Dr. Alejandro Salado studies problem formulation, design of verification and validation strategies, model-based systems engineering, and engineering education. Prior to academia, he spent a decade in the space industry. He is a recipient of the National Science Foundation CAREER Award, the International Fulbright Science and Technology Award, the Omega Alpha Association’s Exemplary Dissertation Award, and several best paper awards. Salado earned B.S. and M.S. degrees in electrical and computer engineering from the Polytechnic University of Valencia, an M.S. in project management and an M.S. in electronics engineering from the Polytechnic University of Catalonia, an M.Eng. in space systems engineering from the Technical University of Delft, and a Ph.D. in systems engineering from Stevens Institute of Technology.
Tell us about your current research – what excites you, what is challenging, and what impact are you motivated to achieve?
I’m very excited to elucidate the scientific foundations of systems engineering and use them to improve the practice. While these efforts were pioneered several decades ago, they became somewhat dormant, in part because of limitations in computational power and probably lack of a robust research ecosystem. I believe that current efforts towards modernization, digital engineering, and the communities facilitated by the SERC, the AIRC, and the NSF Engineering Design and Systems Engineering Program are creating ideal conditions to look again in such a direction. Currently, I am focusing a lot on the underpinnings of problem definition (needs and requirements), system architecture (trying to establish the scientific principles that underline its art), and the design of verification and validation strategies. I pursue this work from the very theoretical to the development of model constructs to support MBSE/DE across the lifecycle.
As a SERC researcher, what has been your experience of collaborating with colleagues across the SERC network?
I believe that the SERC has marked an inflection point for systems engineering research. Not only has it facilitated collaboration among peers that are otherwise scattered throughout traditional engineering departments, but it has also allowed for aggregating funding to support larger-scale efforts. I have found the SERC community to be open, friendly, non-classist (not so easy in academia), and incredibly eager to find ways to collaborate.
Who most inspired you in your career, and what did you learn from them?
I feel very fortunate to have had many people to look up to in my career, both when I was in industry and after I moved to academia. My first boss, Michiel Kruijff, showed me that it is possible to separate personal matters from professional matters with people in your team. Being a warm-blooded Spaniard at the time, this was transformational. Herman Vermeulen, my technical supervisor at the European Space Agency, was the first one to make me aware of the importance of cross-disciplinary thinking when he showed how we could not integrate my beautiful electronics into my colleague’s awesome mechanical box. Bas Theelen, a colleague at Airbus, helped me transition from being an arrogant engineer to a not-so-arrogant systems engineer by showing me the importance of the people side of engineering. Dinesh Verma not only taught me what systems engineering really was, but also opened my eyes to the American ways, which were transformational again. And of course, he planted the seed to become a professor and move to the US! Research-wise, A. Wayne Wymore’s work was the most influential. He passed away before I even knew about it, so I could never meet him. But I learnt that you can actually formalize systems engineering and gain deep insights in doing so.
Please give the SERC network recommendations for an interesting book, film, podcast, or article you’ve come across.
I recently read Optimally Irrational by Lionel Page. Something I really enjoyed in this book is that it goes beyond stating that biases exist. The author explains why cognitive biases exist using human evolution as an explanatory framework.
What do you look forward to about the future of systems engineering?
My wish for the future is that I do not have to explain to anyone what systems engineering is when they ask me what I do for a living. I hope that SE takes a place as one more engineering discipline, with its own foundations, a common lexicon, etc. I am looking forward to seeing M.S. degrees in SE that are advanced specializations for a B.S. degree and not just introductions to the field. I cannot wait to see how foundational discoveries help in harmonizing systems engineering practices, promoting those that are good and helping to phase out those that were well-intended but turned to be ineffective.
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