Scyther Spotlight: Zach Goins

A day in the life of a Senior Autonomy Software Engineer at Scythe

Getting a robot to mow straight lines is the easy part. Mowing those straight lines around obstacles, across slopes, and on oddly shaped properties is when things get tricky. As an autonomy software engineer, Zach Goins develops the software that ensures M.52 mows any area as efficiently and safely as possible while leaving those long, beautiful stripes we all love. 

What does a typical day at Scythe look like for you? 

It’s hard to nail down a typical day for me. Robots are complicated, ya know? But I like it. It keeps us on our toes and keeps things interesting. Some days I am heads down developing new methods to make the robot navigate its environment in more complex ways. Other days are spent working with the rest of the team to brainstorm ideas about how we can overcome certain challenges or fix current problems. Those two kinds of days are usually my favorite.

Sometimes I have to get my hands dirty and really dig into the code to fix regressions in the system or crush bugs. Occasionally I will do some work on the code infrastructure, things not directly related to autonomy, but those days have become few and far between as the team has grown.

Like I said, I am all over the place. But it all stems from the same mandate: make the robot mow all the grass in the fastest, most efficient, and most aesthetically pleasing way possible. So my day takes whatever form supports that charter the most. It’s problem solving at its finest and I think MacGyver would be proud.

What accomplishment from your time at Scythe are you most proud of? 

My favorite accomplishment isn’t one single thing but the progression of our robot in general. I joined Scythe very early on when we were just a few people in a shared working space with a janky prototype robot that could hardly stay turned on, let alone drive itself. Seeing the progression over the years from that to the machine we have now has been a wild ride that I am honored to have played a part in.

I am specifically proud of the infrastructure we have built around our software. From the very beginning we focused heavily on testing, simulation, good code design, data collection, efficient programming, code safety, and more – all of the things required to create a good robot that aren’t directly related to autonomy. Those things combined have saved us countless hours of debugging and in-field testing over the years, all while giving team members the ability to accurately develop and test the robot from their location of choice. And that I am proud of.


Zach with a research unit in 2019


What does our mission at Scythe mean to you?

To me, our mission is to take care of our outdoor spaces without using tools that will further degrade it. Sure, we are starting with a mower. But I can’t count the amount of time we all have spent dreaming of all the other cool things we can do one day. There are so many opportunities for robotics to be used for land management and we are only scratching the surface with mowing!

What is especially important to me is that we are not directly taking jobs. That is an ethical quandary I have wrestled with as a robotics engineer. But at Scythe, I don’t need to wrestle with it because it just isn’t true for the most part. Landscaping is an chronically understaffed industry that doesn’t get much consideration from most Americans as a career, yet there is much work to be done on the land.

Supplementing the lack of human resources with robotics is a net gain for all of us in the end. People still have jobs to support their lives and the environments that we love stay maintained. What’s not to love?

How did you end up getting into robot software?

My journey is a bit different than most robotics engineers I’ve met. I don’t have an engineering degree. I was halfway through a business degree at the University of Florida when I realized that none of the post-college business jobs excited me. I was making money in college playing music and met a sound guy who built his own model planes. He introduced me to them one day and I was HOOKED.

I spent that whole summer teaching myself all I could about machines and basic programming. But I didn’t want to change my major and start over. So one day I walked into the Machine Intelligence Lab and asked if I could work in it. They were happy to have me even though I was an engineering newbie and I consider that lab the launching point of my career. For the next three years I effectively lived in that lab learning everything I possibly could about how robots drive themselves through direct hands-on experience and experimentation.

From there I went on to work at a 3D mapping/SLAM company that was acquired by a company where Jack and Davis, two of Scythe’s founders, worked at the time. Jack was a very patient mentor to me at the time and really helped level up my programming chops there. When they left to start Scythe, I pretty quickly expressed my interest in joining as I was itching to get back into robotics, loved the founding team, and really wanted to learn about how one goes from idea to successful VC-backed company. So I joined as the first full-time, non-founder software engineer. That was almost five years ago now and I haven’t looked back since.

What’s your favorite office snack?

All the drinks! Fizzy waters, fancy teas, nice coffees, soylent, DIET COKE! I will have three liquids going at once in the office and I am not ashamed of it.

Zach Goins - Scythe Robotics


Offering a snapshot of life at Scythe, the Scyther Spotlight series showcases our team members and the work they do as we pursue our mission together. From software to hardware, manufacuring to customer operations, you'll get to see what our multi-disciplinary team members are up to and how they collaborate every day. 


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