Putting Pedal to the Metal: Julia Ng Helps Drive NVIDIA’s Auto Efforts

by Samantha Zee

Julia Ng loves all things cars.

Her passion led to several roles within NVIDIA’s autonomous driving group, from software engineer in planning and controls to technical lead to senior engineering manager.

Ng, who joined NVIDIA in Santa Clara over five years ago, recently moved with her family back to her homeland of Germany, where she’s taken on an expanded role as manager of automotive pre-sales support on the solution engineering team in Europe. Her current work involves explaining the technical details of the NVIDIA DRIVE platform to potential customers.

For fun, she visits auto shows, takes her BMW M3 for a supercharged spin on mountain roads near her home in Munich, or zips along the autobahn at 200 kilometers an hour.

Ng with one of NVIDIA’s test vehicles.

What led you to NVIDIA’s automotive group?

  • My technical background in machine learning and low-power AI, as well as my passion for cars. I love to drive, especially sports cars. One of the best perks of my job here is that sometimes I get opportunities to see or drive very special cars, like hypercars or unreleased prototypes. Having my hobby be part of my job makes the work feel less like work.

What are the challenges in the fast-changing automotive business?

  • We are building something that’s truly incredible: cars that drive themselves. Our software has to observe and understand the world and make the right split-second decisions to keep us safe, comfortable, and in line with traffic laws. Each one of these aspects is a challenge, and the timeline to market is very aggressive. Certain companies are pushing the industry forward, and others need to keep up.
  • Delivering a market-ready product in a very competitive environment meant that, as a new manager, I had to grow my team from zero to 12 members within a year. Scaling so fast presents its own challenges because everyone needs to learn about our software stack, tools, and processes.
  • It was very exciting to see the features my team developed at work in the car. I still remember the day when I tested my first project, “Safety Force Field,” and saw my code actuate the car and bring it to a full stop via the emergency brake on the test track. That was so rewarding!
On a test drive in Germany with three other engineers and managers.

What is most exciting to you with the huge advances we’ve seen in autonomous driving software and more?

  • Many people in this industry are excited to work on the level 4/5 autonomous functions that make the car extremely intelligent and eliminate the need for a driver. Just as important for me are the active safety features.
  • When I drive to work and get stuck in a bad traffic jam, I often wonder what the delay is and then see it was an accident. Seeing wrecks and the first responders tending to the injured, I’m reminded of why I come to work every day. Our software will save lives.
  • AI has enormous potential to help avoid or mitigate such accidents, to be better than a human driver, and to intervene when even an attentive driver makes a mistake. To me, using technological advancements to create driver-assistance software is the strongest reason for why we should continue to develop AV technology at NVIDIA.
In front of the Mercedes-Benz headquarters with part of Ng’s team.

How has NVIDIA enabled you to shape your career?

  • NVIDIA gives employees a home, and it’s a place where people stay. Over three years, as our planning and control team grew from a dozen people to over 60, only a couple of people moved on. You can learn and try new things.
  • Our managers and leaders create a trusting environment and team spirit, even in difficult times. This is the foundation that allows us to focus on the great work we do. The fact that I also get to work on my dream job (involving technology and cars) and talk to customers daily is just the cherry on top.

What do you have going on outside NVIDIA?

  • I enjoy spending time with my two daughters, who are six and seven years old. We like to swim, paint and play board games. They’re both very interested in my job and aspire to do something similar when they grow up. They like cars, too, so the love for driving runs strong in the family.

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