After earning his Master’s degree in materials science and engineering from the University of Florida, Tyler Lenzi left Gainesville for a job at Micron Technology in Boise, Idaho. Today, he is Micron’s Senior Director of Yield Analysis and Data Science, overseeing seven research teams and a total of 250 team members around the world. In 23 years, Lenzi learned quite a bit along the way about both growing his skillset and becoming a great leader. He fondly remembers his time at UF and still loves engaging with up-and-coming students to “find the next generation of talent.”
Tell us about the path you took to get where you are today.
I first arrived as an undergrad at Washington State University determined to be a computer engineer, but after three programming classes, I realized it wasn’t for me. I was then leaning toward mechanical engineering, and one of the required classes was introduction to materials science. One of my friends got a B-minus in the class and told me I would never be able to beat that grade – the class was just too tough. I remember taking that as a personal challenge and ended up liking both the class and the world of materials science.
I chose Florida for graduate school specifically because it had one of the strongest materials science programs in the country. I was also considering Embry Riddle, since I was interested in aerospace materials. But once I saw the UF campus and its MSE resources, I decided to go there.
Between undergrad and starting graduate school at UF I interned at Johnson Matthew Electronics in Spokane, Wash. One of my first tasks was in yield enhancement. I was trying to figure out the source of some alpha radiation that was changing the behavior of some nearby software. Eventually, I traced the problem back to one of their vendors. That experience actually drove my interest in semiconductors while pursuing my master’s at UF, and to this day I like to describe yield enhancement as “CSI for computer chips.”
At Micron, I worked in manufacturing for almost three years, then moved to research & development (R&D) and became a lead engineer in 2000, then a manager in 2004. Over the years, I had more teams added to my organization. I became a director in 2013 and a senior director in 2017.
What is one of the most valuable lessons you learned from your time at UF?
Project management and working on research projects with problems that don’t have a known solution at the beginning.
What was a major turning point in your career?
Making the transition from manufacturing to R&D in 2000, and then being tasked with training my whole team from the ground up. I had three years of failure analysis experience, and at the time, my team of seven employees had less experience than that combined.
It was definitely a “learn as you go and face the challenges as they come” situation, and one without a steady skill climb for the new team members. What it taught me was the importance of a good onboarding process for new engineers. If it’s structured with a steady glidepath of increasing rigor, it pays dividends in the long run.
Coincidentally, while at UF I was in a similar situation when I arrived as a new grad student, as there was no ongoing work on my advisor’s research due to students graduating. It was myself, another grad student who was new to the project, and a post doc who came in after me. We realized early on that we needed procedures in place to enable consistency and allow the work to continue even after we had moved on and new grad students took over.
Who were your mentors/influences while at UF?
My strongest mentor was the post-doc in my department, David Allen. He taught me how to handle a NASA project (USMP-4 work) and leverage attention to detail to well-planned project management.
When I first started at Micron and was looking for advice, I turned to some guys I did my undergrad with who, fortunately for me, had already been working there for a couple of years. They were my mentors for the first two or three years. Since then I’ve been mentoring people myself in some capacity for the last two decades. More recently, I’ve been focusing on management training or the transition from technical to management for my emerging leaders.
What is your favorite part of your job at this point in your career?
I love engaging with universities and students to find the next generation of talent for Micron. I also enjoy coordinating cohorts that allow multiple interns from different departments to work on a single project. Micron has a strong relationship with UF’s materials science and engineering and electrical engineering departments. We’re also branching out to other departments including chemistry and chemical engineering.
What are you passionate about in your work?
Problem-solving and developing talented teams with next generation tools and techniques is what keeps me inspired. I’ve always said that if you can take it apart, you have a much better understanding of how it really works. Good engineers can always find an answer eventually, but great engineers are the ones who can ask the right questions. I’m also a big fan of multiple disciplines working together on a common project as a way to learn to leverage their different strengths for the benefit of the team.
What is one of the most valuable lessons you have learned from your job?
Learn to be your own advocate. In early 2000s, I struggled to do my job really well because I didn’t have the right equipment or an electrical engineering background. To overcome that, I made it a priority to understand the equipment landscape and to advocate to leadership for the things I felt the team needed to do our best work. For the electrical engineering aspects, I went back to school and took a process class, a design class, a failure analysis techniques class and a circuit class so I was armed with the knowledge I felt I needed to do my best. I think I took a college class every fall from 1998 until 2002.
What advice would you give to a first year UF engineering student?
Get involved in data science using engineering data and work on projects with other disciplines to better prepare you for the workforce. Problems aren’t solved by a single person anymore. More often than not, they require collaboration across multiple disciplines, which is a valuable skill to have coming out of college. It’s now the fourth generation of the Industrial Revolution and data science, machine learning and artificial intelligence are here to stay. Companies will always want to run as lean as possible with people who can do more and know more.
Is there a UF tradition you miss?
The Gator Growl and Gators Football.
What is something most people don’t know about you?
I still have the 1965 Mustang that I drove at Florida. I’ve been getting it restored over the last two years.