Aurora Voices with Lance Underwood
Meet our team | February 09, 2023 | 3 min. read
Our Aurora Voices series celebrates the people and teams whose unique experiences, backgrounds, and voices drive Aurora’s mission forward.
Meet Lance, Director of Terminal Operations at Aurora
As Director of Terminal Operations, Lance leads a 75-person Vehicle Operator (VO) team in Texas. Our VO team is often the face of Aurora, made up of expert truck drivers and industry veterans who use their experience in the driver’s seat to help the Aurora Driver improve. They test our technology on the road every day and are responsible for the safe operations of our autonomous trucks while hauling customer loads.
After 18 years at Schneider, a premier transportation and logistics provider, Lance joined Aurora to be on the forefront of solving the trucking industry's hardest challenges—including the ongoing driver shortage, driver hours of service requirements, and the growing demand to move goods. Read on to learn more about his story and his hope to encourage anyone with automotive skills to join the technology industry.
Tell us about your role at Aurora.
I lead terminal operations at Aurora, which means I ensure that our vehicle operators have what they need to do their job effectively every day. This extends to making sure our terminals are set up in the most effective way possible, our training team supports VOs through the development of our curriculum and training materials, and our vehicle assets are effectively managed.
It’s been incredible to see the breadth of talent on Aurora’s operations team. We’ve drawn in people from every part of the logistics industry (full-truck loads, less-than-truck loads, carrier, intermodal, parcel, and private fleet) at all levels of management and with experience serving the companies we work with, including Schneider, Ryder, and FedEx.
How does your role drive Aurora’s progress toward our Feature Complete milestone?
When we achieve our Feature Complete milestone, the Aurora Driver will have the technical capabilities it needs to operate on our commercial launch lane. Those of us on the ground have a ton of hands-on experience with our autonomous vehicles and we get to be at the forefront of pushing Aurora’s progress forward. It’s really exciting to watch us take the steps toward reaching full autonomy and commercialization. For our teams in the terminals, that means rigorously testing our technology and validating our operations as we work toward commercial readiness.
How has your career led you to your role at Aurora?
I’ve worked in a variety of roles across the logistics industry. My first job in college was ingating trucks at a warehouse facility and doing yard audits overnight. As I moved up the ladder and through the operations chain, it was exciting to carve out a career for myself as a leader in the logistics industry. While running Schneider’s large terminal operations for a top carrier in Dallas, I was responsible for over 700 drivers. Over the course of my career, I learned how to step into a commercial operation and lead incredible groups of people to ultimately scale and create an impactful business. And that’s exactly what I plan to do at Aurora.
Any advice to others looking to make a similar jump in their career?
The best advice I can give is to look for opportunities and careers with stackable programs where you can advance your education while obtaining real-world experience. If you are interested in mechanical engineering or even just the automotive industry, technical schools offer resources to continue to augment those skill sets and help you grow. Aurora has actually worked with Pittsburgh Technical College to create a joint associates degree in robotics and autonomous engineering technology, providing students with the technical skills they need to begin, and excel in, service engineer technician roles at companies like ours.
I’ve found that you can always find some way to contribute anywhere you go in the tech industry, regardless of your background. Identify how the tech industry needs your skills and position yourself in a way that shows companies the value you bring to the table.
Who has inspired you in your life and why?
I always advise others to start locally when looking for inspirational figures to model. For me, that’s my grandfather. I watched him persevere through difficult days and no matter the conditions, he never complained and got up every day to go to work. I try to emulate that passion and drive throughout my work.
Tell us something about yourself that would surprise us.
I grew up in a small town in Texas, but I actually prefer cold-weather cities. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve developed a new appreciation for spending time outside, and cold-weather walks with my family have become an important part of my routine. My 19-year-old is away at college but I love to spend time with my 15-year-old and, of course, my wife of 20 years.
Delivering the benefits of self-driving technology safely, quickly, and broadly.