Better Together: Embracing the differences that make our team stronger

One of the core values at Argo AI is “We > I,” which is a simple way of saying that we operate better as a team that is collaborative and respectful to each and every employee, no matter their background. Our shared mission, purpose, and values always come before individual egos or self-interest.

And while the world is changing before our eyes, I am proud to see that our employees’ commitment to Argo’s spirit has not faltered.

Argo is made up of a diverse group of employees who come from all walks of life. Yet all of us are passionate about the work we do and bring a level of intelligence, perspective and insight that is absolutely critical to our success. Some of our employees are immigrants, or children of immigrants. In fact, Argo employees come from nearly 30 different countries.

My grandparents came to the U.S. from Belfast, Ireland right after World War II seeking a better life — which they attained when they eventually settled into a suburb of Detroit. Throughout my experience in technology and academia, I’ve crossed paths with so many others who have sought to achieve what my grandparents were able to do. Immigration is not only important for enriching our society, it is also good for our business. Access to the world’s brightest minds — no matter where they come from — helps us further build a diverse and incredibly talented employee base.

This is why I wanted to share some of the great stories from our employees in a new series called “We Are Argo.” We start with Gus, a software engineer by day/YouTuber by night, Sonal, who has repeatedly shattered glass ceilings throughout her career, and Cedric, who draws on his love of sci-fi to help solve real-world problems.

My goal in sharing these stories with you is twofold: To reinforce the idea that while we may be physically isolated during this time of crisis, we’re not alone in our shared ambitions for the world. And to help all of us get to know one another a bit better, not just as brilliant and talented coworkers, but as passionate, diverse and mission-driven individuals.

The last few months of remote work has taught me a bunch of big lessons. I’ve realized how lucky I am to have a job that I love. How fortunate I am to work with an amazing team dedicated to our mission of building self-driving technology people can trust. And finally, how much better life is when we’re together, not apart.


The Educator: Gus, Senior Software Engineer

Ghassan “Gus” Atmeh, Senior Software Engineer, Argo AI

Gus is not a teacher, but he is leading his own personal education crusade.

By day, the native of Amman, Jordan, works as a senior software engineer on the Motion Control team, contributing to the group of programmers tasked with helping our autonomous vehicles figure out how to get from Point A to Point B.

By night (and on weekends), Gus is the face of “Endless Engineering,” a YouTube channel that deconstructs complicated engineering topics.

“With each video I’m trying to do something that is in-depth, but also has practical implementation,” says Gus. “There are so many topics in engineering that lack good resources online. The videos on the channel are my attempt to change that and put together materials people can use to gain valuable skills.”

His videos spotlight different aspects of control systems engineering, presenting compelling deep dives into subjects such as the programming language Python, linear approximation, and machine learning. Some tutorials depict a strait-laced Gus standing at a homemade light board (he built his using a glass board and LED light strips) while others feature a screencast recording with Gus explaining equations in clear and concise language as he computes them.

Gus says the project “selfishly” represents his passion to influence the skill-sets that prospective colleagues bring with them into job interviews at Argo. Since joining Argo, he has sat on the hiring committees for several different teams, and has noticed a dearth of job candidates who possess both solid foundations in theory and the software development chops to match.

“If you’re an engineer with a background in controls or robotics and you want to get into these high-paying jobs, you need to learn how to make something out of nothing, and one of the best ways to do that is with code,” he explains. “What is the physics behind a vehicle’s motion? What is the math related to tracking another vehicle? These are the questions we need people to be able to answer, and I’m trying to help.”

To those who know him, it’s no surprise that Gus pursued engineering as a career. In Amman, his father was a fighter pilot in the Royal Jordanian Air Force. This meant Gus spent much of his childhood on air force bases. He watched planes zip into the sky and wondered about how they were able to take off, fly, then come back to Earth without crashing. Someday, I’ll study that, he thought.

With Argo, Gus has used several different programming languages to push forward a variety of different projects with our autonomous vehicle. He developed software for onboard vehicle ride-quality metrics extraction — software that essentially tracks how smooth each ride is. He designed the control system’s diagnostics signals and fault handling application. He even built and implemented a vehicle trajectory optimization algorithm that is deployed when a self-driving car merges from one roadway to another.

Another exciting aspect of working at Argo for Gus is the company’s commitment to employing immigrants from all over the globe. “Organizations that have diversity not for the sake of diversity but because they know having so many different backgrounds fosters a climate of people being able to speak out and give their ideas — it makes a better product,” he says. “Knowing how important this is to everyone in charge makes me confident we’re going to be successful.”


The Trailblazer: Sonal, Staff Technical Program Manager

Sonal Onkar, Staff Technical Program Manager, Argo AI

As an undergraduate mechanical engineering student at the University of Pune in her native India, Sonal was one of just four women in a class of 120 students. As a graduate student at the University of Michigan, Dearborn, she was the only woman in her master’s degree program. In her first two jobs out of college, she was the only female engineer.

“I’ve spent my entire career in environments that were so male-dominated, it’s taken a lot of effort just to be heard,” Sonal says. “Working at Argo is different.”

Sonal, who plays an integral role in the development of Argo’s autonomous vehicle, integrating self-driving technology with the vehicle platform that comes from our manufacturing partners, has an interesting personal journey to Argo.

A classically trained singer, she performed professionally in India from age 12 until she was 17, before engineering sparked her interest. She came to the United States in 2004 from Pune — her first flight ever — for a master’s degree in Automotive Systems Engineering. Early in her career as a product engineer, she conducted a series of human-factor studies about the touch and feel of steering wheels and shift knobs.

She later served as a supply chain analyst before switching her focus in 2010 to functional safety, working on an employer’s push to comply with state of the art standards and eventually working for another consulting firm on-site at General Motors. When she took the reins as that company’s functional safety lead, she became the second female lead and the youngest team lead in company history.

Receiving her MBA from University of Michigan opened her mind beyond her automotive experience, and gave Sonal the courage to explore the West Coast. After a stint leading cross-functional teams at Apple as an engineering program manager, Sonal and her family began to miss Michigan. That’s when she found Argo AI. “I gravitated to Argo because I saw a leader who was clear about where he wanted to go,” says Sonal. “I’ve worked in big companies and small companies and having a consistent clear vision come down to engineering from the top down is very rare.”

She also recalls how, early in her career as one of the only women in the classroom or work meeting, she avoided wearing jewelry or anything too feminine that would draw attention to her gender. At Argo, she recognized a culture that celebrates differences of gender, sexuality, and ethnicity and allows employees to be who they are. She says her appreciation of this culture of inclusion has only grown since she has become a part of the team. “We’ll be working as a team and someone will ask, ‘What was it like when you were growing up in India?’” she says. “People care about me as a whole person, not just a cog in a wheel.”


The Futurist: Cedric, Staff Software Engineer

Cedric Vidal, Staff Software Engineer, Argo AI

Cedric’s childhood in Paris, where his father Ghislain worked as a filmmaker, was full of fascinating characters. But one man — and one moment — stands out. When he was seven years old, Cedric recalls reading the latest issue of the comic book Protéo Force 10, which starred a half-man, half-machine named Protéo. He was listening as his father chatted with a friend — Jean-Gérard Imbar, a comic book illustrator whose work appeared in that very same issue. The comic featured a mysterious sequence of zeros and ones. When Cedric asked the two adults to explain it to him, the illustrator said that it was binary code, the DNA of machines. Something clicked. “That was it,” says Cedric. “I was hooked. That’s why I do what I do.”

As a staff engineer on Argo’s Machine Learning Infrastructure & Analytics team, he is responsible for taking the stuff of science fiction — robots roaming the Earth autonomously — and making it real. He’s responsible for coding systems to help classify the massive influx of data pouring in from the autonomous vehicle’s cameras, sensors, radars, and lidar systems.

It’s the kind of work, Cedric believes, that he could only have done at Argo. Cedric’s love of science fiction and coding led him directly to his professional passion, artificial intelligence. That interest led him to his job as CTO at a small fintech startup in Paris, where he built a machine learning department from the ground up.

Still, something about Cedric’s life was missing that click. In his late 30s, Cedric got the break he was looking for. He hopped on the phone with a friend of a friend, who was working at a self-driving car startup called Argo. Cedric knew he’d found the answer. “I was like, Hell yeah,” he says. “That’s exactly the kind of company I want to work for.” When Cedric got an official job offer from Argo, he didn’t hesitate to pick his life up and move across the world.

For Cedric, working at Argo AI is all about staying on the cutting edge. He loves to wander the office, checking out what kinds of projects everyone else is working on, knowing that each and every engineer possesses an expertise just as specific and deep as his own. The comic book-loving seven-year-old would surely get a kick out of the idea that he is helping to build the very first autonomous vehicles. “There will be a ‘before’ and an ‘after’ self-driving cars,” he says. “It will revolutionize society in ways we can’t imagine. I am thrilled to be a part of that.”

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