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On a Mission to Reduce Energy Use

Friday, Apr. 11, 2014

When Opower, a global leader in cloud-based software for the utility industry, took their company public and started trading on the New York Stock Exchange earlier this month, two SCU alums were part of the team that helped build the company’s success.

Agustin Fonts ’08 (electrical engineering) and Ryan Leary ’08 (computer engineering) are now both employed by the company whose software is transforming the way the world approaches household energy conservation, but their careers in the energy industry really started when they joined the 2007 Santa Clara University Solar Decathlon team as undergraduates.

“One of the things we were exposed to as Solar Decathletes was taking a project from an idea to release over the span of two of years. To come up with the idea, put it to paper, execute and showcase it is a lengthy process. It would have taken us several years in a professional career to understand what we learned as undergraduates,” said Fonts. Leary agreed. “We learned what it means to ship a real product, how to measure and verify that our concepts worked; we had to prove our results. Having the experience of working on such a large-scale project as the Solar Decathlon, where we designed, built, and showcased a full-sized and fully functional solar-powered home in competition against 19 other international university teams, gave us a tremendous leg up as we started out after graduation,” he said.

Before they had even graduated, the pair—along with several of their SCU Solar Decathlon teammates—had formed their own start-up, Valence Energy, where they took their engineering and project management experience to the next level, wearing many different hats as they set about designing and launching a distributed control system to maximize energy efficiency for the built environment. Valence Energy was acquired by Serious Materials (now Serious Energy) and the teammates went their separate ways professionally, but maintained a strong connection.

Fast forward a couple of years to 2012 and Fonts, now International Product Manager for Opower, recruited Leary to join the company as Engineering Manager, accountable for promoting good engineering practices and managing software release and testing by working with engineering services and QA release management for the company’s suite of products focused on energy efficiency, customer engagement, demand response, and thermostat management. With their early “crash-course” experience in product development and project management, the two were well-rounded and had the proficiency needed to jump in and be part of the successful company. “Our product reaches more than 32 million households and businesses in 8 countries,” said Fonts, who is responsible for preparing the software to be sold across the world by managing the translation, setting standards for software internationalization, and making sure the products work culturally across the globe.

The company’s recent successful IPO was exciting, but both Leary and Fonts claim it is the founders’ mission to lower energy use that is most gratifying. “Yes, they threw us an amazing party after the initial day of trading; it was a blast and a lot of fun, but the reason people enjoy working here so much has more to do with the company’s commitment to achieving a double bottom line of profitability and energy savings,” said Leary. Fonts added, “After the IPO dust settled, the company gave a gift to employees that can only be opened after a one-percent reduction in residential energy consumption has been met in the United States. For Opower, the IPO is only the beginning; we’re about achieving a mission.”

Coming from Santa Clara’s School of Engineering, where “Engineering with a Mission” is the credo, the two feel right at home putting their ethics, values, and talents to work in their careers.

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