Five things you should know: a talk with Rajarama Shenoy, Ph.D. AE '79

Five things you should know: a talk with Rajarama Shenoy, Ph.D. AE '79
Atlanta, GA

It’s been more than 40 years since Rajarama Shenoy began his doctoral studies GT-AE, but the Sikorsky engineering manager is still a familiar face – and welcome influence – at his alma mater.

It’s been more than 40 years since Rajarama Shenoy began his doctoral studies GT-AE, but the Sikorsky engineering manager is still a familiar face – and welcome influence – at his alma mater.

A member of the Aerospace Engineering School Advisory Council (AESAC), Dr. Shenoy has thought long and hard about the tremendous impact today’s GT-AE grads can have on the future of aerospace engineering. He has also culled five timeless lessons that will help graduates achieve that success.

Recently, he shared them with us:

Lesson #1: Today’s Aerospace engineers must hold ethics and professional integrity as their top priority since so many lives-- both those of the flying public and of our men and women in uniform-- depend on them. The future of the aerospace industry rides on the decisions made by today’s aerospace engineers.

Rajarama Shenoy has gathered decades of valuable experience in aerospace engineering since earning his Ph.D. at GT-AE in the late 70s. He is seen here during his graduate school days.

“So much is riding on what you do, as an aerospace engineer, that it goes beyond the legal considerations,” he said.

“It’s a matter of conscience, of professional integrity, of ethics that you find someone who will listen to your concerns, and, if needed, sound an alarm if you detect a design flaw or a dubious consequence in a project.”

Shenoy said most companies require new employees to take ethics courses that emphasize this point – he has taken several at Sikorsky -- but that, at the end of the day, it’s a matter of execution. A competent engineer must be willing to take action.

In some circumstances, this could pit the engineer’s best judgment against the business-focused agenda of a project manager - or a boss who doesn’t see things quite the same way. In those circumstances, Shenoy stressed, a competent engineer will seek out an ombudsman within the company.

“It’s important that you not assume that giving only the ‘good news’ all the time would please the higher-ups, but make sure that you do not provide false information and do maintain professional integrity,” he said.

Lesson #2: Take freshman year at Georgia Tech seriously.

“Of course you want to have fun, but you don’t want to fall behind your freshman year. You may never catch up,” he said. “Many of the courses you take as a sophomore, junior, and senior will take for granted that you have certain concepts down. If you don’t, it will be easy to fall behind.”

A corollary of this point: if you fall behind, find a way to catch up. Fast. You wouldn’t be the first aerospace engineering student to take a summer course or get tutoring. The investment will pay off handsomely.

Lesson #3: Take advantage of Internship and co-op opportunities.

“Companies --- including my own – want to see more than your grades. They want to see what you are doing with your free time. They want to see your work ethics, your decision-making skills and the interest you take in the field you are seeking employment in. If you are working as an engineering intern during the summers or over breaks, they will see that you are serious, and that matters almost as much as your grades. In most instances you are likely to get job offers before you graduate."

Lesson #4: Don’t believe everything you read. Question promising conclusions, replicate questionable results, and make provisions for unknown issues that may crop up.

New engineers should avoid the trap of depending entirely on the outputs of computer-based models to validate results. Physics-based reasoning is superior, Shenoy said.

"This is especially true if the model was developed by someone one else," he added. "You need to always ask if the results make sense. Perform sensititvity runs and verify the results and the trends with the test data. There is no substitute."

When he embarked on his first job -- as a project engineer at a wind energy company -- Shenoy learned an equally important (and related) lesson:

"Always have parallel paths ready when dealing with new technologies."

At  the time, Shenoy's work team had ordered a differently engineered gearbox – one that had no teeth. Based on the brochures and literature that accompanied it, the gearbox looked very robust and promising.

“It was bright, shiny and compact and well-engineered. But when we tested it on the bench, we found that it did not perform up to standards because we were using it as a step-up rather than a step-down transmission," he said. 

"The new transmission concept did not behave well when driven from the low speed end. We fortunately had anticipated such an issue and had traditional gearbox as our baseline. We were glad we did." 

Lesson #5: Keep learning. Every day. Every decade.

Old friends. Rajarama Shenoy sweated through graduate school at GT-AE with Lakshmi Sankar, now a GT-AE Regents Professor.

Shenoy learned a lot about the business of aerospace engineering by working hard, observing best practices, and analyzing outcomes. He used that knowlege to successfully manage Sikorsky’s research and development efforts for more than a decade and continued to use it in his current position.

But he always remained a firm believer that learning is a lifelong activity.

So, almost 20 years after he earned his doctorate in aerospace engineering, he went back to school.

“I earned an MS in management of technology while I was working full-time, because, after working with business people all of these years, I wanted to know exactly where they were coming from when it came to engineering," he said. 

"After the formal training in business studies, I was better able to frame our engineering requests and suggestions in a language that better appealed to the management teams that were business focused.”

After completing his doctoral studies in aerospace engineering at Georgia Tech in 1978, Rajarama Shenoy briefly worked in the wind energy turbine industry before diving into a successful career in the aerospace engineering field.He currently serves as the attributes manager for Naval Hawk Programs at the Sikorsky Aircraft Corporation .