Experience working at Cruise! 🚀

My team at our offsite!

Importance of interdisciplinary work and skillset

At the company, we have unique challenges that range from hardware, AI, compute infra, and embedded systems to robotics. For example, we are designing and developing custom hardware that powers our software stack, such as the sensors (cameras, radars, acoustics, LiDARs), compute and network systems, telematics, and infotainment. We are leveraging our sensors to collect input data for our ML-first approach for critical systems of our AV stack. Even if you are working on AI, you are touching parts of the hardware system to build and run new perception or prediction algorithms.

Iterating and moving quickly

Having worked on such multi-faceted complex issues at Cruise, I’ve realized that one of the essential principles in engineering and product development is usually the speed of iteration. I’m sure many engineering managers will agree, but the value of many shorter iterations is missed. To have a lot of iterations, you need to have speed. The faster you work, the more chances you have to iterate. Even though this is harder to do with hardtech, I think there’s lots of ways in which you can do this through working in simulation and doing sim-2-real transfer.

  • Setting weekly goals. If you’re solving a problem, the best way to think about this is: What will I do this week to chip away at this problem? If you can find a straightforward way to build or deliver something that relates to some value you create, then you have a good forcing function that encourages these shorter, more frequent iterations.
  • Less “tech debt”. This may seem contrary, but if you are moving forward faster with more feedback/testing loops, you have more chances to catch any bugs in your product. If you are releasing things at once, it’s harder to know where the bug comes from when errors accumulate over time.
  • Splitting the work into very small chunks. Something that I find helpful is breaking down a larger project into smaller pieces and understanding how each piece of work will contribute to solving the larger problem. The engineering part of my brain wants to zoom in, while the operator part of my brain wants to zoom out. As my manager would say, it’s helpful to do both “zoom in, zoom out consistently”.

Growing my technical skills + learning best practices

While iterating quickly on my projects, I spent a lot of time working with engineers and took away a lot from these collaborations on building my technical skills and best practices.

Developing product intuition

Alongside technical comprehension, there are two main things I think are significant when solving any problem:

  • Defining the problem clearly: When most people think about a problem, they likely jump right into suggesting possible solutions. This can be negative because instead of understanding root causes, people tend to fixate on familiar approaches. It can be helpful to define the problem by seeing it from different angles, exposing hidden assumptions and revealing new questions for you to answer. An exercise I found useful was writing about the pain point from different perspectives to see the situation in new ways.
  1. What does success look like if I solve this problem?
  2. Who are the key users and what are their main pain points?
  3. How many (usually engineering) resources do we have?
  4. Where should this project go on our priority list?​
  • Searching for data: It’s key to avoid decision-making delays by holding data requests accountable to if-then statements. Think: What would change about your decision if you had data? What data is fundamental for you to have? If there are decisions you can make without data or a minimal amount of data, you should move ahead.
  1. The magnitude of the problem.
  2. The common root causes of the problem.
  3. How much of the problem can be resolved if you tackled those root causes. This impact calculation is often harder to estimate since you may also need to be familiar with what already is planned or has been done that could directly/indirectly solve this problem.

Making tough decisions as a leader

One of the complex parts of running a company is making important decisions, especially when others may have differing opinions. You have to be able to hold healthy debates/discussions, but eventually, we need to move ahead, and some decision needs to be made. To make these tough decisions, you need to have a clear set of metrics for success and a list of where these metrics sit on a priority list. Of course, these can change as you learn more about your market, but it’s important to have something in place based on your current understanding. By aligning on these early with your team, you can always base your decisions on the growth of these metrics and the company’s overall goal.

Meeting amazing people :)

Most importantly, I’m extremely grateful for all the amazing friendships and mentors I’ve made. Here’s a fun collage of my friends and I taking Cruise rides on late night adventures:

  • Oliver Cameron: Your mentorship at Cruise and other projects I’ve done over the past few years have been so helpful. I truly can’t put it into words. I’ve learned so much from you and continuously look up to how kind, helpful, and supportive you are.
  • Daniella Gutlansky: You’ve helped to push my thinking in ways I didn’t think was possible. I feel that I can now be more creative and more strategic when tackling future problems.
  • Ananya Sharan: The guidance you’ve provided me has been pivotal in my ability to execute my projects. Thank you for helping me get unstuck and going out of your way to support and mentor me.
  • Allen Tang: Your help alongside Teddy, whether with the query or anything else, was very valuable. I’m excited to see all the impactful work you do.
  • Teddy Forscher: You’ve taught me so much, and I appreciate your time helping me directly with my projects when I was stuck!
  • James Hammond: I appreciated our lunch conversations about work, college, and life. I value how honest and open-minded you are as a leader and want to embody these qualities more.
  • Lucie Zikova: I’m so glad we got to know each other better during our team offsite. Your support on my projects helped me think more creatively and be very thoughtful about my recommendations.
  • Sarah Rizk: I enjoyed our meeting on the rooftop at the office and continue to admire all the impactful work you are doing at Cruise.
  • Neil Srinivasan: Our 1on1s was one of the favourite parts of my week. I’m excited to see all the great things you’ll do on the AVB team!

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Alishba Imran

Alishba Imran

364 Followers

Machine learning developer working on accelerating automation/hardware and energy storage!