It's official: I'm now a "roller coaster designer"

Bakeman31092's avatar

I hope everyone isn't put off by such a personal post, but my intent is to share my joy and perhaps provide some inspiration.

I've just wrapped up my first week with Great Coasters International in my new role as a design engineer. So how the hell did that happen? Well, long story long, I've loved roller coasters since I was a wee little boy. In fact, I was fascinated by them long before I actually liked riding them. After going through high school and realizing I was good at math and physics, I decided I wanted to seriously pursue becoming a roller coaster designer. To do that, I knew I needed an engineering degree, so I went to Purdue and, well, got an engineering degree. I also worked at Cedar Point in 2005 between my sophomore and junior years because I thought the experience might somehow be valuable and look good on a resume.

Coming out of college, I got a job with Allison Transmission here in Indianapolis (if any of you put your kids on a school bus, chances are it has an Allison in it). At that point, the path to my dream job wasn't all that clear, as there isn't much crossover between the commercial automotive industry and the amusement park world. For several years I worked hard at my job and did my best to contribute, but I still had a yearning to design amusement rides. This had nothing to do with Allison, which is a great company that makes a great product and really took care of me and family. I grew quite a bit as a professional, engineer, and person during my time there, and I owe a lot to my now former colleagues. But as my family started to grow, with a wife, two kids and three dogs, I felt like I was at a crossroads: if I was going to make a serious move to try to land a job in the amusement park industry, now was the time. So I got more active. I got a CoasterBuzz membership and started attending events (even though I had been a long time reader and poster). I put a resume together and sent it out to Disney, Universal, The Gravity Group, GCII, and Premier Rides. I contacted these companies with a list of technical questions, both to satisfy my curiosity but also to make some connections. I made plans to attend the IAAPA trade show, though that never happened. In the fall of 2013, I got a bite: Disney contacted me to set up an interview for a position I had applied for, which ended up being as a sustaining engineer for Magic Kingdom. I struggled during the interview and went away kind of knowing that I wasn't going to get the job, but I was at least encouraged that my credentials were good enough to attract their attention.

Another year-and-half went by without any new prospects. My wife and I were toying with the idea of moving to Florida to at least get me closer to the "scene." Then about three months ago, out of the blue, I was contacted by GCII for a chance to join its engineering team. I pleased to learn that the engineering office was located just south of Cincinnati, which is about two hours away from Indianapolis. So I once again put my chips in the middle, and this time I came away from the interview feeling great. Sure enough, a week later, I was offered the job. Accepting it wasn't a slam dunk, however. I had a safe and secure job with Allison, and I had a family to move and a mortgage to unload. But I wanted it really badly, so I took the job. I figured this might be the only shot I would ever get, and I didn't want to have any regrets.

I put in my two weeks notice at Allison, which is one of the hardest things I've ever had to do. As I was breaking the news to my boss, I could here myself struggling to get the words out, like I couldn't muster the courage to bring my voice to an audible level. Never the less, he understood, and everyone was very positive and encouraging during those last two weeks. My last day with Allison was May 22nd, and without wasting any time, I started at GCII last Tuesday, May 26th. Even though I've only put in four days, I'm already humbled by the talents and knowledge my new colleagues have. I have a damn lot to learn.

So, what about those quote marks in the thread title? Well, I've always wanted to be a roller coaster designer, but I don't know if I ever really knew what that occupation entailed. I had always imagined that you sat down, drew some cool curves, crunched some numbers and presto: you had a roller coaster. But obviously, bringing a roller coaster to life requires the collective efforts of many skilled individuals working on different facets of the project. So maybe "roller coaster engineer" is more appropriate.

Even though my contributions to this point have been infinitesimally small, I already feel a special connection to this bad boy, having worked on some of the structural drawings:

You could say this is a dream come true, but a) that's cheesy, and I don't like cheesy, and b) I worked to put myself in this situation. So I'd prefer to say that this is a goal realized. But I know that I am also incredibly lucky. There were times when I felt that this goal of mine was unattainable. Well, it wasn't. Nothing is unattainable if you want it bad enough and you're willing to sacrifice for it (and you're not deluded about your abilities). Just don't be afraid to put yourself out there or step out of your comfort zone. When you do, good things can happen.

Thanks for reading!

I'll go ahead and say it anyway. It is a great dream, one that each and every one of us has had at one time or another. The difference is you made yours come true.
Awesome. Congratulations and good luck.

Oh, and please keep us posted on each and every new development over there at GCII, ok?

slithernoggin's avatar

I'll second RCMAC. Well done!

Life is something that happens when you can't get to sleep.
--Fran Lebowitz

LostKause's avatar

Very inspirational, even for people who don't want to become a roller coaster designer- err I mean engineer.

I'm really happy for you.

Last edited by LostKause,
Jeff's avatar

It's definitely better than working on backend ticketing systems, trust me. :)

Jeff - Editor - - My Blog

Congrats! It takes a lot of talent, hard work, determination and a little luck to land a job like that.

P.S. Added airtime would be much appreciated.

Big congrats are definitely in order! That's so awesome, and your story is inspiring. Think I might look into nursing jobs within the amusement industry again as a result!

"Look at us spinning out in the madness of a roller coaster" - Dave Matthews Band

Wow! That's amazing... Reminded me of why I studied architecture my first year in college... Congrats...

Congratulations! So cool to see you stuck to your guns and followed your dreams!

ApolloAndy's avatar

That's awesome! Congrats! You should definitely design/engineer some straight air hills for your rides. ;)

Hobbes: "What's the point of attaching a number to everything you do?"
Calvin: "If your numbers go up, it means you're having more fun."

Chris, you had to know what a can of worms you were opening with this group, right?


Tommytheduck's avatar

That is an amazing story! Thank you for sharing, it made me feel good just reading it.

Bakeman31092's avatar

I was absolutely prepared for that RC, but it's going to take me a while before I'm comfortable divulging anything, and even then, the company and obviously the parks like to keep things close to the vest. I don't know how much more useful I can be, but I'll try.

I also need to give a shout out to my family. This has been a very hectic time, but they have been absolutely wonderful in supporting me. They've had to sacrifice quite a bit to make this happen, but we're all sticking together and once the dust settles I think this will all be great for everyone.

Lastly, thanks to everyone for your words of encouragement. And I mean this in all seriousness: if you know anyone who wants to get into this industry, have them contact me. Of course I can't get anyone hired or produce an open position that doesn't exist, but I could at least try to steer someone in the right direction or give some advice. This is a competitive industry with not a lot of companies to choose from. I feel incredibly fortunate to have been given this opportunity, but I know what it's like to want something that seems out of reach. There were many times where I felt like giving up and settling for what I already had, which admittedly was pretty good. But I didn't give up, and now I'm getting my chance. Because I'm so lucky, I feel that it is my duty to pay it forward. GCII always tries to have an intern, either in engineering or some other part of the company, so that opportunity is there. We also have events where we bring kids in and show them the ropes. So again, don't be afraid to contact me personally, either through this site, Linkedin, or GCII.

You mean they haven't had you sign the internet privacy policy agreement yet?

What a great story. What kid who loves coasters doesn't imagine getting a job like this. Congratulations and it's nice to hear that someone followed their dreams and they were realized. Good luck in your new job!

delan's avatar

WOW - amazing. Godspeed!!

janfrederick's avatar

Do you get to travel to the sites in your new position?

"I go out at 3 o' clock for a quart of milk and come home to my son treating his body like an amusement park!" - Estelle Costanza
ApolloAndy's avatar

Do they forbid you from riding GG or RMC woodies?

Hobbes: "What's the point of attaching a number to everything you do?"
Calvin: "If your numbers go up, it means you're having more fun."

Bakeman31092's avatar

Anything I've ridden that's not a GCII installation gets forcibly removed from my track record.

I guess that's fair...

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