This year we connected current M&Ts with alumni in our “Where are They Now?” series. Next up is Allan Horn (M&T, ’15), interviewed by Andrew Cui (M&T, ’20). Read on to hear more about Allan’s work at 3D printing startup Carbon3D and the road that led him there.
Andrew: What drew you to a startup like Carbon3D?
Allan: When I graduated I felt confident, but not confident enough to start my own company. I knew I still had a lot of learn. That’s what drew me to something of Carbon3D’s size.
Carbon3D is a well-funded hardware company that’s growing quickly but still very much a startup. I interned at Tesla and found myself too far from “the top” and lacking perspective of the company a whole. I wanted something that felt more horizontal rather than vertical.
In a startup, you get exposure to all parts of the business – something you won’t at a larger company. And, at a place like Carbon3D, you still get the robust mentorship and training a smaller startup can’t provide.
Andrew: Where do you find yourself focusing your time at Carbon3D?
Allan: I’d say 45% is spend on manufacturing and automation technology development, 45% on broad manufacturing/operations software and processes, and the last 10% on troubleshooting issues on the manufacturing floor. We spend a good deal of time focusing on honing our software and hardware interaction, testing it, and analyzing data to make sure we’re shipping a high quality product.
At a higher level, though, we need to be able to answer questions like “How do we move materials from one area to another and track different parts?” and “How do we accurately document our manufacturing process as parts are assembled, tested, and installed?”
The whole experience is more technical and complex than I initially expected. It certainly keeps us thinking and innovating constantly.
Andrew: How is your work environment structured? Do you work in teams, individually or a combination?
Allan: I interact with a few different teams on a regular basis: field services, mechanical engineering, software engineering, and electrical engineering. As you can tell, engineering is a large component of what we do. Part of manufacturing, regardless of what type, requires you to bridge the gap between design and implementation. That calls for a lot of communication across teams.
Andrew: What’s your favorite part of your job?
Allan: Seeing all your work be put to good use. You put a lot of time and effort into building and designing something, and it’s really gratifying to see people using what you made. You get that rewarding feeling of “I did that”. It’s not something you get in most professions and that’s pretty cool.
Andrew: What are some of the challenges you face in your work?
Allan: Our startup consists of about 200 people with an ambitious goal. It’s challenging for us to always know exactly what we need to be working on. At the same time, I have a lot of autonomy to think for myself. I frequently ask myself, “What problems do I see?” and quickly follow that with “What can I do to solve them?” Then, I prioritize to get these things done. I have to continually evaluate what I’m doing and whether it’s advancing our goals as a company.
Andrew: You went to grad school after Penn. Why did you decide to go that route?
Allan: After graduation, I went on to get my master’s in mechatronics and mechanical engineering at Stanford. I wanted to have a more technical experience and build upon the knowledge I gained at Penn. M&T gives great breadth, but I wanted more depth in a particular area. After talking with professors and mentors, I knew it was the right move for me.
Andrew: You said M&T gave your breadth. How do you feel M&T prepared you for what you do today?
Allan: I find myself pulled into more projects and conversations because I have experience with both the business and engineering sides. For example, while most of my time is spent on engineering projects, I’ll occasionally get pulled in to help with modeling forecasts which are very similar to the financial modeling I used to do at Penn.
Besides the practical knowledge, skills, and experience I gained, I also really appreciate that within the M&T Program, there’s a tremendous amount of diversity. I thought a program like M&T would attract similar minded and operating people studying similar things, but that was far from the case. I got to meet a lot of very interesting people during my time as an M&T.
Andrew: What advice do you have for those who might be interested in pursuing a path similar to your own?
Allan: If you know you want to work in engineering, prioritize taking more engineering electives. You’ll benefit a lot from taking classes like Mechatronics. They’ll be harder, but very rewarding. I found the business basics I gained were important building blocks, but it was the experience that taught me the most lessons. On the engineering side, I needed a lot more practice and the classes I took gave me the skill set I needed.
Allan graduated from the M&T Program in 2015 with a B.S.E. in mechanical engineering and a B.A. in economics with a concentration in management. He previously interned at Jet.com and Tesla and now works as a manufacturing engineer at Carbon3D.
About the interviewer
Andrew Cui is a computer science major concentrating in statistics and finance. A member of the Class of 2020, he plans to go into data science or consulting after graduation. His favorite thing about being an M&T is the great community of collaboration and generosity.