Australia to Estonia – Q&A with Lindsay Roberts, Head of Autonomous Driving | By Anella Coates | Starship Technologies | December, 2021

Anella Coates

Lindsay Roberts has been with Starship from 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 very quiet: the average number of words spoken each day was about seven. “

Lindsay is from Sydney, Australia and has lived in Estonia for the past 10 years. Tallinn is his home, and he says working with Starship is like living his dream: “As an engineer, working on robots is a terribly unrealistic dream come true. I’ve always wanted to work for a company with a real mission, and I think, at Starship, by putting robots on the road, we’re bringing the future closer. “

Lindsay is currently working as the head of autonomous driving at Starship. He was one of the first to create the world’s leading autonomous delivery service provider and saw the company grow from a small, one-room office and more than 10 to 500 employees.

Lindsay Roberts, Head of Autonomous Driving, Starship Technologies

You were one of the first Starship employees, how did you get through?
My journey to Estonia began when I moved to Skype in 2011. At that time I needed to change a lot, an adventure. One of the jobs popped up on Skype in Stockholm was, but during the interview process they asked if I would consider going to Estonia instead. I thought it was Wikipedia. I was with my roommates at the time, and we got a clear idea from YouTube that Estonians always stop kicking (an extreme sport), and the first thing those roommates asked me year after year was if I still “kicked”. , How many times a day have I kicked?

Although, initially, I thought I would stay here for a year or two, somehow my plan or unknowingly, Tallinn broke in and became my home. In 2014, I decided to leave Skype and went on a break to Australia. My goal during that break was to take some time and think deeply about what I really wanted to do in life. The other day I got a call from a friend who asked if I wanted to talk to Ahti about a robotics job at a stealth startup now known as Starship. As soon as he mentioned robots, I dropped all notions of soul searching like lead bricks.

What was your first idea about Starship?
A little weird. Skype had hundreds of people from all over the world and constant social activity. The first office of the starship was five people in a small room in Tehnapol. It was a big thing when I joined the two adjacent, slightly smaller rooms to spread out.

The first six months were so quiet: the average number of words spoken per day was about seven. In the office were me, Andy, and about five Estonian engineers. We just worked. We had nothing, which meant we desperately needed everything, so we sat there in silence, and we wrote the software, and the mechanical engineers designed the robot bits, and we tested the cold and wet outside.

Although I was accustomed to working with an introvert as a software engineer, I noticed the biggest difference was that Estonians do not brag, and this can actually be a problem in large international organizations. At Microsoft, many shouted their work from the roof while the Estonians quietly gained greatness. Without looking deeply at the output, management can get the idea that the loudest is doing the most. In general, I think Estonians are really dedicated and inspired and extremely honest. When you see emotion or warmth it is almost certainly something they really feel and think about. For example, social expectation is not a product. And knowing that the way people work is honest, that you don’t have to filter, it’s actually deeply comforting.

Lindsay is thinking seriously about the universe … and robots

What was the hardest part for you when you went to Estonia?
Not really too much, it was a crazy easy place to live. The hardest part was the extreme cold of that first winter, but it got a lot easier when I stopped caring about fashion. Thought I could wear jeans and a stylish jacket but when I started wearing a pretty thick boot and Arctic survival gear things got a lot smoother. Those 30-day days were still extreme, but in a way that made you feel alive, not on the brink of death.

You have a variety of roles at Starship: you started as the head of localization, then worked as the leader of a fleet team and now you are working as the head of autonomous driving. What has been the hardest part so far?
Honestly that first year. I started working on localization (robot) with a colleague, and for quite some time it didn’t really work. We had something that produced a result, but not reliably. It took a few months to work on it and most of the time, without any obvious signs of progress, any signs that we were even pointing in the right direction. When we were able to make it work, the frustration was not at a trivial level.

At some point, the company grew big enough and I led the localization team, nice people, really great years. Then, I moved on to lead the Fleet Orchestration Team, and the reason, every now and then, seems to be hurting. [Heinla] Comes to my desk and asks if I’m interested in trying this other role. And while these roles are always a stretch, I say more than say no, and every change has been challenging, new and fun.

What are the main aspects that attract you to Starship?
So, there are amazing missions, delivering with robots on the street, its crazy sci-fi dream. And really, to actually change something, perhaps to significantly affect the world. But, on top of that, working at Starship is a highly enlightened learning experience. Every time I think I have learned something about how to be effective, practical and realistic, Starship has taught me more. And culture is a huge part of it: it’s the most realistic, low BS space I’ve ever worked with.

Engineers, I think more than any other place, are powerful and expect what they should do. To investigate, to go through the data, to argue and to prioritize. While we encourage independence, critical thinking and autonomy, I would say it is a necessity. Working at Starship made me realize that if you hire such intelligent people, they should be allowed to use all that intelligence. When you actually get five team members not just to run, to think critically about what they are doing, to decide what to do, you are basically employing five times the intelligence. This means not just asking for input, but also for making decisions, spreading responsibility for priorities, so that people really practice, they learn, they become a habit.
It also made me realize that the best people are the ones you can leave alone for a long time, and they will not only continue to do impressive work, but will positively surprise you.

Are you proud of your own achievements?
I’ve written a lot of software over the years, some still in use. But on top of that, I would say that I would be most proud if I could inspire or help someone grow up here.

What will the future bring?
Starship is affecting a lot of people around the world, but there is still much to be done. We need to improve everything, we need to create a better app, we need to make the robot behave more humanely, be able to operate autonomously in more extreme situations and say more wonderful things, the list is incredibly huge and extremely exciting. And of course, we need to expand and bring our robots to more places.
In the end, I would say that the world is changing so fast, and in so many different ways. But this insane, improbable journey to deliver robots on the road, to automate the local transport of objects, as the Internet does for information, is a place where real change is possible. In it, a single person in Starship can bring about this amazing change in the world. To bring the future a little closer.

Do you want to embark on a wonderful journey? Great, we’re always on the lookout for extraordinarily talented people. Find your next career Here

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