Mike with his wife and Porsche


Position at SIGMADESIGN: Engineering Project Manager
Time at SIGMADESIGN: 6 years

{I help coordinate the efforts of teams of smart people who can accomplish so much more than I could on my own.  Everybody is doing different things, but it really does feel like everyone here is pulling together.}   ~Mike Pullen


Mike Pullen, Engineering Project Manager

I have always been fascinated by machines and how they work. Now I design those machines, and even better, I help coordinate the team efforts of smart people who can accomplish so much more than I could on my own. I am a Mechanical Engineer and Project Manager with 20 years of experience. I hold a Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering from Ohio State University. My expertise includes management of cross-discipline engineering teams, engineering test plans, manufacturing drawings, tooling design, prototyping and design verification testing.


What was your youth like?

Building things has always intrigued me since a young age. My father was an electrician, so growing up I watched him make, build and fix things. I imitated him by tearing things apart and putting them back together – usually successfully. I have memories of wandering around the garage looking for the right parts to make new things. One of my favorite things I made as a kid was a trailer that I pulled behind my bike. I used it to transport my RC cars, controllers, and other gear. I made the trailer out of a Radio flyer wagon, plumbing hooks, U joints and conduit. I thought it felt like something you would have bought, and I ended up using it for a long time. Building things was just something I always did.

In school, I was good at math and science, so it seemed pretty obvious that these would culminate in an engineering degree. I remember sitting in high school science classes and being fascinated when I realized an equation could be used to determine where an object was going to land if it flew off a certain point at such-and-such a speed. “That’s right!  That makes sense!”

I was on an accelerated path to pursue an engineering degree which felt very natural to me, and I did not strongly consider any other paths. I feel very fortunate that the things I was exposed to indirectly through my dad’s work ended up being the things in which I was interested and talented.

What did you study?

I studied Mechanical Engineering at Ohio State University, but much of my learning also took place on the job. During my sophomore year of college, I started co-oping with a company called Structural Dynamics Research Cooperation (SDRC), a CAD software company for SDRC Ideas. Since they designed software to be used by engineers, SDRC hired Mechanical Engineers to inform the software to make sure it would do what it was actually supposed to do.

Mike's packed Geo Metro

Mike’s packed Geo Metro

I worked for this company every other quarter during my college years, packing my Geo Metro (as only an engineer could) to travel between the Cleveland and San Diego locations. It even took me to an office in a city outside of London for one summer. Working for SDRC provided consistency as I was learning and gaining experience in engineering. One interesting project, for Universal Studios, involved the T-Rex in the Jurassic Park ride. It kept having bearing issues and SDRC was hired to work on the bearing loads. To me, that was cool work!


How did you find SIGMADESIGN?

In 1996, I went to work for Fusion, where I met Mark Schoening who is now our Director of Industrial Design. I worked for Fusion for two and a half years; and part of that time, Fusion loaned me out to SIGMADESIGN. The company was just Bill Huseby and John Barker at the time. I did not have the experience they were looking for in a full-time employee, but I am so glad I was introduced to SIGMADESIGN at that time.

My wife and I moved to Chicago for several years, but soon realized we did not want to put down our roots in that huge city, so we moved back to the Portland area in 2002. One day, I saw Mark Schoening driving up I-5 in his Vanagon and this inspired me to reach out to him. Mark Schoening had started working for SIGMADESIGN and soon after I was working for SIGMADESIGN as well.

What do you enjoy most about your profession?

I like that we actually make stuff. At the end of designing, there is a physical object and you can tell if you picked the correct answers in your designing process. It is easy to tell if you failed or succeeded, and I love that concrete aspect of the profession. Also, I really enjoy the variety and innovation of projects that we work on at SIGMADESIGN. I have been working on the same project for about two and a half years now, which is a long time for a SIGMADESIGN project, but those two and a half years are a story that is always unfolding. There are constantly new development phases, and it is far from boring.

Mike loves working on his 1975 Porsche 914

What do you enjoy most about working at SIGMADESIGN?

SIGMADESIGN is a very fluid place, which I appreciate. If I was working on something that was not a good fit or I did not enjoy, I could ask, “What else could I be doing?” There is a good chance that tomorrow something new would be available and I could work on that. As SIGMADESIGN continues to grow rapidly, there is a lot of room to play which brings a lot of freedom to my work. There is also a great amount of confidence and trust coming from the leadership. When you are handed something, you are trusted to figure it out, which is gratifying.

As an Engineering Project Manager, I enjoy the puzzle aspect of my job. I understand the big picture and work to connect all the pieces, making sure that the right people are knowledgeable of the right information which will help them to make the right decisions. I fit the engineer profile very well and can apply this perspective to specific project dynamics and social situations. I see patterns within a project that perhaps other people miss, and work to be proactive at communicating these patterns and setting the project on the right course.

What project type would you enjoy doing more?

In the past at SIGMADESIGN, I worked on projects where we only needed one or two end products. More recently I have worked on high-volume projects, which brings an entirely different set of challenges. I am interested in returning to a more low-volume project. I’d like to see how I can apply the things I have learned in high-volume product development. I am also interested in continuing to create systems that help SIGMADESIGN function at its best, even as we continue to expand rapidly.

What are your favorite projects or project types?

Mike enjoying skiing with his daughters

My favorite types of projects integrate existing, proven processes and technology with something that has to be worked out. With machine design, I can take a core that already exists and then apply my own inventiveness. These projects do not have an infinite number of possibilities, but do involve a good amount of creativity and engineering.

One project that I really enjoyed was a fabric puller. This project was large enough that it involved a lot of controls and mechanics, but also small enough that I worked on my own. It was the perfect balance of being a stretch, but also not beyond my capabilities. Working on my own gave me the freedom to try things my own way. It ended up working very well and our client was pleased.


Do the core values influence your work?

The core values provide an agreed upon set of ground rules and really help set a good culture at SIGMADESIGN. The core values keep all of us working within a compatible, though not identical, style and keep us moving toward common goals.

A value that stands out to me is “Help clients & each other.” The folks here are people who not only want to meet the commitments they provide to the client or to their teammate, but they also want to exceed them. Our team will give you their best commitment, and then do their best to beat it.

What do you value at work?

I like the cooperation. Everybody is doing different things, but it really does feel like everyone here is pulling together.

Mike with his wife and Porsche