From small island adventure kid to a manager at Uber’s Advanced Technology Center, Courtney Bailey, ‘12 shares her passion for learning and how it landed her in the career field of self-driving cars!
Courtney Bailey grew up on a small island in the Susquehanna River and spent her days as an adventure kid, exploring with friends. If that isn’t a dream childhood for all our environmental studies alumni, then I don’t know what is.
For as long as she can remember, Bailey loved being outside. By the time she entered high school, she enrolled in every environmental studies and biology class she could get her hands on. In fact, for years when she was younger, she had always seen herself as a marine biologist. Though biology worked out as an eventual minor, ultimately environmental studies would be her path. She knew she wanted the best opportunity at a multi-faceted degree to position her well in the environmental field, and one that wouldn’t tie her to one single specialty.
Fast forward to today, Bailey has been working for Uber’s Advanced Technologies Group for over four years. As Project Specialist on the Machine Teaching and Interactive Learning Team, she is responsible for managing a small group of individuals whose focus is workflow, policy, and quality for their data analysis tooling; all to advance self-driving technology. But how in the world did she get from a B.A. in environmental studies with a minor in biology to working with Uber’s self-driving technology?
Bailey’s path wasn’t an overnight success story. However, she took every opportunity and used her time effectively to position herself to where she wanted to be. While at Penn State Altoona, she interned with Katrina Pope at the Intermunicipal Relations Committee (IRC), where she focused on providing educational opportunities and resources for recycling and composting programs in Blair County. Upon graduation, she spent some time with fellow alum Colin Lennox (‘09) at EcoIslands LLC. Their work focused on bioremediation and, more specifically, acid mine drainage reclamation. About a year after graduation, she decided to relocate to Pittsburgh. And after sending out 42 resumes, she landed a position with RedZone Robotics. RedZone is hired by cities to operate drone robots that map out the infrastructure of sewer systems; this provides the city with a comprehensive quality assessment of their pipes and helps plan preventative maintenance. Bailey’s two years at RedZone were spent as an environmental analyst in their reporting department using software that analyzed LiDAR, CCTV, laser and sonar data.
It was after two years with RedZone that Bailey became aware that Uber was opening up a technology center across the hall from her office. But because Uber was being incredibly secretive, Bailey began networking with others in the building to see if there might be a position for her. Those connections landed her on the machine teaching team that processes the data collected from Uber’s self-driving vehicles. Mastering that software, she became the head of training for the following two years. Now this past year, she’s become a manager with four direct reports where her main priority is to create policies and workflows for new tool features as well as ensuring quality data produced for internal consumers.
When reflecting on her experience in the environmental studies program, Bailey admits it's hard to pick a favorite course or memory. But ultimately shares that her favorite course was ENVST 100. It was her very first semester in college and the bonds she made immediately impacted her growth and learning for the four and a half years to follow. She still holds contact with many of those fellow alumni today. This course also led her to her adviser, Carolyn Mahan, who Bailey credits for helping her make it through her undergraduate studies. Lastly, the Chesapeake Bay trip and spending time at the Smith Island Environmental Education Center, learning about the Bay health is one of her best memories. Speaking fondly of “oysters, eating 7-layer cake, having distance mudslide competitions, kayaking, sitting around the campfire and laughing until our stomachs hurt.”
When asked what piece of advice she would give to another student currently going through the program, “Never stop learning! Your degree will open you up to a world full of possibilities that you may not have even known existed (kind of like self-driving vehicles)!”
Written by Erin Nachtman, ‘10