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Inside the Mind of a Young Professional: A Conversation with Deepak Atyam

By November 14, 2019Interviews, Space Times

By Molly Kearns | November 20, 2019

Atyam working on a Tri-D rocket engine created by Atyam and his partner Alex Finch at the University of California San Diego.
CREDIT/ERIK JEPSEN

What inspired you to pursue a degree in Aerospace Engineering?

What originally inspired me was probably my first real job opportunity working at JPL. I was seventeen and I had gone through the Inspire Program through NASA which helped young high school students get acclimated with what it takes to be an engineer in the real world work force. My first job was working on the Curiosity Rover, which was more fun and exciting than I ever could have imagined. Being a high-schooler and working on something that would actually have an impact on the space industry was incredibly impactful. Since that first job was so impactful, from that day on I always felt like I wanted to work on projects that had a higher purpose and would inspire students and future generation to look up to the stars the way I was inspired. I love being inspired by the people around me and working with people that enjoy coming in early and staying late working on these amazing projects that all have a focused vision towards advancing our civilization.

As a graduate student you were recognized as one of Tomorrow’s Engineering Leaders: The 20 Twenties in Aerospace, along with a multitude of other awards.  What was it like to be honored with these recognitions so young, and how have they impacted your career development?

I think it was really amazing to have all the hard work that my entire team and I put together be recognized. Sometimes I was the only person recognized for a lot of these awards but it really was a team effort. I had a couple of ideas and a vision but what really lead us to success was that we worked really well as a team and were like a family together. It was really motivating when we were able to find these prime companies like Lockheed and Boeing and NASA, some of the big prime aerospace companies, would look at you and see that you are doing something that can make a difference for the future of the industry. To know that you, as a young person, can make a difference no matter what other people say and that our contributions actually mean something and are helpful to the industry was hugely impactful and motivating.

Since graduating you continue to earn recognition throughout the aerospace community. To what do you attribute your passion and energy?

I think a lot of the work I do now is driven from the fact that we were sort of told as undergrads that what we were doing was impossible, but we didn’t listen to them so we went for it anyway to prove all of those people wrong, and we did.  Being able to accomplish some of these amazing achievements for ourselves has been great to do at such a young age because now we are filled with so much excitement and energy and know that we can do anything we can dream of. The drive that we have is to work on new technologies to advance state of the art equipment and make a huge difference in the industry, both in outer space and here on earth. I didn’t come from the most affluent neighborhood whatsoever. We worked really hard for what we had, so I believe in the ability to achieve great things no matter who you are or what background you come from. Overall my drive definitely comes from knowing my background and where I came from and knowing that I can do anything that I put my mind to.

How does someone under 30 have multiple patents?  How do you come up with ideas that produce so many innovative “firsts”? 

I don’t have a lot of the traditionally corporate heritage engineering views nor have I ever been a full-time employee at an actual company before. I have had many internships but I have not been indoctrinated with these ideas that this is the classical way we have always done things and why they are the best way to do them, which has been very beneficial to me. It is very helpful to learn these foundational ways, but I have been able to learn them from books and through amazing advisors, mentors, and peers and given the freedom to expand upon them. For myself, the drive to innovate comes from looking at the problem in a very different way than most people in my field and I never look at things the way they have been done before because I start from scratch. I ask myself ‘what is the actual fundamental problem that we are solving and what are some ways to get there’ and when I create one or two solutions for myself I then am able to look back at other solutions existing in the industry and see how I can integrate some of my ideas into the status quo.

Can you tell us a little bit about the company you co-founded Tri-D Dynamics, and what it is like running a NewSpace startup?

Tri-D Dynamics has been focused on advancing 3D printing technology with Cold Metal Fusion additive manufacturing primarily focusing on embedding electronics at production speeds. We’re finding new applications for a technology that originated from the aerospace industry. In terms of what we are doing right now is focusing in new manufacturing techniques to change the way we look at the way we look at, design, and view the world around us. We are trying to create a platform where people without even a master’s or PhD degree can look at functional objects that we use day to day, such as transportation and civil construction, and well as just day to day objects and look at the way those things are being built and utilize their imaginations to create the next generation of smart structures with embedded IOT devices to improve data collection and transmission. We see a connected world where device, machine, and user can have seamless information sharing all over the globe.

Starting your own company comes with a lot of obstacles. We aren’t taught many of these business functions in school when pursuing an aerospace engineering degree, like proper accounting and dealing with taxes and how to form and govern a company, so a lot of this learning experience has been on the job training! We learn by surrounding ourselves with those who are more experienced and knowledgeable than us and absorbing all that they have gone through so we can learn from past mistakes and prosper in the future.

You have had the opportunity to work for some of the leading companies in the space industry at such a young age, including Space-X and NASA. What advice do you have for young professionals in the space industry that are interested in working for industry leaders? 

Even when I was applying to lots of the companies I faced rejection in the application process, so don’t give up! Getting a job now a days is not an easy task, but I would always go above and beyond to find the right people that you want to work for and learn from and reach out to those people and show them exactly why you are the right candidate to work for them on their team. People appreciate students and young professionals that go above and beyond to be a part of the workforce. You should always use the resources around you to the best of your advantage, such as your advisors and counselors and peers. I think the biggest thing that I learned in college through my engineering leadership classes is that people have to grow from every single piece of feedback they receive in order to grow and evolve into the best possible versions of themselves.

What’s next on the horizon for you?

Five years from now, I want our company to be at a point where we are growing fast enough to have our products distributed globally to where we can actually make a lasting impact on the world. We want to work with people that have designed the world we live in and that look at the way we do things now and redesign them in a whole new creative light without being constrained by the typical design books. We want our products to be in work places around the world and even more we want consumer to learn from them and enjoy using them, so in five years we hope to have built that name brand recognition where people know who we are and know that we are making a conscious effort to change the world for the good of all.

Atyam has co-founded and is running a frontier tech startup, Tri-D Dynamics, which focuses on advancing metallic additive manufacturing. He has received his M.S. in Aerospace Engineering with a Major focus in Manufacturing Engineering from Purdue University in addition to a B.S. in Aerospace Engineering from UC San Diego. Atyam has worked at SpaceX, GLXP Team Moon Express, Purdue’s Zucrow Laboratory, NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, NASA Langley Research Center, and NASA Marshall Space Flight Center starting from the age of 17 and has led multiple successful NASA funded projects including the production and testing of the first and second fully 3D printed liquid rocket engines from a university.

Molly Kearns is a Digital Media Specialist at NASA Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, Ohio. She recently earned her B.S. in Marketing and her M.S in Digital and Social Media Marketing from the University of Alabama.