Feature Stories

NJIT Grad is President of Robotics Firm

NJIT Graduate Jeff Beck is president of a major robotics company.

Jeff Beck leads one of America's top robotic companies. He is president of iRobot’s Home Division, America’s leading manufacturer of home robots. And he says it was NJIT that helped him establish his professional career.  

“Without the broad-based science background I received at NJIT my career would not have been possible,” says Beck, who graduated from NJIT in 1986 with a mechanical engineering degree.

Beck oversees teams of engineers and managers who build the firm’s popular robots: the Roomba, a vacuum cleaner; Scooba, a floor washer; Verro, a vacuum for swimming pools; and Looj, which cleans roof gutters.    

To build a robot is a complex engineering task that calls for a mastery of many fields, he says. A robot is created by integrating all engineering fields, as well as science and computing.  All those fields must operate harmoniously to create a robot.  And thanks to his engineering education, Beck says has a good understanding of those fields and technologies.

Though Beck has a top job, he comes from humble origins.  His parents were born in Germany but immigrated to America. The family settled in West Paterson and Beck and his older brother were the first in their family to attend college. His parents instilled in him a strong work ethic, and while a student at NJIT he worked at a printing plant as well as at UPS.

Beck noted that NJIT tends to attract students who possessed a strong work ethic. Most of his college friends worked to pay their way through NCE. It was not a college for “blue bloods,” he said. “We rolled up our sleeves and worked hard.”

Looking back, Beck, who was recently named a Newark College of Engineering (NCE) Outstanding Alumnus, says what he liked best about NCE was its emphasis on practical learning.  His professors emphasized hands-on engineering and taught him to apply science. His education was also inter-disciplinary: though he majored in mechanical engineering, he took classes in fields such as electrical engineering, computer science and chemical engineering.

After NJIT, Beck worked as a mechanical engineer for some years. He later earned his MBA at Boston University and moved into the management side of technology.  Then he moved to iRobot.  He never stopped working hard, and working hard took him to the top of the company.

His part-time college jobs, however, were anything but elevated. Yet he fondly recalls his old job at UPS.  He started at UPS loading and unloading trucks, a back-breaking job. Soon after he started, he saw that the UPS package sorters had easier jobs and better pay. So Beck asked a UPS manager if he could become a sorter. At the time, sorters had to memorize hundreds of zip codes. So the manager handed the young Beck a deck of flash cards with hundreds of zip codes and told him to memorize them. If Beck passed the test, the manager said, he’d become a sorter.  If he failed, he’d remain a truck loader.

 “The manager told me it usually takes a year to memorize all those zip codes,” recalls Beck, “unless you are one of those ‘damn engineering students.’”

Beck, who was indeed an engineering student, memorized the zip codes in a week.  And he got the job. Even then, he had a sharp mind and a capacity for hard work, qualities he honed at NJIT -- and qualities that have served him well throughout his professional life.  

(By Robert Florida)