At a time when new cars are frequently referred to as “computers on wheels,” carmakers have been the beneficiaries of recent rounds of layoffs in the tech industry that have freed up workers with exactly the software skills the auto industry needs. The tech layoffs are not the result of a bad labor market, as the Labor Department reports the U.S. economy adding 517,000 jobs. It is just the cyclical nature of business that some rise while others fall, says Heiko Schilling, senior vice president for software engineering at Stellantis. “These things come and go in waves,” he says. “What’s good for one industry isn’t good for another.”
The tech industry boomed during the pandemic, while everyone lived virtual lives online. “Now everyone wants to reconnect, so we’re seeing interest in cars again and buying,” Schilling notes. At the same time, the tech industry tightened its belt to the tune of a quarter-million workers laid off in 2022 as companies that expanded during the pandemic face slowing demand. “This year in January alone it was 60,000 more,” he says. “It is bigger than the dot com bubble.”
Bloomberg reported Dirk Hilgenberg, head of Volkswagen AG’s software unit, prowling the halls of the CES show in Las Vegas in search of software engineering talent for that company.
General Motors has a more restrained view of the opportunity to snatch software talent from the tech industry. “While this isn’t a major growth year from a hiring standpoint, we’re continuing to hire tech talent,” said GM spokesman Stuart Fowle. “This includes some of the talent in the market due to the tech downsizing, particularly in areas such as EV development, software development, and software-defined vehicle.”
This applies to the supplier industry too, as automotive battery maker Clarios is seeing opportunities to shore up its technical capabilities. “We’re adding people with tech backgrounds as we continue to produce next-generation products with enhanced intelligence and connectivity,” said Lindsey Rohde, Clarios vice president of global human resources in a statement to Design News. “Our new head of original equipment programs, Federico Morales-Zimmermann, has expertise in product and technology development and software and system integration. In addition, David Patel, who leads our lithium-ion programs has been, and is hiring software engineers, among other digital disciplines to support new product development.”
It is these new technical challenges that appeal to tech industry workers who may have found their jobs getting stale as those companies matured, suggests Schilling. “What used to be interesting tech problems in big tech have been solved,” he says. “It is a matured industry now. Amazon working on a mature software stack that is 30 years old. There are no interesting challenges there.”
In contrast, the auto industry is working on problems that are nearly impossible. “Self-driving is hard!” says Schilling. “That’s why it did not happen yet. It is simply a massive challenge. I’m more challenged now than I was at Amazon and it is quite cool. Maybe the next big software challenge is not in big tech, it is in automotive.”
Stellentis is working on SAE Level 2 and Level 3 driver assistance system using its own hardware as well as on an immersive digital cockpit project in partnership with Amazon.
Additionally, there is the cloud computing aspect, as cars employ mountains of data. “We are processing big amounts of data, petabytes of data,” Schilling explains. “It is in the vehicle, but you can’t process it right there. You can’t upload it. What do you do with it?” The company works with Amazon Web Services to process virtual vehicles on its servers, he says. “It runs there as a virtual machine.”
Such challenges, as well as the ability to work remotely, so that new hires aren’t faced with the need to relocate to Michigan, have opened doors to people who might not have considered working in the auto industry previously. “These people can work remotely globally,” says Schilling, who works for the French-American carmaker from his home in Luxemburg. “We can provision a virtualized workbench there for them.”
To grasp this opportunity, Stellantis is pursuing workers with the skills it needs. “We are reaching out to a ton of folks,” Shilling reports. “Stellantis is hiring 4,500 coders and AI engineers,” he said. "There are a lot more colleagues and friends who will be joining,” he predicts.