Helping to shape the future of sports footwear
His interest in the intricacies of the human body led to a career different from what he envisioned
“I keep thinking,” Arick Gin-Yu Auyang says, “if eight-year-old me could see me now.” That eight-year-old Arick would be in awe of the current Arick.
Arick has a job that his eight-year-old self could not have imagined. Nike Basketball Inline Innovation Developer – that’s his official title in the iconic global sportswear company. In that role, he is helping to shape the future of sports footwear.
Arick attended UMS-Wright Preparatory School, in Mobile, Alabama. He received a B.S. in Biology in 2003 from Emory University. In 2010, he graduated from Georgia Tech with a Ph.D. in Applied Physiology.
What is your average workday like?
My job focuses on creating innovation technologies for Nike Basketball footwear in the two-to-four-year timelines. The best part of it is that I don’t have to be content with seeing the world, and business, as it is. I get to challenge and ask, What if?
It’s fun to push the boundaries. A lot of my time goes to ideating, cobbling, prototyping, and then building out project teams of subject-matter experts to commercialize the right, promising technologies.
How did Georgia Tech prepare you for your current position?
I was always interested in the intricacies and wonder of the human body. The research at Georgia Tech was some of the most exciting around.
The most influential professor for me was Dr. Young-Hui Chang, who also was my advisor and mentor. When you study with someone for 5+ years, you create a strong bond and learn more than just academics.
Not only did Dr. Chang teach me about how to be an academic, but he also laid the foundation for how I think about the world in a more critical way. Above all, that is what my Ph.D. experience at Georgia Tech gave me. It taught me to see the world in a different way. To ask questions, seek answers, and never be content with just what you know.
Fundamentally, it’s the scientific process. But when you live and breathe that in an environment as cohesive and nurturing as the School of Applied Physiology, it becomes second nature.
What has been the greatest challenge in your professional life so far?
As I ventured to leave academics, I had to think about the fundamental skills I had and in what areas they could be applied. The easy way is to find something related to your dissertation, but I found this to be constraining. It limited my options.
A common interview question is, “Tell us about your dissertation work and how that would apply here?” and the subject of my dissertation work was a tough sell in the corporate world.
I started in the Sports Research Lab at Nike. When I explored ways to move into more product-focused positions, conversations would often start with, “Well, you’re a researcher/scientist…”
I was forced to question who I was and what I could offer beyond what was evident from my dissertation. I had to create a brand for myself.
Instead of a talking about the value of my dissertation, I talked about mastering the scientific process to get my dissertation and the value of that. To overcome being labeled a “researcher,” I described myself as a “problem solver.”
I’ve learned that you have to constantly evolve and consider your own image and brand to adapt to the ever-changing needs of the world and achieve what you want.
What has been the most gratifying experience of your professional career so far?
My most gratifying experience occurred on a work trip to China. We went to different retail locations to study the marketplace. At one location, a little boy was trying on two different pairs of shoes. One pair was a product from our team; it was far more expensive than the other. I felt proud as I watched his excitement and joy in trying our shoes and then convincing his mom that those are the ones he loves.
Sometimes, I find myself asking, “What is this all for?” That moment reminded me what all those months of hard work were for.
What is a vivid memory of your time at Georgia Tech?
A lot of blood, sweat, and tears went toward reaching that moment. Having my friends there cheering as I walked across that stage, with my advisor waiting for me at the end, created a solid memory of the whole journey and how I didn’t take it alone.
What advice would you give to current students at Georgia Tech?
Most plans never work out as you expect, and that’s okay. If you stay so focused on a specific plan and narrow path, it’s easy to lose sight of possibilities and opportunities that may present themselves.
No one would have thought that I would be helping to shape the future of Nike Basketball footwear. It wasn’t all luck and there was hard work, but it was also a series of circumstances and opportunities that led me here.
All roads lead somewhere. Embrace somewhere.
If you could have taken an alternative career path, what would you be doing instead?
My career path was influenced by my educational choices in specific areas of mathematics and science. I’m not sure any of that would change. Working on performance footwear was not where I thought I would land. I had always envisioned a career in academics. But one opportunity led to another, and here I am at Nike!
If you could have dinner with any person from history, whom would you invite?
Gene Roddenberry. Science fiction inspires a vision of what the world could be. The Star Trek series and universe he created motivated me to push boundaries. I would like to ask him how he achieved such a forward-thinking vision, how he thinks humanity is tracking toward that vision, and what his next predictions would be.