Peter Pontano: Putting the “Fun” in Product Function
UPDATE: February 17, 2014 -- Since this story was published, Peter Pontano, together with a few friends, launched a boutique 3D Printer material company called SPLIN3. The company features seasonal color pallets of PLA material, with small quantity spools geared to help 3D designers easily build up a unique color library. In addition, Peter took a new full-time job as Product Development Manager with Industrial Revolution. Congratulations, Peter!
Few people can say they have their dream job, but Peter Pontano (M.P.D. 2005) is the exception. An avid skier, skateboarder, and snowboarder at various times of his life, today Pontano is the Senior Binding Design Engineer for Ride Snowboards, a division of outdoor leader K2 Sports. When Pontano isn’t designing innovative bindings for a new product line — or traveling to China to manage quality control during production — he can be found meeting with world-famous athletes to gain their feedback, or testing new products himself. “If I could have imagined the perfect job for me, this would have been it,” says Pontano. “I get to spend every day working in an industry that I feel very passionate about. All my colleagues are also motivated by a genuine love of the sport. We can’t wait to finish working so we can use the products ourselves.”
The one-year Masters in Product Development (M.P.D.) program—now known as the Master of Integrated Innovation for Products & Services—proved the ideal training ground for Pontano’s current position.
“When I applied to the M.P.D. program, it was one of only two interdisciplinary programs in the country focused on product development,” says Pontano. “I loved that it combined design and creativity with the more practical aspects of bringing commercial products to market.”
According to Pontano, in his daily job he uses a range of skills he learned at Carnegie Mellon—from brainstorming and conceptualizing to business tasks like supplier negotiations and design for manufacturability. “The M.P.D. program was an amazing crash course in how to be a product designer,” notes Pontano. “I learned to work on crossfunctional teams with people who had really diverse backgrounds, which mirrors the real world. I learned to communicate and collaborate, but also how to wear a lot of hats and get things accomplished on my own.”
In addition, Pontano learned hands-on skills in industrial design, sketching, software tools, and other areas that enable him to combine the high style demanded by the global snowboarding industry with product function and reliability.
“When we’re planning our future lines, we spend a lot of time talking about color and fashion, as well as developing new processes like spectrachrome plating that really make our products cool and eye-catching for consumers,” Pontano says. “But at the end of the day, durability and strength are the key qualities that enable our customers to maximize their use and enjoyment of our products. So my engineering knowledge from MechE is absolutely critical.” When Pontano finished his M.P.D. degree, he gave himself a certain window to find his ideal job, targeting the snowboarding industry in particular. On the very last day before he was scheduled to begin a more “practical” job search, Pontano checked the Ride Snowboards web site one final time—and there was an ad for a product engineer. Within two weeks, he was at work in Seattle. “How many people can say they’re in the business of creating fun?” asks Ponta- now with a laugh. “I truly believe I have the greatest job in the world, and it seems like fate brought me here.”