Meet Audrey Wooding, a Program Manager from our Lidar R&D team, who co-leads Aurora’s women’s resource group and co-founded our company’s first returnship program.
As we build a diverse culture at Aurora, we are committed to supporting and inspiring women to develop their careers and transform the world of technology.
In our series, Women of Aurora, we share the personal and professional journeys of the women of Aurora. In honor of Women’s History Month, we’re excited to introduce Audrey Wooding, a Program Manager on Aurora’s Lidar Research & Development team.
Audrey is part of the team responsible for Aurora’s FirstLight Lidar, our world-class FMCW lidar system. When she’s not building project plans, Audrey helps to empower, develop, and support the continued success of Aurora’s female employees. She is one of the leaders of our women’s resource group, Women@Aurora. Moreover, Audrey co-founded Aurora’s first returnship program, which helps experienced professionals reenter the workforce after taking time away for caregiving.
Read on to learn about Audrey’s unique career path, and her passion for advancing women in technology and leadership.
Tell us about your background and your path that led you to Aurora.
I taught mathematics as an adjunct professor at Montana State University for many years before joining Blackmore, where I was a Program Manager. (Aurora acquired Blackmore, an industry-leading FMCW lidar company, in 2019.) I was initially drawn to a career in education because of the flexibility to work part-time so I could spend time raising my family. When my kids got older, I wanted to work full-time and transition into the private sector. Specifically, I aspired to build my career in tech. It took some time to make that transition, and I encountered various setbacks and challenges along the way. Eventually, I found my way to Blackmore and Aurora. I am so grateful to be here.
Audrey worked at MSU for 15 years, where some of her time was spent as a mathematics professor.
What do you do at Aurora?
As a Program Manager for the Lidar Research & Development team, I organize and develop programs, plans, and activities to support my team’s objectives and priorities. I spend my time analyzing project plans and creating timelines and milestones to help my team stay on track with our goals. I also work closely with external vendors to coordinate and delegate resources and materials. Overall, I keep our internal and external stakeholders aligned and focused on our big picture plans.
For those of us not familiar with Lidar technology, why is Aurora's FirstLight Lidar a key differentiator for the Aurora Driver?
Here are a few reasons why FirstLight is the highest performing lidar in the driverless market:
Sensors, like lidar, are critical for helping the Aurora Driver more accurately identify objects and track how fast they are moving over time.
FMCW lidar sees farther (more than 300 meters), so the Aurora Driver has more time to react to unexpected obstacles.
FMCW is interference-free so the sensors can operate directly in bright sunlight or when other nearby lidars are on the road.
And recently, Aurora acquired OURS Technology, a lidar-on-a-chip company that will enable us to produce FirstLight at scale.
Ultimately, with FirstLight’s long-range capabilities and our ability to scale the technology, Aurora has the only lidar solution that will unlock high-speed self-driving at scale.
What motivates you to do the work you’re doing?
I love to learn and I am constantly learning in this role. For example, in the context of lidar, light is both a particle and a wave, which is a concept I have difficulty grasping but I enjoy the challenge. Additionally, there is so much complexity in the sensors we build from the optics, to the signal processing and hardware. I am always learning and relearning the fundamental principles I studied when I was pursuing my engineering and mathematics degrees. It’s exciting when I can connect the dots and understand the big picture.
Most importantly, I am motivated to do this work because I want to serve as a role model for my teenage daughters. From my experience, it’s much harder to do something when you do not see it modeled for you in your life. The working mothers I knew growing up were not in leadership positions. It made it more challenging for me to understand the system and what I needed to do to be a leader. I want my daughters to understand the choices and tradeoffs in pursuing different career paths.
Audrey with her two lovely daughters.
Audrey with her two lovely daughters.
Audrey with her two lovely daughters.
March is Women’s History Month, which celebrates the achievements women made throughout history. Who are some women who have influenced your life?
I stand on the shoulders of so many incredible women. Daily, I think of my mother who inspired me to not only work hard, but to get outside and explore. She provided strong and tough love, and continues to remind me that I have the ability to change the outcome of any situation. As a teenager, a female mentor from my local golf course took my sister and me under her wing. She cultivated a sense of belonging for us and normalized women in sports at any age. Finally, I closely follow the work of Esther Perel and Brené Brown, who bring critical relational topics and conversations into the open.
Over time, as I learn and understand more about women’s rights and women’s history, I become more inspired to do small acts everyday to move the needle for myself and other women. I remind myself of a phrase that a female assistant dean in MSU’s engineering department would say: “Lift while you climb.” Another quote that I often refer to on days when I feel like the challenges are greater than what I can take on comes from Mary Anne Radmacher: “Courage does not always roar. Sometimes courage is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying, 'I will try again tomorrow.’”
"As I learn and understand more about women’s rights and women’s history, I become more inspired to do small acts everyday to move the needle for myself and other women."
What does Women’s History Month mean to you?
Women’s History Month is a time to acknowledge the women who have come before me and advanced for changes that I benefit from, as well as those who are currently imparting change in our world and dreaming about the possibilities for a future with more women in leadership.
How is Aurora honoring and celebrating Women’s History Month?
There are a number of initiatives the Women@Aurora employee resource group is planning to honor Women’s History Month. To celebrate the women at Aurora, we have a Virtual Yearbook where each member of Women@ is encouraged to create a page about themselves and people can “sign” each other’s pages by leaving messages. Each time I read this yearbook, I am inspired by the work, accomplishments, and aspirations of the women across our organization.
We are also hosting various events and activities, one of which is a company-wide women’s leadership panel where the women of Aurora will share their career journey, roadblocks, and offer wisdom and advice on how female Aurorans can grow their leadership potential.
To support and celebrate Women’s History Month, Aurorans can download a custom meeting background, such as the one modeled here by Audrey.
You also co-founded JumpStart, Aurora’s first ever returnship program. What inspired you to establish JumpStart?
There are a few things that inspired me to launch Aurora JumpStart Returnship: First, participating in a career returner conference made me aware that I was not the only person trying to navigate how to move forward with a career after having young kids. Second, being a mother and caregiver is extremely challenging at every age and stage in life. A program that supports mothers is crucial for the success of mothers and caregivers in the workplace. Finally, I want these programs to provide a pathway for mothers and caregivers to rejoin the workplace. Taking some time away from a career does not mean that women have lost the ability to contribute. I hope we find that they are valuable contributors and bring a new perspective.
What advice would you give to prospective returners?
Returners should communicate their needs clearly, concisely, and regularly to their peers, managers, and family. It’s essential to be their own advocates and share their strengths, boundaries, and where they need support with the people around them.
More importantly, returners belong here. They are wanted in this organization because Aurora believes that they have valuable skills to contribute. This is an opportunity for returners to show what they have, and to receive a great deal of support for the specific circumstances they are experiencing.
How can people find out more and apply?
We are partnering with a terrific third-party organization, Women Back to Work, to provide highly-skilled and experienced professionals a path into Aurora and back into the workforce. Visit Aurora’s page on Women Back to Work's network for more information and open roles.
What do you like to do in your spare time?
It sounds cliche because I live in Montana, but I really like to get outside and move. I enjoy hiking, biking, skiing, running, and swimming. I find joy, happiness, and stress relief in being active and outdoors.
Audrey with her faithful, go-anywhere dog, Zing. He’s always up for an adventure!
What is the best thing about working at Aurora?
Working on cutting-edge technology with amazing people. It’s awesome seeing teammates collaborate to design, build, test, and successfully get a sensor out in the field. There are countless moving parts in our lidar system and so many domain experts needed to ensure these sensors work. It’s inspiring to see everyone come together to make it happen.
Aurora is committed to building an inclusive culture and workplace, and a diverse team that will help us deliver self-driving technology to people and communities broadly. If you’re interested in joining our team, check out our job openings.