The Unobvious Ones is a monthly look at movers and shakers who fly below the radar in the Canadian auto industry.
NAVIGATING AN INDUSTRY ROCKED BY DISRUPTION
Cars and airplanes might not seem to have a lot in common, but how their advanced software is designed can be surprisingly similar. At General Motors’ Canadian Technical Centre in Markham, Ont., Philip Asante, DevOps (development operations) and Integration team lead, uses his aerospace experience to help design the automaker’s Super Cruise autonomous-vehicle software.
“I worked for Lockheed Martin, where we developed flight-training devices that model the behaviour of a commercial aircraft,” said Asante. “I was writing the software for the autopilot and other avionics systems.There are a lot of parallels in the software that make up the Super Cruise platform.”
Asante, 32, was always fascinated with aircraft and came to Canada from Ghana to study aerospace engineering at Ottawa’s Carleton University. He graduated in 2012 and spent six years in that field, including at Lockheed and working on satellite control systems at MDA Systems in Vancouver, before he heard about an opening at GM.
“A lot of the technology in aviation doesn’t change much, given the cost of the devices being developed, but in the auto industry we’re seeing a lot of disruption, with technology happening in a matter of years. I was looking for something more challenging, and this world seemed to offer this.”
He joined GM in 2018 as a software-integration engineer, bringing together the components to support Super Cruise. Asante always tried to improve processes to speed up development. Eventually the company formalized his improvements into its systems, which led to his current role.
“I lead a team of eight people. We make sure our developers can write code quickly, but preserve the safety and integrity of the vehicles.”
Above all, he’s able to apply his past experience. “GM is big on safety and I feel that the safety aspect we can bring from aviation is appreciated here.”
CUSTOMER CARE NEEDS A PERSONAL TOUCH
The COVID-19 pandemic required companies to adopt new ways of doing business. At Subaru Canada in Mississauga, Ont., that involved routing outside calls made to head office to employees still working from home.
“We all use the [Microsoft] Teams application, and they set me up at home with my monitor and headset,” said receptionist Heather Peters. “Someone calls in and I use my mouse to answer the phone, and then I transfer the call.
The downside: “I’m not seeing people, and I miss that personal touch,” said Peters. “At the desk, I would greet visitors, accept the mail and courier deliveries, and look after the plants in the lobby. And I’d do things like sending gifts on anniversaries, or flowers to new dealerships.”
Her job also included processing paperwork from dealers for rebates on sales to graduating students or mobility modifications.
Peters is currently training for a new role as a customer-care liaison, helping potential customers with car shopping and providing existing customers with service and warranty information.
Peters, 56, studied office administration at the Toronto School of Business. After graduation, she became a receptionist and office clerk at a safety-products company.
“I worked in fast food as well, but I was always in some kind of service, because I like seeing people.”
A staffing agency sent her to Subaru as a temporary receptionist in 2006. Subaru wanted her to stay and she did.
Peters sees her upcoming customer-care role as an extension of her experience on the front desk.
“I’ve been doing customer service for 15 years and this is just adding a new facet to it. But now I’ll be talking to them instead of transferring the call to others.”