Professional Development
Career development / Robotics

He started at Neya as an intern. 10 years later, he’s director of robotics — and loving life

Andrew Capodieci made a decision to stay despite salary FOMO. His advice? Play to your strengths and prioritize things you enjoy.

Andrew Capodieci speaks on stage. (Courtesy)

This is How I Got Here, a series where we chart the career journeys of technologists. Want to tell your story? Get in touch.

Andrew Capodieci started as an intern for off-road robotics company Neya Systems in Allegheny County, and he just never left. 

That’s not to say he wasn’t tempted. He considered changing paths to on-road autonomous vehicles during the market boom, which has been huge in Pittsburgh. Despite the eye-watering salary offers, though, he stayed put. He liked what he was doing, and saw enough opportunities in off-road AV to stick around. 

“What helped there,” said Capodieci, now 33 and living in Greenfield, “was just having the industry experience and being able to talk to other people about their experiences.

Over the 10-plus years Capodieci worked at Neya, he rose through the ranks and now holds the title of director of robotics. We talked to him about the decision to stay at a company for over a decade, his childhood as a professional dancer and singer and his love of tinkering. 

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

How did your tech journey and career start? 

Andrew Capodieci, director of robotics at Neya Systems (Courtesy)

In ninth grade, my father bought me a robotics kit, and I was hooked right there. I knew I wanted to go to college for robotics. So I went to Carnegie Mellon undergrad. I did electrical and computer engineering and a minor in robotics, and then a robotics master’s.

My mother wanted me to do performing arts, so she was probably a little sad about that. I grew up dancing and performing professionally. I love dancing and singing, but I don’t have that urge to be on stage. I can do dancing and singing on the side. It was pretty clear to me at all times that I wanted to do robotics, and here we are. 

Now that you’ve been working in robotics for a while, is it what you expected when you first set out on this path in 9th grade?

I would say so. I can’t confirm or deny but it’s possible that I may have skipped some non-technical classes in high school to keep tinkering on robots. This does feel like a grown up version of that. Fundamentally, I am doing the same thing I did as a kid where I get to try all these algorithms, put them on a robot and then go to the real world and see what happens.

Can you talk a little more about what you’re doing today?

Play to your strengths. You don’t have to be able to do every single thing at a top level.Andrew Capodieci Neya Systems

My title is director of robotics. I’m looking at all the pieces of our autonomy stack, which are being developed in a whole bunch of programs and trying to make sure that’s happening in a coordinated fashion. We are working on so many different things, I’m really trying to make sure everything is as synergistic as possible. Otherwise, the program team doesn’t know about this team over here when there could be opportunities for reuse. It’s a lot of communication and coordination. 

Then also, just working with the team from a technical perspective to give my thoughts. I’ve been doing this for awhile, especially as it pertains to offroad, so I’m trying to help them solve some core robotics problems.

Staying at any company for 10 years isn’t that common anymore. Why was it the right choice for you?

It was everything I wanted since I was a kid. I’m doing all of the robotics and given opportunities to push my career forward in a pretty short time frame going from intern to full time engineer to senior to team lead to group lead to director.

It’s a combination of high-tech computer coding, thinking about designs and then ultimately we’re getting on a vehicle outside into nature. I remember sitting in a vehicle, doing 8-kilometer runs autonomously and I looked to my left and there was a beautiful mountain range and a hawk circling above. I looked to the right, and there was a field of wildflowers. That combination of high tech and being able to get outside at the same time is always a beautiful thing. 

What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced in your career, and how did you handle it? 

To stay during the bubble. There was certainly FOMO because there was so much happening in the on-road space. There were crazy salaries. What helped there was just having the industry experience and being able to talk to other people about their experiences.

In a large company, you’re going to have a narrower lens on what you work on and I’ve always enjoyed doing a wide variety of things. Having a restricted work scope means that you can’t really work on the whole system, and I love working on the whole system. That contributed to me deciding to stay with all the opportunities I was being given, and the fact that I liked what I was doing and being able to drive outside. 

What advice would you give to aspiring technologists? 

Work-life balance is so important. Enjoying what you do is so important. If you know what you enjoy doing, I would certainly prioritize that over any specific salary number. As long as you can make a decent living at what you like doing, trying to optimize that salary and get a bigger number isn’t really important in the end. 

Also, play to your strengths. You don’t have to be able to do every single thing at a top level.

Speaking of balance, you mentioned a passion for dancing and singing. What’s your life like outside of work?

A typical day for me is basically work, workout, eat dinner, and the last couple hours of the day I’m playing competitive player-versus-player video games. 

Exercise has always been a huge help for when days are stressful. I’ve done MMA, mostly kickboxing, but I have done wrestling and jiu jitsu as well. I grew up doing a whole bunch of sports and dancing and things like that, so it’s just kind of built in, but having that stress reliever and keeping my health up has certainly helped in the work environment.

What’s next for you? 

I want to see the transition of what we do from applied research to product. Ultimately, I just want to get the technology out there and see the impact. In the past couple years, we’ve stood up products from all the research that we’ve done over 15 plus years. Seeing that whole transition and creating that transition pipeline is one of my key focuses. That’s what I’d like to see from both my career and the company in general.

Series: How I Got Here

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