Sharon Richu Shaji holds a master’s degree in Robotics, with a strong passion for developing autonomous systems. After graduation, it was a very natural step for her to join the Robot guidance team as an Application Engineer in the SICK US Detroit office. As part of her onboarding, she came to Sweden for three weeks to get an advanced training with the robot guidance team at SICK Linköping. We asked her to tell us about her experience!
Can you tell more about your background?
I hold a bachelor’s degree in computer science from India. During my undergraduate studies, I was involved in a robotics project which provided me with valuable insights into the field. Prior to this, my focus had primarily been on software development, but my introduction to robotics opened up a whole new world. Robotics is multidisciplinary: there is the mechanical side of things, the software side of things, the electrical side of things… which I found really interesting, so I decided to delve further into this field. I decided to do a master's in robotics , which led me to the United States, where I completed my master's program at the University of Pennsylvania. There, my interest grew in the areas of perception, vision, localization, mapping and planning which turned out to be a good fit for my role at SICK.
When did you start at SICK and what is your role?
I work as a Systems Application Engineer in the Robot Guidance team. I am new to the company – I graduated in May and joined SICK in July. I work closely with anything related to robot guidance – 3D vision, 2D vision, path planning, etc. I am also slowly moving into more cross-functional applications that would involve safety as well.
I am based in the Detroit office, but the main vision team, where it really started, is here in Linköping. As I started my role, I had to constantly communicate with the Sweden team but without really knowing who the people were and who to reach out to. That took some time to navigate. Given the close collaboration between SICK US and SICK Sweden, it made sense for me to have a formal training at SICK Linköping.
What has been your focus during the past three weeks?
The main idea – beyond the obvious reason which was getting formal training on the technology – was to get to know the Sweden team.
My team in the US is small, and everyone does everything - it is like a startup within a big company. Whereas here, it being a bigger and more established office, people are more dedicated to certain areas. So, for me, the idea was to understand what the roles are, who works in which department, what is everyone’s expertise… The training was an opportunity to establish connections with the Sweden team, so that if there is any need when I am back in the US (and there will!), I know who to reach out to for specific needs.
It was also about understanding the workflows, the way to manage projects and opportunities, so I can try and replicate some of these in my team.
Given the close collaboration between SICK US and SICK Sweden, it made sense for me to have a formal training at SICK Linköping.
What is your biggest takeaway?
That would be my biggest takeaway: mirroring the structure and workflow that the team has here. I feel this would significantly benefit, my team and the future engineers who will join us in the Robot Guidance team. The Robot Guidance team in Detroit is small, since the Detroit office was initially mostly a demo space for robotics. But now, with more industries wanting to use the robot guidance products we have, it has become more than a just a demo space. We will need a bigger lab, with different kinds of robots to do testing on – like the lab there is here. As we are planning on this growth, it will be nice to incorporate all of what I have been learning here in the office there.
That would be my biggest takeaway: mirroring the structure and workflow that the team has here.
What has surprised you the most?
I wouldn’t say surprised, but something I really liked about the team here in the Sweden office is how everyone helps everybody, regardless of their roles. I have seen everybody blending in and helping each other, despite it being a bigger team. I have seen the developers be in the lab, testing; the application engineers giving feedback and helping developers; the managers getting hands-on with the robots in the lab despite their heavy schedules. Everyone sitting together, working together in the same space is something I find very unique in the robot guidance team here. Hopefully, when the team grows in Detroit we can instill that kind of value and that kind of work environment. The team here has a really good work environment, and when our team grows in Detroit I would like to bring in that type of culture.
The team here has a really good work environment, and when our team grows in Detroit I would like to bring in that type of culture.
Has there been anything difficult?
Honestly, no, because everyone has been incredibly approachable. Even though it was not possible to have just one person dedicated to my training every day for three weeks, I could approach anyone in the robot guidance team. Anytime I got stuck or was unsure about how to start learning about a specific area, I could go to anybody and ask. There were also times when I wanted to learn something more in-depth, even if it wasn’t part of my formal training schedule, as I felt it would help me in my work - so I would ask people if they could take some time to explain these to me, and they were more than happy to do so.
At first, I thought three weeks would be more time than needed but from the second day we had to remove things from my schedule because we realized time is limited. But whatever training I really needed to do here and now, I did. The remaining I can complete from the US - now that I know who to contact, it will be easier to get on a quick call if needed!
Do you have any fun memory from your stay – work or not work related?
The problem is, I don’t have just one answer! Work is always fun, but I’ll give you two outside of work.
First was my unexpected trip to Stockholm! I had not been in Sweden before, and when you think of Sweden you think of Stockholm first. I had not heard of Linköping, and I was very curious to know what the city was like. In my flight from Amsterdam to Sweden I was lucky to sit next to someone who was from Linköping! So, I asked him to tell me what I should be eating, what I should be doing, etc. He was very sweet to tell me about the local brands, local companies, what I should see, and so on. So, I expected my three weeks to be more or less roaming around Linköping. But then the product manager told me: “You are in Sweden; you have to go to Stockholm! It’s only 2,5 hours away.” and he took me and another colleague to Stockholm! The three of us drove there early on a Saturday morning. I saw the Vasa Museum, The Mall of Scandinavia, the Royal Palace, etc. We even got in time to see the guard changing ceremony. Coming from India and living in the US, the whole concept of a royal family, the palace... was interesting. So, the Stockholm trip was one fun memory!
Closer to Linköping, I also went to the slussar [the locks along the Göta canal]. I had heard of the concept – like the Panama Canal, but I had not seen that in person. When I saw the slussar in action, I was blown away!
Oh, and I’ll give you one more: I am a huge foodie, so I was excited to try traditional Swedish food. I obviously had the traditional meatballs and mashed potato, but my colleagues also recommended me to try raggmunk, which is potato pancakes with bacon and berry jam… That was very unique, a very different palate from India!
Anything else you would like to add?
I had so much fun here! A little sad that my three weeks are almost ending but I am glad to have met some wonderful people. I look forward to taking these connections I made back to the US.
It was a pleasure to have you with us, and all the best for the next chapter in Detroit!