Engineers Who Mattered in 2020

Highlighting some of the outstanding professionals of this long year. (Stock image.)

Highlighting some of the outstanding professionals of this long year. (Stock image.)

Andrew Anagnost  

Andrew Anagnost, president and CEO of Autodesk. (Image courtesy of Autodesk.)

Andrew Anagnost, president and CEO of Autodesk. (Image courtesy of Autodesk.)

From earning a bachelor’s degree from California State University Northridge (CSUN), a Ph.D. from Stanford in aeronautics and astronautics to a National Research Council fellowship at NASA Ames Research Center, Andrew Anagnost was sure to make an impact as an engineer. His first job was as a propulsion installation engineer at Lockheed Martin Aeronautical Systems Company, a company he first joined as an intern and CSUN undergraduate.

It wasn’t until 1997 that Anagnost landed the gig where he would garner the most success, Autodesk. His first role was leading the engineering behind Autodesk Inventor, the company’s first 3D modeling program. More than 20 years later, he is now the president and CEO of that very company. He has helped develop some major products such as the new AEC Cloud offerings and expansion of the Autodesk Construction Cloud, as well as helped build a new business model for the company known for its design and make software. Last year alone, his company acquired Spacemaker and launched a new Autodesk University.

Elizabeth Baron  

Elizabeth Baron, enterprise solutions executive at Unity Technologies. (Image courtesy of Siggraph.)

Elizabeth Baron, enterprise solutions executive at Unity Technologies. (Image courtesy of Siggraph.)

In 1988, Elizabeth Baron walked through the doors of the Ford Motor Company, where she found herself at the start of her 30-year career in developing the company’s custom-built CAD system. As the principal inventor of the Ford immersive Vehicle Environment (FiVE), a virtual reality experience that enables designers and engineers to delve into the interior and exterior of a virtual vehicle before it is ever built. Surprisingly, Baron could not see in 3D due to her stereo blindness and was unable to judge the distance and depth of the technology she was creating. At the end of 2018, she parted ways with Ford and began the next stage of her career, starting her own company, Immersionary Enterprises. Her company aims to establish immersive industrial design and engineering reviews within an enterprise data pipeline to provide data in context that enables users to effectively communicate and collaborate across functions worldwide.

In 2020, she again took another leap in her career to become the enterprise solutions executive at Unity Technologies. Yet again, Baron teaches the public to take the opportunity to look in wonder as they immerse themselves in the beauty of our current reality.

Gian Paolo “GP” Bassi  

Gian Paolo “GP” Bassi, CEO of SOLIDWORKS. (Image courtesy of SOLIDWORKS.)

Gian Paolo “GP” Bassi, CEO of SOLIDWORKS. (Image courtesy of SOLIDWORKS.)

Gian Paolo “GP” Bassi started his journey in the “Motor Valley” of Italy, home to Ferrari, Maserati, Lamborghini, Pagani and Ducati, in the town of Modena. This kick-started his passion for motorsports and led him to study mechanical engineering at the University of Bologna. It was while he was in school that Bassi was first introduced to CAD and 3D modeling theories. 

Bassi, along with his college friends and professor, developed a 3D parametric modeling system while learning every detail of a CAD system as well as collaborating with the Institute for Nuclear Physics in Padua to design detectors to be used at CERN in Geneva for the Large Hadron Collider, the world’s most powerful particle accelerator. This led to the discovery of the Higgs boson (“the God’s particle”) in 2012. Computervision acquired the software that helped design the detectors. 

Bassi went on to work at multiple startups. It wasn’t until 2011 when he was hired to be the CEO of SOLIDWORKS after the company’s decade-long partnership with Dassault Systèmes. With Bassi leading the way, the company has launched the 2021 version of the software and has embraced a new cloud platform, 3DEXPERIENCE Works. 

Bert Blocken  

Bert Blocken, professor at Eindhoven University of Technology and KU Leuven. (Image courtesy of Urban Physics, Wind Engineering & Sports Aerodynamics.)

Bert Blocken, professor at Eindhoven University of Technology and KU Leuven. (Image courtesy of Urban Physics, Wind Engineering & Sports Aerodynamics.)

Named one of the Highly Cited Researchers by Clarivate Analytics three years in a row and one of the top 150 most cited researchers worldwide in both civil engineering and energy science and engineering by Shanghai Ranking and Elsevier, there is no doubt as to why Bert Blocken made this list for his research activities in CFD grid generation, wall function development, and analysis of basic flow phenomena. The civil engineering/building physics graduate currently teaches at the Department of the Built Environment at Eindhoven University of Technology (TU/e) in the Netherlands and the Department of Civil Engineering at KU Leuven in Belgium part-time. He also works as the editor of the journal Building & Environment, as the associate editor of the Journal of Wind Engineering & Industrial Aerodynamics, and as the associate editor of the journal Sports Engineering. He is also a member of the editorial board of the journal Building Simulation and the International Journal of Ventilation. In addition, he is the scientific director of the Eindhoven Atmospheric Boundary Layer Wind Tunnel facility.

In his free time (it’s shocking that he has any), he writes for international journals. In fact, he has published 196 papers in peer-reviewed journals. He also leads a research team of six senior researchers and 23 Ph.D. students. Blocken is also accredited with developing TU/e’s first Massive Open Online Course (MOOC), “Sports & Building Aerodynamics” on the Coursera platform.

Brenda Discher 

Brenda Discher, senior vice-president of business strategy & marketing at Siemens Digital Industries Software. (Image courtesy of Siemens.)

Brenda Discher, senior vice-president of business strategy & marketing at Siemens Digital Industries Software. (Image courtesy of Siemens.)

As a fellow Eastern Michigan University with a Bachelor of Science in mechanical/industrial engineering and a Master’s of Business Administration in international marketing and finance, Brenda Discher currently works as the senior vice-president of business strategy & Marketing for Siemens Digital Industries Software. She runs a business unit of Siemens Digital Industries. In this role, she leads industry strategy, business strategy, and marketing, and advises on strategic business and technology acquisitions. Before joining Siemens, Discher spent more than 20 years in various marketing leadership positions at Autodesk in marketing, product management, and customer service and acquisition strategies. She also led product management in the company’s Mechanical/Manufacturing industry and was responsible for launching several market-leading design, PLM, and SaaS offerings. 

But as a woman working in a typical man’s world, she knows the struggles of walking into a meeting and being the only woman in the room. So, she found herself starting the Siemens Women’s Network (SWN), a place for discussion, mentorship, and support for all women who are in leadership roles at engineering companies. The program, which is currently in its piloting phase, will eventually lead to a worldwide support evolution for women in engineering. 

Ajei Gopal  

Ajei Gopal, CEO of ANSYS. (Image courtesy of Auto Tech Review.)

Ajei Gopal, CEO of Ansys. (Image courtesy of Auto Tech Review.)

With 23 granted U.S. patents, a seat at the IBM Academy of Technology, and a prestigious IBM Outstanding Technical Accomplishment Award, there was not a doubt that Ajei Gopal would earn a spot on “engineers who matter.” The CEO of Ansys started his journey with a Bachelor of Technology Degree in mechanical engineering from the Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay in 1982 and a Ph.D. in computer science from Cornell University. He has played many roles to get to where he is today: a researcher with Bell Communications Research, a founding member and chief technology officer of IBM’s Pervasive Computing Division, cofounder and CEO of ReefEdge Networks, a provider of managed and secure wireless LAN systems, chief technology officer and executive vice president at Symantec as well as senior vice president and general manager at HP Software.

Fast forward to today, Gopal currently serves as the president and CEO of Ansys, a software company that helps companies improve their products to consumers. During Gopal’s first 18 months as CEO, he doubled the company’s value and increased its market value by more than $8 billion. Ansys is pushing the market for electric and autonomous vehicles by helping speed up production with companies such as BMW and Porsche. Ansys is a dominant player in the space, owning 40 percent of the market share and generating $1.5 billion in revenue in 2019. It was recently named to FORTUNE’s 2020 Future 50 list of companies with the strongest long-term growth potential. 

Jon Hirschtick 

Jon Hirschtick, founder and former CEO of SOLIDWORKS and Onshape. (Image courtesy of PTC.)

Jon Hirschtick, founder and former CEO of SOLIDWORKS and Onshape. (Image courtesy of PTC.)

It’s a tale as old as time: a card-counting mechanical engineer builds a wildly successful CAD company using the millions he won at blackjack, then sells that company and makes an even better competitor, which he sells for hundreds of millions more. What a cliché. 

Jon Hirschtick makes our list with what is easily the most interesting backstory. While a student at MIT, he joined the infamous MIT Blackjack Team, whose card-counting exploits inspired the Hollywood film 21. He used his casino winnings to create SOLIDWORKS, the world’s most popular CAD application, and successfully oversaw that company (including an acquisition by Dassault Systèmes) for nearly two decades. 

And what did he do next? He and his inner circle from SOLIDWORKS went and founded another CAD company, Onshape, which broke new ground as the first fully cloud-based CAD software ever built. It turned out to be another jackpot for Hirschtick, as Onshape was acquired by PTC just last year for $470 million. Hirschtick remains the company’s CEO.

There are two things to learn about Jon Hirschtick. One, if you’re ever in a casino with him, follow his lead. Two, if you work in a CAD company of Jon’s making, follow him out the door. He will probably make a better one.

Steven M. Levine 

Steven M. Levine, senior director of virtual human modeling at Dassault Systèmes, founder and executive director of the Living Heart Project. (Image courtesy of Dassault Systèmes.)

Steven M. Levine, senior director of virtual human modeling at Dassault Systèmes, founder and executive director of the Living Heart Project. (Image courtesy of Dassault Systèmes.)

Influenced by his daughter Jessie, who was born with a congenital heart condition, Steven M. Levine is now the leading Virtual Human Modeling and the Living Heart Project at Dassault Systèmes. He has more than 30 years of experience developing computational tools to make the most innovative products. 

Before all this, he attended the College of Fellows in the American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering and studied materials science at Rutgers University. His health tech startup Biosym, which later went public as Accelrys, was acquired by Dassault Systèmes in 2014, which is when Levine began working for the mega-tech company. It was around this time when Dassault Systèmes and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration launched the Living Heart Project, a project to provide physicians and surgeons the ability to create digital twins of their patients and analyze treatment plans for the best outcomes in advance. 

Health professionals could design and test medical devices and drugs on virtual patients, advancing engineering, scientific, and biomedical research. The project has been leading the creation of highly accurate personalized digital human heart models, which can build silico medicine and serve as a technology base for education and training, medical device design, testing, clinical diagnosis, and regulatory science. Using the 3DEXPERIENCE platform, researchers and professionals worldwide have been on a mission to improve patient care. 

Jeff McAlvay  

Jeff McAlvay, cofounder and principal data analyst at Tempo Automation. (Image courtesy of Tempo.)

Jeff McAlvay, cofounder and principal data analyst at Tempo Automation. (Image courtesy of Tempo.)

Though he is not an engineer by degree (he studied philosophy at the University of Pennsylvania), Jeff McAlvay cofounded Tempo Automation, which helps millions efficiently develop and manufacture electronics through software. In 2013, he started the company alongside Jesse Koenig, Katherine Scott, and Shashank Samala with a little bit of money to rent a space in San Francisco and begin building robots. Today, the company has raised around $75 million and is the world’s leading electronics manufacturer for prototyping and low-volume production of printed circuit board assemblies.  

With clients such as Lockheed Martin, General Electric, Hitachi, and NASA, McAlvay is working to optimize the digital thread from electronics design to the robots. Tempo’s software finds available components, validates design manufacturability, and guides robots in automatically and rapidly assembling boards. This enables Tempo customers to go from CAD design to a physical board on their desk in days vs. weeks or months.

Before cofounding Tempo, McAlvay led automation and operations teams at McMaster-Carr, an industrial supply company that offers same-day delivery on more than half a million parts. Jeff’s vision for Tempo was formed during his time at McMaster-Carr, when his experiments with a rapid iteration methodology made him question the slow pace of electronics development. 

Elon Musk 

Elon Musk. (Image courtesy of The CEO Magazine.)

Elon Musk. (Image courtesy of The CEO Magazine.)

Elon Musk. I have little doubt that we all know why this revolutionary mind made the list of the top engineers we love. Granted, he didn’t study engineering. In fact, he grew up in South Africa and soon developed an interest in computers and coding. He obtained an undergraduate degree in economics and a second bachelor’s degree in physics at the University of Pennsylvania, and then headed to Stanford University to pursue energy physics, only to drop out after the first week. 

In 1995, Musk launched his first company Zip2 Corporation and then founded X.com, which led to the creation of PayPal. While all of this is pretty impressive, it isn’t why he made our list. 

The American business icon is currently the founder, CEO, and CTO of Space Exploration Technologies, also known as SpaceX. The company has made commercial space travel viable. His many firsts include being the first company to use a liquid-fueled vehicle to put a satellite in Earth’s orbit, to transport humans to the International Space Station for further experiments, and to reuse a rocket. 

He is also the cofounder, CEO and product architect of Tesla, Inc, which is paving the way for affordable, mass-market electric cars. Musk also has the SolarCity, Hyperloop, OpenAI, Neuralink, and The Boring Company under his belt.

Paul Powers  

Paul Powers, founder and CEO of Physna. (Image courtesy of Medium.)

Paul Powers, founder and CEO of Physna. (Image courtesy of Medium.)

At the age of 16, Paul Powers took his first entrepreneurial step when he moved from the U.S. to Switzerland to finish high school. He graduated from the prestigious Ruprecht-Karls-Universität Heidelberg, where he studied law in German. One of Germany’s top law firms recruited the prodigy after revealing that he passed the bar with more than twice the required points. He was the firm’s youngest employee, mainly focused on an international matter involving Fortune 500 and Dax 30 companies. He was also hired to assist in drafting the international law for the European Union. 

What is a lawyer doing on a list consisting of the top engineers? After Powers returned to America, he developed a tech innovation firm Zoozler LLC that helped develop and guide various tech startups. He spent years building tech development models such as ones that can analyze 3D models far more quickly and accurately than any other technology. In turn, it helped create highly successful startups and also led to the creation of Physna. 

Last year, Physna, an industry-leading geometric deep learning technology, launched a search engine called Thangs that will autofill physical objects and digital code into a design. Essentially, a user can start a design and Thangs will show them different parts that exist in their company’s portfolio to complete their design. 

Today, Powers is known for his work with Physna and is labeled as an accomplished serial entrepreneur.

Vanja Samec  

Vanja Samec, managing director at ALLPLAN Infrastructure GmbH. (Image courtesy of Primož Predalič.)

Vanja Samec, managing director at ALLPLAN Infrastructure GmbH. (Image courtesy of Primoz Predalic.)

To keep this abridged, Vanja Samec, the managing director at ALLPLAN Infrastructure, has a great deal to do with bridges. The company’s software is the leading BIM solution for bridge construction. In late 2019, the company released Allplan Bridge 2020, which created the mathematical calculation model for physical bridges. The model is adaptive to consider different geometric factors, including all loads, construction sequences, and so on. Allplan Bridge also added a full live load calculation for code-based design and check to determine the required reinforcement. The 2021 version took it a step further to consider earthquake loads, calculations for eigenmodes, and response spectrum analysis. 

Samec’s bridge fascination started soon after she graduated with an MSc and Ph.D. in civil engineering at Nemetschek. For 30 years, she’s been involved in international bridge projects, including Kwangan Bridge, Korea; Stonecutter’s Bridge, Hong Kong; Dou-Shan Viaduct, Taiwan, Pöchlarn Bridge over the Danube, Austria; and many others. Since 2007, Samec has worked for Bentley Systems and has been managing the entire global RM Bridge Team. She also founded her own company, BTG IT & Consulting GmbH in Graz, Austria, which provides engineer supports for any type of bridge structure. 

She can now be found actively involved in global bridge conferences and leading numerous Bridge days across Asia, Europe, and America. 

Alec Shkolnik 

Alec Shkolnik, founder and CEO of LiquidPiston. (Image courtesy of MIT Startup Exchange.)

Alec Shkolnik, founder and CEO of LiquidPiston. (Image courtesy of MIT Startup Exchange.)

As one of the youngest professionals on our list, Alec Shkolnik founded LiquidPiston along with his father, Nikolay Shkolnik, right after he graduated with a Doctor of Philosophy in artificial intelligence at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

LiquidPiston is designing a new combustion engine, the X1, with an improved thermodynamic cycle and double the fuel efficiency while also reducing the engine size and weight. The new design reimagines the Wankel, a type of internal combustion engine using a rotary design to convert pressure into rotating motion while providing more torque and weighing less.

Though the father and son duo are admittedly not the typical Detroit motorheads who like to say they have gasoline in their veins, their work will nonetheless revolutionize the automotive industry. The X1 will enable manufacturers to use fewer parts at a lower cost even though it will allow the automobile to be more reliable, run smoother, and increase the power-to-weight ratio.

Last year, LiquidPiston received a research contract to develop its X-Engine for a hybrid-electric propulsion system for unmanned aircraft. The company was also one of 12 winners in the U.S. Army’s xTechSearch 3.0 and will configure the X-Engine as an auxiliary power unit (APU).

Bhupinder Singh  

Bhupinder Singh, founding partner and principal at InTwin Insights and former CPO at Bentley Systems. (Image courtesy of Bentley.)

Bhupinder Singh, founding partner and principal at InTwin Insights and former CPO at Bentley Systems. (Image courtesy of Bentley.)

After serving 26 years with Bentley Systems, a leader in infrastructure engineering software, Bhupinder Singh could have called it quits. Throughout his years at Bentley, Singh held many roles, including the senior vice president of Bentley Software, senior vice president of the Platform Products Group, managing director of sales for Bentley South Asia, and most iconically, the chief product officer. Instead of retiring, he founded InTwin Insights, a company providing digital transformation services to the infrastructure industry, where he is now the principal. 

Singh has also worked in various software engineering positions at Montgomery Watson (now Stantec), Bell Labs, and Intergraph Corporation. He started his academics by obtaining a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from the Indian Institute of Technology, New Delhi, and then moved on to a master’s degree in computer science from Rutgers University as well as a master’s degree in structural engineering from Vanderbilt University. To add to his name, he also has a management certificate from the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania.

Alvaro Vaselli 

Alvaro Vaselli, CEO of SKYDEX. (Image courtesy of Thrive Global.)

Alvaro Vaselli, CEO of SKYDEX. (Image courtesy of Thrive Global.)

In his first full year as President and CEO of SKYDEX, a global leader in advanced impact mitigation and energy absorption solutions, Alvaro Vaselli has managed to expand the company’s boat decking product line to include shock-mitigating and proprietary technology for militaries, law enforcement, first responders, and other professionals, as well as launch the 40-foot Riverine Patrol Boat for the U.S. Navy. 

With a bachelor’s degree in production and mechanical engineering from Faculdade de Engenharia Industrial and a master’s degree in marketing from Escola Superior de Propaganda e Marketing, both in São Paulo, Brazil, Vaselli made a great impression early. 

Vaselli started his career with Dow Chemical in Brazil. He then led the development of ARCO’s business in South America. After moving to the U.S. with ARCO/Lyondell, he was appointed SVP at Foamex/FXI and later the President of Personal Care at Tredegar Corporation and Founder of Nuvanna. Vaselli has spent his career working with advanced materials and consumer products.