The Exceptional Engineer℠: Engineers that Drive Culture Change from Within

November, 2020

The November 2020 tech talk was presented by Alan Willett and Emilia Vanderwerf


Many SEA members have engaged for years in driving culture changes in their organizations. The culture change desired is for teams to deliver exceptional results. The results are focused on great value for the organization and the customers. Teams where management respects the team’s ability to make commitments that they keep. Teams that consistently deliver near-defect-free products and perhaps even defect-free products. Teams that have mastered design and implementation.

This talk explores these unique questions: Can a single individual drive team culture change from within? Can this individual drive culture change in the whole organization? 

In their presentation, Alan Willett and Emilia Vanderwerf will provide a proof of concept, that the answer to this question is a resounding “yes!” Their highly engaging talk will present solutions to the following questions:

  • What is the difference between a good engineer and an exceptional engineer?
  • What are the key concepts an exceptional engineer needs to know to be a force multiplier?
  • Why is stepping onto the path of being an exceptional engineer so very difficult?
  • How to make the reward worth the cost of overcoming the challenges?

About the Presenters

Alan Willett is a globe-trotting solo consultant helping organizations improve the speed and power of their engines of development. Alan is the award-winning author of Lead with Speed and Leading the Unleadable.

Alan Willett was the youngest of six kids on a dairy farm in Hunt, NY, which was (and still is) about a 30-minute drive to any stoplight. In Alan’s opinion, a stop sign would be okay in that town. The stoplight is a bit of high-tech overkill. The dairy farm has been in the family for almost 200 years. In Alan’s teenage years, the farm won Dairy Farm of the Year multiple times, while other farms failed. Alan learned how to be lucky by using data, technology, hard work, and logical decision-making. 

After the farm, Alan went to Rochester Institute of Technology. There, he ran track and cross-country. He actually did run across the country with his team. The team was in the Guinness Book of World Records for running a relay from ocean to ocean in record time. While at college, as a side hobby to his athletics, he received a degree in computer science, which later became a Master’s degree.

When Alan started working in the high-tech world of high-pressure product development, he found that most of the projects used data much less than they did on the farm. On his projects, he put into place the use of data and logical decision-making.His travels eventually took him to work at the world-renowned Software Engineering Institute, the think tank of the world on high-tech development work. There, he was able to work with many of the geniuses that have pushed the state of the art. He worked with and was good friends with the late Watts Humphrey, who received the National Medal of Technology from George W. Bush. His most fun there was running some miles with Watts while arguing about quality data.

Alan currently lives in a co-housing cooperative with his wife and family in Ithaca, NY.

Emilia Vanderwerf is a software engineer who has built multiple robots, helped save almost 1000 people from human trafficking using big data analytics, and is currently improving the internet through Digital Experience Monitoring. Her dream is to a play a vital role in continuing to solve today’s global humanitarian problems, especially climate change. 

Emilia lives in Ithaca, NY with her husband and daughters.

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