Tiffany Rolle is a software engineer at Beep, a Florida-based autonomous mobility solutions company providing the intelligence that enables safe, stress-free, eco-friendly, driverless mobility. She made a career change from working in healthcare as a respiratory therapist, learning remotely, and completing her bachelor’s degree in just three semesters. Tiffany is currently working on her master’s degree and she’s passionate about self-development and also supporting other people who are interested in tech careers to learn new skills.
“Diversity of thought is so important, especially in innovative fields like autonomous vehicle technology, because it brings together all different perspectives, experiences, and ideas, and it allows the team to create more diverse scenarios that will lead to more robust system development by approaching a problem from a variety of different angles.”
An unconventional journey into tech
My story is a bit of an unconventional one. My career first started out in healthcare, working the night shift at a hospital as a respiratory therapist. Sadly, this meant I would see the results of many severe accidents first-hand. One which really touched me was when a fellow night shift coworker tragically fell asleep at the wheel.
After that, I became very interested in autonomous vehicles and the value they can provide to the community. I purchased my own semi-autonomous vehicle after that night because that became a very real fear for me, working night shifts. I was amazed at the technology, so I researched what I needed to do to work with the software surrounding these vehicles, and that’s when I decided to get my bachelor’s degree in computer science.
I attended Western Governor’s University [WGU], and what I loved about them was that they were online, so I could keep working and take courses while maintaining my work schedule. I was also able to accelerate my classwork, so I ended up finishing my bachelor’s degree in just three semesters.
It was dizzying, but it was so much fun! Immediately after, I applied for my master’s degree at Nova Southeastern University. During my time at WGU, I was involved with the Women in Technology group, and for a while afterward too. One of my now friends from the group reached out to me via LinkedIn, although I didn’t know her at the time.
We became close friends, and I told her: “You work at my dream company!” She worked at Beep, and I bombarded her with questions. Initially, I was looking for an internship, but she encouraged me to apply for the full-time role. She said: “You’re qualified. You should go for it.” I’m so happy I did. It was quite serendipitous that my first job was also my dream job. I’m thrilled to be where I’m at now, working with Beep and its amazing technology.
More about Beep
By way of more background about the company, Beep provides autonomous mobility for first-mile and last-mile use cases, working with public sector partners like transit agencies, municipalities and college campuses. We also working with a number of private entities such as master-planned communities and engineering firms who are developing future transportation planning for communities. First and last mile means, for example, if you are going into the urban areas in a city or town, you can park outside the city or near the city and shuttles provide enhanced connectivity to key destinations at the centre of a community or existing transit or mobility offerings.
We have some here locally to me in Florida, and it’s great. They serve all the shopping areas, the public park areas. Our shuttles even go to the 55-plus community’s residential area to help with mobility so people can have a better quality of life.
Beep’s goals are to decrease traffic congestion and to provide a positive impact for the local economies that Beep serves, reducing air pollution in a safe and eco-friendly manner.
All Beep’s shuttles allow users to get around town in a safe manner by reducing distracted driving instances and, therefore reducing the risk caused by error. All of our shuttles are also monitored by the Beep Command Center in Lake Nona, Florida. I feel very privileged to work in research and development, which is the department that’s designing the platform that monitors the vehicles.
A day in the life of a software engineer
As a software engineer, I spend my day in front of several computer screens. It’s a very interesting role because there’s always new and unique problems to solve. (I love puzzles and problem-solving!) I do more backend work, and my role as a backend software engineer allows me to use those skills on a daily basis.
I help design, develop, and maintain software applications that relay information to various other applications, like our monitoring platform called the Command Center. I’m personally accountable for our service management initiatives to ensure safe operation and testing of our shuttles whenever they are on the road.
Some of my tests include analysing the requirements of a specific project and creating a plan for how my service will work with the various components of our software. Sometimes this can include database design, sometimes API [ application programming interface] design. You could think of an API as a kind of like a server that relays information to the different applications within our software infrastructure.
I also work on the integration of necessary data transformations, depending on how each service will utilise the data. After providing an initial design of how I believe that needs to look I will work with the technical leads and other members of our team to ensure that my application will integrate well with the other services.
Personally, I set up diagrams of how I want my code to be structured before I actually start writing code. I always try to approach it in a very organised and methodical manner. I try to think of it structurally. It’s very similar to writing a document sometimes — you’re planning out your code before you start to write.
Diversity of thought leads to better solutions
Diversity of thought is so important, especially in innovative fields like autonomous vehicle technology, because it brings together all different perspectives, experiences, and ideas, and it allows the team to create more diverse scenarios that will lead to more robust system development by approaching a problem from a variety of different angles. That contributes to more balanced decisions and greater problem solving, and ultimately, a system that’s going to work better.
Benefits of autonomous vehicles
There are so many benefits to autonomous vehicles. The one we’ve touched on already is the elimination of human error. This means you don’t have to worry about factors like distracted driving so you don’t have to worry about a driver sitting there on their cell phone, making it safer.
Autonomous vehicles can reduce traffic congestion in urban areas by providing last mile logistics. Users can safely get around town without needing to drive a vehicle into those congested areas. It can provide increased mobility for individuals who may not be able to drive around due to age, disability, or other reasons. We had a pilot programme in Peoria, Arizona, that was a medical route to drive elderly members of the community to their appointments. So, there’s just some really great use cases for these shuttles.
Regarding environmental impact, all our shuttles are electric, so they decrease air pollution in their carbon footprint. Because multiple riders can fit in a shuttle, on average, you can decrease three vehicles on the road at a time. (That’s just an average, depending on which shuttle we’re using, but it gives you a sense of what’s possible to achieve.) As shuttles increase in prevalence, there’ll be a reduced need for large parking spaces in urban areas, so this can free up land for other use cases and reduce urban sprawl.
Doing what excites me every day
Working with the technology surrounding these autonomous vehicles makes me really glad to do what excites me every day. There’s always new and interesting problems to solve, and I get to work on a project I believe in.
Beep is a great company, too. We have such a wonderful culture and I have such respect for everyone I work with. Everyone you meet is just amazing. That’s something really rare and special.
Advice for aspiring software engineers
I have two major pieces of advice for members of the Womanthology community interested in software engineering. The first is more technical, because software engineering is such a vast field where a wide range of disciplines converge, so I would advise anyone looking to get involved in software engineering to take time to research the technologies and frameworks they ultimately want to work with.
When learning a new skill, it’s really important to spend time learning that skill thoroughly before going to the next. Make sure you really understand it because it’s very easy to get drawn into all of these different technologies, and you don’t want to become overwhelmed, which can happen if you’re not careful.
You want to be able to produce quality work at the end of the day, so it’s important to focus on developing one skill at a time. By all means explore, but make sure you’ve got some kind of good foundation. Also, find support and join affinity groups and professional groups.
It helps to encourage open and honest communication. We all have sticking points, and it’s important to have people that you trust and can communicate with to help you look at things from a different angle. Look for a mentor to help your long journey, and if you’re able to, as you’re progressing, become a mentor to those who need it. I’m lucky to have many great mentors who give me hard honesty when I need it, which helps me grow professionally.
When I started my journey, I didn’t know anyone doing software engineering. I was looking at articles (like this one!), so I love to encourage others on their journeys.
I am personally looking forward to finishing up my master’s degree. I’m 40% of the way through, so I’m getting there. I’m currently enrolled in the computer science programme at Nova Southeastern University. I just love what I do, and I want to continue learning and growing with that.
The programme has helped me both personally and professionally. I would like to continue to gain enough experience and knowledge to pivot towards a more architectural role in the future, but of course, you must have that knowledge and experience behind you before you start architecting. Watch this space — I’ll keep you posted!