Ameer Ellaboudy: ‘Anything above 40 hours a week is a diminishing return’

By Jessie Ying

Ameer Ellaboudy graduated in 2012 with a MEng degree in Electrical Engineering & Computer Sciences and a concentration in Robotics. He currently works as the Vice President of Robotics at a start-up called Bear Flag Robotics that develops self-driving technology for tractors and implements.

We had a chance to ask Ameer a few questions about life after the Berkeley MEng:

What did you do after graduation?

After graduation, I went to work for NASA in their research center in Longview. That was a short three-month internship. After that, I went to work for Apple for almost four years.

What are you currently working on?

Now I work at Bear Flag Robotics. They develop self-driving autonomous technology for farm tractors.

Why did you choose to go from a big company to a start-up?

There are two reasons. First, I really wanted to go back and work on Robotics. I worked at Apple from 2012 to 2016. Between 2015 to 2016, that’s when robotics really started to boom and became a huge field. Since I’ve always wanted to go back and wok in robotics, I started finding opportunities in robotics.

Second, I also wanted to work at a start-up because you just have a lot more opportunities when you are working at a start-up to make an impact. Your impact is a lot bigger on the actual product that’s going out into the market. And you get to work on a lot of different engineering tasks as opposed to just one. I just really like the dynamic, the atmosphere and getting stuff done quickly and moving quickly in a fast and dynamic environment. That’s why I wanted to make that switch.

What have you found most rewarding about the work you’re currently doing?

In the autonomous vehicle field, it’s really exciting to work with the cutting-edge technology like artificial intelligence (AI). Also, most of the technologies are very customer-facing so they have a big, direct impact on customers that can actually see vehicles operating autonomously. It’s very rewarding to see the technology in action.

What do you miss about being a student at the Fung Institute?

I miss college life in general. Being on a university campus is a very unique experience — being around so many bright-minded, intelligent, smart people and seeing them every day and learning with them. I also miss being on a university campus where there’s so much interesting work. It’s very different once you go into the real world and work at an office. Obviously, you are still working with smart people, but the scope is a lot more limited. The whole university experience is very different.

Being on a university campus is a very unique experience — being around so many bright-minded, intelligent, smart people and seeing them every day and learning with them.

How has the Berkeley MEng program helped you prepare for entering the field you’re currently in?

I appreciated the engineering leadership coursework that focused on things like product development and project management. These kinds of skills become very important especially once you go into a start-up world. In typical master’s programs, you learn the engineering concepts behind everything, but you don’t learn how to make a product for the market and push it out to the market. That’s something we learned in our engineering leadership program. I think that really helped me.

Do you have any advice for current Berkeley MEng students?

I would say don’t stress too much about finding a job after you graduate. I think you will find a good position after you graduate. Really focus and cherish the time you have at Berkeley. Try to network and make as many contacts as possible while you are there. It’s a very unique experience. Like I said, you are on a university campus and you are exposed to so many professors, graduate students and undergraduate students. You really need to make sure that you are connecting with all of them. Those kinds of connections really last for a long time. Even within your MEng class, try to branch out and talk to other research centers and classes around the university campus and really make those connections while you are there because you don’t have the chance to do that after you graduate. Enjoy the college life.

Really focus and cherish the time you have at Berkeley. Try to network and make as many contacts as possible while you are there.

Do you have a fun fact about yourself that you’d like to share?

Since I’ve graduated, I’ve had two sons. And I’ve worked at three different start-ups. It has been a lot of changes and different experiences since I’ve graduated. It’s a whole other world out there.

How do you balance work and family?

I would say when you are looking for jobs and looking at what company to join, the culture is really important. Especially for start-ups, what kind of mentality the co-founders have is important. Even during the interview process, you can ask what the expected work hours are, what do people typically do. Do they spend 12–14 hours at work or do they have a typical 8–10 hour workday. And you can usually get a pretty good idea of what the workload would be like.

In the start-up world, it differs significantly actually. Some start-ups have this attitude that we have to be working day and night while others don’t. Obviously, because of start-ups, you still might need to put out some fires and work overtime sometimes. But what really burns you out is when the culture of overworking is always there and that can lead to poor work-life balance. So, I would really be careful when you are looking at jobs, especially with start-ups like this.

Aside from that, you have to be very efficient with your time. As a parent, you learn how to be a lot more efficient with time because you have a lot less of it. And I find most of the time, anything above 40 hours a week is a very diminishing return. You can pretty much get the same amount of work done in 40 hours as in something like 60 hours. You just have to be more efficient and smart about your time.