Brandi Goolsby is active in the professional women’s alliance InForum, where she serves as an executive committee member of the AutomotiveNEXT Industry Group. She also serves on the board of the Connected Vehicle Systems Alliance (COVESA) in two elected roles, treasurer and marketing leader. Prior to Wind River, she held roles at Ford, Stellantis and General Motors. He has a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree in electrical engineering.
Goolsby was interviewed by Caroline Hicks, Director of Events and Community, Automotive, Informa Tech Automotive Group. (This interview has been edited for length).
Informa Tech: Some who work in the automotive industry say they had a love for cars from a young age and entering the industry was always a goal. Were cars something you aspired to as a kid?
Goolsby: Initially no. I had relatives and family friends who worked in the industry, but I wanted to start my career outside of the automotive industry. However, automotive was the building block that developed my knowledge and career. This gave me my start and helped me understand different career paths you could take in the industry.
Informa Tech: You chose electrical engineering for your degrees; how did you come to this decision?
Goolsby: I have two older sisters that I love very much, my oldest sister Kelly was my biggest cheerleader. She was the catalyst that ignited my fire and interest in engineering. But what cultivated that interest the most was the engineering program the Detroit area had for inner- and outer-city youth. I was able to participate in Wayne State’s math camp and a pre-school engineering program in the Detroit area.
What was instrumental about these events was that they taught you to understand how to apply math and science. You were able to see how inanimate objects can come to life. It just lit up a new world for me. It really ignited the creativity, insight and understanding you can gain from engineering that I wanted to unlock and cultivate in a collegiate setting. These opportunities really steered me toward electrical engineering.
Informa Tech: It’s good to hear that these programs are making such a difference. When you were doing your Masters and looking for roles, what was it about General Motors that made you think that’s where you wanted to start?
Goolsby: General Motors felt at the time, like so many car companies, to be an innovator on many levels. The vehicle itself is a platform for technological innovation. There are so many things you can do with the vehicle, especially now. What drew me to General Motors was the product more than the opportunity. I had recently graduated from Michigan State with a master’s degree in electrical engineering. I took coursework in management and systems engineering.
But I still had a very broad skill set in electrical engineering. I wanted to take advantage of that potential. General Motors offered a graduate training program that allowed you to rotate through different functional areas of engineering, so I went from electrical design to vehicle test systems where I worked on systems that tested the product. I didn’t work directly on the product, but on the systems that verified that these vehicles were actually roadworthy. It was amazing, I had such a good time there. My last assignment at General Motors was control and strategy. It was fascinating to get into the software.
Informa Tech: Would it be fair to say that you haven’t moved away from engineering, but now have a more strategic role? I guess with engineering there are different paths. You can get very into the technical side of things, or you can apply what you know in a strategic setting. But maybe there aren’t that many roles where you do both?
Goolsby: You are absolutely right. I’m at Wind River and it’s a technology company. That means figuring out how to create an experience that surprises and delights users by getting that detail into the business equation as well. It also means understanding the market equation of how you build something compelling that will help drive business growth and revenue growth. I wanted to be more on the business side of the front and understand more of that aspect. That’s the beauty of the industry. You can identify your path.
Informa Tech: What advice would you give to a young person considering a career in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) field of the automotive industry?
Goolsby: I would advise you that from an automotive point of view there is a lot of exciting things to be involved in. You can definitely be part of a solution. You need to think about what skills, talents, resources and interests you have. Where do you fit in in terms of being part of this solution? Within the automotive industry, there are currently many disruptions everywhere, from lean manufacturing to managing the complexity of the supply chain. Now you have this next layer, which is about connectivity, autonomous driving and electrification. It’s an exciting time to be a part of these solutions.
To successfully navigate your career in this space, you really need to think about what you want to achieve. I recommend creating a career map. Establish three-, five-, and 10-year goals. Next, determine what skills and experience you need to get to where you see yourself. Then determine what the gaps are. How to build the right experiences. You will need what I call a board of advisors to advise and share their wisdom along your journey. I have a council of counselors on speed dial. I use them consistently to bounce ideas off and help me see where to go next.
Informa Tech: It sounds like you have been very successful in owning your own development. We talked before about the fact that you have to take responsibility for your own development and that you are the only person who will hold back in many situations. At the same time, having a network of mentors to bounce ideas off of is incredibly valuable from the perspective of being an African-American woman working in engineering and automotive. It’s not the most diverse industry in the world. It seems to be getting better, but what is your experience with this?
Goolsby: One of the things I keep thinking about is that you shouldn’t think about the fact that you’re a black woman—because that would become very isolating. The numbers are improving, but they are still very few. A lot of times you’ll still be the only black woman in the room, but that’s okay. This is part of how you develop your resilience in terms of not letting your culture or gender be a priority. You bring diversity to the table: A view or perspective to help with innovation. I think it’s about accepting yourself for who you are and then using that to your advantage. Rather than seeing it as a negative, it can be meaningful. It is like a USP (Unique Selling Point). You have to look at it as a positive.
Informa Tech: Your position at Wind River is centered around collaboration and alliances. You connect people to accelerate progress. What advice do you have for others on how to collaborate effectively in the automotive sector?
Goolsby: I think this is something we see a lot when we do our event research. The auto industry needs to cooperate more. There would be more progress if people were more open. It feels like a huge priority for the industry as a whole.
Informa Tech: How did you manage to do that in Wind River?
Goolsby: When I joined Wind River, part of my role was ecosystem and marketplace development. This is where I really started to apply solutions thinking. When you make decisions, by thinking, you take what our proposition was, which is a core technology, and then you identify how to do that or complement it with other technologies in the automotive ecosystem. I’ve been working on identifying how you create that one plus one equals three effect, how you create realized user value.
To do this, you need to collaborate internally within the organization, but you also need close communication with engineering, product management and marketing to tell a compelling story in terms of how it shows up at trade shows and events. You then need to work externally with your partners to determine how you want to bring this together and what the realized value is.
Informa Tech: At Wind River, you worked in medical, telecommunications and industrial manufacturing. How does automotive compare to these other industries?
Goolsby: Everyone is disrupted in terms of software and digital technology. The value to be realized by these industries will be software defined. The value will come straight from the software. What’s nice about my experience today is that once I started in automotive, it was easy for me to take that software knowledge and spread it and scale it to all these other industries, like the telecom sector, energy and others that you mentioned. I was also given the opportunity to work in the field of marketing. Now I have to tell the compelling story, positioning solutions to customers in a way that resonates with them, meeting them on their journey to help drive traffic, and realizing the value of all these different types of technology.
Informa Tech: You have quite a unique set of skills. Not many people can take something that’s very technical and then translate it so that it can be understood by those who aren’t in that space every day. As a student studying engineering, did you always know that was where you wanted to take your career?
Goolsby: I knew I wanted to work with the bigger picture. There is nothing wrong with engineering or being technically strong. But I knew I wanted to be more outspoken in business. I also knew I needed a deep understanding of all the details and how these elements came together to translate well.
Informa Tech: Was this a skill that was talked about in college or was it something that you honed throughout your career?
Goolsby: I’ve known from early on that I’m an extrovert. I knew I wanted to be on the customer side. I also realized that there is a level of depth that I need to understand in the fundamentals of technology. Not all the technical details, but I had to understand enough to be able to talk to them. It’s not a set of skills you can learn, but it’s a soft skill you develop as you navigate your experiences.
Informa Tech: In your professional career so far, what do you enjoy most about working in the automotive sector?
Goolsby: What I enjoy most about working in the automotive and other industries is talking about what’s real and how we can collaborate, whether I’m talking to a technology vendor or a customer who shares a business problem or challenge with me. I am constantly thinking during these conversations how what they are describing can fit into the strategy. But of course I have to go through the vision map(s), identify what is the right play for them in terms of building a solution that fits their business.