This Is What It’s Like Interning For Cruise (Twice)
I always thought I would see self-driving cars when I grew up and wouldn’t have a part in it. Then I joined Cruise and rode in one.
In the summer of 2019, I found myself in a Cruise self-driving car.
For a long time, my goal was to work on self-driving cars. I always dreamt of getting into my own self-driving car knowing that I helped make this technology a reality. Thanks to a fellowship named Code2040, I was able to experience working with self-driving cars firsthand.
Code 2040 helps connect underrepresented minorities to opportunities in tech. As an African American student at the University of Maryland studying Information Science, Code2040 was a natural fit. The fellowship helped me secure interviews with various tech companies, one of which was Cruise.
Once I saw Cruise’s functional self-driving cars, learned about Cruise’s mission, and saw everyone’s passion for the mission and AV security, I knew Cruise was perfect for me.
From hacking a car to securing a self-driving car
Before joining Cruise, I worked at a startup in Baltimore called Silent Cyber. We exposed risks by hacking cars and sending reports back to their manufacturers. I first learned about how to hack cars because of a program in Detroit. At that program, I saw a video of Charlie Miller and Chris Valasek, now both Cruise engineers, hacking a car.
At the startup, we would hack into the Controller Area Network (CAN) and send a security report back to the manufacturers to share the security vulnerabilities.
While I learned some skills at that startup, my ultimate goal was to create cool technology that helps people and innovates to push us further. I think self-driving cars can do both.
Self-driving cars are technology that the world has never seen before. I always thought that I would see this technology when I grew up and wouldn’t have an opportunity to have a part in engineering it. But at Cruise, I get to be part of a company that will revolutionize the future. That’s what inspired me to intern with Cruise and come back for a second internship.
What it’s really like interning with Cruise
Since my previous internship was about hacking cars, I was placed on the Security team at Cruise.
One thing I appreciated about Cruise was that I was given real projects that actually had an impact on the company. In these projects, I was able to learn a lot and see the results of my work.
During my first internship, I was on the Application Security team. As I went through the list of projects to complete, I decided to create a Capture the Flag (CTF) for Cruise. Basically, I would make something vulnerable for other non-Security Engineers to break into to teach the importance of Security. For example, I misconfigured a log-in page where a SQL-injection can bypass the login and get user information.
After CTF, Aman Diwakar, a Security Engineering Manager, transferred me to another project: creating an offboarding application.
I was responsible for building the first offboarding application at Cruise.
My security tool assesses risk to our IAM systems and takes appropriate actions, and it’s still used to this day. Knowing that my tool is being used by a company as large as Cruise is a great feeling.
For my second internship, I was placed on the Corporate Security team. The team’s goal is to make sure nothing malicious happens to Cruise’s networks. This protects all Cruisers and, by extension, our self-driving cars — pretty important stuff.
My main project was to automate operationally intensive security processes. If anything suspicious comes from outside the company, like an anomalous location, we get an alert. This alert then triggers a security procedure where appropriate mitigating controls are applied. I’m responsible for automating this procedure, which is especially crucial as we continue to rapidly scale.
Not only am I doing work that is interesting and challenging, I’m also helping solve important problems.
Lessons I learned from Cruise’s Security team
In both my internships with Cruise, I was able to meet amazing engineers who really helped me grow my technical skills.
It seems like Cruise just pulls in great talent because just about everyone on the team has done something incredible.
I have always been interested in cybersecurity, and I knew I was in a great position when I found out that my first manager, Christian Frichot, literally wrote the book on web hacking.
Also, everyone on the team was helpful when it came to my personal growth as well. Whenever I asked about a security tool that I had never used or an area of security I wanted to learn more about, the Security team would give me tips, teach me how to use it, or give me time to play around with it.
For example, one thing I had little experience with was documentation and writing good, clean code. I had very little guidance or direction on this in my past internships.
My Cruise manager, Aman, is an advocate for clean code. Cruise has guidelines in place for Cruise engineers to follow when writing code. I was supposed to adhere to that completely. Aman wanted me to learn this because when I push code to production, it has to follow a certain form so that anyone coming in after me can follow what I was doing.
Taking the time to write clean code slowed me down at first, but I feel like a better programmer for it. Writing clean code is a skill I can carry with me throughout my career.
Another member of the Security team, Zach, taught me how to write clean code. He has a lot of experience writing in Python, and he clearly explains the difference between good and bad code and why writing code one way is better than another way.
Even during slow days, I can always learn something new. One day, I was waiting to get access to one of our tools to work on a project. As I was waiting for the request to go through, I learned how to build React apps. If I hadn’t been at Cruise, I probably would have just gone on Reddit.
At Cruise, I feel like my peers really care about what I’m doing and keep track of my progress. When I first joined the Security team, we were a really small team. Now, we have 60 people, and everyone still cares about each other’s growth.
We have Security Show & Tells where other Cruise Security engineers will demo their work. It’s a cool opportunity for all of us to come together and see the work we are doing. We also have happy hours where we can get to know each other better outside of the office.
Being black in tech, I always felt like I was behind everyone. I wanted to make sure I worked harder than everyone else. At Cruise, I get to learn skills that I know I’ll use throughout my career.
I feel valued and that my work really matters and impacts the company.
Connecting with my peers
Not only is the work I do fun, but the people are fun too. Everyone here is so candid and friendly. As an open person, being surrounded by that attitude is awesome.
One thing I really like about Cruise is their employee resource groups (ERGs). One of Cruise’s ERGs is Cruisers of African Diaspora (COAD). This is the first large company where I saw something like that.
I thought I was the only black person when I first joined. I felt isolated, but then I found COAD.
Beyond COAD, Cruise’s intern-bonding events helped create a foundation and connection between all of us. Every year, we go to a Giants game together, and it’s a great chance to meet other Cruisers outside the company and talk about life, not just tech. There’s also picnics, new hire socials, organized lunches, and more to meet other interns and Cruisers in other departments.
We also have a “strawberry” prank. Since security is a top priority at Cruise, we encourage each other to keep our laptops locked at all times. If someone walks away from their laptop and leaves it unlocked, we write “strawberry” in a company-wide slack channel to expose them.
If you get “strawberry’d”, welcome to Cruise!
Come join Cruise’s next Intern class
If you’re looking for an internship where you’ll:
- Feel valued and part of a community
- See the impact of your work
- Learn useful career skills
- Ride in a self-driving car
Check out Cruise’s University page and apply! See you next year!