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Bright ideas • Viewpoints

Q&A with Stephanie Drenchen: Building Bright Teams

From the desk of Justine Crosby, Brand Director, Bright Machines

Today we moved into our new office in Seattle; we announced this move back in December, as part of our continued focus on building an incredible team of software talent in the area. Senior Director of Engineering, Stephanie Drenchen, was one of our early hires in Seattle, and someone we feel very lucky to have. She came to us from Microsoft where she gained a proven track record for leading sustainable development teams working on significant engineering challenges. Today, Stephanie is laser focused on recruiting and leading the most brilliant minds in software for Bright Machines’ growing Seattle team.

We recently sat down with her to learn about the observations, nuances and challenges she’s experienced through the process.

You were employee #1 for Bright Machines Seattle! What has been your first priority out of the gate?

My priority over the past several months has been building our robust Seattle-based software team, with a focus on applied science disciplines. Applied science typically includes robotics, data science and computer vision – and about a third of our team here will be focused in these areas, complemented by experienced software engineering talent.

We’ve been methodical in our approach to building out this team, as we’re not just looking for the right technical talent for the here and now, but for individuals who will build an incredible career and company with us. We believe in investing in people and their future careers – and we’re incredibly excited about the opportunity that exists here.

What qualities (both technical and non-technical) do you look for in an individual when building a software team?

First and foremost, we look for the right technical chops. But it’s not enough to have the skillset – we look for people who have experience applying these skills to the real world, who have actually built an application or created a product with real world usage.

We also hire people through the lens of, “How would this person fit into the team?” Diversity of thought in a team is everything; a diverse team is like a bunch of perfect puzzle pieces coming together – each one completing the other and creating something greater than the sum of its parts. We look for people who will bring something new and complementary to the table.

In addition, we look for people who believe in Bright Machines’ vision to transform manufacturing – people who see this opportunity as much more than just a job. Shared vision should be found across the board at a company, not just among senior leaders. Too often companies approach it the other way around.

How do you recognize candidates that share in Bright Machines’ vision?

A good way to identify whether or not a candidate shares in your vision is to pay attention to the questions they’re asking in an interview. It may sound counterintuitive, but the people who ask the tough questions (things like “Why hasn’t this been done before?” or “How do you plan to tackle this problem?”) are usually the ones with passion and drive. These types of questions show me that the wheels are turning and that they’re energized about the idea of helping to solve for this significant industry challenge we’re up against.

Speaking of challenges, what are some challenges you’ve faced in finding top talent in Seattle?

Seattle is home to Amazon and Microsoft, so there is a lot of competition in the market for top software talent.

Additionally, in the applied sciences category we often see candidates with uneven credentials. They might have the right skillset, but they lack real world experience. I think this is because universities are still figuring out how best to teach curriculum like data science and computer vision. We’re looking for people with a well-rounded experience – a good combination of technical skills and practical knowledge.

I would also add that there’s an inherent challenge in overcoming people’s preconceived notions about what a software job at Bright Machines – a company focused on industrial automation – actually entails. This is not programming of hardware machinery as it has historically been done in factories. But instead it’s about developing innovative solutions to transform industrial automation and make it truly software-defined. A critical piece of software-defined manufacturing is taking advantage of all the benefits of modern software tools and bringing that flexibility to the factory floor.

Have you used any interesting methods to attract top talent from some of the bigger players out there?

Part of our recruiting team has come up with the rather novel idea to conduct A/B testing on job postings – testing different variables like titles, differences in descriptions, etc. It has been interesting to see which draw the most attention and engagement, and it’s really helped us to hone in on catchy postings that allow Bright Machines to shine among other players.

What gets people most excited about the opportunity to work for Bright Machines?

Everyone loves robots! The opportunity to play with industrial robots and make them smarter – and tackle big problems while they’re at it – is what really excites people about working for Bright Machines. In fact, the space we moved into today will eventually include a robotics lab for onsite research and testing.

Interested in joining our team? View our open positions here.

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