Why Engineering?

Posted By
Jada Smith
Vice President Advanced Engineering and External Relations

This week Jada Tapley, Global Director, Software at Delphi, is our Guest Blogger. She was recently honored with the Automotive News 2017 Rising Star Award, so we wanted to know why engineering, why Delphi and what is the future of the automotive industry. Here’s her story. 

Last week was surreal. There are a lot of great leaders in Delphi, so I was surprised when I found out that I had been nominated for the Automotive News Rising Star award and, even more so, honored that it came from the Delphi leadership team. And then to be selected among some of the great leaders in the automotive industry, well, you can imagine my surprise when I got the call! 

I think my most cherished moment of the whole experience was after it was announced, a Delphi colleague sent me a congratulatory note and said that he was using my story to motivate his daughter. It is humbling to think I can have an impact on young women who may follow in my footsteps and pursue a technical career.

I started as a co-op student working in Delphi’s Electronics & Safety Independent Test & Verification group. My undergraduate degree is in Electrical Engineering Technology, but I really consider myself a software engineer. 

I have always been very interested in understanding how things work. To this day, I am still fascinated by the technology we take for granted, and incredibly impressed by the brilliant people who invented it. While I am nowhere near as smart as they are, I wanted to somehow be involved in making great technology. This led me to choose engineering as my career path. 

Guess what I was testing? Radios. Yep… Radios. Until that point, I hadn’t had any real exposure to software, but I quickly became fascinated by it, and grew to love software and infotainment systems. To this day I still do. 

From there, I moved through several software development roles, and became the first software project manager in Delphi’s Infotainment group. It was very exciting for me to blaze a new trail in the software space. My goal has always been to make a difference, it motivates me, and it was in this role that I realized I could make a difference. 

This is also where I really learned the true value of leadership and teamwork. I was leading a new infotainment program and it was unique, challenging and rewarding – all at the same time. For 18 months I worked on the program and knew at every step, my leadership was 100 percent behind me, even when I was wrong. We all expect support when we are doing the right things and making good decisions, but to know that I had that same level of support even when I made a mistake was special. 

I try very hard to show that same level of support to my team because I know how important it was at the time to me. I also learned the importance of humility in leadership, of not asking my team to do something I am not willing to do myself and of treating them with respect. I asked a lot of my team then, and I still do, but I also work side-by-side with them, knowing together we can accomplish great things. 

It was during this time, I also learned the importance of confidence. A former director gave me great advice that I still subscribe to today… Approach every situation with confidence – confidence in myself and confidence in my team. I witnessed him putting that advice into action. He lived it and I strive to as well. 

After my software project manager role, I moved into engineering management and systems engineering with Delphi. Having responsibility for systems engineering was the start of new chapter in my career. Up to that point, my sole focus was software. Suddenly, I was responsible for both systems and software and it gave me a completely different perspective. I had a broader view of the situation and could approach problems differently, developing better solutions. 

It’s because of this role I realized I needed to broaden my perspective beyond software, infotainment and Electronics & Safety. From there, I moved to central engineering on a corporate team. Looking back, it was terrifying because it was so different from what I knew, but it proved to be another great opportunity. I learned more about Electronics & Safety, both the business and technology, than I ever could have in my previous roles. 

I also learned about our other business units and came to understand, for the first time, what makes Delphi great. It’s not one division or one business unit or one product line, it’s ONE Delphi. And as ONE Delphi, we have something that none of our competitors have - best-in-class technology, an unmatched desire to win and incredible people that do great work every single day. 

Although I love engineering and technology (and always will), I now have a deep appreciation for all the other competencies that work together to make Delphi great - communications, finance, HR, investor relations, sales & marketing, supply chain and operations. This broader perspective helps me make better decisions for Delphi. 

After 18 months at corporate, I am now back home with the Electronics & Safety group. While I enjoyed my time away and learned a lot, it’s nice to come home. And my new role takes me back to my software roots. Throughout my career, I’ve always looked for ways to make software better at Delphi, and now, I get the opportunity to do just that. 

Delphi is in the midst of a great transformation, transitioning from primarily a hardware focus to software-driven technology. As the global director of Delphi’s software engineering operating system, it’s my responsibility to help lead this transformation. This transformation is all about taking the best our teams have to offer, and standardizing it across the enterprise. This gives me the opportunity to meet and learn from our engineering teams all over the world, and I am inspired by their ingenuity and desire to succeed. 

Our transformation is a journey, and we are on the path to success. When we accomplish our goals, we will have become a better version of ourselves, leaner and smarter with unprecedented software and systems capability. But we will never stop – there will always be more goals and new challenges. Which, frankly, I find exciting. 

I remember the first time I tested a radio. It was so basic, but I thought it was so complex. At the time - it was. Then we switched from cassettes to CDs in our radios. It seems funny now, but at the time it was huge. Now, I get in a car and the first thing I look for is a USB port. Things have changed so much during the past 15 years, and software is a big part of that. 

At Delphi we have a long software history, but there has been a significant step change over recent years in the amount of software we create and in how we create it. Our products have more software, and in turn more capability, than ever before, and it continues to grow. 

For a long time, the auto industry lagged the consumer space in technology innovation, but that has flipped and now it’s an exciting time to be in the automotive industry. Jeff Owens, our former CTO, who recently retired, always said that my car is the most sophisticated piece of technology I will ever own, and he is right. It exchanges more data, has more software and has more capability than ever before and than anything you own. I can’t imagine working in any other industry – particularly at this exciting historical time.