Aug. 21, 2020 - 6 min read

Aurora Voices with Veer Nairyani

Aurora Voices with Veer Nairyani

Meet Veer Nairyani, our industrious highflier from our Systems Engineering team.

At the heart of Aurora’s technology and mission are the individuals behind it. In our series, Aurora Voices, we share the unique voices and stories of the people of Aurora, celebrating our backgrounds as well as personal and professional experiences.

Veer Nairyani is a Systems Engineer at Aurora. He works closely with different engineering teams and stakeholders to organize the technical efforts that bring the Aurora Driver to life. He is involved in the Driver’s design, development, implementation, testing, and deployment processes. Outside of work, Veer’s interests and talents are just as expansive: from desert camping to riding waves to astronomy.

Read on to learn about Veer’s multidisciplinary role building the Aurora Driver and how he’s constantly shooting for the moon.

Tell us about your path that led you to Aurora.

Veer: My introduction to Aurora was rather serendipitous. I had the pleasure of hearing Chris Urmson speak during an autonomous vehicles panel at CES (Consumer Electronics Show). I was particularly impressed by Chris’ clarity when answering tough questions and his ability to articulate the nuances of the unique strategies and common challenges in the AV industry. While I hadn’t actively been thinking about changing jobs, Chris’ deep understanding of the space convinced me to reach out to the team.

I’ve also had positive experiences in the past with some of the other leaders of Aurora. It was evident that Aurora’s leaders had a clear vision for the company, coupled with tremendous experience in the industry. I thrive in environments where I get to work on complex problems alongside an extremely competent team, and this was exactly what Aurora offered.

What sparked your interest in systems engineering and autonomous vehicles?

Veer: I chose to pursue systems engineering after college because it afforded broad exposure to various engineering disciplines. Systems engineers are specialized generalists who work closely with subject-matter experts. I jokingly say that as a systems engineer, I know a little bit about everything and everything about nothing. I was excited to pursue a role that serves to bridge the gap between different types of engineering, emphasizes the ability to grasp the big picture, and translates product ideas into system-level engineering designs.

As to why autonomous vehicles — another appeal of systems engineering is the opportunity to work on extremely intricate problems. Systems engineers typically exist at companies of large scale and/or companies working on complex products. In my opinion, developing and delivering self-driving technology is one of the most complex technical problems outside of aerospace. (Full disclosure, I’m fascinated by all things space-related.)

Veer nerding out (read: testing) on a circuit in college.

Describe your role as a Systems Engineer at Aurora.

Veer: My role at Aurora is to bridge the gap between the product definition and the technical details at the lowest levels of the product. When I see the Aurora Driver performing an unprotected left turn on the road, I am able to piece together each step that went into making that operation happen. While we have many specialized engineers who focus on specific parts of the Aurora Driver, it’s my job to understand the entire system from end-to-end and make sure that everything is working together seamlessly.

Tell us about one of the coolest challenges you’re trying to solve.

Veer: The Aurora Driver was designed from day one to be integrated into any vehicle type, whether it’s passenger vehicles, semi-trucks, or light commercial vans. This not only has the benefit of minimizing the number of Aurora Driver configurations, but it also allows us to share learnings across the range of vehicles we integrate into. Every new platform we integrate into is another opportunity to test our methods and improve them.

While most cars and trucks appear similar on the surface, they tend to be quite different under the hood. It’s a cool and interesting systems engineering challenge to figure out how to get our software and hardware to work on the range of vehicle types that our partners manufacture. It’s kind of like designing the Aurora Driver to speak multiple languages with equal proficiency.

What motivates you to do the work you’re doing?

Veer: The opportunity to work on an incredibly tough technical challenge alongside wickedly smart yet kind-hearted people keeps me motivated. It’s not only a deeply fulfilling experience to summit the mountain of a remarkably complex challenge, but it is also a validation of the time that I’ve invested in my professional development and in the growth of those around me.

Who has inspired you in your life?

Veer: I draw inspiration from stories about people who have excelled in their areas of expertise — from astronauts to fashion designers and physicists. Most notably, I admire Chris Hadfield for his relentless commitment to becoming an astronaut, and ultimately serving as commander of the International Space Station. Chris melds an unstoppable work ethic, unquenchable curiosity, and rooted kind-heartedness to an exceptional degree. I admire visionaries like Chris Hadfield, and I use their bodies of work to motivate and challenge myself. When I see their achievements and contributions to their respective fields, I imagine what I can accomplish in my lifetime.

What do you like to do in your spare time?

Veer: I live and breathe the great outdoors. I love camping, especially in the California desert. I recently discovered the dramatic landscapes of Utah. I visited the state last November and spent three days in three national parks, soaking up the desert landscapes and pristine night sky. It was a quick but amazing adventure. While I’m a fan of arid terrain, I also have an affinity for the ocean and surfing. Being in the ocean is one of the last places left where you can truly disconnect (no smartphone in the water!). Outside of the outdoors, I enjoy hosting big social gatherings and spending time with my family and friends.

As a huge outdoor enthusiast, Veer spends his time surfing (top left) and exploring national parks, such as Death Valley (top right), Glacier (bottom left), and Grand Teton (bottom right).

Do you have a personal philosophy?

Veer: I actually have two! My first belief is excellence is par. I realize this might sound corny or cliché, but I believe in holding high standards for myself. This doesn’t imply that I beat myself up when I don’t meet certain expectations. Rather, I allow myself to dream big and not worry about the obstacles. I stay focused on my goals and that pushes me to take action and generate the energy to overcome those obstacles. I constantly strive to be a better version of myself.

My second philosophy is that context is important. Being a systems engineer, I work with a myriad of people, and each individual is experiencing different emotions and conflicting priorities. I remind myself to have context and empathy, to think about where people are coming from. Empathy unlocks an understanding that allows me to take care of everyone’s needs and carry more productive conversations.

What did you want to be when you were growing up?

Veer: A pilot! My mom was a flight attendant so when I was growing up, my family and I had opportunities to travel with her. I even got to ride in the cockpit! It was my dream to be a pilot until I spoke to some of the commercial pilots who were operating the aircrafts that my mom was working on. They revealed that their jobs were actually very boring (they happened to be former military members). Outside of takeoff and landing, the plane generally flew itself. My interest ultimately waned. I also wanted to be an astronaut, which is essentially a pilot on steroids. I’m obsessed with space. From books to TV shows and movies, I’ll devour anything that is space themed. Not surprisingly, my favorite films of all time are Interstellar and 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Growing up, Veer often traveled with his mom, who was part of the cabin crew. Here he is on an Air India flight to Paris.

What is the best thing about working at Aurora?

Veer: I really like the people. Everyone is focused, thoughtful, and kind, but also extremely capable. There’s a huge “win together,” collaborative culture. Often in large organizations, everyone is moving quickly with countless outside forces pulling them in a million directions. People don’t always have the liberty to do their best work as a team. At Aurora, I’ve seen my colleagues bring scores of diverse opinions to the table, while leaving their egos and emotions at the door. We discuss and problem-solve together, and collectively reach a solution. Aurora has a particularly keen ability or knack for fostering this type of teamwork, and it makes for an awesome experience.

Aurora is looking for passionate, multifaceted people to join our team. If you’re interested in helping us solve a once-in-a-generation technical challenge, visit our Careers page to apply for open positions.

Aurora Team
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