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Staying in Pittsburgh: Motional employees enjoy high-tech boom in their hometown

April 17, 2024 Pittsburgh

Lisa Carter is a self-described “yinzer.” She enjoys sandwiches from Primanti Bros., grew up cheering on the Penguins, and still enjoys her visits to Kennywood Park.

Carter, who is a senior product designer in Motional’s Pittsburgh office, is also excited she gets to work on cutting-edge technology while living in her hometown – something that wasn’t always certain.

“In college, I had some fears there wouldn’t be work for me in Pittsburgh,” said Carter, who graduated from Carnegie Mellon University with a degree in human-computer interaction. “But as I've learned more in my career path, there’s an abundance of these types of roles and you don’t have to leave here.”

Four Motional employees sit outside on a balcony patio with the Pittsburgh skyline behind them
With the Pittsburgh skyline in the background, Motional employees Madhur Paharia, Nikola Hrgic, Anna Durosko, and Lisa Carter pose on the patio of the company’s offices located in Hazlewood Green.

Pittsburgh over the past decade has traded its “Steel City” legacy for a future focused on robotics, autonomy, and AI, and emerged as one of the nation’s preeminent high-tech hubs. The tech industry now employs 24 percent of the region’s workforce, according to the Pittsburgh Technology Council – a number comparable to the region’s steel industry in its heyday.

A study last year ranked Pittsburgh fifth in the nation in terms of ‘momentum,’ or growth in demand for employees with high-tech skills, behind only the Bay Area, Seattle and Austin. And a recent report found that capital investment in Pittsburgh area tech companies grew 203 percent between 2022 and 2023. 

The growth in the region’s high tech industry, combined with the region’s relative affordability, strong cultural institutions, and proximity to nature, are attractive to scientifically minded graduates from nearby universities who previously would have relocated to another metropolitan tech hub such as San Francisco or Boston. 

“The number of opportunities available here has, just from my perspective, substantially increased and it’s been a great thing to see,” said Madhur Paharia, a senior technical program manager team lead with Motional.

Paharia, who is originally from India, grew up in Chicago and Philadelphia, and moved to the area in 2005 to attend Carnegie Mellon. He has since been able to meet his future wife, start a family, and plant roots because of the region's strong tech ecosystem.

A mechanical engineer, Paharia started his career designing next generation nuclear power plants. Now he’s guiding Motional’s efforts to launch driverless robotaxis.

“Self driving vehicles is a very powerful mission,” he said. “I have three young kids. Thinking about them as teenagers, and being able to provide this safe, alternate means of transportation so they’re not exposed to the same risks that comes with driving, is something that’s motivating to me.”

The company’s Pittsburgh roots date back to 2013, when Ottomatika, an autonomous driving technology company that became a part of what is today known as Motional, was formed out of Carnegie Mellon. Motional’s Pittsburgh office is located down the hill from Carnegie Mellon at Hazelwood Green, on the site of a former steel mill. 

Anna Durosko comes from a family of steel workers and coal miners, and saw first-hand how the slowdown of those two industries impacted the region.

“Almost every single kid was on free or reduced school lunches,” she remembered. 

Growing up, Durosko enjoyed visits to Carnegie Mellon’s Robot Hall of Fame but wasn’t sure how that could translate into a Pittsburgh-based career path for her. But she also recalls seeing a STEM-related shift a decade ago while in high school as the area’s tech boom started to pick up. 

“All of a sudden we had a computer science class,” she said. 

Four Motional employees sit inside on couches at the company's Hazlewood Green office.
Motional employees Madhur Paharia, Nikola Hrgic, Anna Durosko, and Lisa Carter each either grew up around Pittsburgh or went to school there, and are happy they get to remain in the city while working in high-tech.


A graduate of Callow University, Durosko is now a triage specialist for Motional, analyzing software performance using data collected during on-road testing. She’s excited she got to stay in Pittsburgh without feeling she is sacrificing her professional career as well as outside interests. 

“Pittsburgh has a great balance between the arts and STEM,” said Durosko, whose partner is a musician and composer. “I haven’t been able to find a place like Pittsburgh with both.”

Nikola Hrgic emigrated to Pittsburgh from Bosnia in 1998 as a refugee from the Yugoslav Civil War. He grew up with a love of cars, but after seeing the permanently blackened hands of a local mechanic, Hrgic switched his career goals from fixing cars to designing them.

“For a long time it didn't seem like a possibility since Pittsburgh didn’t have a lot of that type of work and I didn’t want to move,” he said.

During college he interned with an area company that built robots used to dispose of bombs. That’s when he began to understand the growing tech ecosystem in the region.

“Never until college did I even think about something like this existing in Pittsburgh,” he said.

Motional engineer Nikola Hrgic at his workbench adjusts a piece of hardware
Motional engineer Nikola Hrgic is able to follow his dream of designing cars while remaining in the city he grew up in.

The 2014 Pitt grad is now a mechanical engineer with Motional, helping design sensor brackets and other hardware for the company’s next generation robotaxi. For a gearhead who grew up in South Hills, less than five miles from the Motional office, it’s a dream scenario.

“It’s nice to be able to do something you’re interested in and also good at,” he said. “In Pittsburgh you’re able to have a lot of nature around you, be relatively safe from major natural disasters, and housing is surprisingly cheap. If you’re working in tech, you can live very comfortably.”

Carter, who was recently named to Pittsburgh Business Journal’s 30 under 30 list, was inspired by Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, a movie about an inventor who builds a flying car.  

“I’ve always loved the idea of being an inventor who creates things that solves problems for people,” said Carter, Northside native whose first job was with a virtual reality firm. “The car portion became relevant later in my career.”

It was while in college she realized that there were opportunities to stay in Pittsburgh as tech giants started to open regional offices in the Strip District, and that the ecosystem supported roles like hers, which involves applying user experience principles to internal apps used by Motional engineers.

“If I want to work in robotics in Pittsburgh, I don’t have to be an engineer; there’s lots of other ways to contribute to this ecosystem,” said Carter.