You were one of the first people to join the Shield AI team, what was the company like in the early days?
I joined the company when there were about 15 people. My team, the mechanical engineering team, was three people.
Shield AI was definitely a lot different back then, but still very similar to how it is now. Everything at Shield AI is fast-paced, but it was even more so back then. Our first office was small, so you were always interacting with everybody on the team. The hectic nature of the environment created a close, family-like bond among us all. It made working alongside everyone extremely enjoyable and highly rewarding. Even more so during the really big pushes where everyone was putting in 17+ hour days; it was extremely rewarding because we all had each other’s backs. You could really feel the passion for the journey that was within everyone.
It’s pretty cool how that same sense of family has grown. I think a lot of it comes back to the common level of commitment and desire to achieve that everybody has. It’s something we all share. That's one of the things that helped keep everybody really close as we’ve grown.
What have you seen as you’ve witnessed the company progress and change since it was 15 people?
I remember thinking to myself early on, "Oh man, when we get 30 people everything's going to be different. It's not going to feel the same." But it's been really amazing to see the progress because we've been able to scale the same sense of community we had with 15 people to where we are today. I still feel that everyone is very well connected. We may not see each other as frequently, but I still feel like I’m walking into the family everyday when I come in the door.
It’s awesome to think about because it takes a lot of work on a lot of different sides to build this sense of community. It’s a deliberate choice we make everyday to create this culture. Everyone agrees that it is something that's valuable, so we all do our part to make sure we stay connected. It’s not just about maintaining connections with the people who have been here for a while, it’s also about actively connecting with new people, especially people we may not work with directly. And making the effort to really get to know them not just as a co-worker, but also as a friend.
It's a huge testament to the amount of work that Ryan, Brandon and the entire leadership team have put in. They’ve intentionally instilled a sense of leadership in us all so that we each feel like it's our responsibility to make sure that the person next to us is caring for themselves, reaching the goals they want to reach in life, and are putting their best foot forward. And because we all feel like it's our duty to make sure that everyone around us is succeeding, if they're not, we’ll do what we can to work alongside them to address it. And I think that's why Shield AI is still such a family today, because everybody still feels like it's everyone's responsibility to make sure we all do well and succeed.
One thing that has had the most lasting impact on me and why I do everything I can do to inspire others is something a member of leadership once said to me. He told me, “You are more of a leader to the people next to you than I ever can be.” This really hit home for me. It made me realize that the people you see and interact with most closely on a day-to-day basis are the ones you have the greatest impact on. This is why I believe it is so important to foster strong relationships with your teammates and genuinely care for those around you. And I believe that statement is true for everyone no matter where you work.
How would you characterize the “family feel”?
You can tell people genuinely care about you on a personal level. It is partially a sense of everyone working together towards our mission, but it’s also about genuinely caring about becoming involved in people's lives outside of their work at Shield AI. To be candid, I have looked back a few times and thought, “How is this place even real?” It’s truly amazing to experience an environment like we have here.
It’s a special combination that I've never seen anything like before -- and, for context, Shield AI is the ninth company I’ve worked for. Everybody cares about each other as far as their professional development and personal development. But we all also push each other to be the best that we can be. Sometimes this means providing feedback that isn't always easy to deliver, but I’m always impressed with people's ability to receive feedback and act upon it.
What other quality about Shield AI resonates with you?
How much management genuinely cares about the people that they're working with. I've never been anywhere that has invested so much into their employees and cares so deeply about their well being, both professional and personal. It’s one of the things that makes me feel really appreciated when I show up to work each day. I don’t feel like I’m just being asked to complete a series of tasks, I feel like I'm actually getting value out of being here: gaining knowledge, developing new skills, and doing something truly meaningful.
What do you do to help maintain the culture at Shield AI?
I think what I do is just be me. This is an environment that makes it so easy to be compassionate towards others, to care about how they're doing, and to see what you can do to help them progress as a person. It's an environment that fosters that type of activity and behavior.
I try to bring a positive light in people's lives here, in whatever way I can. I feel like it's easy to do here because it's encouraged. It isn’t weird to ask someone you have never worked with to get coffee. So I try to do my part and set up 30 minute 1-on-1 meetings during the day with people I don't see often to go on breaks, take walks, or have lunch. I think we all want to have meaningful connections in life and 1-on-1’s are a great way to build those. And those connections you have with people, even the small ones, that's the stuff that matters in life.
You also have a role in our company-wide Monday meeting to energize and inspire us for the week ahead. How did that come to be?
When we were smaller, we had company-wide meetings every morning. As we’ve gotten larger we transitioned to meeting as a full group only on Mondays and Fridays. During the transition, Ryan announced who would be giving updates on the status of each team. The list was mostly team leads and at the very bottom I was on there.
He didn't tell me he was going to do it and he didn’t ask me to share anything in particular. And I remember, I thinking, “What?! What am I going to do or say!? I don't have any major program updates!” I think the reason I’m on that list is because I try to bring a certain energy and vibe to the office whenever I come in that lifts other people's spirits. And a lot of that is because of the environment that we're in. It's made me a more upbeat person because I'm genuinely excited to be here and to see everyone. And you can really feel that excitement in everyone else.
The point of my role at the meeting is just to kick everybody off on a good foot. Sometimes it's hard to put into words why I'm so passionate about being here and why I feel so strongly towards everybody that works here, but we've been given such a positive environment that it's like, how can you not be super stoked to be here?