Q&A with Jud Yamane

Jud Yamane grew up the way many of us did. His parents kept him busy with yardwork, cooking, and volunteering at the hospital. He rode his bike with the neighborhood kids in streams, on mountains, and through valleys. When he wasn’t on the football field or in the weight room, he worked the drive-through at Taco Bell, and when it was time for college, the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa was the reasonable choice.

Unlike many others, Jud seized every opportunity that came his way. Internships, part-time jobs, and extracurricular activities enhanced his classroom learning, and when a Fortune 500 aerospace manufacturer came calling, the Mānoa grad (BASc ’91, MS ’96) was ready. He has now been with the company for 21 years, and directs a team working on the James Webb Space Telescope, a scientific successor to the Hubble Space Telescope scheduled for launch next year and developed in coordination with NASA, the Canadian Space Agency, and the European Space Agency.

How did you enjoy your time at UH Mānoa?

I have many fond memories of UHM. I was part of the group that got the Human-Powered Vehicle Project started at the mechanical college. I founded the project from an idea, and it taught me about working with the school administration, building a team, raising funds, acquiring sponsors, keeping the team motivated, and persevering through challenges.

I also really enjoyed my senior design project, and I won the Mr. UH bodybuilding contest!

My favorite professors were Prof. Joel Fox, who stood by me as I faced major obstacles launching the HPV project; Prof. Lloyd Hihara, who was my inspiring and supportive graduate school advisor; and Prof. Arthur Chiu, who encouraged me as I pursued the HPV project, and for years after.

What work do you do now?

I am the Chief Engineer on the James Webb Space Telescope, Sunshield Team, for Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems in Redondo Beach, California. I manage and guide the Sunshield’s technical integrity, design & analysis execution, and requirements verification. I oversee the way the Sunshield works, what it’s made of, whether or not it plays nicely with other components, and how the software controls it.

How did you find yourself at Northrop Grumman?

When I was still at Mānoa, TRW (which Northrop Grumman later purchased) came to Honolulu for on-campus interviews. The company flew several candidates to Redondo Beach to interview us on site as well. A tour of the facilities convinced me I needed to work there!

In my early years, I interfaced with and learned from all disciplines in the company to ensure I would understand how a company functions and how my coworkers affect my day-to-day and future activities. I never turned down an assignment opportunity, even when I wasn’t allowed to know ahead of time what I was stepping into. Other times, I sought my own next assignments.

The transition from Mānoa to TRW was not an issue. I saw work as an extended senior design project and human-powered vehicle project. On day one, I was asked to design flight hardware for a South Korean satellite project, requiring me to call upon all my lessons from UH, including extracurricular activities and internships.

What advice do you have for students interested in a career in engineering?

Engineering is more than just good grades and studying, so develop a creative side. You don’t have to be Picasso; even a small creative side will allow you see issues from multiple perspectives, and solidify solutions. This will help you to troubleshoot issues at work. All jobs have problems. The people who help solve problems succeed at their jobs.

Participate in some sort of team sport, hobby, or group. You need to work and communicate in a team environment to succeed.

Get as many internships as you can before you graduate. It’ll help you learn about the work environment and yourself. If you can’t get a paid internship, volunteer.

Never turn down an opportunity even if it seems difficult or unrelated. You never know what you’ll learn along the way, or whom you’ll meet.

What should people know if they are considering attending UH Mānoa?

UH Mānoa provides a high-quality education. Mānoa alumni are on equal—if not higher—footing with my mainland-schooled coworkers. A UH education can be more, if you want it to be more. And UH is a bargain!

University of Hawai‘i Alumni