Ryan Smith, Colorado, USA
Technical Lead for Partnerships, Oxbotica
From Oxford, Ohio to Oxford, UK via Hawaii, Australia and Colorado, Ryan Smith is a true international worker. Now leading the cross-continent Oxbotica team, Ryan juggles time zone hopping, remote working, children and the small matter of delivering the vehicle of the future…
Read more about Ryan’s role in the company, managing work across continents and how Oxbotica brings together the best international talent.
When did you join Oxbotica and what were you doing before then?
I’ve known Paul [Newman] since about 2007, but it wasn’t until last year that I made the move across to join the team. I’m currently an associate professor in Physics & Engineering and Director of the Robotic GNOME Laboratory at Fort Lewis College in Durango, Colorado, alongside being Technical Lead for Partnerships at Oxbotica and leading the off-road sector of the business. From the age of six I wanted to be a professor in mathematics, and that desire has led me on quite a journey; moving from Ohio to Hawaii, where I discovered robotics, then to California, Australia and finally settling in Colorado.
What made you want to join Oxbotica?
I worked to develop a kickass robotics programme in Australia in 2011 with Ben [Upcroft], and I have wanted to work with him again ever since. It was after a 10-minute conversation with Ben last year that made it clear to me that I wanted to be part of the Oxbotica family. The company was the perfect place to start my next adventure, combining the option of working remotely in the US and the flexibility to meet my commitments with an extremely exciting role.
“That desire has led me on quite a journey, moving from Ohio to Hawaii to study then to California, Australia and finally settling in Colorado.”
How do you manage the cross-continent working?
While back home in Colorado, I stay mostly on Oxford time. This means I get up at around 3am and I then fix my routine around my children, which is super important to me. Between 7am-9am I get my kids up, make breakfast and take them to school. One of the great things about my job is that I don’t have set work hours, so if I want to wake up at 2am and work until noon I can, so long as I am engaging and meeting with my team regularly.
Do you still feel part of the Oxbotica team despite being almost 5,000 miles away?
We use technology like Zoom and Slack to keep in contact. Getting face time with colleagues, even digitally, is so important so that they know who I am. Plus, it helps the tone of non-verbal communications come across better. We use Beams [a robotic monitor on wheels] to socialise in the office – it’s nice to have that water-cooler-chat and to be able to just drop by a colleague’s desk to chat about their weekend. It helps so much. I’m in Oxford roughly once a month, and when I’m there I love the buzz and want to be embedded as much as possible.
“One of the great things about my job is that I don’t have set work hours, so if I want to wake up at 2am and work until noon I can, so long as I am engaging and meeting with my team regularly”
What excites you most about Oxbotica and autonomy?
I’ve worked all over the world and what strikes me most about Oxbotica is the family culture; they really take care of their people. The company mantra is to do what you need to do to be productive and that really helps get the best out of employees. The office is set up like a research lab which works well for me, having come from academia. The environment is a perfect fit for anyone coming from an academic background.
The world of autonomy is a fascinating place to work right now, both the power of the software and the potential in the ecosystem is staggering – it really can benefit everyone. For me, I find it particularly rewarding that you are never pinned to one thing, which makes the job super exciting. You have the capability to dip into different projects and areas, and constantly activate in new evolving markets, helping the business to reach its objectives. Just like an autonomous vehicle, Oxbotica as a business is built to adapt and grow.
“What strikes me most about Oxbotica is the family culture, they really take care of their people.”