Lindsay Roberts has been with Starship since the beginning: she is the ninth employee of the company. “It was me, my friend Andy and the Estonian engineers. The first six months were so quiet: the average number of words spoken a day was about seven.
Lindsay is from Sydney, Australia and has lived in Estonia for 10 years. Tallinn is his home, and says working with Starship is like living his dream: “As an engineer, working with robots is an outrageously unrealistic dream come true. I’ve always wanted to work for a company with a real mission, and I’m sorry. that in Starship, by putting robots on the street, we are approaching the future. “
Lindsay currently works as a self-employed driver at Starship. He was one of the first to build the world’s leading provider of self-delivery services and has seen the company grow from a small one-room office with 10 to more than 500 employees.
You were one of the first Starship employees, how did you cross paths?
My trip to Estonia began when I moved to Skype in 2011. At that time I needed a change in just about everything, an adventure. One of the jobs that came up was Skype in Stockholm, but during the interview process I was asked if I would consider moving to Estonia. I had it from Wikipedia. At that time I was with my roommates, and from YouTube we got the clear impression that Estonians don’t do kiiking (an extreme sport) all the time, and the first thing these roommates asked me over the years was be if you were still “kiiked”, how many times a day did you kiik?
Although I initially thought I would be here for a year or two, somehow without my planning or knowledge, Tallinn had crept in and become my home. In 2014, I decided to leave Skype and go on a break in Australia. At that break I had the goal of taking a moment and thinking deeply about what I really wanted to do in life. The second day I got a call from a friend who asked me if I would like to talk to Ahti about a robotics job at the stealthy startup now known as Starship. As soon as he mentioned robots, I put aside any notion of searching for the soul like a lead brick.
What was your first impression of Starship?
A little weird. Skype had hundreds of people around the world and constant social activity. Starship’s first office was for five people crammed into a small room in Tehnopol. It was very important when I joined to extend to two adjoining rooms, a little smaller.
The first six months were so quiet: the average number of words spoken a day was about seven. It was me, Andy, and about five Estonian engineers in the office. We just worked. We had nothing, which meant we needed everything desperately, so we sat there in silence and wrote software, and the mechanical engineers designed robot parts and tested it outside with the cold and humidity. .
Although I was used to working with (and being) an introvert as a software engineer, the biggest difference I noticed was that Estonians don’t seem to brag, and this can be a problem for large international organizations. At Microsoft, many called their work from the rooftops while Estonians quietly achieved greatness. Without looking closely at the production, the management might get the impression that the strongest were doing more. Overall, I think Estonians are really dedicated and motivated, and extremely honest. That when you see emotion or warmth it is almost certain that it is something they really feel and think. Not, for example, a product of social expectation. And to know that the way people act is honest, that there is no need to filter, that is deeply relaxing.
What was the hardest part for you when you moved to Estonia?
Not really much, it was a crazy easy place to live. The hardest part was the extreme cold of that first winter, but that became so much easier when I stopped worrying about fashion. I thought I could put on jeans and a sleek jacket, but when I started wearing a good pair of thick boots and an arctic survival gear things got a lot smoother. Those days of -30 ° were still extreme, but in a way that made you feel alive instead of on the verge of death.
At Starship you have had many different roles: you started as a location chief, then you worked as a fleet team leader, and you are currently working as a self-driving chief. What has been the hardest part so far?
Honestly, that first year. I started working on the location (robot) with a partner and for a while it didn’t really work. We had something that produced a result, but not reliable. It took months and months of working on it and, for most of that time, with no clear sign of progress, not even any sign that we were pointing in the right direction. When we made it work, the frustration was at a not inconsiderable level.
At some point, the company got big enough and I became the leader of the location team, great people, really great years. Then I moved on to lead the Fleet Orchestration team, and that’s because from time to time it seems like Ahti [Heinla] he comes to my desk and asks me if I would be interested in trying this other paper. And while these roles are always a stretch, I tend to say yes more than no, and every change has been challenging, new and fun.
What is the main thing that attracts you to Starship?
So there’s the amazing mission, to do robot deliveries on the streets, the crazy sci-fi dream. And really, change something, possibly significantly affect the world. But most of all, working at Starship has been a very enlightening learning experience. Every time I think I’ve learned a little about how to be impactful, effective, and pragmatic, Starship has had more to teach me. And culture is a big part of it: it’s the most pragmatic, low-level place I’ve ever worked.
Engineers have more power than anywhere else I’ve been, and they’re expected to figure out where they should work. Research, go through data, reason and prioritize. We encourage independence, critical thinking and autonomy, I would even say it is a requirement. Working at Starship has made me realize that if you hire such smart people you should let them use all that intelligence. When you really get five team members to not only execute, but to think critically about what they’re doing, to decide what to work on, you’re basically using the intellect five times. This means not only asking for input, but spreading the responsibility of decision-making, of prioritization, so that people really practice, learn, get into the habit.
It has also made me realize that the best people are the ones you can leave alone for long periods of time, and not only will they continue to do an impressive job, but they will also positively surprise you.
When it comes to your own accomplishments, what are you most proud of?
I have written a lot of software over the years, some even in use. But on top of that, I would say that if I have inspired or helped someone here to grow, I would be more proud of that.
What will the future bring?
Starship is affecting a lot of people around the world, but no matter how much we’ve achieved, there’s still a long way to go. We have to improve everything, we have to make a better application, make the robot behave in a more humane way, able to handle itself autonomously in more extreme situations, and say more wonderful things, the list is incredibly huge and very exciting. And of course, we have to expand and bring our robots to more and more places.
In the end, I would like to say that the world is changing so fast, and in many ways it is. But this trip is crazy and unlikely to get robots to deliver on the streets, to automate local transportation of matter in the same way that the Internet does for information, that is, a space where real change is possible. . In it, a single person on Starship can make such an incredible amount of changes in the world. To bring the future a little closer.
Would you like to join the extraordinary journey? Great, we are always looking for people with unusual talent. Find your next career here. ”