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Alumni Spotlight: Thomas Noyes

Thomas and family at UT football game

Thomas and his family at a UT football game. (L-R) His son-in-law Jeremy, daughter Hilalry, wife Penny, son Chris, Thomas, and son John.

In 2014, Thomas Noyes (AE, ’87) started what he considers the most rewarding job of his career when he founded his own company, Commerce Signals. That same year he was named one of the Top 25 Innovators to Watch in Financial Services by Bank Innovation. While the finance sector may seem far removed from aerospace engineering, his AE degree was the foundation that led him from UT to NASA and several other interesting jobs.

Noyes grew up in Michigan and Kingsport, Tennessee, when the space program was booming. Rockets and space became his passion and becoming an aerospace engineer his dream.

“Space ignites our imagination and was key in pulling me in to math and science,” Noyes said.

In 1983, Noyes enrolled at UT as one of 210 AE freshmen that year, marking the first time they outnumbered mechanical engineering students. However, that number dropped to just 13 in his graduating class.

“If freshman could only understand the fun they will have in their last year, more would stick with the program and graduate,” said Noyes, whose best memories are from his senior year.

“The senior project was fantastic,” Noyes said. “I can still remember the name of my senior design project—S.C.O.U.T. (Small Combat Operations and Utility Transport). Getting to work with fellow AE majors on a team project not only allowed me to apply everything I had learned, it helped me build appreciation for all the professors who helped give me the basis for applying those new skills.”

Noyes was hired right after graduation by NASA’s McDonnell Douglas Space Systems.

“I worked on the space shuttle guidance navigation and control, which is a really cool thing to do,” Noyes said. “I thought it was the greatest job in the world to get to work with astronauts every week and have Neil Armstrong’s old house right across the street, with seven other astronauts within a block.”

Noyes was responsible for the space shuttle’s ascent and descent guidance and worked directly with astronauts in both evolving and testing hardware. His first year at NASA was the beginning of the transformation away from mainframe computers to small Unix-based computers.

“Obviously, we couldn’t launch the shuttle to test every new software change we planned, so simulations were a large part of what we did, both in building the simulation software and in running the analysis,” Noyes said.

In 1994, although he loved the NASA team and culture, Noyes was ready for a career change.

“Life is short, so I focused my energy on areas that were new, emerging, and where my skills could have a meaningful impact,” Noyes said. “Engineers love to solve problems; it is how we are wired.”

After obtaining his MBA from the University of Houston, he was hired by First Union Corporation where his team built the world’s first online bank. He went on to hold  positions at  Oracle Corporation,  Wachovia Corporation, and  Citigroup. He also worked with Google in 2011, leading strategy and acquisitions for the Google Wallet program.

All these experiences led Noyes to start Commerce Signals , the core of which is based upon what he learned at UT. “Signals” is a combination of systems and controls, design of experiments, and economics (his minor).

Where Google indexed the world’s public data, they hope to index the world’s private data for the benefit of the data owner.

Noyes hasn’t completely given up his involvement with space and NASA. After the Columbia disaster in 2003, he appeared on CNN, ABC, and Fox News as a spokesperson for NASA. View some of his appearances at www.tomnoyes.com/shuttle.

 

By Kathy Williams

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