Thinking Out of the Box at Toyota Research Institute

student working at Toyota Research Institute manning a table at a fair

When Amanda Zhu graduated from Northeastern University in May of 2018 with a Master of Science degree in Computer Engineering, she only had to wait a month before she started working at the Toyota Research Institute in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Originating from China, Zhu graduated from the University of New Haven with a bachelor’s degree in Electrical and Electronics Engineering, where she was a peer mentor and a member of Eta Kappa Nu, the international honor society for her major. She continued to buff up her resume before coming to Boston, working for the Timex Group as an R&D intern. Once she got to campus in the fall of 2016, she was able to take her knowledge and experience to new heights.

“Even though two years is a really short time, Northeastern gives [students] all the resources they need to excel,” said Zhu. “I feel like, first of all, in terms of resources, not just the education, but the connections I had with professors and the people I met as my friends or the people I met at career fairs, those connections really helped progress my career.”

Zhu did two classes a semester for four semesters, with some of her favorite classes being Robotics Sensing & Navigations, taught by Dr. Hanu Singh, and Computer Architecture, which is taught by Dr. David Kaeli. While a student, she was able to intern as a software engineer at Intuitive in California, while also being a student ambassador on campus. She was also awarded a leadership award from the College of Engineering while placing second in the 2017 Google DevFest Hackathon. All the learning Zhu went through, as well as the impressive accomplishments helped translate to her current position at Toyota Research Institute.

“The questions that were asked during the interview were the same things that were in my robotics class,” says Zhu. “There were a lot of hands-on projects and tools they used in class that were practical.”

Zhu started as an intern, but after three months was promoted to her current position. Zhu works as a software engineer in driving simulation for autonomous cars. She was interested in the company due to their success.

“Toyota has a really big name in the industry for things, not just cars, but improving the manufacturing process. I was curious, what did they do right to be one of the best car sellers in the entire world,” said Zhu. “I’m not a scientist, I’m an engineer; I build the tools and help make the scientist’s life easier. I feel really proud to tell them I’m working on these cars and for Toyota.”

Zhu has been working in Cambridge since she graduated, but she’s about to move to Tokyo for the next part of her career indefinitely. And she got there with the help of her Northeastern experience.

“Northeastern encourages you to think out of the box, and to go out of your way to achieve something you really want,” said Zhu.

Related Faculty: Hanumant Singh, David Kaeli

Related Departments:Electrical & Computer Engineering