At Argo AI, we are military veterans and PhDs; Jiu Jitsu fighters and racecar drivers; immigrants and children of immigrants. In fact, Argo employees come from over 30 different countries. To highlight this rich diversity, we present this collection of unique stories and experiences from Argo employees. These stories show that our shared mission, purpose, and values empower us. They prove that we are stronger as a team. We > I. We are Argo.
Service Technician Argo AI
The Troubleshooter: Irving, Service Technician, Palo Alto
Growing up in Texas, Irving’s family business was built on the assumption that cars will, inevitably, crash and someone will be needed to fix them. But as Irving learned watching his father, brothers, and uncles work in auto body shops, life in the collision business isn’t easy. “It takes a lot out of you,” he says. “At 30, your back hurts, your arms hurt. You get worn out pretty quickly.”
He decided he was going to be the one to break the cycle. After a year in the family business himself, Irving joined the Air Force as an aircraft technician.
In his ten years in the aviation industry, Irving had a chance to tinker with every kind of plane, from fighter jets to corporate aircrafts to military drones. Sometimes, when he finished a particularly difficult repair, the grateful pilot would even invite him up for a spin in the sky. The high-stakes job was a thrill. As he puts it: “If a vehicle breaks down, you can just pull it over to the side of the road. If an airplane breaks down, there is no side of the road.”
When Irving was first contacted by an early stage self-driving car company, he was intrigued by the idea of a field that could eliminate collisions once and for all. Once he got to know the technology, he was hooked. When the company closed its doors, he set out to find an autonomous vehicle company that would be around for the long haul. That’s when he discovered Argo, where he works today as a service technician and lab manager. He loves the split nature of his job, between hands-on maintenance and software troubleshooting. “One minute I’ll be changing a tire,” he says, “and then five minutes later I’m plugging into a computer to find a needed file.”
After a lifetime of staring at twisted metal vehicle parts, Irving says it’s easy to grow numb to the real cost of such damage — “sort of like being a doctor, you get used to it.” But he still has days when he’ll look out the window on his commute and see drivers texting, and remember the life-altering accidents distracted drivers can cause. That’s why he feels so drawn to Argo’s singular mission of building self-driving technology people can trust — and using technology to avoid collisions and save lives on the road.
Though there are days when he misses the chance to fly, Irving says that he wouldn’t trade the pioneering aspect of his new career. “There’s no manual for this,” he explains. “We’re writing the rules.”
Senior Software Engineer Argo AI
The Educator: Gus, Senior Software Engineer, Dearborn
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.”
Staff Technical Program Manager Argo AI
The Trailblazer: Sonal, Staff Technical Program Manager, Dearborn
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.”
Staff Software Engineer Argo AI
The Futurist: Cedric, Staff Software Engineer, Palo Alto
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.”
Software Engineer Argo AI
The Urbanist: Manan, Embedded Software Engineer, Palo Alto
Growing up, Manan loved working on cars. “If my dad had a friend who owned a workshop or worked as a salesperson at a car company, I’d go and talk to them for hours and hours,” he says.
His passion for transportation was further shaped in every corner of the globe. He was born in Mumbai, India, but raised in Lagos, Nigeria. He credits his time in both mega-cities as fundamental to his understanding of transit needs across the world. He saw roads with no lane dividers, traffic in chaos, trains packed with hundreds of people. They were all images that would stay rooted in his mind as he moved forward in his career. He knew there must be a better way to get around.
When he was wrapping up his graduate studies at San Jose State University, he learned about an upcoming career fair where Argo AI would be recruiting. He was under an expedited timeline to find a job after graduation, and this would be the perfect opportunity to network. The only catch? The fair was the same day as his engagement party back in Mumbai.
But this wasn’t just any job. There were just a handful of companies that Manan believed had the potential to solve some of the transportation challenges he grew up witnessing. One of them was Argo AI.
So, with his fiancée’s blessing, he FaceTimed into his engagement party to attend the career fair. Two tech screens, five onsite interviews, and lunch with a hiring manager later, he landed his dream job on Argo’s embedded software team.
Now, two years into his job at Argo, Manan is relishing the opportunity to get to know a new country and its roads. Traveling to places like Michigan and New Jersey for work, he has been amazed at the United States’ sophisticated highway system that connects a country with endlessly changing landscapes and climates. But he’s also seen its problem areas, and is aware of the traffic accident statistics. That, along with the transportation successes and mishaps he’s seen across the world, is what inspires him to work on self-driving technology.
Manan remembers a lunch he shared with a professor at an Indian university he visited while working at a startup that made DIY robotics kits for educational institutions. The professor was still teaching into his 80s, and shared stories with Manan of watching technology shrink from huge room-sized computers to floppy disks to nanodevices. Manan envisions a life witnessing autonomous vehicles evolve on a parallel path. And he’s not just along for the ride, he’s in the driver’s seat.
Data Scientist Argo AI
The Scientist: Jelena, Data Scientist, Munich
Jelena always viewed engineering in practical terms. As a teenager in Skopje, the capital of North Macedonia, she would spend her free time after school with her father, an electrical engineer. Jelena would lend a hand as he repaired medical devices in his workshop. As they tinkered, she learned all about embedded systems, or machines with “brains” made up of circuits, sensors, and wires, all working in harmony.
More than anything, she loved seeing engineering theory soldered onto real-world innovations and solutions. As far as Jelena was concerned, knowledge was only as good as what it empowered you to do in the real world.
Inspired by her repair sessions with her father, Jelena decided to study electrical engineering and computer science, earning both bachelors and masters degrees. By the time she started her PhD in Munich, she was ready to put all this classroom knowledge to good use. So she asked herself, What’s one of the biggest technical challenges that faces the world today where I can make a real impact? In a city dominated by the auto industry, self-driving cars seemed like the perfect fit.
In her role as a data scientist working in Argo’s Munich office, Jelena now spends her days solving some of the most complex challenges to face any embedded system (in this case, an autonomous vehicle). She oversees the evaluation of the data set used to train Argo’s perception system, coming up with effective and efficient algorithms to collect and label data, and to define, analyze, and evaluate what constitutes “important data.” This requires her to parse differences in weather, urban versus rural conditions, times of day, and objects needing identification, to name a few confounding factors. With every machine learning algorithm she writes, heuristics she fine tunes, Jelena loves knowing that she’s having an impact on the future.
But Jelena realizes there’s a limit to how much impact she can make on her own. So every opportunity she gets, she volunteers at the Technical University of Munich with up-and-coming female engineers. She tells them about opportunities in her field, and provides mentorship as they navigate into real-world jobs of their own.
Jelena still calls her father every couple weeks to talk about work. Over discussion of algorithms and embedded systems, Jelena is reminded of the medical devices that started her down this path. And she can proudly say that she’s fulfilled the goal she set for herself over a decade ago in her father’s workshop: she has taken everything she learned in class and the lab, and is translating it into meaningful, impactful, real-world change.
Technical Program Manager Argo AI
The Reinventor: Diego, Technical Program Manager, Short Range Lidar, Munich
Diego first had to start over when he was 16. It was the early 2000s, and his parents could sense that the political and economic climate in Venezuela was turning south. Wanting a better life for their son, they sent him to live with relatives in Argentina. That’s where Diego decided that he wanted to do something to help others—and he resolved to become a doctor.
A teenager in a new country, Diego dove into his medical studies. Because Argentina had a lack of diagnostic technologies like MRI machines, med students were taught to think of the body like engineers considering it as a complete system. It was a mindset that he loved, and that would later serve him in his career.
For six years, he worked towards his dream of becoming an Obstetrician. But just before his seventh and final year of med school, he lost government funding and was forced to start over again. This time, he uprooted his life to move in with his parents in the United States.
Now living in his third country in less than seven years, Diego, resilient as ever, enrolled in community college for a year, before transferring full-time to the University of Central Florida. Thinking that a robust technical background would make him stand out from other med school candidates, Diego applied for his school’s most prestigious engineering program: Photonics Science and Engineering at the Center for Research and Education in Optics and Lasers (CREOL). That’s where he first encountered lasers. Suddenly, he found himself working on a project to detect coagulation during open-heart surgery on babies using Dynamic Light Scattering (DLS).
Just before graduating, he was offered a job working full-time for a small Florida startup making LiDAR sensors for autonomous vehicles. He still loved medicine, but always one to lean into new opportunities, Diego accepted the job. When, two years later, he was offered a job in Munich, Diego said yes to that new adventure as well.
Today, Diego is a technical project manager for Argo Munich. He helps the team that specializes in short-range lidar, scouting and testing promising sensors; defining sensor requirements like range of vision, field of view, and operating temperature; and working with suppliers to improve sensor design. Diego credits his medical training in Argentina for his project management abilities; just like he learned to consider the entire body as a system, he’s able to consider the bigger picture, understanding how each technical problem solved will benefit the system as a whole.
After a decade of traversing the globe, Diego feels truly at home in Munich. For the first time since his childhood in Venezuela, Diego lives just a short trip away from the mountains. These days, his new beginnings mostly come in the form of technological breakthroughs at Argo—among them, new sensor technology, improved data sequencing, increased lidar precision, the promise of full autonomy. They feel like more than enough change to keep him occupied.
Hardware Engineer Argo AI
The Physicist: Jenny, Hardware Engineer, New Jersey
One of the strongest memories Jenny has of her childhood in Long Island is waking up early in the morning to find her chemist mother hunched over her desk, totally absorbed by some problem or experiment. “I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do, but I knew I wanted to have that kind of passion for my work,” Jenny says.
Yet in her tight-knit Chinese-American family, passion had to coexist with stability. Jenny’s father, an engineer, was wary of her pursuing an academic path. “My dad still offers to pay for me to go to med school,” she laughs. “I think he’s only 50 percent joking.” Instead, Jenny followed her interest in physics all the way to Stanford, where she earned a PhD. Her class of 20-odd doctoral candidates included just two other women. “That was actually considered a good year for the program.”
Jenny said she never encountered anything like overt gender discrimination as a budding scientist, yet the lopsided male-to-female ratio endemic to many math and science programs sometimes made her feel self-conscious—a strain of imposter syndrome that challenges many newcomers in academia. Yet with her scientist mother as a guiding star, Jenny thrived in the program, partnering with medical researchers to develop new types of short-pulse lasers used in eye surgery. It was a medical application that would make her pragmatist father proud. “Building something that positively impacts people has always been important to me,” she says.
After leaving Stanford, her experience designing optical laser hardware made her an attractive candidate to self-driving car companies which employ lidar to “create a 3D map of the world,” as she puts it. Her role at Argo has been to test the first generation Argo lidar system, recording what the system senses when different objects are located around it. She then analyzes the data to see if the performance matches internal models and expectations.
Jenny loves that Argo is making the investment in time and resources to build its own lidar sensor from the ground up. “I like that we’re not taking shortcuts,” she says. She also shared with the company’s leadership the belief that automating driving requires not just top roboticists and software engineers but world-class scientists from a host of other disciplines, including physics. “You need expertise in all these different domains to make this work,” she says.
Jenny says that Argo’s commitment to empowering women stood out from her very first introduction to the company, when there were two women on her 5-person interview panel. (“That’s not typical and it really impressed me,” she says.) “I know the numbers of women in science and tech remains a problem,” she says, “but I’m happy to work at a company that’s trying to improve it.”
Senior Systems Engineer Argo AI
The Problem-Solver: Reza, Senior Systems Engineer, Dearborn
From an early age, Reza knew he wanted to solve problems. As a child in Iran, he became fascinated with math (logic, probability, and statistics). Some days, he’d spend hours hashing out different approaches to the same math problems, often asking his uncle, an electrical engineer, for help.
His obsession with problem-solving continued as an undergraduate at Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne in Switzerland, where he studied communications systems and soon became one of the school’s top students, earning a scholarship to complete his undergraduate degree at Carnegie Mellon University. As a grad student at CMU, his doctoral thesis investigated how vehicular networks and sensors could improve safety and throughput for autonomous vehicles at traffic intersections. Reza also earned two patents along the way.
His first job out of school was as a research scientist with Ford Motor Company, where he designed intersection management algorithms for autonomous vehicles and also vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2X) applications that enable vehicles to communicate with each other as well as the traffic system around them. Reza joined the Argo team in Detroit in early 2017, first as a software engineer designing and developing traffic light detection, before switching to the systems team. As a senior systems architect, Reza is now responsible for connecting individual systems inside the self-driving vehicle.
At Argo, he loves the big-picture challenges of self-driving cars. “One of the most exciting things about autonomous vehicles systems work is that you have to focus on all the components of a self-driving car and how they come together: detection, tracking, motion planning, motion control,” he explains. “We have a lot of different problems that need to be solved, and we need cutting-edge technology to achieve that.”
Outside of work, Reza is focused on a challenge that hits a bit closer to home. His parents have not been able to visit the United States from Iran since 2017 due to various travel bans. But despite his family’s difficulties in securing tourist visas, Reza, his wife, and their young daughter have arranged family visits in Canada and Europe, while maintaining hope that they’ll be able to spend time together in Michigan soon. Reza also anticipates the day when he can treat his parents to a perk reserved for friends and family of employees: a ride in an Argo self-driving vehicle.
Looking forward, Reza is excited about how self-driving vehicles can change the world, and is inspired by the notion of working on technology that has the potential to make driving safer. “Knowing that I will play a part in that, knowing that I can use my time and expertise to contribute to that is something that makes me very proud.”
Senior Staff Engineer Argo AI
The Marathoner: Randall, Senior Staff Engineer, Pittsburgh
Described by one of his fellow software engineers as “the most mythological employee at Argo,” Randall Nortman codes exclusively from a treadmill desk. “On a good day, I get in 15 miles,” he says. When he encounters a particularly thorny software problem, he steps off the treadmill to pace around the office. “I go through shoes pretty quickly.”
Randall calls himself a “virtual plumber.” It’s his job to make sure the endless amount of information that the autonomous vehicle collects—petabytes of diagnostics, mapping, and safety monitoring data—passes smoothly through the car’s data infrastructure system. With this much data on his plate, he’s no stranger to 12-hour days—not that he minds. “When I care deeply about something,” he says, “I’m obsessive about it.”
This is true in all aspects of Randall’s life. A few years ago, he became fixated on coffee, which led him to start roasting his own beans and building his own coffee-brewing system. Then there was a bread phase in which he started milling grain and making his own sourdough starter. “I love the act of learning every detail about a new subject and then optimizing how to do it best. ” Lately, he has been customizing the design of his family’s zero-energy house made of knotty cedar and corrugated metal siding. The plans include the installation of a giant solar array on the house’s roof.
Randall, who previously worked at a company designing energy-efficient heating systems, was attracted to Argo in part because of the positive impact that this technology might have on the environment. Routes could be made more energy-efficient, emissions could be reduced by less braking and acceleration, and innovative car-sharing models could cut down on congestion and reduce the real estate given over to parking lots (which could be converted to other uses, like parks).
For now, Randall has given up some of his other hobbies to focus solely on Argo’s mission. “Nothing I’ve done previously compares to the never-ending, rapid-fire, hard-problem-after-hard-problem nature of this work. The fact that I’m responsible for the car’s safety monitoring system is important to me in particular,” he says.
Hence the marathon days on the treadmill. But Randall is walking also for a personal reason. “When I was a teenager I had debates with my dad about whether cars might drive themselves one day. My dad didn’t think it was possible. This argument between us has been going on for 30 years. I’m doing everything in my power to prove him wrong.”
Engineering Manager Argo AI
The Lifesaver: Mike, Engineering Manager, Pittsburgh
When he was 16 years old, Mike saved a man’s life. He was still in high school then, but he was already a certified EMT with a dream of becoming a doctor. The call came in one day when he was on his way home from school: Cardiac arrest. Mike got to the scene first. The man had no pulse. He started CPR. Another paramedic arrived with the defibrillator. Clear! “Suddenly the man gasped,” Mike says. “It was just like in the movies. My partner and I looked at each other. We couldn’t believe it actually worked.”
Mike comes from Ellsworth, Pennsylvania, a rural town of 500 people outside of Pittsburgh. His mother was a homemaker, his father worked on the line in a glass factory. As a boy, Mike loved computers. He wrote his first line of code when he was just 9 years old. But he thought of technology as a hobby, not a career. “Where I come from, everybody is a farmer, or a coal miner, or a factory worker—so the only professionals I knew were doctors.”
Mike’s dreams of becoming a doctor were doused when he saw how much medical school costs. “I could never afford it.” But his hard work paid off, and he got a scholarship to Carnegie Mellon, where he decided to study software engineering. After graduating, he took a string of complex jobs: At a media company, he learned how to design systems to encode huge amounts of digital video. At a financial services company, he used his big data analytics skills to assist the firm’s risk management department, while earning a Masters in Computer Science and Machine Learning from Georgia Institute of Technology.
Yet he still nursed his childhood dream of helping people in need. A few years ago, he returned to the Pittsburgh area and began working in high frequency trading before moving to a medical technology incubator. There he developed an application that uses machine learning to automate the X-ray analysis of pneumothorax or collapsed lung, leading to faster diagnoses. “This is the kind of condition that needs to be treated quickly, or else serious consequences could occur, including death,” Mike said. “I suddenly realized that just because I wasn’t a doctor didn’t mean I couldn’t save lives.”
Mike’s diverse experience with big data and machine learning attracted the attention of several autonomous vehicle companies. He saw the enormous life-saving potential of self-driving, but he was also turned off by the “hype” coursing through the industry, the emphasis on competition, one-upmanship, money.
Then he came across videos of Argo leaders speaking about the problem in a completely different way. “It was clear that safety was a top priority. It spoke to the company’s principles and leadership—and ultimately why we’re in the best position to solve this problem.”
At Argo, Mike’s team builds and maintains a data infrastructure system that analyzes petabytes of information generated by a self-driving car’s sensors, boiling up observations that ultimately lead to a smarter and safer car. While Mike is driven by Argo’s mission, as a native son of western Pennsylvania, he also takes satisfaction in working for a company that’s revitalizing Pittsburgh’s image as a center for industrial innovation.
“We’re in the Strip District, where George Westinghouse and Nikola Tesla built the first AC generators in this country. Now, more than a century later, there’s once again a revolutionary new technology being designed in the Strip District in Pittsburgh. It’s just fascinating.”
Test Specialist Argo AI
The Data Driver: Tonhi, Test Specialist, Miami
Tonhi was driving home alone from school in 2006 when smoke started pouring from the hood of her car. “It was like a movie,” she says. “I freaked out and just left the car on the side of the road. But I decided that day that I never wanted to be in that situation again.”
A week later, she showed up at her local mechanic’s shop. “I want to learn how to be a tech,” she told the supervisor. “Are you serious?” he asked. She was.
“OK,” he said. “You start next week.” The other mechanics apparently took bets on how long she would last. “All of them lost money.”
She learned everything: oil changes, shocks, brakes (her favorite), tune-ups, engine repairs. She brought this automotive expertise to Argo AI, where she started two years ago as a test specialist based out of the company’s Miami terminal.
Tonhi says she’s proud to work at a company where employees with diverse backgrounds are valued. She counts among her fellow test specialists others with automotive experience like her, as well as an artist, former barista, and medical X-ray tech. “This is such a new industry, so there’s no blueprint for what makes a successful test specialist.”
Tonhi’s job involves testing the self-driving software and verifying that what Argo’s autonomous vehicles “see” matches the real world and flagging any differences — no matter how minor — to identify opportunities for improving the artificial intelligence system. Data from her vehicle tests are fed to Argo’s engineers, who then refine the system.
While Tonhi has become one of the more seasoned test drivers at Argo, she’s also branching out, applying her love of language and razor-sharp attention to detail to help Argo’s hardware team with some technical writing tasks. She’s helped create templates that will be used throughout the hardware organization and has conducted research for the global supply chain department.
A self-described workaholic, Tonhi still finds time to kick back outside of the office. She loves to travel to warm-weather destinations (“Jamaica, Mexico, the Bahamas — I’m a tropical paradise kind of person”) and she also says she’s a “major foodie.” In fact, she looks forward to the days when a self-driving car will ferry her around Miami, so instead of sitting in traffic she can spend the ride looking up where to eat. In a way, that’s a realization of a childhood dream. “When I was a little girl, I used to fantasize about a future where I could tell a car to take me to get a burger and fries. Never did I imagine that I would play a part in making that dream a reality.”
Vice President, Hardware Engineering Argo AI
The Transformer: Wesley, Vice President, Hardware Engineering, Palo Alto
Back in 2011, standing in the middle of the Australian Outback, Wesley Ford couldn’t have known how much a single rainstorm would change his life. As a junior at Stanford University, Wesley had traveled to Australia for the World Solar Challenge, aiming to build a solar-powered car from scratch to race 2000 miles across the continent. Wesley’s team built a sleek, one-person vehicle fitted with an ultra thin glass-encapsulated solar panel, a flexible aerobody, and all wheel steering to mitigate crosswinds. The car attracted media attention and high expectations, sending the team swaggering into the competition.
A few miles in, a tire went flat. Next went the motor, which tore itself apart almost as soon as the car was back on the road. And finally came that fateful storm, which caused electrical shorts that ended the car’s race just two checkpoints away from the finish line. “That was a pivotal moment for me,” says Wesley today. “I never wanted to fail again based on mistakes that could have been prevented.”
Less than a decade after that first foray into the Australian desert, Wesley is the VP of Hardware Engineering at Argo AI. It’s not his first stint in the self-driving car space, having worked at another autonomous vehicle company for three years, but in Argo, Wesley saw a laser-focused company with a goal to make self-driving vehicle technology available at scale.
Wesley joined Argo as the first employee in Palo Alto. During his three years with Argo, Wesley has overseen the team responsible for building what he calls “the eyes and the brain of the self-driving system”—the lidar and radar systems, the sensors and computers, and the cameras that capture images of the environment around the car in order to identify surrounding objects.
At the end of the day, what drives Wesley is not the goal of being the first, but being the best. He knows that the real reward of his work won’t be a front-page feature or a place in a museum. It will be about transforming cities and touching lives across the world.
As for his team’s failure in Australia, that wasn’t the end of the story. Over the ensuing two years, Wesley and his team went back to the drawing board. They designed a car that was more humble and less flashy, reprioritizing execution, reliability, refinement, and practice. They tested, re-tested, and re-tested yet again. And with Wesley as the team leader in 2013, they were the top American team in the race. Not even a rainstorm could stop them.
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