A mechanical engineer by training with a background in biology to boot, Ibrahim spends his days drawing up tools and technologies that enable lean and effective workflows at Indigo. He identifies areas in need of automation throughout the indigo R&D pipeline and proposes solutions—whether they're off-the-shelf or custom-fitted to the company's unique needs. Through an iterative and human-centered design-build process, he plays a central and cross-functional role improving ergonomics, throughput, repeatability, and all-around cost-efficiency.
WHAT WERE YOU UP TO BEFORE INDIGO?
I took a break after I finished school and flew to Jordan for a few weeks. From there, my father and I went to Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Turkey—traveled a little bit.
I was a consultant for General Electric, Transportation. There, they were trying to increase their cost efficiency and the lifetime of various parts, so I was overseeing the structure of that. I was there not too long before Hannah [an Indigo recruiter] messaged me.
Right when I graduated, I went to GE, but before GE, I was doing automation engineering/research in a radioactive lab—our team was working a lot with uranium and analyzing the structures of it, and how these structures change with various stresses, such as fatigue, corrosion, heat cycles, etc. I worked in this lab for two years, up until graduation, and a little bit after graduation, and just to finish up projects that I’d already started and needed to get done.
IT SOUNDS LIKE YOU HAVE EXPERIENCE IN A VARIETY OF SECTORS. DID YOU HAVE AN ENGINEERING FOCUS IN COLLEGE?
My degree is in mechanical engineering, and I also have a minor in biology. With that, I was wanting to go into bioengineering—I didn’t even know what that meant at the time, but I thought, ‘That sounds cool, maybe I’ll work with robotics, prosthetics—something like that.’ And then I realized, ‘I don’t really like that that much, to be honest.’ It was more like, when I worked as an undergrad in the radioactive lab, it was like a lot of research, but the lead professor worked with a lot of things by hand that weren’t safe, necessarily. We worked a lot with technetium, and you have to do that in a negative pressure glove box and be extra cautious. And if you do get a few particles in the air, it’s…well, it’s not good! You have to shut down the lab and it has to get, like, decontaminated and all that stuff. The team needed something to compress this powder into pellets under 1000-degree C, high pressure, and for days at a time. That’s where I started working with automation—he told me what he needed done, and I was like, ‘Oh yeah, we could build that, that’s cool. Let me just do it.’ We did it, and then we knocked off projects from there.
Here, I have so much freedom—to build everything I want, build a bunch of crazy stuff! I get to really be creative. I’ve been learning a lot. It’s really great.
"Not many companies do what Indigo does: It’s helping the farmer, it’s helping the planet."
DESCRIBE YOUR CREATIVE PROCESS. HOW DOES AN IDEA OF YOURS TAKE SHAPE?
Usually, I’ll notice something that needs to be improved, or somebody will approach me with an idea. So first, I’ll take that idea, and I’ll make a very rough sketch—I’m not the best at drawing at all, by no means, so I’ll just sketch something super simplistic and just try to get the idea down on paper. And then I’ll try to think of all the things that could go wrong with that design, and how I could counter that problem with a solution, and then from there, I’ll take those ideas and that model and put it into a CAD program. I’ll make a three-dimensional model, and from that three-dimensional model, I can get a better idea of how it would work.
After I figure out those things, I’ll take that model and—if I can—I’ll put it on the 3D printer and 3D print a model of it. If it has any electronics, I’ll go ahead and figure out which micro-controller I want to use, and I’ll write the program, and I’ll put it into whatever I’m building. And then it’s more of me testing in lab from that point. I’ll test it for whatever it needs to do, for a few weeks, and then if I’m comfortable with it, I’ll give it to the person that would be using it and let them use it when I’m there. From there, I’ll take the list of whatever they want different, go back, redesign it, test it again—so that process goes on a few times, of them testing it and critiquing it.
WHAT'S IT BEEN LIKE HAVING TO LEARN THE INS AND OUTS OF AGRICULTURE WHILE ON THE JOB?
I worked in research labs before, but that was with chemistry-related things. There, it wasn’t so much that we needed to be sterile, but we needed to be safe from radioactive things—so we’d wear sensors all the time, and we’d have to do full-body scans with leaving to make sure that we weren’t contaminated. Here, everything needs to be very sterile. And then we’re dealing with all these different kinds of crops. I have a biological background, but more human biology than plant biology, so I’ve had to learn a lot of things they’re working on. (I didn’t know what a “cold-wet assay” was.) It's been a lot of me asking so many questions that Indigo RAs [research associates] are probably fed up with me! And I'm also doing a lot of research on my own.
UNLIKE SOME THINGS THAT HAPPEN IN VEGAS, YOU DIDN'T STAY...WHAT MOTIVATED YOU TO MOVE FROM YOUR HOMETOWN AND HEAD EAST?
Not many companies do what Indigo does: It’s helping the farmer, it’s helping the planet. I really like the mission that the company stands by, and the way they treat their employees. It doesn’t feel like you’re at work—this a very nice environment to be in. And the position they offered me, I wasn’t going to say no. I have so much creative freedom and so much say in what goes on. You want to work harder because you know they [other employees] have taken it so far, and you want to be working and doing what they’re doing. When you love what you’re doing, it doesn’t even feel like working.