Where Are They Now: Penn State’s Dan Ellis

From the classrooms at Penn State to a real-world career, participants in Advanced Vehicle Technology Competition (AVTCs) graduate with experience that is unmatched by any knowledge gained from a formal classroom setting. These individuals are far from ordinary and it shows when they enter the workplace.

The Penn State EcoCAR team was fortunate enough to speak with one of their many alumni who excelled throughout his years as a student at Penn State, and continues to flourish in his current position. Dan Ellis has a multidiscipline in Engineering and Technology, and was a vital part of the Penn State Advanced Vehicle Team (AVT) operation in the 1990’s and early 2000’s. He had some great answers to their questions and even provided great motivation to their current team!

Read the interview below to learn more!

Q: Which AVTC did you participate in and for how many years were you involved?

A: I began my work with the AVT team in 1993 with the Ford Escort during the HEV Challenge. From 1993-1995 I competed with the Escort and from 1995-1999, I participated in various Tour De Sol competitions with the Escort. Between 1999-2004, I participated in the FutureTruck competition and was given the opportunity to work with a Chevrolet Suburban and the Ford Escape. I worked specifically as a technical team member where I was in charge of the controls aspect of the project.

Q: What, specifically, was your role on the team? Example of what an ordinary day with the team entailed?

A: For the Escort and the Suburban I worked on and headed up the control systems, computers, networking, telematics and much of the electrical systems.  For the Escape I didn’t belong to any particular group, just assisted with control systems and electronics. My role consisted of designing, programing and implementing the electrical, electronics and computer systems into the vehicle.

Q: What was the job you accepted directly after college and is it the same position you currently hold?

A: I left PSU in 1994 to start an Internet business (MicroServe Information Systems). I returned part-time to PSU in 1997 while running the business and graduated in 2002 with a Bachelor of Science in Computer Engineering.  I sold Microserve to a larger cable-TV/Phone company, PenTeleData, in 1998 and was their CTO for 14 years.

In 2012, I left PenTeleData and relocated to California, working for Netflix as their Director of Content Delivery Operations for two years. Today, I current work as the CTO at CloudHelix, Inc., a company specializing in network visibility and infrastructure. While I’m much deeper into the Internet and Computers than EVs and HEVs, I greatly miss working on alternative fuel vehicles.

Q: How has this competition benefitted you in the future?

A: The HEV experience was priceless. The experience gained by students as well as the opportunity to build a system as complex as the vehicles was once in a lifetime.  It essentially was running a start-up company.   It is impossible to gain that type if insight from classrooms.  Also the relationships built with mentors, professors, industry and other students were extremely valuable. The team we had in 2001 and 2002 with the Suburban FutureTruck was incredible.  I was surrounded by a super smart group of folks, who worked hard, knew how to enjoy themselves, and got the job done.  This experience was as good as or better than, the cultures I’ve seen in many well-known “best-to-work-for” companies.

Q: What advice can you give current and future team members of the AVTCs?

A: If one enjoys engineering they should apply themselves 100% and embed themselves as deeply as they can into the team.  It should be something they love and a hobby for them.  If they don’t enjoy the type of work that is centralized around engineering, than they are likely, not in the right field. This is the type of work that is about as realistic as it gets to what a real-life career in engineering entails. For those that love it and apply themselves, the skills and knowledge will allow them to walk into any job they want and give them an enormous advantage in the workplace.”