Our “Meet the Team” series profiles the creative and curious people of First Mode. We are driven to find purposeful technology solutions to the world’s most important challenges. We take our work seriously but ourselves not too seriously. Want to work with us? View our open positions here.
Hi Harlan! What do you do at First Mode?
Hello! I am a mechanical engineer at First Mode.
What are you working on right now?
I am working on the hydrogen power system to integrate our fuel cell powerplant into the ultra-class haul trucks. We’re building up a system capable of delivering large amount of power without emitting CO2.
Why is this important?
The hydrogen haul truck needs to accomplish a tough set of goals. We are trying to displace an old, mature, and CO2-intensive technology with one with less technical maturity and new systems that have different and challenging constraints, all while ensuring each truck can continue to operate for years to come!
What drew you to First Mode originally?
What drew me to First Mode was the sense of welcoming and drive each person brings. I’ve met people solving tough problems while also being open, friendly, and engaged.
How did your passion for engineering and tech begin?
At a young age I was always really into playing with hardware and seeing how people would find ways to do new things with what they had. Playing with Legos, building computers, and small rockets was always fun. You could combine things in a way that made sense, and then see how someone else approached it totally differently. The moment I really knew I would stay in engineering was getting to do something totally different, like designing bikes to go faster than you might want!
What gets you out of bed in the morning?
The Seattle sunrise coming up at 5am in the summer. Then two cats who will jump on me asking for attention.
What does your typical day look like?
I wake up and hop on the train to the office. From there, after any morning meetings, I’ll either be collaborating in the main office, or switching to try and figure out a technical problem. I’ll work in excel, CAD, or something more specialized, but usually just trying to draw it out.
When something needs to get built, I’ll take my bike and see if I can beat my time to the SoDo workshop!
Do you have a mantra, a motto, or a mission statement?
Try and stop every now and then.
What is great about mechanical engineering?
One of the things I appreciate most about engineering is that every type of person can bring their expertise and work together to make something great. And at the end of the day, it’s a real joy being able to touch and feel the things you made. In mechanical engineering, there is always something tactile to be aware of.
Could you point to a project that you are most proud of?
In a previous role, I helped evolve a crew capsule from a hollow, gum-drop shaped composite shell into something that would carry a vast array of humans to space regardless of their age, nationality, gender, or even prior experience. I got to be on the recovery crew the first time a capsule with my hardware flew and confirm that the windows were still on. I worked on systems to ensure the people inside would interact, see, hear, breathe, and stay safe in the extreme environment prior to the first humans getting on board. Seeing four people safely emerge from the capsule was a highlight.
What do you think is the most significant discovery or human endeavor of the last few years?
The shift away from fossil fuels has been a significant and radical change on so many levels. It is a process that is actively harder, but the more we do, the better it gets.
Why does it matter that we keep inventing, testing, and creating?
We all have problems to get from today to tomorrow. And then tomorrow will bring with it a new problem. To invent, test, and create something is to try and do better, as a human or an engineer.
What are your hobbies and interests outside of work?
I’ve enjoyed gardening for some time now, and since Hops grow so well in the Pacific Northwest, I’ve started homebrewing.
Have you learned anything especially great in the last year?
There are some big trucks out in the world.