The Shoulders of Giants

Robert McKeon Aloe
6 min readMar 25, 2020


When it came to math, I was far ahead of other kids, but when it came to reading and writing, I was a bit slower. It didn’t interest me the same way, and I was often bored. However, aside from my parents, I had a few teachers that looked out for me. I find it important to reflect on the help they gave me and how I can return that favor to others.

To be clear, this story doesn’t include advisors and managers that were part of my regular education and work whose job was to invest in my development. This is about a few people that really had an impact on my character and work ethic, and how grateful I am for having been able to have been around them.

Grade School

In fifth grade, Mrs. Schumacher saw my natural math ability and encouraged me. I seemed a bit ahead of the class. More specifically, I remember her coming up to me while I was waiting for the bus to tell me how well I was doing at math. It definitely helped remove any self-doubt.

In sixth grade, I took a placement exam to get into algebra early. It was the only standardized math I didn’t do well on. My mother insisted and took me to get evaluated by someone else. They said I should be in algebra.

In algebra, I felt a little out of place and different, and I did okay in class. I was a B student, but again, Ms. Linden saw something in me. She gave me a little turtle to remind me to slow down. I was rushing through things, and she was right. I place that turtle on my computer almost everyday at work to remind myself to slow down.

The next year, in geometry, I didn’t behave well. I almost failed, and it seemed I wasn’t that good at math. I took regular algebra 2 the following year, and I was practically failing in the first month. My mother identified that I was bored, and when she moved me to honors, I did a lot better.

In tenth grade, my debate teacher/coach, Ms. Hollis, took a liking to me. I hung out quite a bit after school with some others who were passionate about debate. She always created this safe space for us, and it was a powerful example of the impact one teacher could have.

In high school, I got along quite well with my history teacher, Mr. Bultman, and he treated me differently than other teachers. I’m not sure if it was me or that’s how he was, but I felt like I was living up to a higher potential in history and political discussions with him. We initially did not get along because I debated for the sake of debating. When he took some of us to a Model United Nations event in England, he attended a session or two of my committee. I chose the Disarmament Committee, and I debated furiously with others. Suddenly, we started getting along because we both saw how passionate we both were about politics and history.


At University of Detroit Mercy, I encountered many wonderful professors, but two people stood out. I usually had weird schedules that needed the dean’s approval for two reasons: 1. I took a lot classes without prerequisites (14 times). 2. My class load was higher than 17 credits often (5 times). He was always very kind and understanding, and he could see that I had a genuine interest in learning.

The other professor was Dr. Rayess with whom I started talking to when applying for a scholarship. I didn’t get the scholarship, but he was very understanding, and he lent an ear. I enjoyed just chatting with him here and there, and he ended up being one of the professors advising the senior design project.

Our senior design project was an autonomous vehicle, and I had been working on the computer vision to detect lane lines. I put my heart and soul into that project, and I felt a great deal attached to it. The scariest thing for me leaving to Notre Dame was leaving that project. Then, Dr. Rayess gave me the best advice of all the times we had talked. He pulled me aside, and he told me to forget about this project, forget about this school. He didn’t mean forget, but rather leave it in the past. He was telling me to go do my best work at Notre Dame and completely focus on whatever I ended up working on without worrying about not having finished this or that for our autonomous robot.

I certainly felt I had an advocate in both of these professors, and I’m so grateful looking back that I had an opportunity to learn from their grace.

In the Field

In my first internship at Ford Motor Company, I had few useable skill, but one engineer (Chris Sjolander) took me under his wing and gave me some work. He had me check on this vehicle getting equipped for major testing, and I learned the great lesson of talking to people face to face. He had a way of combating my some times negative attitude which I didn’t like at the time, but I couldn’t deny the truth in it.

At Digital Signal Corp, I met two fellows, and we started having espresso regularly. This usually was our break, and we had fun conversations but also career conversations. These friends were very influential in how I view work and our company, and also, their coding skills started to get into my head. They both worked hard to write clean and efficient code. Not that I don’t write decent code, but they were continually advancing their abilities. Being around them made me want to up my game as a saw so much value and passion in the way they talked about coding.

At Apple, I’ve had a few friends who I’ve found to trust quite a bit because every problem I’ve brought to them, they have either shown me a different perspective allowing insight or have guided me to find the right answer from the right people. This has greatly reduced the errors I’ve made in judgment and greatly enhanced my life.

So I’ve been trying to do the same for others I’ve worked with or befriended elsewhere. I aspire to be like these influential people who have helped guide me so much. Helping others has brought me the more job satisfaction than any other aspect of work life.



Robert McKeon Aloe

I’m in love with my Wife, my Kids, Espresso, Data Science, tomatoes, cooking, engineering, talking, family, Paris, and Italy, not necessarily in that order.