From that point on, Hickland had his sights set on engineering. He took a job at a pro shop, where he drilled bowling balls, learned about the products, and spoke regularly with bowling ball manufacturers about new balls being released commercially. He also spent a lot of time bowling, since he needed to be a good bowler in order to grasp an understanding of ball motion. In college he chose to study mechanical engineering and for two spring breaks he worked for free at different bowling ball manufacturers with the intent of segueing into the industry.
He credits organizations such as the National Society of Black Engineers and a college study group he organized for teaching him how to collaborate with his team at Ebonite. “We would go back and forth until each of us understood all the core concepts,â€ says Hickland about the study group.
At Ebonite, which manufacturers 60% of the world’s bowling balls, they apply that same model. Hickland works with brand managers on four different product lines. “If they want a ball to hook more, hook less, go longer, hook earlier, it is my responsibility to figure out how to create that,â€ he explains. He uses CAD (computer-aided design) software, to design the core shape that he thinks will mimic the properties they are looking for. From one group of researchers he sources the materials needed to develop this core and then consults with another team who develops the part of the ball that touches the lane. He decides which cores go with which covers and finally, using statistical analysis, he oversees two staffs of five people to test the balls and ensure that they meet the desired standards. “The ability to work with other people is the difference between the average engineer and the engineer that excels,â€ says Hickland. “Some engineers don’t have those people skills, they don’t demonstrate the desire to go up to the next level or they are so wrapped up in the details of things that they can’t see the broader picture so they stay where they are. To get people to work together as a team and charge toward a common goal is the key.â€
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