As the child of Greek immigrants, growing up in Queens, New York, practicality was the name of the game. My mother worked in a high-end women’s French clothing store on Park Avenue, mostly because of her language skills, she was fluent in French. My father exported textiles after trying his hand at running a clothing store in a rough neighborhood in Queens. They used their European upbringing and skills to forge their way in the U.S. Summers were spent working for my father, learning about business and my roots.
My parents survived the Holocaust, but lost their families, so they made their way to New York. While they spoke no English, in addition to French, they spoke Spanish, Italian and of course – Greek. They would speak to me in any one of those languages and I would answer in English.
I would describe my parents as nervous, a result of experience and circumstance. My mother would say things like, ‘They’re going to put the evil eye on you.’ She was fiercely protective. Garlic hung by the front door of our apartment to ward off the evil eye.
It was an immigrant existence; hard work and education were priorities. I was a latch-key kid – literally. I wore a key around my neck from age eight and my older sister was in charge when my parents were at work. I was what I’d call a nerdy kid. I was an excellent student – always the top of my class. I played chess, but also basketball for hours a day. I also starting programming computers in high school, back when they used punch cards.
From as far back as I can remember, I was also fascinated by and loved art. I loved learning about artists from Picasso to Gauguin. I loved to paint, so much so my father worried it would distract from my studies. He insisted on a path of engineering and math – what we call today STEM – and this is where I truly excelled.
My educational journey led me to Columbia University where I earned a degree in mechanical engineering, followed by a master’s in business administration from the University of Michigan. Although it may seem counter-intuitive, art, design and creativity have all been core pillars in everything I have done – even in engineering and business. It’s simple – I like to create. Even though I’m not sitting behind an easel, I can create business strategy, technology, teams, and spend my time with great thinkers; people who design and build, test and learn.
These seemingly diverse paths – engineering, business and art – have culminated in Altair, a company I co-founded and helped build with incredibly smart people from all walks of life and from all over the globe. In fact, in our Troy, MI headquarters, there are 75 mother-tongue languages represented. Our culture of inclusion and diversity is sacrosanct and helps us continue our arc of innovation. When different backgrounds, experiences and cultures are encouraged to cross-pollinate, an environment of innovation flourishes.
The idea that an engineer isn’t pigeon-holed into a technical role unlocks their mind into the realms of design or business. Knowing they are supported by a global community of risk takers unleashes their potential because they know it’s OK to push the boundaries of science and design. They know it’s OK to fail. We call it fast failing. In fact, the old saying, “It’s only a failure if you don’t learn from it” is embraced at Altair.
Altair employees are selected not just for their strong résumés, but also their entrepreneurial mindset, helping the company maintain a culture of innovation at each stage of the design and business cycle. And the formula works – Altair’s turn-over rate is lower than any of our industry peers.
Although founded in the automotive capital of the world, we have expanded beyond automotive and manufacturing to a broad array of business segments, sizes and industries. I am proud to say we are a global powerhouse, helping some of the biggest and most well-known companies in the world – right along with start-ups.
Altair sits at the crossroads of science, engineering, art and design. Our software has helped companies from many diverse industries, in all shapes and sizes and all over the globe, take ideas from concept to production faster and better than ever before.
Our technologies are woven into the fabric of everyday life. Look around you. Wherever you are, and whatever you are doing – chances are Altair’s solutions surround you; keeping you safer, more connected, more productive. They can be found in big places and small – on highways, hospitals and hockey rinks; on skyways, skyscrapers and subways; and in banks, bikes and boats. Our solutions enable designers, data scientists, engineers and entrepreneurs to make new discoveries and faster decisions with confidence.
Our global team of the engineers, scientists and PhDs in software, design, supercomputing and data intelligence are leaders in their fields. They are the brains behind some of the world’s most revolutionary breakthroughs. I’m not even allowed to tell you about some of them – but trust me, they are extraordinary.
I heard someone say we’re the smartest people they’ve never heard of. And that’s OK. We thrive on helping customers solve some of the world’s toughest problems. And that unrelenting focus will continue to propel us forward.
I encourage you to take a look at our resource library to see the amazing work that we do to help our customers. And don’t forget to check out our new Digital Debunking series which showcases the talents of our Altairians while also having a little fun along the way.
Latest posts by James R. Scapa (see all)
- Altair Acquisition Expands Leadership and Pushes Boundaries in Simulation-Driven Design - October 10, 2019
- Altair and Andiamo Partner to Improve Children’s Mobility with Simulation & 3D Printing - October 1, 2019
- Engineering, Art, Science and Design are at the Heart of Altair - September 26, 2019