Senior Embedded Software Engineer Lisa Huang, now based in the UK, began her Amazon career working on processors for Amazon Web Services (AWS) data centers. After focusing her work on networks for more than a decade, five years ago, Huang began to crave a new challenge.
Principal engineers at the company pointed out that one benefit of being at Amazon is that you can move around. They encouraged Huang to talk to different teams. “I’d never thought about that,” said Huang. “I felt really fortunate that I had these people pushing and inspiring me.”
Scout was only the second team Huang spoke with, and while she’d never worked on robotics before, she learned they had a need for her operating systems (OS) skills. Huang’s OS knowledge was fundamental to Scout’s hardware—and with that job change, she got her start in robotics.
At the time, fall 2017, Scout was in the early stages of development.
“In the early days, we were still trying to prove the concept. In 2019, after a couple years of development and many simulations, Scout delivered its first package. I remember the team feeling so proud when the device unhesitatingly paused to avoid a curious cat that had followed it down the street and then darted in front of its path,” said Huang.
In many ways, Huang’s Scout work fits perfectly with her desire to work closely with hardware as a software engineer. When she was a high school student in Delaware, she enjoyed figuring out how things worked. This initially led her to consider both mechanical and computer engineering at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh.
“A job like this is great for people who are naturally curious and like breaking problems down and solving them piece by piece.”
By the end of her first year in college, she figured out that her future would be more on the software side.
“Second semester physics just didn’t click for me. I didn’t find it intuitive enough to follow a mechanical engineering path,” said Huang. “At the same time, I really got into computer engineering and developing software, but I hadn’t done any programming until I went to university, which is different from a lot of my colleagues who started writing programs when they were in high school—and sometimes before.”
Huang’s work in embedded software and operating systems for Scout now combines her two original interests, and she gets to work on broad multidisciplinary teams.
“There’s obviously the hardware, the mechanics, and the electrical components. The software—where I work—is a foundational component, and then there’s the artificial intelligence and the behavioral aspects of it. With software, we’re writing a smaller version of what our human brains do,” said Huang.
Amazon wasn’t initially on Huang’s radar when she graduated. She took a job at Cisco Systems and stayed there for 10 years, working in several areas, including device drivers and network protocols for the company’s customer processors. When she was ready for a move, she considered different options.
“I was thinking about where to go next, but Amazon wasn’t really on the list,” she said. “I thought of Amazon as a web services company, not a place where I’d get to work with hardware.”
However, a good friend disagreed and thought Huang was perfect for a new role on the AWS networks team. After seeing her resume, the project lead was impressed with her experience.
“I got an email and then a call saying, ‘I think you’d be a great fit.’ I thought I’d be foolish not to have a conversation, so I went through the interview process and got an offer,” said Huang.
Now several years into her robotics work, Huang has been building a Scout team in Cambridge, UK. She’s delighted she took the plunge. Her advice for anyone interested in working in the field is that they should “give it a go.”
“Try things out,” said Huang. “Start in one domain of robotics and move around. Figure out what you like. A job like this is great for people who are naturally curious and like breaking problems down and solving them piece by piece.”