Guna Selvaduray | Earthquake Engineering, Honesty, and The Most Important Things for Engineers To Learn

 In Being an Engineer Podcast
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Who is Guna Selvaduray?

Guna Selvaduray has worked in academia for over 30 years. He pushed for a curriculum that includes more relevant learning objectives, often drawing from feedback from professionals in the industry.

Guna worked in the industry himself before beginning his academic career. He understands that for engineering students,  learning technical skills is equally important as laying a sturdy foundation of soft skills.

As Guna says, it is often the soft skills that separate good engineers from great engineers.



people, engineering, building, guna, japanese, area, contents, industry, engineer, earthquake, question, toxic environment, learn, work, anchoring, curriculum, years, students, ideas, kanji
Guna Selvaduray, Aaron Moncur, Presenter

Aaron Moncur 00:00
Hello dear listener, we are looking to add a new member to our engineering team again. Ideally, we’re looking for a Senior Level Mechanical Design Engineer in the Phoenix area who has experience designing custom automated machines, equipment and test fixtures. Also, having working experience with controls and system integration would be a big plus. If you’d like to apply or suggest someone, please email us at info at Team

Presenter 00:33
The Being an Engineer Podcast is a repository for industry knowledge and a tool through which engineers learn about and connect with relevant companies, technologies, people, resources and opportunities. Enjoy the show.

Guna Selvaduray 00:48
For me, engineering is a way of life is I think, taking a step back. People think of engineering as a profession to make money or maybe make more money than they could in some other field. But I think engineering if we do it, right, we learn how to do things logically. We learn how to analyze and provide feedback from what we learn to improve.

Aaron Moncur 01:33
Hello and welcome to another episode of The Being an Engineer Podcast. Today we’re speaking with Guna Selvaduray who is a Professor and also Director of Biomedical Biomedical Engineering at San Jose State University. He holds a Bachelors in Mechanical Engineering from Tokyo Institute of Technology, and a Masters in Material Science and PhD in Extractive Metallurgy from Stanford. Also, Guna is fluent in English, Japanese, German, Tamil and Malay. So Guna, welcome to the show.

Guna Selvaduray 02:08
Thank you. It’s a pleasure to be here.

Aaron Moncur 02:10
All right, the first question I have for you Guna is [speaks in Japanese]

Guna Selvaduray 02:15
[speaks in Japanese]

Aaron Moncur 02:24
[speaks in Japanese]

Guna Selvaduray 02:31
[speaks in Japanese]

Aaron Moncur 02:32
[speaks in Japanese] Alright, that was just a fun little Japanese conversation. I always look for opportunities to use my Japanese when I have the chance, but it’s not very often.

Guna Selvaduray 02:45
Yeah, yeah.

Aaron Moncur 02:46
That was fun. All right. Well, speaking of languages, how did you learn, I think these five different languages that you are fluent in?

Guna Selvaduray 02:55
Well, I was born and grew up in a multicultural country called Malaysia. My parents are migrants from Northern Sri Lanka. So the language we spoke at home was Tamil. And then I learned Malay because we lived in Malaysia. But that was also during towards the end of the colonial times. So my education was actually all in English. Then I went to Japan. And so I had to learn Japanese because I, I was there for my undergraduate education. Then several years later, after my PhD, I was in Germany for three years working at a European community nuclear chemistry lab. So I learned I buckled down and really learn German well, but my German is really rusty, because I hardly ever use it in the US. But Japan, I’ve had connections and continue maintaining ties with friends, professional and personal. So somewhat, I’m able to keep up with it.

Aaron Moncur 04:02
How fun. Now, did you find that, because when you grew up, you were already speaking three different languages. Were German and Japanese, maybe not easy. But was it easier for you to learn them? Because you already had this linguistic background that maybe for other people?

Guna Selvaduray 04:20
I think the barrier towards a different language was less because of my background. I think a lot of people can learn languages far better than they actually think they can. And I think it’s a self imposed barrier. You start out by saying, No, I cannot. This is difficult. It’s bound to be difficult.

Aaron Moncur 04:40
That’s a good way to put it. I noticed that or you told me that you’re not on social media. I wanted to ask about that. Is that a conscious choice of yours that you have intentionally stayed away from social media, or have you just not gotten around to it yet?

Guna Selvaduray 04:55
Well, more of the form attend the letter. often enough emails pile in every morning. Yeah, I hardly have enough time even to take care of what I need to take care of. So social media, well, these days, I have a cell phone, I didn’t have a cell phone until about a year and a half ago.

Aaron Moncur 05:17
Oh, really? How interesting.

Guna Selvaduray 05:19
Because if people want to reach you, they’ll find you.

Aaron Moncur 05:22
That’s a pretty good filter, isn’t it? If they don’t really want to get ahold of you, they’re not going to go through the trouble to find you without a cell phone. Yeah. Okay. Well, you worked in in Japan as an engineer back in the early 70s. What was it? I’m sure things have changed since then. But what was it like working as an engineer in Japan? You know, how did? How did their culture affect their working environment was very different than working as an engineer here in the US?

Guna Selvaduray 05:51
Yes, it is. So first of all, by the time I worked as an engineer in Japan, I had already lived in Japan for five years, because I went there as an 18 year old high school graduate on a full Japanese government fellowship, to do my BS degree, that included one year of language instruction, which is insufficient, of course. And then four years in college where everything was in Japanese.

Aaron Moncur 06:18
Well, that must have been hard.

Guna Selvaduray 06:20
Well, I buckled down and did the work. So I wrote my senior thesis in Japanese and I wanted to do that.

Aaron Moncur 06:27

Guna Selvaduray 06:27
Milestone for me.

Aaron Moncur 06:29
With Kanji or all Hiragana.

Guna Selvaduray 06:31
No, no, with Kanji

Aaron Moncur 06:32
Oh, that is serious stuff.

Guna Selvaduray 06:34
Yes, yes, I really enjoyed and I found out, you know, one of my hypotheses, and I have several of these is the Japanese were able to industrialize so fast, because they were using Kanji.

Aaron Moncur 06:48
And can you explain very quickly, for those who don’t know what Kanji is? What is Kanji?

Guna Selvaduray 06:53
Kanji is actually the Chinese characters that the Japanese adopted from China, going way back, like 600, or 700 AD. And it’s the what’s unique about Kanji is that we have a meaning associated with each character. And you can use combinations of characters like, you know, you have a character for, say, the moon, that gets the full moon is mangled. To man means full, you put the two together, you may not know how to pronounce it properly, but you can get the meaning right away.

Aaron Moncur 07:30
And they’re almost pictorial in a way.

Guna Selvaduray 07:32
Yeah, they, they were I think they had pictorial origins that have seen, you know, kind of gone away the, because they’ve kind of standardized a lot of things. And so one of my complaints about the People’s Republic of China is they have simplified it to the point that you can’t tell what the pictorial origins are anymore.

Aaron Moncur 07:55
Hmm. Why do you think the use of Kanji enable the Japanese to quickly industrialize?

Guna Selvaduray 08:03
Well, it was a distribution of knowledge, or the how people acquired knowledge. And they were looking at these characters. And it conveys a meaning, which is different from like in the European languages, where you’ve got to go look up a dictionary. So if you really understand the original meanings of each character, you see a word that there’s three characters, you can kind of figure out what what it really stands for, it conveys ideas. And I think we’ve, I think our Greek and Latin origins probably had those ideas as well. But especially like, if you take biochemistry, we are not thought to think of it as biology and chemistry. And if you put the two together, you can make sense out of it. When we learn the word biochemistry as an individual word by itself, independent of its roots, then it becomes much more difficult.

Aaron Moncur 09:00
There’s almost this extra step that we have to go through reading romanized characters, right, we take the characters, we string them together, we make sense of it in our heads and then we understand whereas Kanji like you said, you look at the words and there isn’t that intermediate step you just you see the meaning on the page.

Guna Selvaduray 09:17
Yes, I agree completely, completely agree. Yeah.

Aaron Moncur 09:22
How because you work with the Japanese organizations even now, how how is their engineering environment different than that of the US?

Guna Selvaduray 09:35
I think, well, in Japanese, they say Tateshakai, which literally means vertical society. and Japan is very hierarchical. Even now in, in engineering in the corporate world, in the government world even more so. Whereas the US is not so hierarchical. So we are working In Japan, you can work as hard as you want and brilliantly as you want. But the promotion comes up when you are old enough for it.

Aaron Moncur 10:09
Interesting. Does that demotivate people there or it’s not a big deal?

Guna Selvaduray 10:14
I mean, people are used to it. That’s the way societies right? It is. I think all my bosses right now all younger than I am. Yeah.

Aaron Moncur 10:26
Okay, well, moving on you, you are at the forefront of research in regards to material compatibilities. In biological environments, what’s happening there, that the engineering community should be aware of?

Guna Selvaduray 10:42
Well, we call it biocompatibility. And what I’ve been working on is mostly implantable medical devices, which when it goes into the human body has to function in a manner that it does not compromise the safety of the human body. So there’s a lot of work going on. There’s tons of work going on, a lot of people are working on different things, different types of materials that they can use. And the intent is to provide the human body with the functionality that the organ would on its own. And a good example is like a pacemaker that’s been around for a long time. And the pacemaker now tells the heart what intervals to beat and how strong that beat should be. These can all be programmed in, but the body has to be able to contain the pacemaker

Aaron Moncur 11:38
Without reacting to it adversely.

Guna Selvaduray 11:40
Adversely. That’s right. Yes, yeah.

Aaron Moncur 11:42
Yeah. And what’s happening in that area of science right now, that’s, that’s new cutting edge, what should what should engineering teams who are interested in biocompatibility be be thinking about that you see in your research?

Guna Selvaduray 11:57
Ah, I wish you told me that question yesterday. I have thought about it. But…

Aaron Moncur 12:03
That’s okay.

Guna Selvaduray 12:06
People are coming up with new materials that can last longer. Typically, I think, but there’s still a lot of research that needs to go in.

Aaron Moncur 12:16

Guna Selvaduray 12:17
One of the things that are unique to implanted material devices is that they are subjected to periodic loading, not a constant static load. So then come, then you get issues like what we call fatigue, fatigue. That is there. Yeah, it’s a huge, big topic. I’m kind of struggling as to where to start with. Plus, I’m sure there are lots of things that people are working on that I’m not even aware of, because there’s so many researchers.

Aaron Moncur 12:49

Guna Selvaduray 12:51

Aaron Moncur 12:51
Well, let me ask a question in another area. So this is another really interesting area in which you have spent time is earthquake engineering. And I also noticed that you’re the Executive Director for a collaborative which I think you created on disaster mitigation. Is that related to your earthquake? engineering expertise? Yes. What can you tell us about about that? The collaborative and kind of like your mission there.

Guna Selvaduray 13:20
So my mission there is I think, and even these days, when I when people talk about this, sometimes I get a little agitated is the emphasis, unfortunately, keeps being on, be prepared. and be prepared his water, food, blankets, maybe tents, and those are necessary. But I think what is even more important is what I call mitigation is what can we do ahead of time, that will reduce the damage, because we can leave our homes and go away and seek refuge somewhere, but what are we going to come back to? And not only that, my particular area of experience, I’d say I won’t say expertise, but experience is really not so much the building per se, but the building contents. The buildings have significantly improved, especially in the US in the last 30, 40 years because all the structural engineers have been working on it, the codes have become much more stringent. And our homes today are far more resistant to damage by earthquakes. Then, they were like 30, 40 years ago. But then it’s and the what I’m going to say next applies to both individual homes as well as major buildings. It’s the contents that determines the functionality of the building. You could have a building housing at school one day, it could be a religious organization another day, and the third day it could be some office complex, all of which is determined by the contents. And we look at the typical building, I’ll just use random numbers. But to convey the message, if you take some of the manufacturing, especially the high tech manufacturing facilities, I’d say that the building is probably worth $5 million, the equipment is probably worth 30 to $40 million. But the business itself could be worth several 100 million dollars. And if we focus on the buildings, and the contents get damaged, then you actually suffer a lot of damage and the contents. The standards for anchoring and protecting the content from damage is far less developed than the standards for the building itself. So I’ve been on that bandwagon of mitigation of building contents.

Aaron Moncur 16:02
That’s a really unique standpoint that I haven’t heard before. Very insightful. Right, the building is probably the least valuable portion of the overall enterprise of the content of what’s being done there. So we focus so much effort and attention on on ruggedized in the building, why not focus some of that attention on recognizing the contents and the business around it?

Guna Selvaduray 16:27
Yeah. And then one more point while beyond the topic is less strong ground shaking can damage the contents right now, because the standards for anchoring and protecting them from damage are not as well developed. So the building could be fine. The content could be fried and you afraid? Yeah.

Aaron Moncur 16:51
Well, the mission of this collaborative is to mitigate or reduce the damage that can be done by these natural disasters, what what tools or strategies has the collaborative been able to identify and help businesses put in place to accomplish that end?

Guna Selvaduray 17:07
Yeah. So a disclaimer to begin with, over the last like seven, eight years, the collaborative has not been very active, because I’ve been working on developing the biomedical engineering program at San Jose State. And unfortunately, they only 24 hours in a day. But having said that, when the collaborative was active, we did several studies, we worked with the California Seismic Safety Commission in like they we helped, and actually got a contract from them to revise what is called the homeowners guide to earthquake safety. Headed translated in Spanish as well. And we were we were interested in translating it to several other languages. So that the knowledge then the homeowners guide to earthquake safety, we wrote it in at the eighth grade level. So and I think that that’s one of the things we focused on is getting dissemination of the knowledge at a level where people can understand it. Well, one of the, in my mind, more important studies we did was, while what we call building content, Hazard Mitigation, or earthquake mitigation, can be very inexpensive and pretty straightforward. Many of them are available at the level of a DUI. And yet, he doesn’t seem to disseminate that far. And what the problems were.

Aaron Moncur 18:38
What are a few of those?

Guna Selvaduray 18:39
Yeah, so the problems are the issues?

Aaron Moncur 18:43
The relatively inexpensive, almost DIY methods for mitigating damage to contents.

Guna Selvaduray 18:50
So you live in a home. I’m sure you have a bookshelf. I won’t ask you where you live, but unless you me too, then earthquake zone.

Aaron Moncur 19:00
Actually, we’re in Phoenix. So not not too many earthquakes here.

Guna Selvaduray 19:03
No, no, but but. So your bookshelves are not anchored to the wall.

Aaron Moncur 19:11
That is mostly true.

Guna Selvaduray 19:14
Unfortunately, it is mostly true in the US in California as well. And anchoring a bookshelf to the wall, sometimes cost less than the bookshelf itself, depending upon the type of bookshelf we have. But you’ve got to do it right. not encouraged to drywall, but encouraged to start. I do consulting in this area as well for companies. And so many times I’ve seen, you know, we look at the boat, the boat distance, and it’s different from the status that distance, you know, it’s not anchored to this. That’s right. Right. Yeah. And I think a lot of like anchoring bookshelves to the wall can be done as a DUI.

Aaron Moncur 19:57
So the industrial analog to that would be If you have a injection molding press, anchor that to the cement floor.

Guna Selvaduray 20:05
Yes. Yes. Yeah. And then for a separate grant, we actually took one engineering lab and then cut all the experimental equipment to the, to the concrete floor.

Aaron Moncur 20:21
Okay. Okay, I see very good. Well, let me ask a question in a different area, you are an academic and have been for most of your career, how does academia communicate with industry to understand the skills that universities need to impart to their students so that the students are prepared to enter the workforce upon graduation?

Guna Selvaduray 20:49
Okay. I’m laughing because that’s another? Well, I? Well, it’s something I’ve thought a lot about. And you know, something like, I would say, I don’t have hard numbers, but I think I’m correct. Well, 95% of college students, actually in college to go work in actual work environment, as opposed to research. Yet a lot of the educational emphasis is on preparing students to become researchers. Because that’s what the professors or the professors, you know, all PhD types, they’ve taken the research pathway. And I think the extent to which we can, things have improved a lot in the US, especially with the engineering, American society, for engineering, education, and so forth. There is a greater emphasis on bringing, importing and integrating what I call the soft skills. And, you know, I could be, you know, a prima donna. But if I walk into an organization, and I’m so spiteful of the others, that we can work together, you’ve got this one disruption, right, right. Yeah, one of my friends, who is an HR director at one of the major Silicon Valley companies, told me something that I’ll never forget that as long as you’re, you know, half, halfway intelligent, what we need you to know, we can teach you. But the characteristics of keeping a productive environment is something that’s more deep rooted. And so they look for the ability of an individual, to be able to work with others, to give advice, or opinions, to be receptive to counter opinions. I think this is something we still have a lot of work to do. So 4.0 GPA, in my mind says you’re an expert, you are capable of delivering what the professor wants to see on the test.

Aaron Moncur 23:04
That’s a really good way to put it.

Guna Selvaduray 23:07
It’s not a popular opinion.

Aaron Moncur 23:10
I bet it is it especially within the academic circle. Yeah. But how brave of you for thinking about it and being willing to talk about it?

Guna Selvaduray 23:18
I love that. Well, you know, I worked for five years in Japan, and then another three years in Germany, and also, I worked here as a consultant for about a couple years. And it makes you think, why am I not being effective? You know, what can I do? You know, how, why does that person not like me, it’s not that the person doesn’t like you, per se. It’s how you’ve portrayed things most of the time. And in order to, for the engineering knowledge and expertise to be effective and effectively used, there are other items that are necessary that actually you cannot ignore those and that is the personality skills, right? Yeah.

Aaron Moncur 24:09
The soft skills as you said.

Guna Selvaduray 24:11

Aaron Moncur 24:12
Well, a man named Dan Sullivan said that all progress starts with honesty. So I love what you’re saying here I I have opinions about engineering and education myself and and i think that they’re aligned pretty well with yours, it sounds like Well, let me take just a short break here and share with the listeners that is where you can learn more about how we help medical device and other product engineering or manufacturing teams develop turnkey equipment, custom fixtures, and automated machines to characterize inspect as assemble, manufacturer and perform verification testing on your devices. We are speaking with Guna Selvaduray today. And going back to the kind of the academic discussion here In your academic career, have you done or not? Have you you have done more than just teaching, you’ve actually developed entirely new programs and curriculums for the university? How do you go about developing new curriculums? And how can industry use these techniques to continue educating and training our workforce?

Guna Selvaduray 25:22
Ah, well, you’ve got to have a spot somewhere that says, go do this, right. And I think the first curriculum I developed was actually in micro electronic interconnection, or what is commonly called packing, packaging. And it was just, you know, you go out, you mix with people, you attend events, technical events, you meet people, and you, then suddenly, you start realizing, you know, what we are teaching in school is not addressing this. So, the first area I delved into and spend quite a lot of time was, as I mentioned, semiconductor interconnection, or packaging, and that, were now I forgot what I was trying to say. Sorry about that. But that helped me get started. And it’s a subject that’s taught in few schools, maybe they have a class on it. But I got to get together with my friend from industry. Let’s brainstorm about what is needed in this area? How do we put a curriculum together? Because the, it’s a very industry oriented topic. It’s not electronics, per se, although it is, but there’s a lot of material sciences, a lot of mechanical engineering, human factors, it’s an interdisciplinary area. And so we worked on that and develop, not a full degree program, but a concentration that went very successfully. For me, we were in the right place at the right time, this was in the late 80s, early 90s. in Silicon Valley, the need is definitely there. And we ran that for about 15 years, until a lot of semiconductor manufacturing went offshore. And so the problem that program slowly wound down. In the meantime, you know, unbeknownst to me, the presence of biomedical engineering companies in the value add, had actually been growing. And I had friends. And in various conversations, we, I thought I was talking about med metallurgy and material science. And they were talking about biomedical devices. So I started working for materials and perspective in that area, and started realizing that there was, there were a lot of companies who were actually in that field, though not officially recognized, it was not the field that was officially recognized. So I’m trying to condense the story. I don’t want to keep you here for three days. But then, the challenge was creating this discipline within the university where none existed. So you do that carefully, step by step. Don’t step on too many toes don’t don’t make people feel endangered.

Aaron Moncur 28:36
And right, because the university is this this large mass that has been moving slowly along right through time, and now you’re trying to change to try to redirect the inertia of that mass. And that’s got to be a difficult thing to do.

Guna Selvaduray 28:50
Well, it wasn’t all that bad. It’s just I was trying to create a new curriculum, and, and ultimately, a new department, but it took me about 10 years. Yeah, yeah. And there are lots of committees to go through. And people do bow your head to and say, Yes, I agree. You will want what being diplomatic.

Aaron Moncur 29:16
Being and that’s another soft skill, right, that should be taught I mean…

Guna Selvaduray 29:20
Learn from my diplomacy before. The school of hard knocks how to get things done. And yeah, very proud to say that, I’m glad more than proud is we’ve successfully created the department. It came into offshore existence, I think about around 2012 is when the curriculum was approved by the CSU Chancellor. Then we said about creating our own identity in the university. And now we have about 500 students.

Aaron Moncur 29:55
Fantastic. Congratulations. That’s a big accomplishment.

Guna Selvaduray 29:58
Yeah, well, but with people like Mike Real, the first thing I did was to form an Industry Advisory Council that would guide us along. And we still have the Industry Advisory Council, all the people that people are in from industry. And we meet at least once a year, and then also seek the advice, you know, on an informal basis.

Aaron Moncur 30:24
Yeah, we have a pipeline at the beginning of each week, we sit down with our engineering team. And we say, these are the things that we need to accomplish this week. And we assign tasks so that those things get accomplished. And when we assign tasks, we asked the engineers, how many hours do you think it’s going to take to do this task? As opposed to you know, the project manager or the project leader saying, Okay, Mr. Engineer, Mrs. Engineer, here’s this task for you to do. I want you to do it in eight hours, or 20 hours or whatever, right? That’s that that would be like the university’s telling industries, saying, here are the things that we’re going to teach our students so that they can perform well in the industry. That’s not how it’s done. You need to go to industry and say, okay, industry, what are the things that these students need to know to be successful once they graduate? That’s what you’re saying?

Guna Selvaduray 31:15
Yeah, that’s right. And we’ve started new courses based on the input from the industry Advisory Council. For example, the biomedical engineers get a class in the regulatory affairs, because everything we do is regulated by the FDA. And if we are not aware of the environment that we’re going to work in, then we we don’t work that successfully.

Aaron Moncur 31:43
Yeah. Well, we’ve, we’ve kind of touched on this already. But let me ask the question directly, what what do you think are the most important things for an engineer to learn during their formal education?

Guna Selvaduray 31:58
For me, engineering, is a way of life is I think, taking a step back. People think of engineering as a profession to make money, or maybe make more money than they could in some other field. But I think engineering, if we do it, right, we learn how to do things logically. We learn how to analyze and provide feedback from what we learn to improve. So I think engineering contains within inherent to engineering, also concepts like continuous improvement. And I want always had difficulty where people separate the professional from the personal. And I think they’re all together, if you’re not an ethical person, you can’t be an ethical engineer, which is essential. And in order to be an ethical engineer, if you value that, you’ve got to look at yourself in your personal life as well.

Aaron Moncur 33:04
Are you saying that, as far as some of the most important things for engineers to learn in their formal education, like ethics and and really understanding who you are as a person?

Guna Selvaduray 33:17
Not only that, but how you operate as a person as well?

Aaron Moncur 33:22
Okay. So it’s not even, I mean, the technical stuff. Yeah, but you’re saying, even maybe more important than the technical stuff is, is learning how you as a person work?

Guna Selvaduray 33:34
That’s right. And I think the two are tied together. You know, if you work meticulously, you check your you dot your i’s and cross your T’s. You should be you now have the ability to take that capability back home with you, or into society when you’re meeting with your friends, and have that sense of I want to say meticulousness, I don’t know what the proper word is, but being meticulous in everything else you do.

Aaron Moncur 34:06
Yeah. Yeah. Because it’s not just about being meticulous eight to five. It’s about being meticulous in every aspect of your life all day, every day. Yeah. Yeah. You mentioned that you think one of the most important things an engineer can learn in his or her formal education is learning how they operate as a person. So that being the case that it is so critical for us to understand how we operate as individuals within the context of engineering or just within the context of life. What are some ways that especially younger listeners, students can, can experiment and figure out how it is they operate as individuals?

Guna Selvaduray 34:55
Well, I don’t know about that. But let me answer maybe a slightly different question, Malaysia. Yeah, I think introspection is necessary at all times, and it’s easy to blame things on others. But to take a step back, okay, I’ve already goofed today in what I did, but why did I go? What? What did I do wrong? No, we are very good friends that you can open your hearts to really maybe even discussing it with them. I think that’s why I value friends. It’s I want my friends to tell me what I did wrong, not my enemies, you know? Because they will tell me the I trust my friends to tell me exactly what they think I did wrong. And that helps improve the situation or help helps me improve myself.

Aaron Moncur 35:49
Yeah. To speaking to people that you know, well, and who know you well, in asking them for some feedback or not people.

Guna Selvaduray 35:57
Will give you Yeah, yeah, where you can really open your heart out and talk with people very brutally, frankly. And say, I’m not looking for kudos. And too many people, I think, are in the habit of trying to blame something that goes wrong on others. And that absolves us of our responsibility in that situation. And I still catch myself. I mean, I always catch myself saying, Why the hell did I do that? What a stupid fool I was. Sometimes, you need two or three knocks to wake you up? You know?

Aaron Moncur 36:31
Yeah, or more sometimes? Yeah. Yeah. Well, I think it’s easy for us to come up with an idea for some new initiative, maybe it’s an idea for, we should develop a biomedical curriculum at the university. Or maybe it’s a much simpler idea, we should plant a garden and in the back of the house in the backyard, so it’s relatively easy to come up with these ideas for whatever the new initiative or project is. It’s another thing entirely to actually execute on those ideas and bring them into fruition. reading through your background and everything you’ve done in your career, you seem to have been quite successful at bringing ideas to fruition. In fact, the word prolific came to mind as I as I research to, in preparation for this interview, can you share with me your framework for translating an idea into a reality? You know, what, what are the mental checkboxes that you check off? Or how do you how do you frame that process?

Guna Selvaduray 37:38
Hmm, let me think, just for a minute here.

Aaron Moncur 37:42
I’m asking you hard questions. I know.

Guna Selvaduray 37:44
Yeah. These are questions that you point out, then I’ll agree, I got these things done. But they don’t have a question of did I, you know, create a framework and mentally approach it. I don’t think I went about things that methodically, but I think I had a passion for what I was doing. And you take one baby step at a time. And I think, I believe in smaller, small accomplishments or achievements that you can continue building on. But also being honest about what you’re doing. So like, you know, I was the first one to admit that I know nothing about biomedical engineering. So let me find people who can tell me what I should be doing and listen to them. And I think there are enough people out there if, if they see that you are genuine in what they are doing, as opposed to doing it for a buck. I think there are enough people out there who are willing to help you. And again, I want to bring up the example of my career, who has helped us tremendously. And there’s no rhyme or reason why he should, but he shares that vision, you know, you share your vision with people. You let them critique it and narrow it down, see what you can get done. And the question, a related question is how do you eat the elephant? One bite at a time.

Aaron Moncur 39:21
One bite at a time. Yeah, it goes back to that fundamental concept, right? Yes, yes, slow and steady progress wins the race.

Guna Selvaduray 39:29
Yeah. And the importance being in getting to that goal. And not necessarily how quickly but how well

Aaron Moncur 39:38
Yeah. Have you ever worked in a toxic environment? I mean, you mentioned that it’s human nature right? Sometimes we like to blame other people. That’s just one example. But have you ever worked in a toxic environment and and what are the some of the things that you just refuse to put up with in a work environment, whether they be physical social or or something ecological.

Guna Selvaduray 40:02
I have worked in a toxic environment for brief periods. And then I walk out. You know, do you want to spend your time fixing that toxic environment? It becomes very difficult. And so I won’t mention names or places or locations, because they will give the give it away. But yeah.

Aaron Moncur 40:27
Protect the names of guilty.

Guna Selvaduray 40:29
Well, I did. So what was the second part of your question, Aaron?

Aaron Moncur 40:34
What are some things that you’re just not willing to put up with in a work environment?

Guna Selvaduray 40:39
Dishonesty. That, I think makes it very difficult to work with people that some people I will not work with, because I can’t you know, with you, it’s a very easy chat. And some of you disarm me so that I, I’m being very candid, much more candid than I normally am.

Aaron Moncur 41:00
Thank you.

Guna Selvaduray 41:00
Yeah. And but, yeah, cheating, dishonesty, something, you know, we could have different personalities. And we can argue about things. But I think as long as we both have the same objective, and we are not undercutting each other, and we are arguing about what’s the best way we both want to want us to get there. And it’s the methodology that we are debating, you know, that, to me, that’s not the toxic environment. But the moment we start undercutting one another unnecessarily? Oh, not not even necessarily. I think I see you’re doing something wrong. And if we have that sort of relationship, I feel very comfortable thing. Hey, Aaron, let’s go get a beer. But yeah, cheating, dishonesty. Things like that is something that I would not tolerate.

Aaron Moncur 41:57
Yeah. Well said, I really liked that you mentioned honesty, there was an audio program I listened to, I think it was maybe by Earl Nightingale, Lead the Field. I think that’s what it was wonderful program. I’ve listened to it many, many times. And in that program, he says he was quoting someone else. And he says, If honesty didn’t exist, it ought to be invented as the best business tool available to us.

Guna Selvaduray 42:28
Yeah, yeah. Yeah.

Aaron Moncur 42:29
I agree.

Guna Selvaduray 42:29
Yeah, yeah. Yep. Completely agree.

Aaron Moncur 42:32
Yeah. Well, we’re getting a little bit close to time. So I’ll just ask a few more questions, and then we’ll wrap it up. What trends are you seeing in the engineering industry these days?

Guna Selvaduray 42:47
Ah, you know, I don’t have a good answer for that, because it’s a wide field. And I have been narrowly focused, I’ve really been the last 10 years, I’ve just been focused on what I’ve been doing to develop the biomedical engineering program.

Aaron Moncur 43:03
Okay, let’s, let’s go there, then what trends are you seeing in the biomedical engineering industry?

Guna Selvaduray 43:09
I think more and more universities are starting to hire what I call the professors of practice. They’re looking for senior people who worked in industry for several years, and are willing to go back and teach and work with the students and faculty in the universities. So I think that’s, that’s a very good trend.

Aaron Moncur 43:31
I think so too. Yeah, bring some of that practical experience into the universities.

Guna Selvaduray 43:37
The other trend, which is equally important, and very difficult to achieve entirely, is the field is indeed, has always been interdisciplinary. And we are seeing more and more interdisciplinary products, correct. Medical doctors are starting to talk with computer scientists, for example. Things like artificial intelligence is becoming a big thing again, at one time, it was called data mining. Now it’s called artificial intelligence. It’s a sexier term than data mining.

Aaron Moncur 44:16
I won’t disagree with you there.

Guna Selvaduray 44:18
But yeah, and we when we hire, we look for people with broader capabilities than just a narrow field. So I want I think, people have not jumped on this quite as yet. But we think of what I call the T-type personalities who have both breadth and depth. So if we imagine a flagpole with a broad base, that gives it stability, but you’re lacking depth in one area. So you you have broad capabilities in a whole bunch of different areas. But There’s one area that you really specialize in where you will, will that. So that those sort of concepts, I think are starting to come out. Or maybe they have been, and I’ve just not been aware. But every time I find that I say, Wow, this makes sense, that’s cool.

Aaron Moncur 45:17
This is something I’ve thought about as well, in terms of breadth and depth, more and more, I’m seeing young engineers that are good, not just at mechanical design, or not just electrical engineering, or not just the controls, but they have a broader background, they have some programming experience, they have some mechanical engineering experience, they have, you know, this and that they bring more value to the table than when I started engineering 15, 20 years ago. And it, it actually stresses me out a little bit, because I’m really good when it comes to mechanical design. But I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not very good in other disciplines of engineering, I don’t know programming, I don’t know, electrical engineering. And I think to myself, you know, I’ve had my company for over 10 years now 11, 12 years, if the company were to blow up, and I had to go out and get a job, how successful would I be getting a job just as an engineer, and I think I worry about that not because I think my company is going to blow up. But as kind of a mental exercise. My my engineering skill sets are somewhat limited. I think I have some other skills that I’ve developed over the years building a business and being an entrepreneur, and those sorts of things. But it’s interesting to think about how younger engineers are coming to the table with a broader skill set. And that’s, that’s very cool.

Guna Selvaduray 46:43
But one of the things as an educator, I think, in every class, I tell the students, I want you to know enough about this field so that you can recognize when you need somebody else. Well put, I don’t need to know everything. But literally, I think the generalist, a good generalist, is able to make sense of a wide variety of things. And realize when, hey, I really need and like electrochemistry, let me go find the electro chemist. And that’s where having, you know, a good pool of competent consultants who specialize in narrow areas. Yeah, coming in the end. So here, you’re able to put the team together to get that. We don’t

Aaron Moncur 47:30

Guna Selvaduray 47:31
We don’t have to do everything ourselves.

Aaron Moncur 47:34
Thank goodness. Yes, thank goodness, we have people on the team who could do the electrical engineering and the programming and all those things. All right, well, one more question for you. And then we’ll wrap it up, what are one of the one or two of the biggest challenges that you face at work?

Guna Selvaduray 47:53
People dealing with people. And I think, because I got the chance to start my department from scratch, I’ve been very careful about hiring faculty. And know again, you can get an expert to come in teach one class. But as a member of the faculty, I focused on making sure that we are a cohesive group. And I’m proud to say that I think I have a very good group of faculty in the department. We all work together, we play together. Before COVID, once a semester, we need in somebody’s house and we bring our families and get to know each other and make sure that you know we have that honesty among us. So we disagree with things, but I think that’s because I’m not disagreeing with you. I’m disagreeing with. We agree on the objective. But it’s, we both want to get there. Right. But how well do we get there? Yeah, it’s working together. Just because we disagree doesn’t mean we don’t like each other. It’s not a personal disagreement. It is objective.

Aaron Moncur 49:11
Yeah. I love that you mentioned intentionally building your faculty with people that you enjoy being around people who you trust, right? I mentioned this on the show before, but I think it’s such a great example that I’m going to bring it up again, this company Menlo Innovations, they they’re a software development company, and I can’t remember where now, Wisconsin or something. But they, when they hire new people, the way they evaluate new candidates is they bring them in for a day and they tell the candidate your objective today is to make your partner look good. And then they pair that person up with another developer and let them work together. And and at the end of the day, they evaluate did the candidate make his or her partner look good? And I thought what a great way to interview

Guna Selvaduray 49:59
Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. I’ve never heard of that. But that sounds great.

Aaron Moncur 50:04
Yeah, I love it. Well, Guna this has been marvelous. Thank you so much for your time today. How can people get ahold of you?

Guna Selvaduray 50:12
I think email is probably the best way of reaching me. As I told you, I’ve got no Facebook account or Twitter account.

Aaron Moncur 50:24
And they can probably find your email address at the university’s website. Yeah, San Jose State.

Guna Selvaduray 50:29
It is my first name.

Aaron Moncur 50:38
Terrific. Terrific. Okay.

Guna Selvaduray 50:40
Thank you very much, Aaron. You know, this is a first time experience for me. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it. And you do a marvelous job of keeping me relaxed.

Aaron Moncur 50:50
You’re very kind. What a tremendous compliment. Thank you. Alright, Guna. Well, until next time, thank you for joining us on The Being an Engineer Podcast.

Guna Selvaduray 50:59
Thank you. Have a good day, Aaron. And good luck.

Aaron Moncur 51:03
Thank you. I’m Aaron Moncur, founder of Pipeline Design, and Engineering. If you liked what you heard today, please share the episode. To learn how your team can leverage our team’s expertise developing turnkey equipment, custom fixtures and automated machines and with product design, visit us at Thanks for listening.


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