By Peter Bailis - September 15, 2020
Today, I’m excited to announce the latest member of our team at Sisu: Brent Goldman is Sisu’s new Vice President of Engineering.
Brent joins Sisu from Uber, where he founded and led engineering for the company’s Self Driving Platform, laying the foundation for the future of transportation with technology to deploy, operate, and optimize self-driving fleets on the Uber network. Prior to that, he co-founded Uber’s Marketplace Dynamics engineering group, leading efforts on pricing & dispatch. Before Uber, Brent was the founding CTO of Standard Treasury, a YC-backed enterprise fintech company acquired by SVB, and he started his career at Facebook where he was one of the early engineers responsible for building the Facebook Developer Platform.
To introduce Brent in his own words, we asked him some questions touching on all the important parts of life: tech, food, and curiosity.
I was attracted to Sisu by so many things – the tech, people, culture, mission, business opportunity, and more. First, Sisu’s technology feels like magic, and it struck me from the demo I saw in my first very conversation with the company. We’re doing really cool things with stats and ML that at first I didn’t even believe were possible.
The mission and opportunity are also inspirational and massive. At Uber, I helped optimize a slice of the transportation industry. At Sisu, the potential impact is much bigger – It’s clear that Sisu can help optimize every industry with data. And this is becoming increasingly important post-COVID, with so many businesses struggling to survive, let alone grow. With most of the growth in the public markets being led by tech companies, data-driven decision making is becoming table stakes. I believe Sisu can help in a big way here.
Last but not least, the people and culture are incredible. As I spent more and more time getting to know the company during the interview process, I realized this was a team I wanted to be a part of. Everyone is super smart, driven, scrappy, and mission-driven, and everyone wears a lot of hats. It actually reminds me of my early Uber days, but with a more thoughtful and deliberate approach on how to balance hustle and execution with empathy and culture. Along those lines, we’re work-hard / play-hard in a quirky way that really resonates with me. One hilarious example is from my second day at the company, where the entire company spent 30min at the monthly all-hands trying to answer the deep philosophical question of whether soup was a food or a beverage. (As for my answer – I proposed a second Cube Rule, following up on cuberule.com as required background reading.)
At Uber, I most recently led our Self-Driving Platform group, building the tech that turns self-driving cars into self-driving Ubers. While the autonomy teams were focused on safely getting a car from point A to point B, my teams tackled the problems of how to turn autonomy from a research project into a mobility service – from ridehailing and fleet operations, to testing and go-to-market.
There were all sorts of interesting projects along the way. On the ridehailing side, we had to compute the route we predict the self-driving car to take (which could be drastically different from a human driver), and figure out how pickups, dropoffs, and the rider experience could work without a driver in the loop. On fleet operations, we began building remote human-in-the-loop tech to augment the onboard autonomy system when it encountered situations it couldn’t handle. We tested integration and reliability by running city-wide simulations with thousands of virtual cars, and answered go-to-market questions by building geospatial forecasting and analysis tools.
In addition, we built all this tech as a platform to work not just with Uber ATG’s first-party self-driving cars, but with any self-driving cars out there. So if a company like Waymo or Cruise wanted to deploy their cars onto the Uber network, they’d use this tech. We worked with car companies all over the world – which was super fun and interesting, and actually a pretty unique part of my Uber experience. While most of the other teams across Uber are working on tech serving riders, drivers, or the marketplace as a whole, we were solving tough enterprise problems, too. I’m excited to continue exploring enterprise at Sisu.
We already talked about some parallels on the enterprise and go-to-market problems in self-driving. Before self-driving, though, I spent three years working on Uber’s marketplace dynamics, building the economic and logistics brain behind Uber. This involved a ton of super hard tech challenges – from infrastructure challenges around low-latency high-reliability distributed systems, to algorithmic challenges around surge pricing and dispatch matching. There’s also the combined challenges of figuring out how to run these complex algorithms in real-time at scale.
At Sisu, we also have a ton of challenges in building ML algorithms to solve NP-hard computer science problems, and the real-time infrastructure for running them at scale. There are even parallels around tenancy. At Uber, tenancy was around cities – we didn’t want any slowness or a crash for the systems powering one city to inadvertently take down another. At Sisu, the same is true of different customers – we need enough isolation so that even if an issue comes up for one client, it doesn’t affect any of the other businesses using the platform.
I love geeking out on so many things. My lockdown hobbies these days have been mixology, VR, reading, and hiking. Before the pandemic, though, I started getting really into art and architecture. I like exploring art museums and sculpture gardens, gravitating towards surrealism, modern art and contemporary art. The weirder and more novel the better, which led to me discovering immersive art experiences. There are plenty in San Francisco, but last year my girlfriend and I flew to Japan for the Setouchi Art Triennale, a destination art festival with hundreds of mind-bending room-scale installations spread across a dozen islands.
As a geek at heart, I’ve also been digging into the economics and history of art. I read a book last year called “The $12 Million Stuffed Shark” that was unexpectedly enthralling, so if this intrigues you even a little bit, I’d definitely recommend it. My dad actually also used to be an art dealer for about 10 years around the time I was born. So while I was super nerdy growing up and was more interested in books, math, and computers than art, it’s been great connecting with him more recently on this new dimension. And if I wasn’t crafting software, teams, and processes, I’d probably be building immersive art instead.
For years I’ve been making weird ice cream flavors from scratch. Some of the weirdest flavors I’ve made are truffle bacon ghost pepper, chocolate guacamole, and soylent whiskey.
What you might have heard of though is that I used to ask every new hire on my team at Uber to invent a weird new ice cream flavor from scratch (or an “ice cream RFC”, as I called it) as part of their intro slide for the all-hands. After we collected enough new flavor ideas, we organized a fun work offsite where we got 50 people together and made a couple dozen weird ice cream flavors together over the course of a day. Hope to do that again at Sisu!
I have an extremely acute sense of hearing. It’s great because I can hear an ice cream truck a mile away, as well as supervillains when they think they’re being stealthy. But like any good superpower, it has a downside, and my kryptonite is that I can also hear things like leaky faucets, the electric buzz of lights and power adapters, and even the lightest of snoring. Needless to say, I can’t fall asleep without earplugs.
Want to try Brent’s chocolate guacamole ice cream for yourself? We’re hiring across the stack in engineering – Brent will hear you coming!