This is What It’s Really Like to Be a Robotics Engineer

In this personal interview, Jagdeep Rangi reveals the moment when she knew engineering was her future and talks about the world-changing role that software engineers are playing in society today.

Jagdeep Rangi, a software engineer on Zebra`s robotics automation team, stands in front of a University of Toronto sign
by Your Edge Blog Team
April 05, 2021

Last month, we launched a new “Meet the Expert” series to help you gain a better sense of what it’s really like to work in certain career fields – and at Zebra. In the coming months, we’ll speak with people who serve in a variety of roles (not just STEM positions) and who come from all types of backgrounds. Our goal is to inspire those who may be considering a similar career path as well as those who are still exploring their options. You never know when that life-changing “aha” moment will come, or where it will come from. (Maybe right here, on the Your Edge blog?!)

Today, to help kick off National Robotics Week, we wanted to introduce you to a real-life female robotics engineer who is helping to change the world (and retail sector) one intelligent automation solution at a time.

Meet Jagdeep Rangi…

Your Edge Blog Team: Tell us a little bit about your job.

Jagdeep: I have been working as a software developer on various projects within the Enterprise Product Innovation team at Zebra since 2011. For the last few years, I have been part of the Zebra SmartSight™ project, working specifically for the core infrastructure and communications team. Just recently, I transitioned into a product owner role and am now responsible for ensuring the features our team delivers fulfil the requirements and are integrated into the solution by other sub-teams in an acceptable and efficient manner.

Your Edge Blog Team: Why did you decide to become a software engineer?

Jagdeep: I took programming as an extra course during high school. Even though it didn’t count toward my credits, it was a course I really enjoyed and wanted to spend time on. This exposure led me to apply for an Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE) program in college. During the course of my engineering studies, I gravitated more toward programming and computer systems courses and graduated as a Computer Engineer.

Your Edge Blog Team: How did you get involved in robotics automation, specifically?

Jagdeep: I actually did not complete any formal specialization in robotics or automation during my schooling. However, I have been part of the Engineering Product Innovation team that started exploring what Zebra could do in the field of Automation, and then the Enterprise Mobile Automation (EMA) project was started. There is plenty of development that is needed in terms of distributed computing, networking, cloud integration, software deployment, the boot up process and more to create the integrated automation solution that you know as the SmartSight system.

Your Edge Blog Team: Did you have the opportunity to take STEM classes throughout your early education? Or were there robotics programs that you were able to join to build your skill set?

Jagdeep: Even though science and mathematics were my favorite courses in school, I didn’t grow up thinking I wanted to be a software engineer. I was intrigued by a variety of career paths over the course of my schooling. It wasn’t until late high school that I decided I wanted to go into engineering and pursue electrical and computer engineering. After I joined the ECE program at the University of Toronto, I specialized in computer engineering and chose software programming to be my career path.

Your Edge Blog Team: Did your schooling fully prepare you for the real-world innovation and applications you’re working on today?

Jagdeep: Yes, to an extent. Schooling provided the basic knowledge and skills required to enter the field of software programming. However, this is an ever-changing field of technology, and one of the key skills required to succeed is to keep learning and exploring new technologies.

Your Edge Blog Team: Have you had the opportunity to mentor future engineers, either through FIRST Robotics or another program? If so, is there something that has left a significant impression on you about the experience?

Jagdeep: I have led the Professional Experience Year (PEY) internship recruitment for Zebra for the last few years. I am usually the first person the PEY student applicants interact with during their interview process. Over these years, I have had a chance to mentor and work alongside many talented students who are very eager to learn new technologies and gain industrial experience before choosing their areas of specialization.

Your Edge Blog Team: What excites you most about the future of robotics automation?

Jagdeep: Automation is still a fairly new field for the retail and warehouse sectors. I am very curious to see how automation fits into other use cases in these areas. Also, there is a lot of learning around robot-human interactions and, with the rollout of the SmartSight solution into retail stores, it will be interesting to see shoppers interact with the robots and how their interaction evolves over time. From all the customer pilots, we have gained a lot of knowledge on how the system gets used in a real environment and this has helped to further refine the solution. I feel there’s still a lot to learn as the system gets adopted and gains long-term experience in the customer environment. In my opinion, as the human-robot interaction gets more and more refined with in-field experience, there will be a lot of other opportunities for automation, and we will see the Smartsight system expand to cover various other use cases.

Your Edge Blog Team: Is there something that you want people to know about EMA that may not be discussed enough? Something she can do or a benefit she can deliver that needs more attention?

Jagdeep: The SmartSight solution is designed to spot shelf problems around stock and pricing and provides corrective actions to the workers. The solution itself has various layers ranging from the hardware, firmware, and navigation system to computer vision, job handling control and the application that interacts with the shoppers and provides the corrective actions to the users. All these layers are modular and can be adapted to solve different problems. I think it’s really important to note that…

  1. SmartSight is not just a data collection system. It is a complete solution that collects image shelf data, analyzes the data using advanced artificial intelligence (AI) and analytics algorithms and issues corrective actions to employees in the store to fully automate customer workflows.
  2. SmartSight does not rely on any store infrastructure to execute its tasks in the store. It autonomously navigates without the aid of any infrastructure-based support (such as beacons) and automatically processes all images captured on the system by itself.
  3. Within the SmartSight team alone, more than 30 people hold Masters and PhD degrees mostly focused in computer vision, deep learning and autonomous navigation.

Your Edge Blog Team: What advice would you give to younger generations who are interested in robotics? What should they be doing now to set themselves up for success at a company like Zebra after graduation?

Jagdeep: Robotics requires a wide variety of skills and is a field that will continue to expand its presence in various environments. An undergraduate degree in engineering will help provide the basics required for general software development and distributed computing. There are areas that require expertise, and specialized programs in areas of navigation and computer vision will be required if interested in these fields. As the base skill, an interest in computer systems and a desire to continuously learn and adopt new technologies is required to be successful.

Your Edge Blog Team: You could have worked anywhere. Why did you choose Zebra? And why have you stayed with Zebra so long?

Jagdeep: Team culture and people! I have been part of the Engineering Product Innovation group since I joined as an intern almost 10 years ago. I have worked on various projects that helped me grow both professionally and personally. However, the main reason why I chose to come back to work for Zebra after graduation – and why I have stayed here for so long – is the culture of my team. We have worked on various innovation projects over the years and it’s been a privilege to be part of a high functioning, collaborative, fun team that has become a second family for me.

Your Edge Blog Team: What do you enjoy doing in your free time?

Jagdeep: I love reading both fiction and non-fiction. I always have a hard time putting a book down once I have started reading it. Through books, I have lived many different lives, experienced various emotions and explored the world through different perspectives.  

Your Edge Blog Team: What is your proudest accomplishment thus far, either personally, professionally or both?

Jagdeep: My proudest accomplishment thus far has been gaining an understanding of my strengths and weaknesses. I have worked on various projects in various stages of development from the fuzzy front end defining the problem and requirements to supporting customer pilots. I have also worked alongside many talented engineers with various levels of experience and different work styles. The main thing I have gained from this experience is an understanding of myself. I have discovered my strengths and my comfort zone and identified the areas of improvement and growth. I have learned how to tie the details back to the bigger picture, navigate uncertainties and ultimately gained the confidence to take on new challenges.

###

Want to learn more about robotics automation? Check out these blog posts:

 

null
Your Edge Blog Team
We want to hear from you! Submit your comments, questions and topic ideas to blog@zebra.com.