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 Clara! What do you do at First Mode Seattle?

I am the Director of Modeling & Simulation! Over the three years I have been at First Mode I have worked on developing models that answer questions that are too impractical or expensive or time-consuming to test in the real world.

What are you working on right now?

In addition to building out the M&S team, I have spent the last few months as the Software Lead on a project aiming to race the first ever hydrogen-powered off-road vehicle.

What drew you to First Mode originally? 

The people. I met the founding group when I worked at Planetary Resources, and not only are they brilliant and creative engineers but they are wonderful humans and have taught me so much. I didn’t need a lot of convincing.

Clara Sękowski, Director of Modeling & Simulation at First Mode

How did your passion for engineering and tech begin? 

Probably later than most. For a long time, I had no idea what I wanted to do and everything was a contender. I studied theatre at my mom’s acting studio; I took all the literature courses I could because I loved to read; I spent a year in Senegal before college because I was interested in global health; I started coaching because I played sports; and eventually I decided to study physics on a hunch. I hadn’t taken it in high school, but I was a few years ahead in math. I never looked back!

What gets you out of bed in the morning?

My two dogs. They are extremely enthusiastic about breakfast.

What does your typical day look like?

Wake up early. Coffee. Go to the gym before work. In the summer I’ll bike to the office, but otherwise I drive. More coffee. Then the workday will usually begin with a quick project- or department-related tag-up. From there it can vary quite a bit: There might be a full day of collaboration and brainstorming meetings, heads-down code development, analysis and customer engagement, or a mix of all the above.

What is great about modeling and simulation?

The modeling and simulation engineer is usually in a position to understand how the whole system works together, because we interface with every discipline on the team at every stage of the project to ensure our representation is accurate. Doing so can involve the combination of first principles, systems engineering, sound programming, and a love of data.

M&S is commonly relied upon in doing something for the very first time: When that’s the case, our work can have a massive and very direct impact on the project’s outcome. On past projects, decisions like how many fuel cells belong on a vehicle, or how long a system can run before it gets too hot, or what global location to deploy a certain technological prototype trace back to the work of a modeling and simulation engineer. It’s a pretty epic department to be a part of.

Clara Sękowski, Director of Modeling & Simulation at First Mode

Could you point to a project that you are most proud of?

For my first real project, I was working on making an imager—which wasn’t designed to take scientific measurements or go to space—take scientific measurements from space. I worked on an image processing pipeline that required calibration using a blackbody radiation source, liquid nitrogen, the Seattle skyline, and a TVAC chamber.

Eventually I got to help install the camera into the spacecraft, and after launch it took pictures of the earth’s surface and the moon.

What are your hobbies and interests outside of work?

I love Olympic weightlifting, snowboarding, and Formula 1. My fiancé and I usually have an ongoing project of some kind. At the moment, we are looking forward to building a kit car replica of the Shelby Daytona 65’ Coupe.

I also enjoy watching football and basketball, but these technically don’t fall entirely outside of work since I am also First Mode’s Fantasy Football and March Madness commissioner…

Clara Sękowski, Director of Modeling & Simulation at First Mode