Brennan Welsh remembers working in a Pittsburgh-area auto dealership service center seven years ago and using a diagnostic scanning tool to make a vehicle’s windows go up and down.
“That got me on the side thinking, ‘How does this stuff actually work?’,” he said.
Now, Welsh, a vehicle integration engineer with Motional, regularly travels to South Korea to help teams from Hyundai Motor Group, the manufacturer of the IONIQ 5 robotaxi, test and validate the hardware and software systems that make autonomous vehicles possible.
“It’s pretty crazy,” he said, thinking back on a career journey that spans replacing brake pads, customizing diesel vehicles, and developing cutting-edge AV diagnostics. “It took a hard left somewhere. I would have never dreamed of doing this.”
Welsh is one of several Motional employees who came to the company in an entry-level position but have since advanced into professional and supervisory roles, working directly with engineers and scientists to unlock the innovations needed to deploy safe driverless vehicles. Motional is home to some of the world’s most talented roboticists, engineers, and researchers, with teams featuring a blend of members with a wide-range of skill sets and educational and professional backgrounds.
Getting a foot in the door
Candice Gallick was driving for Lyft in Las Vegas in 2017 when she was contacted by a recruiter asking if she’d be interested in working for an autonomous driving technology company. She’s now an autonomous vehicle performance analysis manager, a role she didn’t envision while growing up in a city centered around the entertainment and tourism industry.
“Never did I ever think this would be a job opportunity in Vegas,” said Gallick.
Jeremy Myers had an associates degree from a local community college in software development and an interest in technology. To follow this passion, he started assisting engineers at a Pittsburgh-area robotics firm before joining Motional in 2018 as a systems specialist. He is now a senior engineer heading up Welsh’s vehicle integration team.
“I wasn’t sure of the direction I wanted to head in but I liked technology,” said Myers. “I had no specific intentions of becoming an engineer but this company saw what I could do.”
Taking advantage of opportunities
All three credit their career growth to the nimble nature of a growing tech-based company, an internal culture where they were largely treated as equals, and a drive to take advantage of the opportunities in front of them.
“When you have small, focused teams, you have to wear multiple hats,” said Myers. “You’re forced into situations that can be stressful but you come out with more knowledge at the end.”
Myers’ first responsibilities included basic component assemblies, component configuration, and connecting sensors to the vehicle’s on-board computer. He is now tasked with building out a testing suite that ensures all of the robotaxi’s sub-systems are working properly before the vehicles are ever taken out on public roadways.
“It’s paramount to safety to make sure everything is connected properly,” said Myers, who also is part of the team that travels to Korea.
Welsh, who also holds an associates degree, came to Motional as a mechanical technician at a time when the company needed someone with experience repairing vehicles, custom fabricating parts, and understanding electrical systems.
“I just have a burning curiosity to learn new things, especially if they have to do with cars and computers,” he said. “I just have to find out ‘How does this thing work?”
Abe Ghabra, Motional’s Chief Operations Officer, says watching employees move up the ladder is a “point of personal pride” for him.
“A lot of our employees joined us as vehicle operators years ago, and many of them have moved on to bigger roles, whether it's through earning degrees and becoming engineers or making their way up the management chain and becoming senior managers, directors, and outstanding leaders within our company,” he said.
Gallick was one of those whose first roles involved driving test vehicles on both public roadways and closed test courses. By working closely with developers, she was able to ask questions and learn the thought process that went into developing the AV technology.
“They had the technical understanding but when it came to understanding the logic behind what they were doing, I realized that a lot of engineering logic is how I think,” she said. “I’ve always been a problem solver, asking ‘Why and what if?’ It just came naturally.”
Filling needs and solving problems
Gallick, Myers, and Welsh each said their backgrounds proved helpful in communicating needs and obstacles between the engineering teams and the vehicle teams.
“It was like being a technical translator,” Gallick said. “It was being able to understand something and spit it out back out to a different audience.”
The key to success, they said, lies in being curious, remaining flexible, collaborating well, and delivering results.
“Things are constantly changing, there’s always new information needed,” said Welsh. “You need to have a good attitude. ‘This is what it is.’ You can’t get upset.”
All three said they received encouragement from Motional managers to pursue a higher role.
“They have trusted my judgment and been supportive of ideas that I’ve brought to the table,” said Gallick.
Myers said the nascent nature of the industry, and constantly evolving technology means that experience can sometimes mean just as much as formal training.
“Just don’t stop learning,” he said
Zeb Dawson, who also started as a vehicle operator and now serves as director of commercial operations, said the evolving nature of the growing company means Motional employees will continue opportunities to advance or even change lanes.
“They're opening up new sites and they're traveling to see some of our new markets,” he said. “The opportunities here are so great that you don't really know when you start your job at Motional where you're really going to end up, because there's probably opportunities going to be created that haven't even been created yet.”
Interested in working for Motional? Check out these career opportunities!