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Software designers can work almost anywhere, but writing code for a self-driving car tends to be a hands-on exercise — engineers need to directly experience how a vehicle performs and hone software as needed.

The big picture: Companies that design autonomous vehicles are maturing and beginning to rethink that convention. There's a war for talent across all tech industries, requiring AV companies to get creative to attract the top experts.

What's happening: In Silicon Valley, which is the heart of the self-driving industry, AV startups are competing with gold-plated compensation packages from deep-pocketed tech giants like Facebook, Apple and Google.

  • Plus, many people can't afford to live in Silicon Valley or won't move there.
  • One example is at Cruise, GM's San Francisco-based self-driving subsidiary, where 10 of the 42 senior engineers working for VP Tim Piastrelli's security team are working remotely from places like Ohio, Pennsylvania and New York.

Voyage was an early pioneer in hiring remote engineers to work on self-driving technology. The Palo Alto-based startup, which raised $31 million this week, is piloting automated ride-hailing shuttles in a Florida retirement community and began experimenting with the arrangement about a year ago.

  • Early on, engineers really did have to be physically close to the car in Palo Alto, Voyage CEO Oliver Cameron tells Axios.
  • As the company matured and expanded testing, hands-on engineering instead became a "pain point," he says, so the company built tools that would let engineers work from anywhere.
  • Voyage now has veterans from Apple, SpaceX and Twitter working on critical AV projects in places like Chicago, Atlanta, Los Angeles and Boise.

How it works: Reliable simulation, along with powerful cloud computing and other tools to manage the massive amounts of raw data collected daily from self-driving test vehicles, make it possible, Cameron explains in a blog post.

  • Vehicle data can be quickly downloaded by an engineer who can iterate rapidly and test those changes in simulated environments.
  • When something can't be validated virtually, it can still be tested by human operators in the vehicle.

Yes, but: Hands-on vehicle experience remains critical to most hiring managers at AV companies, says Jessica Robinson, executive director of the nonprofit Michigan Mobility Institute.

What's next: There's "a very obvious ceiling" to remote hiring in the AV industry as self-driving cars move out of the design phase and begin to proliferate on roadways, Brookings Institution fellow Adie Tomer tells Axios.

  • At that point, the workforce will shift to managing AV fleets, a decidedly hands-on occupation where it will be critical for redundant teams to work side-by-side.

Go deeper: Imported self-driving shuttles have an edge over their U.S. rivals

Go deeper

Dion Rabouin, author of Markets
4 mins ago - Economy & Business

Biden's inflation danger

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

President-elect Joe Biden's $1.9 trillion stimulus proposal has economists and bullish market analysts revising their U.S. growth expectations higher, predicting a reflation of the economy in 2021 and possibly more booming returns for risk assets.

Yes, but: Others are warning that what's expected to be reflation could actually show up as inflation, a much less welcome phenomenon.

Ina Fried, author of Login
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CES was largely irrelevant this year

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Forced online by the pandemic and overshadowed by the attack on the Capitol, the 2021 edition of CES was mostly an afterthought as media's attention focused elsewhere.

Why it matters: The consumer electronics trade show is the cornerstone event for the Consumer Technology Association and Las Vegas has been the traditional early-January gathering place for the tech industry.

The FBI is tracing a digital trail to Capitol rioters

Illustration: Sarah Grillo

Capitol rioters, eager to share proof of their efforts with other extremists online, have so far left a digital footprint of at least 140,000 images that is making it easier for federal law enforcement officials to capture and arrest them.

The big picture: Law enforcement's use of digital tracing isn't new, and has long been at the center of fierce battles over privacy and civil liberties. The Capitol siege is opening a fresh front in that debate.