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Hello! My name is Xander Cesari. I’m an automotive engineer based in Michigan. An irrational passion for cars set me on this path before I could drive, walk, or maybe even speak. These days I’m a mechanical-turned-software engineer working in the automotive industry, specifically embedded controls. I’m interested in embedded Rust, systems engineering, and doing things the smart way, once. You can learn more about me from the links to my socials above, check out my my resume, or just keep scrolling!

What I’m About

My passion for all disciplines of engineering runs deep; I’ve roved from CNC manufacturing to engine dynamics. My love for learning made it hard to down select fields as I always craved new skills and knowledge. But over my decade in the industry two areas of passion and focus have emerged: automotive embedded software and system engineering design processes.

Embedded Software

When I operate a vintage car I am deeply charmed by the way the machine works and how it responds. The character of the engine; throttle response, sound, power delivery. The tactile feel of the controls, the nuances of the gearshift and powertrain. How the suspension geometry responds to spirited driving and how the car communicates its limits back to you. While my mechanical engineer brain loves dissecting how the linkages and dynamics of these old systems sum to the cumulative system character, in modern cars and EVs especially this character comes from the software. The algorithms, controls, and calibrations that we write in the limitless world of software contribute more than maybe anything else to what gives modern automobiles character.

After being an undergrad who was afraid to write code that didn’t look like spaghetti (thank you Labview!) my time in industry has led me to a deep love affair with computer science. The field is rife with mathematical and logic purity applied to the real world of engineering. At the root of software are two fundamental questions: how do we model the world and how do we model action. These questions surpass any single technology or programming language but answering them is an intoxicating challenge.

Engineering Process

With about a decade in this industry I’ve witnessed how companies from multinational OEMs to consultancies to plucky startups approach complicated engineering challenges. The most important lesson I’ve learned from all these approaches is: if you really care about the product then you have to care about the process that creates it. We have to self-reflect deeply and regularly about how we approach the process of engineering – seek out our blindspots and attempt to see the water in which we swim.

This is more important now than ever because frankly our industry is rife with engineering process blindspots. There’s been a tremendous exponential growth in the tools available to us over the last decade and a half. The capacity that the software industry has offered us to build new more integrated tools is nearly limitless yet in many ways we still engineer with a 20th century mindset. There’s a fundamental shift in how we work on the horizon and I’m eager to shape how engineering is done for the next century!

My Journey to Automotive Engineering

I attended Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and took the opportunity to hurl myself headlong into the challenge of building a Formula SAE racecar and doing engine research in a lab. I moved to Metro Detroit to chase a career in the automotive industry and began finding my way through the complicated process of powertrain engineering. I began as a test engineer at a small engine startup, helping to instrument and test experimental diesel engines. While my college days had been filled with machining and fabrication I was drawn to electronics and microcontrollers as I built data acquisition systems and small CANbus devices. Soon after the startup was nosediving and I made the inevitable move to one of the large OEMs to be a base engine calibrator. I spent my days in the guts of dyno cells, working alongside a team who understood engine physics better than I ever will. My decades-old love for engines was realized more completely than I could possibly have imagined at that job but change was sweeping into the industry and my career as well.

An opportunity presented to move to California to work at a startup developing a series hybrid or range extended EV. My role was developing specs and requirements for the on-board diagnostic system; my ulterior motive was to make a half step towards working on electric vehicles. With a partially pivoted resume, I returned to Detroit as the curtain of lockdown closed on the industry and took a job with a startup EV pickup truck manufacturer. My job title was controls test engineer and commissioning, learning, and building tooling for a HIL (Hardware-in-Loop) system consumed most of my time. But our small team interchanged responsibilities and contributed to our vehicle controls architecture, network topology, and strategies. As the company leadership struggled to find a strategy and momentum, my old boss from California called and invited me to work on her new venture: a more established EV pickup startup in California. I spent six months working remotely for her as we built specifications and designs for an EV On Board Diagnostics system.

But I wasn’t happy in my career. My frustration with the work had grown; the impending sense that we weren’t engineering these complicated systems the right way was growing and my hunger for working on truly innovative projects and processes wasn’t being sated. Along with the rest of the world, I had endured two years of very sedentary Covid lockdowns and I had itchy feet. During my stint on the west coast I had picked up automotive photography and I decided to take a sabbatical from engineering to pursue photography full time. I had an amazing 18 months of traveling the US creating content about the cars I loved. I photographed motorsport from Ken Block’s final rally season to IndyCar. I worked with some great clients like Holley and Hagerty. And I got to see my work printed in real live glossy magazines!

This break was always intended to be a sabbatical and after a year and a half the technical side of my brain was yearning for a challenge. I reentered engineering with a few months of contract controls and HIL development work for an old boss before landing at my current role. Now I do controls development full-time, working on exciting EV oriented prototype projects. But my adventure is far from over and I’m eagerly awaiting for the next challenge to keep my mind engaged.