simulations of heavy truck dynamics. He really enjoyed his work there, and that job led him back to school: “I knew I couldn’t advance unless I became an engineer and did graduate work. And I couldn’t be admitted to grad school in engineering unless I had an undergraduate engineering degree.” Garrick made short work of the undergraduate engineering coursework and was then embarked upon a Master’s program in the College of Engineering.
“Life as grad student was fun. Beside the world class academics, U-M offers so many opportunities for any interest you might have. I always enjoyed art programs, UMS and the musical artists they brought in, and I worked with the Cinema Guild film society. We brought in classic movies and charged 50 cents to show them in Mason and Angell Halls.”
Garrick was very involved in the music scene at U-M as a fan and a performer. “I went to a lot of shows at The Ark when they were in the back alley. I saw Joni Mitchell, The Doors, Simon and Garfunkel and Dionne Warwick. It was just a wonderful time to be in Ann Arbor. I could find world class support for anything I was interested in.” A musician from a young age, Garrick played in rock and roll and country western bands: his c & w band had a standing weekly gig for a few years. “Our drummer was in biochemistry, I was in engineering and our bass player was in linguistics – we had a very multidisciplinary group there.”
His academic career blossomed as well. “Everything I did with my graduate work was directly related to the research I was doing at UMTRI; that tied together very nicely,” Garrick mentions of his twelve years at U-M. Upon graduation, Garrick began his career in the commercial truck industry where he says his experience at UMTRI in conjunction with his academic work at U-M, made him very attractive. He says, “They needed someone with experience in vehicle dynamics. Both my academic and research credentials really qualified me well for the job.” He held various positions there before advancing in the industry and retired as an industry leader after 36 years.
That knowledge didn’t go to waste. Garrick’s consulting enterprise has been a thriving operation during the last decade, working with manufacturers of emerging technologies and organizations like the National Academy of Sciences. As a consultant today, the real need Garrick identifies is teaching engineering companies how to do the upfront planning to optimize engineering product development processes and design product development road maps.
He explains it more simply: “I’m teaching engineering companies about Chinese cooking. It’s all about maximum preparation and minimum execution; it’s all about the prep work. With engineering projects, it is the same thing. If you plan it well and put more time in, the execution goes well. When you don’t have organizational discipline and you keep throwing things over the fence, which happens when companies are traditionally siloed in departments, the result is a lack of appropriate planning. My last four large scale consulting projects were helping companies optimize their organization and processes. This is a skill I was very pleased to learn in industry and refine on my own over the course of my career.”
Garrick foresees himself being out of a job in the coming years. “The undergraduates coming out of engineering school today have excellent knowledge of design process, how to work functionally and manage programs. U-M is a leading academic institute and is teaching world class processes and design to students right now. They are teaching some of the work I’m doing.”
This is firsthand experience he witnesses in the work he does on campus with a Mechanical Engineering class. In an alumni lecture there, he shared, “I’ve come to realize that as an engineer, you’ve learned a skill set that most people think of as designing a product, but the main thing you’ve really learned is how to solve problems. It doesn’t matter what context you put that in.”
That advice pertains to graduate students as well. “If graduate students want to have a successful career, instead of focusing on engineering per se, they might be better off focusing on an industry or an area they are passionate about in which to apply their engineering skills. Part of my success is because I stayed in the commercial truck space for 36 years and was able to evolve and develop my expertise by applying my academic knowledge to this industry. Many of my peers switched fields and never saw their careers blossom because they were always applying their knowledge differently. My advice is to fall in love with an industry to which you can develop in depth knowledge to advance your career.”
Today, Garrick keeps his hand in technology, but he’s out having fun, too. He’s been able to return to his love of music and now plays bass in a jazz trio.