meet the makers: matthew fitzgerald & pat mcgrath

in meet the makers by Ann Whittaker

We’re breaking with tradition and going for double the fun with this latest installment to our Meet the Makers series!

“Making” at Rethink Robotics has many different connotations. You’ve already met our visionary leader and some of the engineers who are designing and building our robots.

Matt Fitzgerald, who leads our Software Product Management effort, spends countless hours with customers and potential users of our robots, gathering information crucial to evolving Rethink robots. What do users want? Matt distills that information into a product roadmap that guides our engineering team.  Matt helps define the future… of Baxter and beyond.

Pat McGrath leads our Customer Support group, and therefore facilitates users having the best experience possible with Baxter from the moment it arrives. Helping customers to maximize the performance of their robots, however they’re deployed, Pat simply helps Baxter work at its very best.


Baxter, Matt Fitzgerald, and Pat McGrathTogether, Matt and Pat form a key cog in the Rethink machine.  They work hard and play hard, and the competitive nature of this duo at times reflects the intense rivalry between our Red Sox Nation and another ball club (who shall not be mentioned) just a few hours south of Rethink headquarters.

Each of you came to robotics from a completely different industry; tell us what piqued your interest in becoming a part of Rethink?

Matt: It’s a new product that provides a solution to an age-old problem in a unique manner and will change the way the world interacts with and utilizes robots.  What product person doesn’t want to be part of that!?!?   I like to challenge myself and jumping into the robotics industry provides plenty of opportunity to learn, be humbled and witness amazing things that didn’t seem possible before.   Seeing people who are intimidated by robots quickly and viscerally warm up to Baxter, train it to repeat a task in a few seconds and smile about it while recognizing how it can add value to their organization is incredibly energizing!

Pat: I had never really envisioned being at a start-up robotics company, but not once did I hesitate about joining this team.  Prior to working at Rethink, I had studied Economics (i.e. not technically savvy!) and had worked in a number of customer facing roles in finance but when the opportunity to work at Rethink arose, I jumped at the chance.  The thought of working with a small team of very engaged people, creating a brand new technology, to solve the problems for an ever-growing customer base, was incredibly appealing.

….Not to mention that I get to work with robots every day! As Matt said…What person doesn’t want to be a part of that?!

You both bring great intensity and humor- along with tremendous competence – to what you do and to how you collaborate with colleagues. You’re part of what makes the place hum!  Could you define the key components of a job well done, and what makes a great work experience?

Matt: The right blend of people. When I say “right”, it’s a dynamic term and doesn’t mean we have a bunch of team players, we do of course.  We have a true team in the sense that everyone brings unique strengths, people generally leave their egos aside, everyone is laser focused on the customers’ needs and we have fun and a few laughs when working together to solve the customer scenarios.  As my soccer coach used to say when I was younger, “leave everything on the field.”  Our team definitely does this and does whatever it takes to make our customers, product and company a success.  This makes our work environment very collaborative and a joy to work in.

Pat: I don’t think anyone has ever referred to me as intense, but I’ll take it!  For me, a job well-done means that you’ve given your all.  Each day here brings a whole set of new challenges and it’s working with my fellow colleagues, like Matt, to solve those challenges that makes for a phenomenal experience.   We have such a great group of folks here at Rethink who are hard-working and enthusiastic, and I love coming here each day knowing that I get to work alongside them.

You are both dads to baby daughters and I love to ask how being a parent affects your world-view and what you hope for your daughter and her future.

Matt: Well, I’m still a very new Dad.   I also believe that the world is what one makes of it, so I try not to let things get in my way or frustrate me too much.  I hope to pass this onto my daughter.   She definitely gives me a renewed sense of purpose and dedication to whatever I’m doing.  I think about all the things I’d like my daughter to experience and enjoy whenever I’m doing anything.  One of my uncles suggested creating an email address for her and emailing her from time to time.  I do this quite often.  I tell her about places we’ve gone, where we live, things I’d like to do together and so on.   Someday I’ll give her access to it and I hope she enjoys seeing the world that was around her while she was growing up.

Pat: It’s been a true joy watching my daughter grow the last 18 months. Of course, there have been some tears, tantrums, and late nights along the way but I try not to take any minute with her for granted.  I hope to instill in her the same values that my parents instilled in me so that she can become a positive influence on those around her.

Finally, you guys have produced a boatload of awesome material, captured on video over the past few years. Could you share a few of your best moments with us?  And you know I’m going for laughs here!

Matt: While in street clothes and doing a “dry run” for timing my coordination with Baxter for Rethink’s ALC Ice Bucket Challenge video my colleague Carl Palme was supposed to stop the robot before it dumped water on me.  Unbeknownst to me, and as you can see with the ear to ear smile on Carl’s face, he purposely let it dump some water on me.   Hilarious!

Pat: Nate Koontz, Eric Landry, and I spent a good chunk of a weekend last year shooting a couple videos for a Holiday Video contest.  Due to Eric’s steady hand and Nate’s ability to fill out a Santa suit, we were selected for Rethink’s Holiday Card.  That same day, we shot a Baxter/Rocky montage video where I played the part of a prospective customer.  One scene in particular took a while to get done because the three of us couldn’t stop cracking up.  (My wife is going to love that this is on the Internet.)

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About the Author

Ann Whittaker

Ann is a co-Founder of Rethink Robotics and VP, People & Culture. She has developed strategic and tactical expertise in the operational and human resources domains, creating an engaging, vital culture in which corporate objectives are achieved and employees flourish. Prior to co-founding Rethink Robotics in 2008, Ann held high-level administration and communications roles in educational, philanthropic and life sciences organizations. Her past affiliations include MIT’s Computer Science & Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, the David Rockefeller Jr. Family Office, Millennium Pharmaceuticals and PAREXEL International Corporation. Ann holds a BA from the American University and an MBA from Babson College. She currently serves on the Board of Trustees for the Chapel Hill-Chauncy Hall School and previously served on the Senior Advisory Board of Cellanyx Diagnostics.

1 comment on this article

Doug December 3, 2014 at 5:14 pm

Dear Ann,
the blog is awesome and this interview gives those involved in robotics an understanding of the people that make up the rethink robotics company.

Glad I found the blog and hope to have one of our Professor’s here at the University consider Baxter for our AB Rockwell controls lab.

Sincerely yours,
Kettering University
Sr. Lab Technician

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