SAE STEM Stories: Q & A with Christian Hubbell, Rivian, a former Collegiate Design Series (CDS) Participant
[February 2020] On his path to becoming the Software Engineering Lead at electric truck manufacturer, Rivian, Christian Hubbell participated on the Michigan State University Formula SAE (FSAE) team. We spoke with him to discover how his FSAE experiences impacted his journey to engineer electric adventure vehicles.
You’ve been with Rivian almost 3 years now, what do you love most about your work?
The amazing people I work with. Everyone is a doer focused on forward progress and we are aligned around common goals ─ that translates into successful results. It’s a positive, fast-paced environment where employees thrive, effectively working together with a holistic understanding across functional areas to deliver a high-quality product. Recruiting top performers who are a best fit for both the cultural and technical needs of our business is key.
What achievement are you most proud of in your career?
Being part of the Rivian launch of our R1T all-electric pickup and R1S all-electric SUV at the LA Auto Show in November 2018. We worked so hard to prepare both vehicles for the unveiling. It was our first handshake with the world to redefine expectations in vehicle design and performance through the application of game-changing innovation and technology. The positive response we received was tremendous.
As a Computer Science major what/who inspired you to get involved in FSAE? Tell us about the roles and experiences you had on the team that enriched your learning.
I participated on the MSU Spartan Racing FSAE team during my junior and senior years. We achieved advances in weight-reduction in our vehicle and I ran the lathe. I contributed to the application of new data acquisition and display technologies to inform, validate and improve our vehicle design and performance. The result was the best FSAE finish ever for MSU Spartan Racing!
My experience in FSAE was powerful in shaping my career as a software engineer. I gained real-world engineering proficiency taking a vehicle design from concept to prototype to finished product on deadlines. FSAE gave me the opportunity to combine my study of computer science with my love of automotive, develop valuable skills and lifelong friendships, and discover my career passion. I stay in touch with my MSU Spartan Racing teammates and we participate in the Champ Car Endurance series together.
As a software engineering lead at Rivian, why do you actively seek to hire former FSAE participants?
SAE CDS participants are set up well for success through the scale of the competition challenges requiring them to think outside the box. They acquire valuable experience in sensor fusion. CDS job candidates demonstrate the cultural traits, technical knowledge and positive collaborative spirit to deliver results. Team captains develop leadership skills while learning to balance classwork with FSAE team responsibilities, pushing when needed to get the job done.
Why do you believe the SAE A World In Motion® (AWIM) program is important to introduce STEM and CS concepts to young?
As a parent, I witness firsthand the amazing capability of young children to develop knowledge. Making hands-on, real-world STEM and CS learning experiences accessible to young students sets them up to become optimistic, enthusiastic contributors to society. It’s about developing aptitude and attitude through fun, interesting projects vs a rigid path. Students must be given the opportunity to test their ideas to solve complex problems and learn from the failures to grow.