Tibbitts to Retire after 31 years of Service to GTRI

On Nov. 30, Electronic Systems Lab (ELSYS) Director Terry Tibbitts retires after 31 years of working at the Georgia Tech Research Institute.

Terry Tibbitts 2
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After 31 years of service to GTRI, ELSYS director Terry Tibbitts will retire at the end of November.

Tibbitts started at GTRI as a “double-E”—electrical engineering—student in 1975. “I was a co-op student here my last quarter,” he said. “The quarter before, I [worked a co-op] for the government. But I needed to take a lab my last quarter, which required me to be on campus, so I worked here.”

And here he stayed, since his starting as a Research Engineer I in 1979 to being named director of the Electronic Systems Laboratory in 2007. “Initially I stayed because of the offer of a graduate degree,” said Tibbitts, who in 1982 earned his master’s in electrical engineering from Tech. “And then I stayed because it was just a cool place to work.”

Looking back, he echoes former lab director Bill Rogers by saying that managing ELSYS was “the easiest job” he ever had. “It’s just that good of an organization, and has been built from the ground up that way, over a series of leaders going back to Bob Zimmer in the 1970s.” In recounting ELSYS accomplishments that he’s particularly proud of, Tibbitts is quick to frame them with “we” and not “I.”

“We have grown a well-run laboratory at GTRI,” he said. “We have almost doubled in size the last five years, and this organization has accomplished everything it set out to do. We have fielded many system upgrades and modifications to equipment that has had operational significance to the defense of the nation consistently over time since the early ’80s. What we do makes a difference in the world.”

Tibbitts’ exit will be temporary, though. As with many who retire from either Tech or GTRI, he plans to return after a short break to work part-time. In addition to taking some time off, he looks forward to getting back to hands-on research for the first time in several years.

“I became division chief in 1996, and the division that I ran at the time was the largest division in GTRI, with more than 100 people in it,” he said. “It was bigger than most of the laboratories at that time and even today. So essentially I have been a full-time manager since 1996.” Tibbitts was named a Principal Research Engineer in 1998.

With all the changes 30 years has brought—labs growing, names changing, realignments and strategic planning—Tibbitts is quick to point out what he considers a constant at GTRI: the people. “The quality of the people here has never changed, as far as integrity, knowledge, skills and personalities,” he said. “They are good people to work with.”

When prompted for advice to those just starting out at GTRI, Tibbitts says that “30 years passes more quickly than you think.”

As ELSYS director, he manages a staff of nearly 400 engineers, students and support staff. The lab conducts more than $50 million research annually.

In 1988, Tibbitts was promoted to Senior Research Engineer, after which he spent four years leading the lab’s Avionics Development Branch (1991-1995). He was named chief of the lab’s System Engineering Division until 2007, when he became director of ELSYS.

Along with extensive experience in the field of digital electronics and microprocessors, as well as communications theory, Tibbitts’ personal research has included his serving as GTRI’s lead engineer and program manager in the ALR-69 Radar Warning Receiver. He was responsible for the development of the ALR-69 Class IV upgrade, installed in more than 2,000 aircraft for the U.S. and allied air forces.  His fields of interest include software process development, digital system design, signal processing, radar theory, communications theory, self-test instrumentation design, electronic warfare and radar warning receivers.