May 29, 2020

Culture of curiosity propels Outrider and ourselves

Tessa Ronan

Senior Perception Engineer

This month, we kicked off the development of our next major version of the Outrider System, a 3-part integrated system comprised of autonomous vehicles, site infrastructure, and cloud-based software. As part of that effort, I get to do something new and challenging — Controls Engineering. This is an area where I’ve always had a keen interest but little to no experience. Unlike other companies, Outrider and our engineering leaders believe curiosity and fundamental skills are better indicators of success than experience alone.

Being part of a culture of curiosity can make or break your career. In roles at previous companies, I received emails and wanted to ask many clarifying questions to better perform my job. But the culture just didn’t support that. Senior team members were expected to chime in. Anyone who didn’t consider themselves high-ranking was afraid of being seen as wasting time with additional questions. That’s how I felt in the first years of my career. Burning questions with no voice. Too junior to warrant taking up someone else’s time to satisfy my own curiosity and do a better job in the process.

It’s very different at Outrider. The engineering team fosters curiosity by making it a safe and welcoming place to ask questions — as many as you might have to get the context needed to do terrific work. This culture has made it possible for me to transition from the Embedded Software team to the Motion Planning and Controls team. For the previous 10 months, I asked questions and volunteered to do relevant work. Now in the position, my learning continues. The Controls lead and I meet once a week, and every two weeks we pick a relevant topic and discuss papers, equations, and code. I’ve never been happier to work.

It’s very different at Outrider. The engineering team fosters curiosity by making it a safe and welcoming place to ask questions.

Curiosity is also evident in Slack. There are engineering channels where anyone can pose a question. Anyone can, and does, write a quick reply in a thread. People have long, drawn-out technical discussions where anyone can chime in and everyone is heard. There is respect for everyone, no matter where you sit in the organization. It is collaboration at its best.

This type of environment may not be for everyone, so we incorporate this into our interview process. Candidates invited for on-site interviews (which are now virtual, of course!) are asked to deliver a short presentation about a relevant business or technical problem they’ve tackled. The experiences they share expose us to a wide range of topics and best practices in areas such as HR, Field Support, and Engineering. The whole company is invited to these talks and everyone is encouraged to ask questions. While this may sound daunting or even terrifying, it allows candidates to experience first-hand our culture of exploration and curiosity, as well as the qualities that go along with it — teamwork, open-mindedness, and diversity broadly defined.


Diversity and inclusion are also very high on my requirements for places to work. As a woman in tech, a member of the LGBTQ community, and an immigrant, I can say that Outrider embraces diversity and strives to increase it. As an example, in my first few months on the job, two other women and I attended a Women in Tech conference to recruit more women to the company.

Outrider’s environment has allowed me to really excel in my professional career. I’ve learned more than I ever thought possible. The added bonus of Outrider is that we’re building a really, really cool product!

Tessa Ronan, Senior Perception Engineer

As a perception engineering, Tessa applies deep learning to detecting trailers and their features within the distribution yard – a critical part of the Outrider System. Previously, she was the firmware lead at Cypress Semiconductor working on its Bluetooth low-energy (BLE) chip. She holds an MEng in Electronic Systems and a gold medal from her BSc in Applied Physics from Dublin City University. Tessa was awarded several prestigious scholarships, including the Naughton Research Scholarship at Notre Dame University and the San Jose Dublin Sister City Scholarship.

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