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Open mind and interdisciplinary education helped Michael Diamond BA’11 design Google's next self-driving car

by Sophie Cipolla,

While many people can say they’ve ridden in a self-driving car, Michael Diamond BA’11 can go one step further: he’s helped build one.

Diamond is a software engineer whose career has taken him from Tripadvisor, to Google, to various startups within the heart of Silicon Valley. He’s currently a software engineer at Applied Intuition, a software company that provides infrastructure to safely develop, test, and deploy autonomous vehicles. He initially was drawn to a career in politics, but ended up taking a “hard right,” as he put it, while in college. “I ended up graduating with a Computer Science and Philosophy double degree, but I actually started as a student in the Rhetoric program. That was part of what attracted me to Willamette: the ability to explore classes in a variety of disciplines.”

He credits his liberal arts training with his success in terms of the collaborative aspects of software engineering. “That stereotypical image of a programmer in a closet is not practical these days,” he said.

“Software engineering is all massive projects without clear and obvious solutions, so you have to be able to navigate the complexities of that, make your case, and convince others that your approach has merit. A lot of the foundational skills of collaborative discourse that I use every day are tools I picked up from my classes at Willamette.”

“I point to Philosophy as a really valuable part of my education. The skills that it teaches around problem solving and abstract questions are actually very relatable to computer science,” he said. “After all, in software engineering you’re dealing with an abstract virtual world, and you have to figure out the rules of how it all works.”

An on-campus mock interview with a professor’s contact at Tripadvisor led to Diamond’s first post-college job. “I had no intention of doing the interview at first, but figured I couldn’t pass up the opportunity for more practice.” It ended up going so well that Tripadvisor flew Diamond out to their headquarters in Boston.

Diamond’s open mind and willingness to follow opportunities, wherever they may lead, is what he credits to building his career. His advice for current Willamette students is to seize opportunities with action. “Be inquisitive, and don’t be afraid of jumping into the unknown and seeing how things develop,” he shared. The results may just surprise you — or end up being Google’s next self-driving car.

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