What do the career path and the day-in-the-life look like for a Solutions Design Engineer at Vecna Robotics?
We connected with Andrea Meister to find out!
Interested in learning more about Vecna Robotics? Make sure to check out their company page!
Where did you grow up? What did your parents do for work?
I grew up in a suburb of Detroit, Michigan. My mom, like a large number of people in Michigan, worked for the auto industry and my dad owns his own business and consistently recommends I do the same.
Robotics is big in Michigan: my elementary school had a FIRST Lego League team that I joined when I was 10 or 11. FIRST Robotics and Robofest (which was founded about 30 minutes from where I grew up!) both have a huge presence there. I’ve been around robots for a long time :)
Where did you go to college? What did you study and what were some of your initial jobs out of school?
I went to MIT and majored in Mechanical Engineering. Despite majoring in it, I never really found my niche in traditional engineering (think CADing, coding, design); I did, however, find a niche in Making Sh*t Happen. A few of the things I made happen:
My dorm’s freshman rush, complete with wooden fort, roller coaster, and 10 straight days of grilling.
Pinkie’s Diner, serving greasy staples every Sunday night.
After my junior year, I interned at a startup in Cambridge in the kind of job - “Customer Operations” - that I didn’t know existed. My mentor there showed me that I could keep doing the kind of work I enjoyed and get paid for it.
I joined Vecna Robotics as a project manager for my first job after college. The company was a lot younger then, so being a PM included everything from fixing broken sensors at a client site to fielding calls from high-ups of major clients. It was an incredible way to learn about the technology and the industry, and opened a lot of doors for me to continue to build my career.
What has attributed to your success thus far and has helped propel you to the position you have now?
I’ve been extremely lucky to have mentors (both at Vecna Robotics and outside) who were fantastic professional role models and consciously invested in my learning. They taught me important ideas that I still think about today:
- If you have an engineering background, there are lots of things you can do besides CAD or code. It’s never too late (or too early) to change directions.
- How far you can get from just giving someone a call and having a conversation; how doing that every week for a year builds a relationship with tangible benefits.
- How to work not until you think you have the right answer, but until you couldn’t have the wrong answer.
The Poorly Drawn Lines comic that sits on my desk.
The best advice I’ve gotten, and the advice I use the most is this: set the narrative. Be the one with a plan, the first one to say how a process should work, the one publishing the notes and keeping the record. If people like your work, they’ll go with it because it’s way easier than doing it themselves. If they don’t like it, don’t worry - they’ll tell you. I think this Poorly Drawn Lines comic says it best.
Can you share the high-level responsibilities of your current position in Solutions at Vecna Robotics?
In Solutions, I work to find the right solution for the client: matching up their needs with what our products can do and supporting sales in finding the right applications for our tool. Working in Solutions is like selling a hammer, that is, if most people knew what a hammer was but didn’t know how it worked, wasn’t sure which nails would work the best, cost enough money that you had to create a solid ROI analysis to sell one, and for some reason needed to integrate with a homegrown WMS.
Like at any startup, I wear a lot of different hats and get a lot of space to pursue projects I find interesting and helpful. Outside of my formal role in solutions, I work to improve our customer training and support our Advanced Development team as a PM. I also support each project I work with pre-sales through implementation.
Me (far left) leading a hands-on training on the warehouse floor.
Any tips for someone considering a career in your field?
Ask for a lot of advice and realize there’s a lot more career options than what you study in school!
Day in the Life
Coffee, tea, or nothing?
This is a tea team.
What time do you get into the office?
In time for the first meeting of the morning.
What are three things that motivate you in your role?
Flawless quality of work. Your clients and your coworkers can tell when something really shines and I love to get that “wow, this is everything I was looking for and more” reaction.
Making robots accessible to and work for the user. Although it often doesn’t feel like it, the whole point of technology is to make our lives easier: to help people work less and live healthier, more fulfilling lives. So if your technology isn’t doing that, what’s it for?
The fast-paced environment. The pace of our company and the industry always jolts you awake when you get online, and there’s always something (or more than enough somethings) to keep you busy.
Every day is different, but can you outline what a typical day looks like for you?
I usually get in a little bit before my first meeting and make a fresh, old-fashioned to-do list with the things that I want to focus on and the things that need to get done before the end of the day. After that, it can go in basically any direction, but on average I’ll do about an even split of:
- Supporting active deployments
- Trying to close, or move closer to closing, current opportunities
- Improving our internal processes
- Writing training or documentation
- Chatting with folks (internal or external) to check in on progress, keep up to date on new developments, get the right information to finish a plan/decision/contract.
What time do you head out of the office?
Whenever the work is done. Sometimes this is super early to make up for the days when we’re working late into the evening to prepare for a meeting or push out a deliverable.
Do you log back in at night or do you shut it down completely?
Log on in the evening all the time. Some of my best work comes from the late-night sessions when no one is teams-ing or emailing me and I can get some deep focus time in.
Any productivity hacks?
Take a lot of flights. Pre-COVID, my job involved a lot of travel, and traveling involved helped facilitate a lot of no-distractions time to sink into what I was working on or draft a queue of emails that would send when I hit the ground.
What are the 3 apps that you can’t live without?
Spotify, Alltrails, and Messenger. Everything for work is replaceable with a notebook and face-to-face meetings.
Who do you admire or call upon for professional advice?
For big, life-altering advice, I talk to older mentors and parents. For every day “could you tell me if this graph makes sense” or “is this email too aggressive” advice, it goes past a few group chats.
What professional accomplishment are you proudest of?
Although I’m a bit of a perfectionist, the work I’m most proud of are the projects that went a little off the rails, and I helped pull back onto the rails.