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Olga Galluppi

Despite her very young age, Olga Galluppi already has a brilliant career as an automation engineer in the automotive industry and in the motor racing world.

During her PhD in Information Technology, achieved in 2018, Olga had the opportunity to work with some of the top Italian car companies, an experience which resulted in her taking a job as Vehicle Controls Engineer at Maserati. After more than three years, at the end of 2021, the passion for innovation and the desire to put herself out there and face increasingly complex challenges convinced her to move to Brackley, in the heart of the British automotive district, to join the Mercedes-AMG Petronas Formula One Team, where today she’s working on an ambitious and exciting project at the intersection between motoring and sailing.

Olga, tell us a little about yourself: how did you became passionate about Engineering and why did you choose the Politecnico di Milano?

Since I was a child I’ve always had a predisposition for scientific subjects and therefore I have always known that this would have been my path. I attended an Italian-French high school and my university career began in France, in Paris. Back then, I was mainly interested in mathematical models applied to finance but I realized very quickly that I would have preferred something more “applied”, so I started to consider the possibility of enrolling in Engineering. So, after a year in Paris, I decided, partly for personal reasons, to go back to Italy, where I chose the Politecnico di Milano because it gave me more certainties in terms of career opportunities and internationalization. In the end, I picked Automation Engineering because robotics fascinated me a lot and, although at the beginning I wasn’t really sure on which address to choose, now I can say that I made the right decision: Automation Engineering is such an interesting field because, despite its strong links to Mathematics, it opens up to many different applications, from Mechanics to Hydraulics, Information Technology, Electrical Engineering, Electronics...

What was your path at the Politecnico?

My path has been very linear: I enrolled in 2010 and exactly five years later I got my Master's Degree in Automation Engineering under the supervision of Prof. Sergio Savaresi and Prof. Simone Formenin. Immediately after graduating, I began a PhD in Information Technology with Prof. Savaresi as supervisor, which I completed in 2018.

During the PhD, I had the opportunity to experience first-hand the dynamics of academic research Once I got my title, I wanted to take a more “practical” direction, so I started looking for a corporate job. As a PhD candidate, I was able to work closely with the world of automotive industry, participating in many projects in collaboration with companies such as Ferrari, Brembo, Maserati, Lamborghini and Ducati. I also had the opportunity to make an experience abroad, in Berkeley, California, where, under the supervision of Prof. Francesco Borrelli, I developed a navigation algorithm for hybrid vehicles capable of calculating the best route in terms of energy savings. Participating in many different projects allowed me to experiment with multiple aspects of my research field and made me understand what I liked best. So, right after my PhD, I decided to work with Maserati.

How long have you worked with Maserati and on what projects?

I worked with Maserati for three years, first as a contract researcher for the Politecnico within a shared project and then as an employee.

I was part of the Vehicle Controls Group and I was mainly involved in the development of control algorithms for the new vehicles that Maserati was about to launch on the market, such as Grecale and Gran Turismo. In addition, I worked on the semi-active suspension control software, which was developed in collaboration with Chrysler for models released last year, including the Jeep Grand Wagoneer and Jeep Grand Cherokee.

Overall it was a wonderful experience of exchange and sharing of knowledge and skills, which made me discover the “American world” and gave us a lot of satisfaction also in terms of reviews.

After your experience with Maserati, you switched to Mercedes in 2021: Why this choice?

Over time, at Maserati I had started to build my own team and to train new engineers who joined the company. I was slowly beginning to work on the management of human resources and projects, to play a more managerial and less “technical” role. The decision to work with Mercedes-AMG Petronas Formula One Team responded to a need to get back into the game and to deal more closely with innovation and technological development. Let’s say that I preferred to leave something safe, stable and known for something new and unexplored.

At the moment, I am working on a very ambitious project that sees the collaboration between Formula One and the sailing world, as part of a partnership between Mercedes-AMG Petronas and INEOS Britannia in view of the next America’s Cup. More precisely, I am developing vessel control systems. It is something very similar to what I’ve already done in the past but, at the same time, it is something completely different and, therefore, extremely exciting. It’s the most complex project I’ve ever worked on and I’m learning a lot of new things. Also, being part of a team that, in the last eight years, has won so many international competitions is truly a wonderful experience: it is a really strong group of people who value excellence, teamwork, collaboration and inclusiveness. Here, people always try to do everything to the best of their ability, in a group of engineers who came from all over the world to be part of this project.

What do you like most about your job?

As for Controls Engineering, I appreciate most of all the great variety: it is a job that allows you to get in touch with many different fields and issues, it is a somewhat transversal subject that can interact with very different realities. As for Engineering in general, compared to other disciplines, the most exciting thing is the chance of working on technological innovation. This is even more true in the Formula One world, where we always try to go beyond current technology, to “push the accelerator” on innovation much more in comparison to the world of production vehicles.

What did studying at the Politecnico has meant for you and, workwise, what are the most useful things you learned as a student and PhD candidate?

The PhD was certainly very formative. Prof. Savaresi taught me to always face problems going in depth, without stopping at the surface of things. It is an attitude that applies not only to Engineering but also to anything else. More generally, the PhD taught me to have an open mind towards innovation, to never fossilize on something known and taken for granted and to always move forward. Even the experience I had as a tutor, immediately after graduating, has taught me a lot in this sense, despite the initial trauma of being in front of a class of over one hundred students.

As a student, I could count on highly trained, helpful teachers, who were also among the best in terms of research. I have wonderful memories both of the Politecnico and the Department of Electronics, Information and Bioengineering. Not to mention that I continued to collaborate with Prof. Savaresi even after my PhD, when I was already working for Maserati and the company was carrying out important projects in collaboration with the university. The Politecnico di Milano is something that accompanies you forever, you never really leave it. For me, today, it represents a network of trained people with whom I can collaborate and with a background of knowledge that can make a difference in the business environment.

Female representation in the Engineering world is notoriously very low. In your personal experience, has being a woman represented an obstacle to your career?

Indeed, the representation of women in my field is very low. At the beginning of the first year of university there were 180 students, of which only 9 were women. And by the end of the first year only the half was left. This saddens me because I believe that no intrinsic reason justifies this disparity. I think it is mainly a cultural factor: technology and motoring are perceived as more “masculine” things in which women are not encouraged to take an interest. But there is absolutely nothing that a female engineer cannot do compared to a male engineer.

As for my personal experience, in my career I have never found real obstacles but only practical difficulties related to everyday life. For example, I happened to visit a workshop to test prototypes and I discovered that there was no women’s toilet! Apart from this kind of situations, as an engineer I have never had any limitations or restrictions. Of course, from a cultural point of view, we still need a few steps forward to change the perspective. Mercedes is very sensitive to this issue and carries out various programs to support women in pursuing a scientific career.

Is there a funny anecdote from your “polytechnic years” that you would like to share?

To stay on the subject of low female representation and daily life, I was always amused that in the bathrooms of the Department there was always a queue in front of the men’s toilet while the women’s one was always empty: exactly the opposite of what usually happens!

What would you recommend to a student of the Politecnico interested in a career like yours?

The Politecnico is a university that gives you a lot. As I said, I’ve always found very helpful people there and, thanks to a model that interconnects industry and universities in a truly synergistic way, I have managed to build a network that’s extremely useful on a professional level. That said, I would certainly recommend the PhD because it is an experience that opens your eyes to many things that are not so easy to see when you’re still a student and, above all, it teaches you to never fossilize yourself on what you already known, to look at any problem from several points of view. More generally, my advice is to get yourself out there, not to stop at appearances. There is nothing to be afraid of: having new experiences is always something positive.

Also, despite the fact that the society we live in is increasingly “fast”, my suggestion is to take the time to do what you have to do. It is always better to do one thing right, calmly and without haste, rather than stopping at appearances and underestimating the complexity of things. Our world is made up of complex systems and those who want to work on them must pay attention to every little detail and must have the courage to ask questions. Even when it comes to motor racing, results come if things are done well, this is the “plus” that leads to victory. Finally, I would like to clarify that we shouldn’t think of the engineer as someone who spends his or her days closed in a laboratory: in the automotive world, engineers are very dynamic, cool and even fun!


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