What industry or field are you employed in?

Robotics

How many years have you been working in your field?

5 years

Describe what you do

My company makes a robotic arm that’s used in manufacturing; picking up items on a conveyor belt, putting them in the next station of the assembly line, that sort of thing. I write the software that lets people tell the robot what to do and how to do it. Some engineers write code that tells the robot how to physically move. Other engineers write the software that keeps track of the position of the robot, and figures out when the robot SHOULD move. I do some of that, but I work mostly on the user interface (UI), which is the information, text entry, and buttons presented to a real person, so that the person can see information about the robot and tell it to do something.

Describe how you do it.

I do code a lot, but believe it or not, code isn’t the most important part. Trying to build a complex piece of software that does something useful and cool is kind of like building a house; there’s a lot of architecture and design that needs to happen before you start putting it together. The code is your hammer and nails, but unless you have a solid design for how it should be structured, whatever you build will just fall apart. I work with other roboticists who know how to get information to and from the physical robot. I also work with artists who know how to make it easy for people to use the robot. I bridge the two, making an app that looks the way the artists want, but that can actually send commands to the robot.

Describe why you do it.

First off, there is the inherent “cool” factor of getting to work with robots. But my ultimate career goal is to work on the sorts of robots that do jobs that people currently can’t do, like explore outer space. We could build entire new industries around that. But the robotics industry is still pretty young. I want to help realize its potential in a way that helps people and pushes society forward.

What was the first step you took to become what you are now?

I took a Computer Science class in high school. It seemed like a cool, new way to fulfill a math/science requirement. And I HATED it. I was always more of an English/Humanities sort of girl. Computer Science makes you develop an entirely new way of thinking and I really struggled with that. Towards the end of the year, I finally got the hang of it and started to enjoy being able to build things. My final project was a personality quiz (kind of like on Buzzfeed) that I coded myself.

What do you wish you had paid more attention to in school?

Grades are an important stepping stone to get you where you want to be, but they don’t define you or your worth. I almost quit Computer Science because it was hard and I didn’t get good grades in it at first, and that was a big blow to my self-esteem. In retrospect, what mattered was finding something I loved doing, even if the road getting there was bumpy.

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