A man in a light blue shirt wearing a seatbelt in a car smiling at the camera.
Damien Dooley. Image: Jaguar Land Rover

‘There’s a huge amount of buzz and anticipation around autonomous vehicles’

16 Apr 2019

Autonomous vehicle technology will completely transform our society, and JLR’s Damien Dooley is delighted to be part of that change.

Autonomous vehicle technology is set to totally revolutionise how society moves around. It will have ramifications that are probably beyond what our current society can even visualise.

Yet this seismic change will not be easy to bring about. The technology is extremely complex, befitting the complexity of programming an AI to navigate an environment as dynamic as an open road.

Damien Dooley is a senior software developer in the automated driving department at Jaguar Land Rover (JLR). The company has devoted itself to becoming an industry leader in this emerging field, making his work especially thrilling. We caught up with Dooley to see what his working day is like and find out how he worked his way up to such a position.

What first stirred your interest in a career in this area?

My father is a technician so I was exposed to technology from quite a young age. However, when a computer arrived in the house for the first time at 10 years old, I was hooked from that point onwards.

I’m a keen driver and love to rent a car when I’m on holiday abroad and just explore the countryside, so working for the automated driving team at Jaguar Land Rover Shannon seemed to tick all the boxes.

What education and/or other jobs led you to the role you now have?

I completed my bachelor of engineering in NUI Galway in 2008 before moving to Intel Shannon. In 2011 I moved back to Galway to get my PhD in image processing and graduated in 2016. I spent two years working in Stuttgart before starting my current role in JLR in January 2018.

What were the biggest surprises or challenges you encountered on your career path and how did you deal with them?

The biggest challenge so far in my career has been the pursuit of my PhD. Unlike in industry, you’re not fuelled by deadlines set by others, so it requires a high degree of discipline. You’re required to bring a project right through from concept to development to testing, all by yourself. In particular it requires you to constantly assess whether the current course of action is going to yield a return in terms of helping you get to the finish line.

I think it’s very important to ensure you find the balance between remaining on track and ensuring you keep a life balance. I had a great support network and wouldn’t have gotten through it without them.

What do you enjoy about your job?

There’s a huge amount of buzz and anticipation around the automotive industry with autonomous vehicles and the opportunities they represent. Huge strides have been made in the last few years in this area, but there are still some challenges to overcome if full autonomy is to be achieved in vehicles.

I love that the work we do has a very real output. When we make, add or modify code, there is an effect in the way a vehicle behaves. This type of feedback, coupled with the possibility that your algorithm will ultimately end up in a vehicle that people will use each day, is extremely rewarding and satisfying.

What aspects of your personality do you feel make you suited to this job?

I think with the amount of collaboration that’s required within a team to deliver a complex software module, it’s essential that everyone working on that module is able to communicate their work. I’m quite outgoing and communicative so I think that’s definitely an asset.

How did your current company support you on your career path, if at all?

I’ve just recently completed the self-driving car nanodegree from Udacity which has been fully sponsored by JLR. This has been a huge benefit and helps me in my day-to-day development work.

What advice would you give to those considering a career in this area, or just starting out in one?

I think as a starting point it’s extremely important to know the basic way in which autonomous vehicles work, including how vehicles ‘see’ the world, how they plan a driving path and how they drive that planned path.

Each of these areas involves a diverse range of topics, so it would be very useful to know which of these topics piques your interest the most. For new hires this is a relatively new area, so there are always processes, algorithms or systems that can be improved upon. We’re here to innovate, so it’s always good to be on the lookout for these.

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