Stellantis taps the tech industry for software talent
In the midst of historic transformation, access to global opportunities and a love of iconic vehicles are among the reasons workers are leaving the traditional tech titans of video game makers and chip designers for a future with an automaker. inherited.
Companies like Stellantis NV seek to become leaders in technology mobility with the ability to offer higher margin software products. It plans to add thousands of developers and engineers in the coming years to its global team. To do that, however, the maker of Jeep SUVs, Ram pickup trucks and others must compete with others for hot talent and train others.
“I interview people who come to Stellantis who come from tech companies,” Stellantis CEO Carlos Tavares said in a virtual chat with investment bank Morgan Stanley last month. “Why are you coming to see us? We’re supposed to be the dinosaurs, aren’t we? Well, that’s not what they tell me.”
Stellantis is not alone. Rivals General Motors Co and Ford Motor Co. are racing (and winning) in talent wars to woo and land tech-savvy recruits for jobs that didn’t exist so long ago at traditional automakers – software engineers, designers, people more steeped in the coding and culture of Silicon Valley than the rubber, metal and bureaucracy of the Motor City.
So far, Stellantis has managed to attract people like Mohammed Ismail, a 2D/3D visual and motion designer. Today, it’s working to turn infotainment into art that makes it easier for users to understand vehicle information and use it to their advantage, as the automaker highlighted last month on the Chrysler concept. Airflow SUV.
This touch of beauty can help differentiate brands and vehicles, especially as the connected in-vehicle experience becomes an increasingly important part of buyer decision-making.
“Most of the design of the radio or the infotainment system in the car, they’re kind of still in the zone where they can do that in web design, or it’s kind of… like when you open the browser,” Ismail said. “It’s the same feeling as your PC. The feeling is not that different when you get into the car. I think you bring something nice to the design when you like cars and want to do something different and special.”
To do this, the 44-year-old Lake Orion resident brings with him experience in exposing and modeling 2D and 3D video game design and broadcast. Prior to Stellantis, he spent nearly five years at 343 Industries, the home of the Halo universe for Microsoft Corp’s Xbox Game Studios.
“They knew when I said, ‘I’m going,’ they knew implicitly, ‘Are you going with a car company?’ Because they know they are the best in the gaming market,” Ismail said. “I love what I do, because I’ve taken it to the next level and I’m still doing what I’m good at, and yet that’s automotive design.”
Ismail caught a love for automobiles in high school when he started drawing vehicles. Originally from Iraq, he found resources to find out more were limited, so he contacted automakers like Volkswagen AG and Land Rover who sent out brochures and magazines with more information.
He got hooked and got a full scholarship to attend the Baghdad Institute of Fine Arts. He found opportunities for racing and rally car design in small businesses, but significant opportunities in the automotive industry were limited where he lived. So he entered broadcasting as media director for coverage of the Iraq War.
As the situation grew volatile, Ismail moved to Dubai in the United Arab Emirates to work for media conglomerate MBC Group for seven years before being granted refugee status to come to the United States. He landed in Seattle and worked for a local ABC station for four years before joining 343.
In 2020, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV, a predecessor of Stellantis NV before teaming up with French rival Groupe PSA last year, held an open sketch competition for a Jeep concept alongside its annual Drive for Design competition focused on high school students.
Ismail was one of three sketch contest winners, scoring time with design manager Ralph Gilles and Ram and Mopar truck design manager Mark Trostle. For Ismail, it was a bit of a dazzling experience, and it allowed him to show the executives his portfolio. He officially joined Stellantis in June.
“It was my dream,” he said. “I pinch myself every day in the morning.”
He is now part of a team looking to push the boundaries of what people understand a vehicle can offer today. Ismail sees his experience in the game as an advantage in this regard.
“One of the greatest things about the game is that there are no limitations,” he said. “What’s the look line of the vehicle in 3000? We kind of have this overthinking about everything. Getting some of these ideas and imaginations for car design is a good benefit.”
And its application – which Ismail sees as an intriguing combination of science and art – is fulfilling, he says: “Your work of art is essentially a gallery on the road, so that everyone can see it, which is the ultimate joy for any artist or art lover.”
However, to get to the point of deploying these designs and technologies on the road, some workers will need a skills upgrade. And Stellantis seeks to be part of the solution by equipping its employees with this knowledge.
Cue Neda Cvijetic. Not only is she senior vice president and head of artificial intelligence at Stellantis, but she’s also helping develop the software academy program the company announced in December as part of its “Software Day.” The academy is designed to help grow the automaker’s software workforce to 4,500 people by 2025, work with Amazon.com Inc. to train 5,000 people in its cloud-based technology and s associate with universities.
“We are creating this bridge,” said Cvijetic, 39. “We recognize the passion and skills and provide the training to step into these new roles in a way that might be more difficult when you’re looking outside to move into land like this.”
Cvijetic itself joined Stellantis in October. She brings her background in autonomous vehicles and computer vision from graphics processing unit designer Nvidia Corp. since 2017 and in Tesla Inc.’s Autopilot and Infotainment since 2015 before that.
Although it has moved from the tech sphere to a traditional automaker, Cvijetic said it is becoming familiar with the vision put forward by Stellantis executives and the expectations for execution.
“I remember we had technical discussions, and at one point we were saying the same word at the same time, independently, to make it clear that we were getting there,” Cvijetic recalled. “So in a way, that’s what showed me that there’s a clear alignment of mindset here that sets the stage for executing this transformation.”
Born in Serbia in Eastern Europe, Cvijetic grew up admiring the work of Nikola Tesla. There was a statue of him in front of his apartment.
“He was a superhero to me growing up,” she said. “I mean, he invented modern electrical engineering.”
She received her Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering from the University of Virginia and taught as an adjunct professor at Columbia University in New York while conducting research with NEC Laboratories America Inc. for autonomous vehicle applications.
But curious about the engineering hotspot of Silicon Valley — and having spent two seasons on the TV series that bears her name — Cvijetic left for the West Coast, where she still resides in Palo Alto, California.
At that time, the world was witnessing breakthroughs in artificial intelligence as the technology moved beyond copying human behavior to predicting it. It’s an integral part of Stellantis’ plans for the software, which it says will start rolling out in 2024. route or suggest restaurants and destinations during a family road trip.
With a range of 14 brands located around the world, Stellantis offers the opportunity to be a thought leader in this space, Cvijetic said.
“We bring this together,” she said. “Something that is a technology mobility company that understands the history and values the tradition of the automotive industry as well as safety and validation, while at the same time bringing all the innovation and agile processes and technology creation agile from a tech company. And I think that’s something new.”
Cvijetic finds this exciting as it is able to take the creativity and flexibility fostered in the world of technology and foment a transition in the automotive industry not seen since the invention of the assembly line.
“We don’t have to worry about precedent at all,” she said. “There is a complete lack of precedent. I feel like the only thing holding me back are the laws of physics.”