How Uber, Argo AI and robotics companies sell Pittsburgh to potential hires

CMU and Pitt can’t graduate ’em fast enough.

Jasmine Goldband / The Incline
MJ Slaby

No more “this is nicer than I thought” when job candidates visit Pittsburgh.

Instead of potential hires turning down an offer because the job’s in Pittsburgh, the city should be a top choice for new hires, agreed Carl Wellington, a senior engineer at Uber’s Advanced Technologies Center, and Argo AI COO Peter Rander.

On a panel Thursday, the pair gave a glimpse into how their companies will fill what’s expected to be more than 100 job openings by the end of 2017. Uber recently posted 100 jobs in Pittsburgh, and Argo AI is expected to add 200 jobs by the end of the year between three locations including its Pittsburgh headquarters.

Last month, Ford announced a $1 billion investment for Argo AI to make the “virtual driver system” for its self-driving cars. Since Argo AI announced a Strip District headquarters later in February, its focus has shifted to recruitment, Rander told The Incline after the Pittsburgh Entrepreneurs Forum panel at the Pittsburgh Athletic Association.

Argo AI is recruiting tech roles, but also other jobs like human resources and information technology, Rander said. There were 22 job listings in Pittsburgh posted on Argo AI’s website as of Thursday night.

Wellington and Rander were joined by on the panel by industry leaders from IAM Robotics, which makes autonomous robots, CMU’s Advanced Robotics for Manufacturing Institute and the Pittsburgh Robotics Network. Panelists agreed that local universities like CMU and Pitt can’t graduate students fast enough.

“CMU cannot possibly do enough,” Rander said. “Keep going.”

Though Rander said he and Bryan Salesky, CEO of Argo AI, would love to exclusively employ people from Pittsburgh, that’s not possible. But that also means he can “introduce the world to Pittsburgh” and watch them realize it’s not what they expected.

“I think that we can bring a lot more people to Pittsburgh to stay,” he said.

The increase in local competition, whether that’s self-driving cars or otherwise, is a selling point, Wellington added. If someone’s considering moving to Pittsburgh, they’ll see all these companies and think, “This is the place to be,” he said, adding that compared to California, people can actually buy a house without an hour and a half commute.

The panelists repeatedly noted how “the next Brooklyn” is making up-and-coming lists, but said Pittsburgh has to continue to support and grow things like bike trails, restaurants and nightlife.

“To me, Pittsburgh is family friendly,” Rander said. But it also has to appeal to people without kids and make them want to move here, too, he said.

Another piece for younger workers and robotics startups is more mentorship, said Jackie Erickson of the Pittsburgh Robotics Network. The network aims to increase awareness about all the robotics companies in town, as well as to attract and retain talent.

Tom Galluzzo, CEO of IAM Robotics, said while recent graduates from schools like CMU, Pitt and Penn State are great, the hard part is finding people to fill mid-level positions.

Sometimes, there just aren’t enough people with robotics degrees, so one thing to do is look for people with related skills who can learn the robotics part, Rander said.

The panelists stressed that when people go from company to company, that’s not bad. That’s what’s supposed to happen in federal and university labs, said Jay Douglass, interim COO of the CMU Advanced Robotics for Manufacturing Institute. Those places want to cycle staff and bring in different people with new perspectives, he said.

The ability to change jobs in the same city is “a great indicator of the viability of the industry,” added Rander. He previously worked at Uber and CMU’s National Robotics Engineering Center, and each move was about career development, he said. “It’s a personal journey.”

Movement should be expected in a vibrant robotics community with healthy competition, Wellington said. “As someone who’s interested in the tech, I want to see the tech move forward, and this is how you do it.”