People & Life

Alumni Interviews

People & Life

Alumni Interviews

Alumni Interviews

Overseas Study and Start-up – Jun-sung Kim

<Interview on Overseas Study and Start-up>

  Meet a graduate who has experience in studying and starting a business in the United States

– Interview with Jun-sung Kim –

Overseas study and start-up is a topic that is not missed when students in KAIST EE department talk about their future career paths. In fact, some students prepare for studying abroad from an undergraduate course, or they graduate from a master’s or doctoral program and then go abroad to obtain a degree. In the case of start-ups, since it is difficult to start a business by taking advantage of the majors in the undergraduate program only because of the nature of our department, many people start high-tech start-ups after completing the doctoral course. There are those who have experienced both of these two paths. In this autumn EE newsletter, I interviewed Kim Jun-sung, who received a Ph.D. in the US and founded his business using autonomous driving technology to find answers to questions they might have.

Part1. Study Abroad

1. Hello, Jun-sung Kim. Thank you for your interview. First, please introduce yourself briefly.

Good morning. I am Jun-Sung Kim of the School of Electrical Engineering, KAIST, who is currently engaged in research engineering at Delphi Automotive. Currently, we are developing safety software for autonomous vehicles. After completing my undergraduate studies, I completed my master’s degree under the guidance of Prof. Jung Song. After completing military service exemption at LG Electronics Mobile Communication Technology Institute, I went to Carnegie Mellon University (CMU).

2. I am curious about how you decided to stop studying and for studying abroad.

What I did in my company was the development project for LTE modem chip. Specifically, I developed LTE protocol in the software department. What protocol development means is that as a person and a person communicates, we make appointments between the machine and the machine and communicate according to the standard. When the standards are set by the organization confirming the standard, we did the work efficiently implementing the specifications. I was in charge of Radio Resource Control of the RF block. I had a lot of fun developing modem chips at that time. I learned to collaborate with many people, and I liked that the mentor was a rational person to handle things. If one thing is missing, I wanted to be a person who can create a whole system. When I looked at a school where I could build such a system, I found a good school called CMU. At that time, the best labs in the real-time operating system were all at CMU. The predecessor of the OS X kernel was developed by CMU.

3. I would like to hear stories about what was good and hard during your overseas study.

I have met so many good people while studying abroad, and I have come to know various points of view at a problem while living with them. I was also impressed with lively discussions we can experience overseas. In fact, what was the most pleasant was the culture that allowed me to express my opinion and ask questions regardless of experience. The new point was the class that changed every semester. In the case of KAIST, I remember that there was a genealogy for classes in the same subject, which made it easier to prepare for assignments and examinations. In CMU, I took computer science classes. In this case, they make new homework every year. That is why I have no references for the homework. Actually, the lecture is the same until mid-term, but after that, it keeps changing and adding new content. From the viewpoint of the professors and TA who prepare the class, it is not easy to change the same class unless the general atmosphere is created. It seems that there is a mood to change the homework in the first place, and the school should encourage it. “I thought that if I had studied this way in my undergraduate, I would know more.”

I think the most difficult thing in studying abroad was English. When I was studying at the university, I saw people who came to study abroad and thought, “Why is English like that even if they studied abroad?” However, it took less than a semester to understand it. In fact, I was not the one who came to study English, so it was hard to increase the language compared to the period I had in the United States. I just learned how to speak in confidence in front of people. I have accepted it to some extent. Moreover, Indians and Chinese have their unique accents. I think that I accept it as a person with my own accent. I am focusing on delivering what I want to say to others clearly. Finally, I had hard times missing my family and friends. I did not have a smartphone when I first came in, so it was very difficult to reach them if it was not in front of my computer. Fortunately, it is easy to get in touch with them with a smartphone, so it seems that this difficulty has been lost a lot.

Part2. Star-up

4. I would like know about your company and how you started your business.

Our company name is Ottomatika, and I was a co-founder of the company and an early member. You can think of it as a company that provides autonomous navigation software solutions. At the low level, we started from the control, went up to the upper level, and provided the AI​algorithm such as sensor fusion, behavior and planning. The company was established at the end of 2013 and was acquired by Delphi Automotive in July 2015. You can think of it as a fast way to exit. Autonomous driving is a technology that has been studied in CMU for a long time. For example, I started my Ph.D. in 2008 and entered the autonomous driving laboratory, and various research results became the foundation of my entrepreneurial skills. When we started our business, we wanted many people to use the good technology we developed. However, because it is a complicated technology, I have to spend a lot of attention and know a lot. In particular, these technologies require constant management, development, and testing, we thought that starting a business is a way to combine their efforts in the most efficient way possible. We believed that if we start a business, people who provide services or those who receive it can maximize their profits and that our technology can be used effectively and efficiently. Nowadays, as the number of open source is increasing, some technologies do not have a person in charge and often do not see the light. We chose entrepreneurship as a way to take responsibility for our technology.

5. Please give a brief description of the unmanned car.

I would like to explain what CMU has done about unmanned vehicles. It is the start of the transcontinental from Pittsburgh to San Diego in the early 1990s with Delco (predecessor of Delphi Automotive) and CM. At this time, it was not completely unmanned driving, but it was just the level of following a car in front of it using a camera. In the 2000s, there were three DARPA Challenges. In 2007, CMU took first place in the DARPA Urban Challenge, and in 2008 GM established a center that I joined. The technologies developed in the DARPA Urban Challenge have been used in various autonomous vehicles including Google, and the autonomous SRX, which was produced by CMU in 2010, and appeared at this time.

6. I would like to know any difficulties you had in starting your business and how you overcame them.

It seems like the hardest thing was that there was no answer to the problem since no one had ever solved. It was difficult to agree with each other because there was no way that someone have wiped it. I think I had done a lot of duplication. I did not know what judgment would be better, so I tried many things and followed many agile development methods. I am still making decisions that way.

I wanted to recruit specialists, but I have not had many people in this field. In fact, if you are in a field where research has progressed a lot, you can find out without trying research. However, sometimes the system itself is too complicated to know which variables to simplify when modeling a problem. That is why we developed it quickly and got feedback. The development tools and platform were very important for this.

Part3. To the juniors…

7. What is your plan for the future?

Now, I am concentrating on the autonomous driving project, since it has been just one year since the project was acquired. Another focus is improving our development tools to make it easier for people to use them. Delphi has 160,000 employees, and I believe that synergies will be great if we work together and collaborate on such a large company. In this way, we concentrate on our work within the company, and we are not worried about the problems after that.

8. Finally, I would like to ask for advice representing the students who are interested in entrepreneurship and those who are worried about the future career path as seniors of the same department and life.

In my case, I did not aim for start-up at the beginning. I usually talked to my friends and I through that starting a business is not so good. I think it is right to start a business as a means of it when I have a goal I want to do. Moreover, it seems it is important to meet good partners. It is important to meet people who can always respect each other, have respect for each other, and have no difficulty in talking about their opinions. It is important to meet these people as investors. I think lending money from the bank is a way. The value of an investor comes not from money but from the network and experience. There have been many times when business models have changed while meeting good investors and keeping the technology intact. Last, the business model is important, simply to keep thinking, “So you want to pay for it?” I always try not to forget it.

Finally, the story I want to tell the juniors is to do without regret what you want to do. I used to do what I wanted to do. I could have is that I did not have many regrets, even if I failed. The process was difficult. I also had many worries about my grades and my career, but it seemed to be less regretting when I was most attracted to myself than what others see. Of course, the attraction will not always appear. You may not find the problem you want to solve. At that time, I simply enjoy. I often see things that I want to try from a different point of view.

Thank you to Junsung Kim for your interview.


Reporter Tae-hyeong Noh /

Reporter Ho-jung Lee /