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A Childhood Dream Realized in Autonomous Tech

For Nagaraju "Raj" Mukka, Senior Software Engineer at Raven Industries, his move to the company was driven by his passion to work on autonomous technology, his love for innovation, and his goal of building technology to bring back to his family farm in India.

Raj came into the world of engineering with a background in computer engineering and a focus on embedded software development. He says that his path into autonomous technology is a childhood dream realized. "My father has been in agriculture since I was little. He's still a farmer in India with around eight hectares [approx. 20 acres] of land with a mango farm and other crops. In India, we don't have a lot of automation or machinery in agriculture and there's also a growing need for labor," said Raj as he elaborated what motivates his interests in autonomous technology. "My goal in the next 5-10 years is to get some of this [technology] to India, so I can help my village and people around it grow sustainably with autonomous technology and less pesticides." For this senior software engineer, it's been a conscious journey in learning everything farmers in the US are putting to use and taking advantage of.

Raj started at Raven's Applied Technology Division in late spring of 2021 after three years with another leading equipment manufacturing company. "I love the way Raven has been working on autonomous technology. There are so many companies in the world that are trying to make autonomous-everything but trying to do it alone. Raven, on the other hand, is approaching it strategically with acquisitions and mergers," he said. This move has allowed Raven to expand the space for innovation for its end-users, as well as for people like Raj who are coding and developing technology. "We can make things work in a way where users get the most use out of it."

The debugging environment at Raven with technology like Slingshot® has been one Raj has really appreciated as a developer. "Not every company sets up a debugging tool because they feel like it's a waste of time or that they could spend time adding new features instead," he said. By using Slingshot®, developers can connect to users' equipment across the US and remotely assist them in fixing issues on the field. It's also a way developers and engineers work directly with end users of Raven technology. Raj recently put this to use when he was creating a feature he called "calibration feedback for autonomous drive" for Raven Applied Technology.

Raven puts in a lot of effort so that every developer knows how an end customer would feel [using the technology], or what they would want to do with it or in what ways it can be most useful for them."

— Raj Mukka, Senior Software Engineer

Raj, in his four short months at Raven, has noticed an underlying emphasis on connection — in technology, innovation, and the culture at the company. "So many people in the software field never see or feel what [the technology] they are working on looks like for the end customer. But at Raven whenever you work on something, you can go to [test it out at] the farm. You can deploy your software and feel what it would be like for the customer," he said. "Raven puts in a lot of effort so that every developer knows how an end customer would feel [using the technology], or what they would want to do with it or in what ways it can be most useful for them." For Raven, it's important to form those technological connections hand-in-hand with linking the people involved in the process. "That's a really good thing too because every time we work on something, we know how it's going to help somebody and that motivates us even more."

In most companies, Raj said, every decision needs to go through a lot of people for permissions and approvals, and "it usually is not easy to innovate or start something new." At Raven, he has noticed that everyone is encouraged to explore innovative ideas, and there isn't a layered structure to operations. One way Raven supports this is through bi-annual innovative sprints, where engineers are encouraged to create something to support project development. As a remote employee based in Washington D.C., Raj has found it's not just the "Midwest Nice" philosophy that's made his transition into Raven easy. "Everybody is ready to help you, and you can directly talk to the director of the engineering department who heads 200 people with a simple ping."

Lately, Raj has been working on a radio status software for customers that helps operators track the communication efficiency between their combine and tractor. "I'm working with another team member to improve this communication by showing some status indicators on the UI display," he said. To create this screen, they have been testing to understand what good and bad communications are. "For this, we need to drive these machines around the farm and see how the radios are reporting their status values and how they are communicating. By doing these small things, the product knowledge increases a lot."

For engineers like Raj, the space to stretch their skills and the horizon of possibilities at Raven helps them thrive as people working in the sector. There's an innovation mindset that shapes the culture at Raven Industries — something that's apparent in the strides the company is making in developing autonomous technology.