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August 28, 2023

An inside look at an Outrider internship

Ramya Kanlapuli

Intern

I’ve been in aerospace engineering since undergrad, and have always had a passion for research and solving complex problems. After I graduated with my Ph.D., I was hungry for a fast-paced environment where I could work on projects that would be implemented swiftly. I wanted to see my work translate into real-life robotics with a rapid launch time. I also wanted to work on cutting-edge technology that required researching and implementing novel solutions.

All of these “wants” led me to Outrider, a software and robotics company focused on supply chain automation, specifically outside in distribution yards. Distribution yards are the transition point between the warehouse and the open road for more than 20 billion tons of freight. While these yards are critical to the supply chain, they are also inefficient and hazardous environments. These private, well-defined yards filled with repetitive, manual tasks make them ideal for automation – therefore, Outrider’s focus.

While yard automation was a bit outside my area of expertise, I applied for an internship because Outrider was the “Goldilocks” of companies: I’d be able to work on projects that excited me, at a pace that would keep me on my toes, surrounded by a group of people I could learn from and have fun with.

A day in the life

My average day as an Outrider intern starts with a stand-up meeting every morning, where we make a point to celebrate personal victories and accomplishments. We then chat through any issues we’ve faced in the last 24 hours, like snags in implementation, and work together to solve them.

These meetings typically last 10-15 minutes, but they make everyone feel like a valued part of the team. This is one of my favorite aspects of Outrider’s culture. Even though I live about an hour from the Outrider office and often work from home, I feel extremely connected with my colleagues.

And when I switch gears from staff meetings to my primary intern project later in the day, there’s no shortage of collaboration – structured and unstructured. As a mission planning intern, I focus on planning paths for Outrider’s autonomous vehicles (AVs) to navigate around the distribution yard.

My team is responsible for the software that helps our AVs understand other players in the yard, which mission has been assigned to them, and how to maneuver around other AVs. We’re constantly communicating in real-time to solve problems as they arise. Having multiple people share their input and advice when you’re facing a new challenge makes solving things much easier – and more fun!

Over the past few months, I’ve already seen some of my work come to fruition at Outrider. I’ve witnessed my contributions to software, development, simulation, and motion planning projects take shape. It’s been incredibly rewarding to not only diversify my portfolio and experience but also to see that I’ve been able to make a real impact on various projects.

A collaborative culture

As a Ph.D. student, I spent most of my time working independently – any problem I faced I had to solve on my own. I learned how to take ownership of my projects from end to end, an ability I valued deeply and wanted to bring into my professional life.

At Outrider, I’m able to accomplish this and so much more! In addition to honing my technical skills like perception and mission planning, I’ve learned how to be part of a team. Collaboration and teamwork may be considered “soft skills,” but they require just as much effort as programming AVs to move around a distribution yard.

Luckily, I’ve realized that Outrider only hires people who are passionate about creating a safer, more efficient supply chain. Every single person here is excited about the work we do, and their enthusiasm is infectious. When everyone works toward a common goal, collaboration becomes an indispensable part of company culture, and it provides an extra morale boost when we’re facing a particularly tough technical challenge.

This ongoing emphasis on collaboration applies to the entire business. I am still constantly struck by how much employee input is valued when making big decisions and how much access we have to higher management. We recently had a session with Andrew Smith, our Founder and CEO, to brainstorm ways to improve our development process. We shared ideas (and donuts!) and it was clear that our insights were genuinely appreciated, even from the company’s highest leadership level.

What makes a great Outrider intern?

For those considering an internship or career at Outrider, coming in the door with an open mind is key. Energy, curiosity, and adaptability will take you far in such a dynamic startup space – even if you don’t necessarily have all the right experience yet. Skills can be taught, but passion and enthusiasm must come from you.

One of the most important things to do in any internship is to get to know as many people as possible. Every time I’m in the Outrider office, I make a point to grab lunch in the break room. Outrider is such an open and friendly community that I can sit down with anybody – even if we’ve never spoken before – and have a conversation. It’s a great way to learn how other teams work (or just share our thoughts about the Barbie movie). The camaraderie is palpable, and being able to chat with people who are just as excited as I am about the work we do reaffirms the fact that I’m in the right place.

If you like solving new and exciting problems, being recognized and rewarded for great work, and collaborating with a team of people who share your passions, check out our open positions here!

Ramya Kanlapuli, Intern

Ramya Kanlapuli served as a mission planning intern with Outrider. She graduated from the University of Colorado Boulder in May 2023 with a Ph.D. in Aerospace Engineering. Before joining the team at Outrider, her primary area of focus included research on target tracking using sensor fusion for autonomous Uncrewed Aircraft Systems.

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