I am Ian McElhenny, if you haven't already figured that out. I was born and raised in Austin Texas. Directly after high school I moved to Daytona Beach, Florida where I spent the next 6 years for College and the first 2 years of my professional career. In 2019 I took a new job that brought me and my then fiancé right back to the city I knew and loved.
I have always been an avid tinkerer. In middle school I had a small business modding Xbox 360 controllers for friends to make them shoot rapid fire when used in Call of Duty. I had another project building a fake homemade ballistic knife out of PVC and wooden dowels. I went to high school at St Michael’s Catholic Academy where I continued to explore my love for engineering. All through high school I worked on various types of projects. From making an Assassin's Creed Hidden Blade to completing my first made-from-scratch drone project senior year (using a KK2 controller!). I was always interested in tinkering with whatever I could get my hands on. I realized senior year of highschool that I wanted to follow in my grandfather’s footsteps and get my degree in Electrical Engineering. I was interested in going to several different colleges, however Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University was the one I decided on.
In 2013 I graduated from high school and, with the help of my parents, moved my belongings to Daytona Beach Florida for college. I spent the next 4 years completing my Electrical Engineering degree with a focus in Systems Engineering. It was during this time I realized two things: 1) I really enjoyed high-level planning (from my systems engineering courses) and 2) I did not want to have a career in Electrical Engineering (!!!). Halfway through my time at “Riddle” I decided to shift my focus towards software engineering more than electrical engineering.
Sophomore year I was given the position of project lead on the IARC competition team. I spent the next 3 years working on a drone capable of herding roomba robots in a basketball court sized area. Needless to say, at this point in time, this was quite a hard project. Due to having the negative connotation of being the most difficult competition, it was hard to get people to sign up for our team. So me and only a couple others worked to make vision and control algorithms to complete the competition. Unfortunately we were unsuccessful. However, that experience showed me a couple things about myself: 1) I was unwilling to quit, no matter how hard the project was, 2) I found that I loved planning out the system (both hardware and software) at a high level. In addition, I also discovered that I loved leading a team, and solving complex problems.
During my second semester of Sophomore year, and through the summer, I completed an Electrical Engineering co-op at Rockwell Collins, now Collins Aerospace, in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. It was during this internship that I truly realized I preferred software projects over hardware projects…and also hated northern winters. I spent the next few months annoyingly emailing the lead of the Summer Engineering Project Program (SEPP) about working for a very specific group within Rockwell Collins called ATC, and even more specifically for Alex Posnikov’s team working on drone technologies. After much back and forth I was able to get on a call with Alex and he offered me the position instantly. Persistence pays off, as my mother would say. Luckily for me, I was the last person to be hired for the 3-intern team.
During my Junior to Senior summer I went back up to Cedar Rapids, Iowa where I did another co-op, this time only for the summer. The project we were given was to create an Augmented Reality (AR) experience for drone pilots. So utilizing an android based pair of AR goggles I led the team to create a Heads-Up-Display (HUD) that would allow the drone pilot to see all relevant information about their drone; including an accurate depiction of its position and orientation in the AR goggles. In addition to their drone the pilot was also able to see local ADSB traffic in a similar manner for airspace deconfliction during flight.
Towards the end of this internship I was offered to stay on part time AND was offered a remote job for when I graduated the following summer. Needless to say I was quite happy. I was offered my dream job at Rockwell Collins within the research organization working on drones. Senior year was a breeze with the weight of searching for a job lifted off my shoulders.
During my senior year I again led another team, this time the Eco-Car ADAS team, for my senior design project. We were tasked with creating a driver assistance system for our car. I designed the system from scratch. Creating a modular system of C++ classes called “detectors” that would each detect certain things in the video frames streamed from our cameras. I personally also wrote the lane line detection algorithm using traditional computer vision algorithms, no machine learning. As with most senior design projects, 20% of the team does 80% of the work. This one was no different. Unfortunately we only were able to complete a few of the tasks and did not place well in the final competition at the GM Proving Grounds in Milford Michigan. After spending senior year working 20 hours a week for Collins and the rest of the time on school and senior design I was ready for a change of pace with a full time job. I graduated in 2017 and moved on to my professional career.
Over the next 3 years I worked on a variety of projects in multiple domains: Simulation and training, UAVs, and UTM. For simulation and training I was tasked with enabling remote viewing of the simulations from “big-metal” servers to any type of device utilizing hardware encoding/decoding with H264/FFMpeg. For UAS, I worked on various projects, such as classifying machine learning algorithms success for a Loyal Wingman-like project and modifying the Athena Autopilot firmware to have new features. In the last year of that job I was the primary backend developer for our UTM system while working with NASA on TCL4 testing activities. I loved the job, but I was always looking to further my career.
During 2018-2019 I was playing with the idea of getting a Masters Degree in Computer Science through Collins at USF as, at the time, I was still living in Florida. However, I also kept 3 keyword notifications active on my linkedin account: 1) Austin, 2) drones, and 3) AI/ Machine learning. One day I got a notification that all 3 had been triggered by a job posting. After I read the description of the job I knew I had to apply. In 2019, after applying through linkedin I was blessed with an offer from a startup located in Austin, Texas. The company was Third Insight and I was offered to be Head of UAV Technologies. I of course took the job and that is where I am today as Chief Software Architect.
During my free time I like to work on projects ranging from woodworking to tech based projects. Sometimes blurring the line between the two to make something even more cool. I also have a Youtube Channel where I post some of my projects for others to see. In January of 2021 I began training Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu at Jean Jacques Machado Austin, under professor Todd White. I recently received my Blue Belt from Marcus Douthitt who took over Jean Jacques Machado Austin and changed the name to Stoic Jiu-Jitsu.
Thanks for reading!