Zymergen is hiring an

Associate Director, Automation Platform

Emeryville, United States

Associate Director, Automation Platform

Zymergen is hiring an Associate Director (AD) to lead our Automation Platform team in designing, developing, and deploying automation solutions to our labs. The breadth of responsibilities is great, covering biological, chemical, and material science labs; off-the-shelf solutions and novel integrated systems of our own design. The team is multidisciplinary, including ~14 automation, software, and mechanical engineers. The AD will report to the Head of Automation and work closely with other Automation managers as well as group leads and subject matter experts in other scientific and engineering departments. 

Zymergen is building the technology for a scalable, reconfigurable, highly automated industrial microbe factory. Backed by automated chemical synthesis and properties testing, the microbial strains this factory creates will produce new chemicals with properties unlike anything that can be derived from petroleum

About the job

This is a challenging position at the intersection of engineering (mechatronic, software, and automation), process (biological and chemical), team leadership, and stakeholder engagement. 

As the head of a highly effective multidisciplinary team, you will have the opportunity to shape Zymergen’s automation architecture and direct the introduction of new technology within a growing company. Zymergen’s Automation Platform team has designed and developed the most advanced system for integration of biological lab automation in the industry. Your efforts will ensure this system reaches its full potential - namely, the automation of >80% of our biological lab work. In our chemistry and material science labs, there is even more basic ground work to be laid as we automate in a space that has seen limited innovation to date. Zymergen is not just a synthetic biology company; it’s a products company. Many of the products we make have never been made before, and automation in chemistry and material science will accelerate our success. 

You will spend most of your energy guiding the team: Understanding the broader context of your team’s work. Turning context into strategy by setting goals for the year and translating those goals into prioritized quarterly objectives. Helping managers and engineers on the team accomplish their tasks by listening, providing advice, and clearing blockers. Giving feedback, both directional and developmental. Communicating with the team so they know everything they need to do their job as well as everything that’s coming their way. Communicating with other teams so that they know what we’re doing and not doing and when.

Your management will keep the team running smoothly. Among other things, you will: Run team meetings. Have regular one-on-ones with your team members. Give strategic, tactical, and career guidance. Think about team structure and long term group needs. Guide the hiring process for new engineers or managers. Establish and improve relationships and boundaries with other teams. Keep team members productive and happy. Work closely with managers and tech leads to define project scope and ensure access to necessary resources. Work with your managers to match projects with engineers. Contribute to yearly and quarterly project and CapEx planning for the department. Work with Site Operations to plan new labs and buildings. Negotiate contracts with outside vendors. Think about patent strategy. Keep abreast of new technologies. Participate in due-diligence efforts. Work with Purchasing, Legal, Marketing, HR, and other groups to get things done and allow your team members focus on building the Zymergen automation platform. 

About you

Note that this section describes a nearly ideal candidate. Hopefully it does so in a way that gives insight into what this job entails. Please don’t hesitate to apply even if you don’t feel like you’re a perfect match! Humility itself is a good sign....

You have several years of management experience, ideally 5+. You have managed medium or even large-sized teams, ideally managing managers. You have managed highly technical teams and projects. 

You approach your job with humility. You listen to others and are always ready to have your mind changed. Moreover, you can think of several times in the recent past when your mind has been changed. You have a growth mindset, aware that both you and others will always have things to learn and ways to improve. You are both interested in the details and ready to trust that your team members know best. You enjoy working with people and helping them work through difficult situations, whether they be technical or interpersonal. You don’t get flustered easily, and you naturally look for ways to make progress despite hurdles or setbacks. You are up to the task of managing a team that is mixed on-site and remote. You are thoughtful about increasing diversity, in all its forms, in our field. 

You have familiarity with laboratory automation. You know a Bravo from an Echo; VWorks from Cellario. You’re interested in learning about new industries and new instruments. Polymerization and doctor blade in addition to miniprep and NGS; chemical reactors in addition to bioreactors. 

You aren’t necessarily an expert python programmer or wizard in Solidworks, but you know enough about modern software development and the realities of making a physical product that you can provide meaningful guidance to professional software developers and mechatronics engineers alike. You have thoughts about how to balance waterfall planning with agile development. Ideally, your software knowledge extends beyond desktop software to cover some typical elements of a cloud stack. AWS, relational databases, time series data, and the IIoT are all familiar. You have thoughts on when to spend time on DfX (Design for X) in different circumstances. You know what Solidworks PDM is and what PLC stands for. 

You are excited about being at the intersection of several fields. You enjoy leading a highly effective team. You are energized by the idea of making “impossible” materials with biology. 

Additional Details

Long term, this job will frequently require working onsite in Emeryville, CA. In the short to medium term (until ~summer 2021), most work will be done remotely. Some on-site time to build context at the start will be important. Candidates must be willing to relocate to the Bay Area in the near future if they’re not there already. 

Previous experience in the field of synthetic biology is not essential.


Legal authorization to work in the U.S. is required. Zymergen may agree to sponsor an individual for an employment visa now or in the future if there is a shortage of individuals with particular skills for this job.

In compliance with federal law, all persons hired will be required to verify identity and eligibility to work in the United States and to complete the required employment eligibility verification form upon hire.


Founded in 2013 and based in the San Francisco Bay Area, Zymergen is a technology company unlocking the power of biology. We deliver better economics for products made from biology that are used across industries, bring new products to market faster, and develop novel products. Our proprietary platform uses robots and machine learning to engineer microbes faster, more predictably, and to a level of performance previously unattainable. These microbes, and the products they produce, have broad applications across industries such as chemicals and materials, agriculture, and healthcare. For more information visit www.zymergen.com.