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Women on the ‘long haul’ of Waymo Via trucking

November 9, 2021

Women on the ‘long haul’ of Waymo Via trucking

Editor’s Note: The following blog was originally published on Waypoint on November 9, 2021.

Trucking is integral to American supply chains and the leading form of freight transportation. As demand for trucking continues to rise, Waymo Via, our autonomous goods delivery unit, represents an opportunity to support ongoing safety efforts in the industry and address the nationwide driver shortfall.

In this dynamic time, women hold key roles for Waymo Via, bringing their skills, insights, and experiences to shape the industry and the technology. We spoke with four women working across Waymo Via trucking to find out what they do day-to-day, how they made their way to the industry, and how they see the road ahead.

Ruth Rouse is a former big rig driver and an autonomous specialist who now rides in Waymo Via’s autonomous trucks as they test on public roads.

Frances Guo is a product manager for Waymo Via trucking and helps set milestones and drive progress for the commercial product.

Jessica Cataneo is a recruiting lead for Waymo Via trucking, working to bring in the best talent and continue to grow the dream team to advance this path-breaking technology.

Kelly Peters is a senior program manager for Waymo Via trucking, helping teams work together to overcome challenges and make the promise of autonomous trucking a reality.

Here’s what they had to say:*

How did you make your way into working in autonomous trucking?

Ruth Rouse (Autonomous Specialist): My husband was a truck driver, so I initially began truck driving so I could be with him. We have traveled together to every state in the U.S. and most of the provinces in Canada. I realized that my patience and attention to safety were valuable traits for a professional driver. When my husband and I saw a job listing for autonomous specialists, we decided to apply, even though we had never heard of autonomous trucking.

Frances Guo (Product Manager, Trucking): I originally thought I would go into law and even had a law internship lined up but changed my mind and took a product management internship instead. I loved it. It’s fun building software with a team and moving the needle forward by solving problems for customers. I had taken engineering classes in college, and worked at a company building AI dash cams for fleet safety. Then, I pivoted to autonomous vehicles.

Jessica Cataneo (Recruiting Lead, Trucking + Research): I lived in New York City and worked for financial companies in business development and sales and in recruiting for investment banking. I came to California and started recruiting in technology. I worked as a recruiter for a rideshare company and then in machine learning. That led me to Waymo, where I came to lead recruiting for research in 2019. When I heard a presentation by the Waymo Via trucking team, I thought, “I’m going to get myself [onto this team] somehow because this is something I need to get behind.” Trucking is one of the hottest industries right now, and last year I moved to recruiting for Waymo Via trucking full-time.

Kelly Peters (Senior Program Manager, Trucking): I was a senior technical program manager at a consumer robot company. I fell in love with robotics. Prior to that, I spent many years in animation as a technical department manager for feature films at Pixar. I worked on six of their feature films, including “Finding Nemo,” “A Bug’s Life,” “Toy Story II,” “Cars,” and “The Incredibles.” We were developing technologies doing things that had never been done before, which is very similar to what I do now in autonomous driving.

What are your day-to-day responsibilities?

Ruth Rouse (Autonomous Specialist): I work as part of a team monitoring the truck as it drives, ensuring safety, and accumulating driving experience that will evolve Waymo’s autonomous driving technology on trucks. Because of my driving experience, I wasn’t sure whether it was possible for autonomous driving technology to safely operate the kind of trucks I had driven for so long. At first, it was a little nerve-wracking to sit back and let the technology do the driving. Now, it’s just been amazing to see what [the Waymo Driver] can do.

Frances Guo (Product Manager, Trucking): I collaborate closely with engineers, other product managers, the policy team, and with outside/customer stakeholders. As a product manager, you establish the what and the why of what engineering teams are building and making sure it aligns with the goals of the company. You ensure everyone has a vision of what we are trying to achieve and why it is important, and validate that you’re focusing on the most important things by getting customer feedback early and often.

Jessica Cataneo (Recruiting Lead, Trucking + Research): In terms of recruiting in autonomous trucking, there is not a huge, obvious pool of autonomous trucking engineers I can recruit from. Autonomous trucking as an industry is still in its infancy. I look for profiles that have solved hard problems or worked at companies that are scaling at a large and fast rate. At Waymo, we look for very collaborative strong management and leadership qualities. I hire people and I network within their networks. Every person here knows three talented people, and so you have a pipeline that multiplies over time.

Kelly Peters (Senior Program Manager, Trucking): Everyday I work across many cross-functional teams, all which play a key role in us achieving our timeline goals. I work closely with Product to understand the various needs of Waymo Via, and partner with the cross-functional teams to build the program timeline to meet our goals. I look for dependencies, flag potential misalignment, manage stakeholder expectations, and drive conversations to ensure we identify a path forward. The further along we get, the more complex it all becomes. There are so many teams that work together to make this happen - it is mind blowing, but I like it.

What do you like about your job in autonomous trucking?

Ruth Rouse (Autonomous Specialist): As a professional truck driver, you are expected to see everything and your eyes have to be constantly roaming. It’s amazing to see how autonomous driving technology can handle the many complex situations on the road.

Frances Guo (Product Manager, Trucking): It’s exciting and challenging. We are introducing something to the world and building something completely new. There are not too many opportunities to do that. There is a huge safety component. It has a societal interest. The engineers really believe in the mission, and everyone feels connected to our overall goal. It’s unique to have broad alignment on what we are here to build. I really love the people here - my fellow product managers are very talented and the engineers are unparalleled. I also love hopping in our trucks.

Jessica Cataneo (Recruiter, Trucking + Research): We have the best team; We have the smartest people in robotics I’ve ever been around. From a culture perspective, we all work super hard to forward our mission. Top to bottom, I am supported. One last point is that the leadership on the trucking team is phenomenal; I have never worked so closely with such dynamic, intelligent and thoughtful people.

Kelly Peters (Senior Program Manager, Trucking): Everyday is an experience and an adventure. You don’t always know what you are going to wake up to and the challenges you’re going to have. The most rewarding part is working with the team and getting through challenges together. A program like this requires a wide variety of teams and various skills to make this happen. It reminds me of Pixar, everybody across the board working together to create the film. It’s amazing watching this happen at Waymo too.

How can autonomous trucking benefit society?

Ruth Rouse (Autonomous Specialist): I believe autonomous driving in trucking may one day be useful in delivering aid to disaster zones. Imagine if you can send relief to a disaster area without having to worry about a driver being hurt?

Frances Guo (Product Manager, Trucking): The primary thing is helping make sure that folks are safe on the road. There is also a huge driver shortage, and we can help fill the gap.

Kelly Peters (Senior Program Manager, Trucking): Autonomous trucking will create new types of jobs in trucking - we are part of a movement that is creating a new trucking infrastructure which in turn will create new types of jobs for people. Not just engineering jobs, but all different types of jobs.

What would you say to someone considering a job in autonomous trucking?

Ruth Rouse (Autonomous Specialist): I would encourage other women to consider jobs in trucking and autonomous trucking with Transdev, the company that recruits and manages autonomous specialists aligned with Waymo’s unique needs. Women are good with autonomous trucking. We are willing to learn new things, and open to new ways of trucking. Whether in autonomous trucking or trucking as a whole, the opportunity is there.

Jessica Cataneo (Recruiting Lead Trucking + Research): It is no secret there is a substantial opportunity in the industry. We are in the very early days. What I usually talk to candidates about is the opportunity to come onboard to trucking and just be that foundational team member.

Kelly Peters (Senior Program Manager, Trucking): It can be challenging and rewarding at the same time. Joining the autonomous space has been a huge learning curve. When you first start, you’re learning a lot and as the big picture begins to form, everything comes together. I always tell new hires to give yourself time to ramp up, and you will get there.

*These interviews have been edited and condensed for clarity.