For a mechanical engineer to get a core engineering job at L&T, an industry leader in construction equipment, is a dream come true.

But not for our next pathbreaker Aalok, who didnt want to just handle equipment. He wanted to  conceptualise, sketch and design machinery, especially in the Automotive sector, an interest he had pursued since his childhood.

Aalok talks to Shyam Krishnamurthy  from The Interview Portal about his passion for sketching machines from a young age and how that interest steered him towards becoming an Industrial Designer for a Tyre manufacturer.

Aalok, can you tell us about your background?

Iam from a lower middle class family from old parts of city Ludhiana. I lost my father very early in life due to financial distress in his small business. I was raised by my mother along with two elder sisters in a one room house. Since childhood, I used to sketch a lot. I won hand writing competitions in my school. Machines and Engineering are my first love, developed through watching automobile magazines and TV shows since early school days. Other than these, i never participated in any extra-curricular activities or sports. That is the reason the profession of industrial design evolved as my career gradually. I have been through lots of struggles, with limited resources in life and that had influenced my personality in terms of developing sincerity and discipline. 

What did you do for graduation/post-graduation?

I did my B. Tech. (Mechanical Engineering) through Common Entrance Test for Punjab state engineering institutions and Post graduation in design, M. Des. (Automobile design) through CEED exam conducted by IITs

How did you end up in such an offbeat, unconventional and fascinating career?

From a young age, i was always interested in machines and sketching machines. I had a curiosity to know technical things. I was always interested in being a ‘Maker’ .

My mother, my sisters, Mr. Ratan Tata, Mr. Karim Rashid and many more people influenced me in different ways. I was constantly motivated by school teachers who helped me believe in myself and appreciated my creative skills: handwriting & sketching 

There was an opportunity to work with construction machines in my first job. I was dissatisfied with my first job that motivated me to search for something more challenging.

I then got an opportunity to go abroad in a student exchange program to realize my true potential.

Tell us about your career path

My career path is full of transitions and experiments. After completing graduation in Mechanical engineering the first goal was attained, to work with machines and mechanical things. After working for 2 years in construction machine maintenance at L&T, the next goal was to build machines, beyond just maintaining them. The path to reach that goal seemed very long via the usual way of climbing the corporate ladder.

So i left the job to pursue further studies, aiming for a newer goal. Initially, i took admission at IIITDM Jabalpur in their Masters in Design program. But it was only focused on product design, not Automobile design. After one year, i left my studies midway as i secured admission in design studies with specialisation in Automobile Design at IIT Bombay. After that, i availed an opportunity to complete one year in Spain on a student exchange program at Universitat Politècnica de València (UPV). That was a defining year in my life which influenced my thinking a lot, personally and professionally.

When i came back to India, i took up any and every job coming my way as long as it was related to design. Securing the right kind of job, something that i was interested in, didn’t happen for a long time. But i kept searching. 

In my second job i took up the role of a design engineer in an automobile tuning company. Here i worked on components design for modified motorcycles. But this job didn’t work well as there were too many financial constraints living in Mumbai. In the next job i worked as Quality Assurance engineer in CAD software product developing company. Here i had to create designs digitally on CAD software to test software capabilities. This was a job with all the comfort that anyone expects from a job, but the chance to design real things, not using computers was missing.

Finally in my fourth job i joined as as an industrial designer in home appliances company. This was my first job purely involving the work of an industrial designer, but the company failed and i was out in the job market again. Lack of a well paying job led me to the education field as a stop gap till i got a good job. I was a visiting faculty for design studies with universities and coaching institutions and so on. My goals were clear, to remain associated with the design field.

As opportunities kept coming, I kept on going with the flow to attain the larger goal of being influential in the field of design. These diversified experiences have made me understand the dynamics of various roles/positions and industries.

How did you get your first break?

I have devoted many years in building my design portfolio before entering this field. Then one fine day I received a call for interview from an organisation based on my portfolio of works. Rest of the journey continues.

What were the challenges? How did u address them?

  • Challenge 1: lack of mentors/direction

Even after obtaining degree in design field, I had no idea as to how to establish myself in this field or how to find the right job. I took the decision to opt for a student exchange program and there I found a great mentor (a professor) who directed me to continuously work on improving skills and to keep competing with yourself. 

  • Challenge 2: Lack of opportunities

During the initial years, I had a tough time in finding the right job opportunity. I overcame this challenge by accepting several job options coming my way. The crucial thing is, don’t give an excuse that you are unable to find a job. 

  • Challenge 3: Fight with own belief system

One big issue was to accept the point of view of others, while building my own professional career. I fought this challenge by developing the habit of listening to others and developing humility in my personality.

Where do you work now? 

I work at Apollo Tyres R&D Asia, Chennai TN INDIA. I design tyres for a variety of vehicle categories; mostly new designs for appearance and performance enhancing changes. We all know that a tyre is a product where the first priority is meeting performance expectations of customers. Globally, all tyre manufacturers have attained finest levels of tyre performance. The next strategy for competition can be; best aesthetic appeal for the products. That’s where people like me come into the picture. 

Knowing problem solving techniques, sketching and CAD, design communication etc are few of the skills. Most of these skills were acquired during the education of industrial design post-graduation studies.

A typical day starts with prioritising the projects at hand and a consistent work schedule to arrive at presenting design ideas for tyre design projects. 

The constant demand of being innovative and pushing the boundaries is the best part. Every new project has to be better and better. 

How does your work benefit the society? 

The job of most industrial designers is to work for benefit of society by making business operation more efficient. My role is to make efficient tyres for vehicles, which in turn leads to less consumption of oils and reducing greenhouse gases in our planet. It is in the direction of long term benefits to humanity. 

Tell us an example of a specific memorable work you did that is very close to you!

Designing a tyre which is the first of its kind for a new segment of vehicles is one of my most memorable projects. While seeing it for the first time on the production line gave me the feeling of seeing my new born baby.

Your advice to students based on your experience?

The most important advice is to identify your interest areas and then fall in love with those interests. If it is a collection of interest areas, work on all of them in parallel. In a span of a few years you will automatically realise your field of interest, the one closest to your heart. For example: interest areas can be music, human psychology, drone flying, social work & watching movies for an individual. While practicing all these, eventually you may become highly interested in doing an MBA (HR) and having a successful HR career for an engineering organisation.   

Future Plans?

I am taking up some challenging projects in my current role and trying to build exceptional products. The long term goal is to align development of products in line with changing trends in the global automotive industry. I plan to contribute in developing new transportation machines and systems in the long term.