Oct. 24, 2019 - 4 min read

Introducing: Women of Aurora!

Introducing: Women of Aurora!

First up: Elena Byun, our resident fire spinner and cookie baker, who happens to be an electrical engineer from our hardware team.

As we build a diverse culture at Aurora, we are committed to supporting and inspiring women to develop their careers and transform the world of technology.

In our new series, Women of Aurora, we’re sharing the personal and professional journeys of the women of Aurora. In our inaugural post, we are thrilled to introduce Elena Byun, an Electrical Engineer on our Hardware team.

Read on to learn about Elena’s experience from designing forts to circuit boards, and playing with fire. Yes, you read that correctly, playing with fire.

Tell us about your path that led you to Aurora. Why autonomous vehicles and why Aurora?

Elena: I found myself moved by the focus at Aurora on doing work that touches a lot of people’s lives. Across the self-driving industry, it feels like a race just to deliver the technology quickly. But for us, our focus is as much on solving the problem correctly and ethically, as it is winning the race.

What about electrical engineering sparked your interest?

Elena: I actually went to college thinking I was going to be a bioengineer. But I lived in a dorm of students who loved to build things. Every fall, we would build a small amusement park in our courtyard to welcome the incoming freshmen. Usually, we would build a giant fort along with several rides, like a roller coaster or spinning swings. So, I started playing with power tools, which led me to majoring in mechanical engineering. As a requirement for the major, I had to take an introduction to electrical engineering course. That threw me off the deep end. I found that learning circuit theory, analyzing, understanding circuits, methodically debugging, etc., to be incredibly satisfying. I was having a blast and I thought “hey, this is really interesting, I want to do this instead,” so I ended up focusing more on electrical engineering and robotics for the rest of my undergrad.

One of MIT’s East Campus forts Elena helped design and build. Photo by Jonah Ko

Did you think about pursuing design or construction professionally?

Elena: No, it was more of a passion project. It showed me that I have the capacity to do this kind of work if I want to. While I ended up pursuing electrical engineering professionally, my experience designing and building definitely helped me enjoy the experience of engineering. I realized that it can be very fun and not just academic.

What is the coolest project you’ve worked on at Aurora?

Elena: I’m working on building a controller for one of the power modules in the Aurora Driver. This is the first project I’m taking on at Aurora that goes from literally a scratchpad to pushing out the board. And it’s entirely mine. Since joining, I have taken on a lot of designs that were already in the works, like wrapping up the schematic design and making necessary changes, then overseeing the printed circuit board (PCB) layout, fabrication, testing, etc. It feels exciting to have something that I can really own where I drive the process from start to finish. It feels amazing to see my impact.

As you continue to develop your skills and expand your responsibilities, what has been instrumental in your journey?

Elena: Trust from my team coupled with the support and encouragement from senior engineers at Aurora. My manager and my team push me to learn more, take on more, and continue to grow. The responsibility I’ve been given since joining Aurora has allowed me to be part of designing and pushing out 5-6 PCBs for the Aurora Driver’s computer.

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

Elena: Doing work and building things that touch a lot of people’s lives is really, really important to me. When I think about time, resources, and energy that people spend on driving that can be spent on more joyful, productive, or creative activities, I feel the urgency to deliver self-driving technology. For me, my work is ultimately about making this technology accessible. If we reroute all the resources we’re using on driving — and driving safely — people can truly live their lives.

What would you spend your time on if you didn’t have to spend any time driving?

Elena: I do fire spinning arts. I would love to have more time to train!

When did you start fire spinning?

Elena: I’ve been doing this for 10 years now. I actually started with glow stick spinning, and when I got to undergrad, a lot of people at my dorm really liked fire. The school had a club dedicated to flow arts, and there was a big fire spinning community in Boston. So, I picked it up and I’ve been pursuing it ever since. My fire spinning community is an extremely important part of my life; I draw inspiration from them. There is so much creative energy, unrivaled self-expression, and constant craving for learning. It’s such a deeply loving and caring community, and everyone is always looking out for each other. They give me hope and they move me to be better, kinder, and to work harder.

Elena’s fire spinning in action. Photos by @artemisarises (left) and @fitzgerald9011 (right)

When you’re not working your day job or fire spinning, what is one of your favorite things to do?

Elena: I love baking. My dorm used to have this event called “Bad Ideas” where we would get funding to execute bad ideas. The event that I ran was called “2^n Cookies”. We would choose a target and I chose 12, so that would be 4,096 cookies. We baked eight hours in a row, and we made 4,123 cookies. That is too many cookies! I have a bit of a baking obsession :)

What is the best thing about working at Aurora?

Elena: The people and the community! Not only do I work with many talented engineers, but we’re also extremely kind, enthusiastic, and inspiring. Aurora cares about building something together. This is exemplified at each of our All Hands meetings. We are all working together to build this technology, and we all have ownership. That drives me to be better.

Aurora is looking for great people to join our team. If you’re interested in our open roles, you can learn more here.

Aurora Team
Aurora delivers the benefits of self-driving technology safely, quickly, and broadly

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