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Career pioneers

From building self-driving cars to shooting video from drones, these six people are thriving in occupations that didn’t even exist a decade ago.

Career pioneers
Aureta Thomollari and Jordan “Watts” Watson [Animation: Ramona Rosales; Set designer: Sam Jaspersohn at See Management]

Instagram art and fashion influencers

Aureta Thomollari and Jordan “Watts” Watson, Los Angeles

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When Aureta Thomollari (@Aureta) and Jordan “Watts” Watson (@love.watts) first met at a friend’s L.A. party in 2014, they discovered a shared passion for art, fashion, and Instagram. The two decided to collaborate, creating several new Instagram accounts with a combined following that now exceeds 3 million, fueling Watson’s business as an art curator and Thomollari’s as a global luxury brand consultant. “A big turning point was when Rihanna followed [us],” Watson says. “I had the tastemakers coming to me for my taste. That’s when I was like, Okay, it’s time to take this seriously.”


[Photo: Eric T. White; Set designer: Andrea Greco at Anyway Reps]

Autonomous Vehicle Engineer

Mandi Damman, Detroit

Fifteen years ago, Mandi Damman began her career at General Motors through GM’s undergraduate co-op program. She joined the company full time in 2007 and earned a master’s in automotive engineering while rotating through various groups, including  structural vibration, vehicle dynamics, and chassis and steering, before moving over to the autonomous vehicles team two years ago. “I didn’t know what I was getting myself into but felt that I had the aptitude, and I wasn’t scared to figure it out as we went.” After less than a year, Damman was promoted to chief engineer of autonomous vehicles.


[Animation: Eric T. White; Set designer: Andrea Greco at Anyway Reps]

Amazon Marketplace Seller

Sebastian Cwik, Fairfield, New Jersey

Sebastian Cwik was a single dad working as a waiter when he used his $4,000 in life savings to buy several crates of retail products (mostly snack foods and detergents) he could mark up and sell online for a profit. “I was working out of my house, and my friends would watch me hauling all these boxes of merchandise I’d had delivered into my basement. They were saying, ‘What are you doing?’ and laughing at me,” recalls Cwik, cofounder of Common Cents Distributors, which now ships three tractor trailers full of goods each week to Amazon fulfillment centers from a 20,000-square-foot facility 25 miles west of Manhattan. “They’re not laughing anymore.”


[Photo: Ramona Rosales; Set designer: Sam Jaspersohn at See Management]

Meal-kit chef

Jason Triail, Orange County, California

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Starting out as a stock boy for an Italian market at age 12, Jason Triail worked his way up to become an executive chef for a large Italian restaurant and executive kitchen manager for a national restaurant chain. He’d been in the food business for nearly 30 years when a recruiter connected him, in 2014, with Kyle Ransford, an entrepreneur who was launching a meal-kit company. “I had never heard of a meal-kit company,” says Triail, cofounder and chief culinary officer of Chef’d, which sold its meals both online and in more than a dozen retail outlets. “Two hours later, I walked out of the interview and called my wife and said, ‘Order Blue Apron and Plated!’ And she was like, ‘What is this?’ I said, ‘I have no idea.'” (Chef’d suspended operations on July 16.)


[Photo: Eric T. White; Set designer: Andrea Greco at Anyway Reps]

Drone Cinematographer

Elena Buenrostro, Brooklyn

Elena Buenrostro had been working in video production (for various media companies, as a freelancer, and as a teacher) for nearly 10 years when clients began asking her for drone shots. After becoming a certified drone pilot and posting her sweeping aerial footage on Instagram, she founded Women Who Drone, an online community that now has more than 5,000 members worldwide and offers support and instruction. “We have workshops on weekends and one-on-one drone lessons regularly in Brooklyn,” Buenrostro says. “My three passions are capturing footage, telling a story, and education, so I somehow have managed to combine the three.”

Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Elena Buenrostro posted her drone videos on YouTube rather than Instagram.

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About the author

Cory Fernandez is an editorial assistant at Fast Company. Cory writes for Fast Company's Leadership and Entertainment verticals.

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