Brandy Goolsby is active in the professional women’s alliance InForum where she serves as Executive Committee Member for the AutomotiveNEXT Industry Group. She also serves on the board of the Connected Vehicle Systems Alliance (COVESA) in two elected roles, Treasurer and Marketing Lead. Prior to Wind River she held roles at Ford, Stellantis and General Motors. She has bachelor’s and master’s degrees in electrical engineering.
Goolsby was interviewed by Caroline Hicks, Director-Events & Community, Automotive, Informa Tech Automotive Group. (This interview has been edited for length).
Information Tech: Some who work in automotive say they had a love for cars at an early age and getting into the industry was always a goal. Was automotive something you aimed for as a child?
Goolsby: Initially no. I had relatives and friends of family that worked in the industry, but I was looking to start my career outside of automotive. Despite this, automotive was the building block that developed my knowledge and career. It gave me my start and helped me to understand different career paths that you could take within the industry.
Information Tech: You chose electrical engineering for your degrees; how did you get to that decision?
Goolsby: I have two older sisters who I love dearly, my oldest sister Kelly was my biggest cheerleader. She was the catalyst that ignited the fire and my interest in engineering. But what cultivated that interest most was the engineering program that the Detroit area had for inner- and outer-city youths. I was able to participate in Wayne State’s math camp and a Detroit-area pre-college engineering program.
What was instrumental about those events was they trained you to understand how to apply math and science. You were able to see how inanimate objects could come to life. That just illuminates 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. Those opportunities were what really got me on the path to electrical engineering.
Information Tech: It’s good to hear those programs make that kind of difference. When you were doing your master’s degree and you were looking for roles, what was it about General Motors that made you think that was where you wanted to get your start?
Goolsby: General Motors felt at the time, like so many automotive companies, to be innovators on many levels. The vehicle itself is a technology innovation platform. There’s so much you can do with the vehicle, especially now. What drew me to General Motors was really the product more than the opportunity. I had recently graduated from Michigan State with my master’s in electrical engineering. I took coursework in controls and systems engineering.
But I still had a very broad umbrella of skill sets in the electrical engineering realm. I wanted to home in on that potential. General Motors offered a graduate training program that allowed you to rotate into different functional areas under engineering, so I went from electrical design to vehicle test systems, where I worked on systems that tested the product. I didn’t directly work on the product, but the systems that were confirming that these vehicles were in fact roadworthy. It was incredible, I had such a good time there. My last assignment at General Motors was in controls and strategy. It was fascinating to get into software.
Information Tech: Would it be fair to say you’ve not moved away from engineering, but you now have a more strategic role? I imagine with engineering there are different pathways. You can go very much into the technical side of things, or you can apply what you know in a strategic setting. But perhaps there aren’t that many roles where you do both?
Goolsby: You’re exactly right. I’m at Wind River and it’s a technology-based company. That means figuring out how to create an experience that surprises and delights consumers, getting into that detail and into the business equation. 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 up front and understand more of that aspect. That’s the beauty of the industry. You can identify your path.
Information Tech: What advice would you give to a young person who is considering a career in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) areas of the automotive industry?
Goolsby: I would advise that from an automotive perspective there’s a lot of exciting things to be part of. You definitely can be part of a solution. You have to think about what skills, talents, resources and interests you have. Where do you fit in terms of being part of this solution. Within the automotive industry right now there’s a lot of disruption across the board, from lean manufacturing to managing the complexity of the supply chain. Now you have this next layer, which is all about connectivity, autonomous driving and electrification. This is an exciting time to be part of those solutions.
In order to successfully navigate your career path in that space, you really have to think about what you want to achieve. I recommend creating a career map. Establish three-, five- and 10-year goals. Then identify what skills and experiences you need to get to where you are seeing yourself. Then identify what the gaps are. How do you build the right experiences. You’re going to need what I call a board of advisors to counsel and share their wisdom throughout your journey. I have a board of advisors that are on speed dial. I use them consistently to bounce off ideas and help me see where to steer next.
Information Tech: It sounds like you’ve been very successful in owning your own development. We were talking before about the fact you have to be responsible for your own development and you’re the only person who is going to hold yourself back in lots of situations. At the same time, having a network of mentors who you can bounce ideas off is incredibly valuable in terms of you being an African-American woman working in engineering and automotive. It’s not the most diverse industry in the world. It appears to be getting better, but how has your experience been from that perspective?
Goolsby: One of the things I constantly think about is, you have to not think about the fact you are a black woman – because that will become very isolating. The numbers are improving but it’s still very few and far between. A lot of times you are still going to be the only black woman in the room, but that’s okay. That’s part of how you grow your resiliency in terms of not allowing your culture or gender to be the priority. You’re bringing 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 make a difference. It’s like a USP (Unique Selling Point). You have to see it as positive.
Information 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 about how to collaborate effectively within automotive?
Goolsby: I think it’s something we see a lot when we’re doing our event research. Automotive needs to collaborate more. There would be more progress if people were more open. It feels like a huge priority for the industry as a whole.
Information Tech: How have you gone about doing that at Wind River?
Goolsby: When I joined Wind River, part of my role was doing ecosystem and market development. That’s where I really started to apply solutions thinking. In doing solutions thinking you take what our offering was, which is foundational tech, and then identify how you make it, or augment it with other technologies in the automotive ecosystem. I was working on identifying how you create that one-plus-one-equals-three effect, how you create realized consumer value.
To do that 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. Then you have to work externally with your partners to identify how you want to bring this together and what’s the realized value.
Information Tech: At Wind River you have worked across medical, telco and industrial manufacturing. How does automotive compare with these other industries?
Goolsby: Everybody is being disrupted as far as software and digital. The value that’s going to be realized by these industries is going to be software-defined. The value is going to come straight from software. What’s beautiful about my experience today is that having started off in automotive, it was easy for me to take that software knowledge and spread it and scale it across all these other industries, such as the telco space as well as energy and others you mentioned. I also was given the opportunity to work in marketing. Now I get to tell the compelling story, positioning customer solutions in a way that resonates with them, meeting them in their journey to help drive traffic as well as awareness of the value of all these different types of technologies.
Information Tech: You have quite a unique skill set. Not many people can take something that is very technical and then translate it so 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’s nothing wrong with engineering or being technically strong. But I knew I wanted to be more upfront business side. And I also knew I needed in-depth understanding of all the details and how these elements come together in order to translate them well.
Information Tech: Was this a skill that was talked about in college, or was it something you have honed throughout your career?
Goolsby: I have known from early on I’m an extrovert. I knew I wanted to be on the customer-facing side. I also understood there was a level of depth I needed to understand in the fundamentals of tech. Not all the technical details, but I needed to understand enough to be able to speak to it. It’s not a skill set you can study, but it’s a soft skill you develop as you navigate your experiences.
Information Tech: In your professional career so far, what do you enjoy most about working in automotive?
Goolsby: What I enjoy most about working across automotive and other industries is talking about what’s real and how we can collaborate, whether I’m talking to a technology provider or a customer who’s sharing a business issue or challenge with me. I constantly think during those conversations how what they describe could fit into the strategy. But of course, I need to go through the vision map (and), identify what is the right play for them in terms of building out a solution that fits their business.