Coding for the Future of MobilityJuly 18, 2019
To some, 1201 Western Avenue is simply a seven-story brick building sitting on the edge of Seattle’s waterfront district. But to those working inside, the Western Building is a window into a legacy of change and innovation. Built in 1910, the Western Building is a vestige of Seattle’s past. The building has witnessed a century of change – ranging from the decline of Seattle’s 20th century logging trade to the rise of today’s thriving global technology industry. Today, inside the building’s walls, a team of Mercedes-Benz engineers work to write the company’s next chapter, one line of code at a time.
Bringing some of the brightest minds in cloud computing into the legacy of Mercedes-Benz, the Mercedes-Benz Research and Development North America (MBRDNA) Seattle Hub explores the relationship between humans and mobility technology through digital software. They seek to define what’s next, and more importantly, imagine what’s possible with cloud connectivity implemented within Mercedes-Benz vehicles. Fueled by a century-long legacy of automotive innovation and a start-up mindset, the MBRDNA Cloud & Connectivity team aims to create a unique environment for developers who want to bring new ideas to life. By applying a start-up culture to the Mercedes-Benz legacy, embracing a relentless prioritization on diversity and inclusion, and keeping a strong sense of developer-focused tenants close to heart, the team here at MBRDNA walks through the Terra-Cotta entryways every day to accomplish one task – develop the future of mobility technology.
Start-up Culture, Mercedes-Benz Legacy
The Seattle team continues a longstanding history of innovation dating back multiple centuries. The Daimler and Mercedes-Benz story dates back to the late 1800s, with the founders adding a petrol motor to a stagecoach to create the first “horseless carriage.” In Seattle, the team applies start-up culture to the Mercedes-Benz legacy by embracing the same sense of experimentation and technological exploration pioneered by the company’s founders. While Gottlieb Daimler & Carl Benz tinkered with how to transfer petrol-power to the road, engineers like Bryce Kolton and the team in Seattle tinker with how to transfer the power of cloud computing to the digital systems in Mercedes-Benz vehicles. Bryce is a Seattle-based engineer responsible for a broad scope of duties focused on the back-end services for cars. Whenever a car requests information or accesses computing power outside the car, the vehicle must reach those cloud-based resources through the platform the team develops in the Seattle hub. Bryce and his team focus on the app management required for the apps found in a vehicle head unit. The team defines how to build and update the apps, what the app release and testing cycles look like, and how to onboard others to the capabilities of application creation for Mercedes-Benz head-units. This is just one example of the work in the Seattle office, and like any start-up, great work like this comes from a diverse, vibrant team spilling over with ideas.
Better work through diversity
“It were not best that we should all think alike; it is difference of opinion that makes horses race” – Mark Twain.
The mission is simple — through the power of diversity and inclusion, the Seattle team emphasizes the creation of great software to accompany already great vehicles. Mike Dosenbach, Director of Cloud & Connectivity and Seattle Hub lead, firmly believes and embraces the idea that companies achieve better results through diversity and inclusion. When leadership assembles teams made up of individuals with varied backgrounds, teams not only become more creative, but they also improve at the execution of those creative ideas. As one of the largest automobile manufacturers in the world, Mercedes-Benz has customers spread around the entire globe, and it’s crucial that the employee base mirrors the diversity of the customers. Team members come from all over the globe and over 30% of the developers are female. Similarly, Seattle is well-known for technical acumen. A Seattle-based tech hub enables Mercedes-Benz to recruit from a wide range of technical backgrounds. In the world of technology, the learning never stops, so recruiting from this wide range is pivotal for business success in a start-up environment. New recruits, recently graduated from some of the best computer science programs in the world, supply a fresh perspective on the latest and greatest technological knowledge. At the other end of the spectrum, technology veterans with resumes featuring industry leading names like Amazon, Microsoft, and Google lead the Seattle team by filtering knowledge through the lens of experience. Together, the team applies their combined knowledge to the automobile and mobility industry to define the cutting-edge of transportation technology. As teams align and build around their shared knowledge, individuals follow a series of core values that help guide the creative process for developers within the Seattle hub.
Life as a developer in our Seattle hub
Great developer teams share guiding principles that define their approach and thought process, shaping the way they tackle challenges and solve problems. The Seattle hub has specific tenets that serve as a north star for all projects no matter what priority or size. These tenets include the ideas that failure is the best possible mentor as well as the idea that no topic is sacred. Many people work with a pre-conceived notion that failure is bad and should avoid mistakes at all costs, but the Seattle teams disagrees. When it comes to failure, the Seattle team embraces a “fail fast” mindset. Whether a project results in massive success or failure, they stress the importance that the team needs to fail quickly, meaning once a perceived failure occurs, instead of dwelling or placing blame, they need to explore why things happened, learn from the experience, and apply those learnings to the next step or iteration. With the pressure to innovate and explore, the Seattle team embraces failure and encourages the team members to take risks, try something new, and learn instead of never trying at all. While it is human nature to want to avoid failure, one learns more through failure than through success. Similarly, as the team embraces failure and presents new ideas, Mike Dosenbach and his leadership team stress the idea that no topic is sacred. By looking into every area and shedding biases, the team takes a multi-faceted look into a problem to ensure no stone is left unturned. In order to improve the experience for the customer, it’s crucial to talk about things no one wants to talk about and think outside of the confines of legacy and history, instead focusing on what’s right.
What’s next in Seattle?
With a growing team of just over 80 team members, the Mercedes-Benz Research and Development North America Seattle Hub drives the legacy of Mercedes-Benz with each commit, algorithm, and semi-colon. Leading the Mercedes-Benz initiative of in-house software development, the team seeks to not only redefine what it means to work for an automotive brand, but also re-engineer and reimagine the possibilities of mobility technology. Whether it’s the applications on a car’s head unit, or harnessing the power of cloud computing, the MBRDNA Seattle team will continue striving to deliver the best or nothing in all facets of the Mercedes-Benz experience. As this story of ambition unfolds within the brick walls along the Seattle’s waterfront, so does the legacy of innovation for Mercedes-Benz. No longer bound by horses, engines, or soon even drivers, the Seattle team knows in their hearts and minds that the next century of transportation is truly limitless.