How My Job in AI Makes Me Smarter
Written by Aatish Nayak, Software Engineer
Startups aren’t sexy, but stories about start-ups are. It’s why we see headlines like “this guy turned 8 lines of code into $1 billion.” Condensing a decade’s journey into a single narrative creates a clarity that never was -- and never will be.
The truth is that startups are grueling adventures. Adventures which involve physical and emotional labor, sleepless nights, ecstatic highs and awful lows. But like any true adventure stuffed full of victories and defeats, they’re.. utterly irresistible -- and truly rewarding.
Until I graduated from Carnegie Mellon last year, like thousands of students graduating from elite schools across the country, I led a meticulously orchestrated life: grinding through all-nighters and exams, participating in a whole host of extracurriculars, working at internships, and fortunate enough to have parents who supported my decisions every step of the way.
But then, in the spirit of exploration, adventure, and challenge, I took an unforeseen leap into the world of startups to work at a small, 20-person company in LA. The year-long journey took me through exciting product launches, two draining rounds of layoffs, two Hail Mary pivots, investor meetings, and, finally, an acquisition. Although the journey sometimes felt like a waste of time and energy, in the end, I realized that I had grown not only as an engineer but also as a communicator, leader, product manager, and friend. That rapid growth would not have been possible without these trials and tests. And the experience led me directly to a rewarding challenge and a professional endeavor I had never expected: Shield AI.
At Shield AI, working alongside Navy SEALs, Marine helicopter pilots, award-winning authors, and world-class researchers and MBAs from MIT, Stanford, and Harvard, there’s no shortage of opportunities to challenge yourself. Every day I’m placed in situations where I’m expected to perform at a level I never realized I could.
Albert Einstein said that compound interest is the eighth wonder of the world, referring to investing early in your life savings. This powerful concept also applies to investing your time in compounding your intelligence, whether technical, emotional, or deductive. When you are early in your career, time is your most valuable asset, and one you should invest wisely. Why cruise the linear when you can ride the exponential?
At Shield AI, you are investing every minute in thinking about some of the most cutting-edge problems in the industry. Whether it’s determining how to elegantly showcase robot flight data, creating novel exploration algorithms, or deeply contemplating the implications of AI in national security, the company offers the best place to compound your skills and intellect. After six months here, I am smarter, a better communicator, and a more thoughtful person. Observing the incredible work ethic and capacity for sustained performance my colleagues have, I see a glimpse of what it takes to be world-class: a trait embodied by people like Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, Lebron James, Taylor Swift, and Sheryl Sandberg.
One of the most striking traits of Shield AI is the mindset of constant improvement everyone embodies, from our CEO to our Test Pilots. When there’s a breakdown of communication, technical mishap, or organizational hurdle, the person admits failure, everyone gives candid feedback, the person self reflects, and everyone moves on.
No matter how much you read and discuss, you’re still going to have to spend some time experimenting. Every successful person put deep thought into finding what they are good at and what they are passionate about and how to build a career that taps into the intersection of those two. Shield AI is a place that helps you find that -- while you are working on tough problems with real stakes. Along the way, you will be thankful for the journey.
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Aatish Nayak is a graduate of Carnegie Mellon ECE and a current Software Engineer at Shield AI focused on the Human-Robot Experience.