Professional Development

How I Got Here: Now a Thoro.ai engineer, she wasn’t sure if she would attend college — then thrived in a technical major

Rae Modzelewski is now a lead field testing engineer at the Lawrenceville robotics company. Here's her story of saying yes to new challenges.

Rae Modzelewski.

(Courtesy photo)

Ever since she was a teen, Rae Modzelewski’s path has tended to deviate from what she originally thought she wanted. But her willingness to try new things has led her to a fulfilling career in tech — now as a lead field testing engineer with Lawrenceville’s Thoro.ai — that her younger self couldn’t have imagined was possible.

Modzelewski wasn’t originally sold on higher education. As a teenager in Ohio, she never felt like a particularly strong student, and thought she could be reasonably happy continuing to work as a server. She enjoyed interacting with so many different people, Modzelewski told Technical.ly, and she liked the idea that she could punch out at the end of the day and not have to think about her job while off the clock.

Her mother felt she should keep her options open.

“My mom was the one who really challenged me,” Modzelewski said. “She told me, ‘You know you have dreams, and you’ll be able to fund those activities and your future goals better if you go to school’ — and her words, not mine, ‘You’ll be able to get paid more to work less.’ I can’t say that last part is true, but I’m still really happy with my decision.”

New major, new career path

With her mother’s encouragement, she’d choose to attend Ohio University. Still, to her dismay, she’d find that she didn’t quite feel at home in her chosen major. While she’d assumed her social skills and willingness to work with children would translate well into becoming a teacher, the reality was that being an education major didn’t excite her.

She would find inspiration to pursue a new path not from her classes, but from her roommates: In the dorms, Modzelewski wound up living with a couple engineering students. To earn extra money, sometimes she’d help them with their homework. They were so impressed by her aptitude that they encouraged her to consider a different career choice.

“They’re like, ‘You should try it’ [and] I’m like, ‘I could never do that,’” Modzelewski recalled. “And they’d say I could because I was helping them with their homework and that I should just give it a try.”

She did give it a try, and obtained her degree in technical engineering. That eventually led to her role at Thoro.ai, the robotics company that specializes in developing autonomous robots for cleaning applications.

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Learning on the job

Whereas as a young person, Modzelewski said, she would have struggled to define what an engineer did, now her days could include anything from learning about the newest softwares to taking robots offsite for testing. And despite her insecurities about her capabilities as a student in the beginning of her education, now Modzelewski appreciates that despite having graduated just two years ago, in 2020, her job requires her to keep learning.

She also enjoys working on a small team — about 25 in the company overall — where she gets to fulfill so many different roles.

“I’m able to interface with a lot of different people and work on a lot of different items,” Modzelewski said. “There’s not normally a time in my day where I’m ever given a problem or problem is presented and I say, ‘Nope, that’s not me, that’s not my job.’ I get to really troubleshoot and work with the team and understand what’s going on from the bottom to the top, left to right.”

Advice for other tech newcomers

From the uncertainty of her teenage years to the serendipity that led her to discovering her passion for tech, Modzelewski’s life looks nothing like what her 17-year-old self thought it’d look like — and she said now, couldn’t be happier. A series of unexpected moves led her to find a career that brings her curiosity, her social skills, and problem solving abilities together and works at a place that creates technology she hopes will improve peoples’ everyday lives.

Her advice to anyone just starting out in their tech career? To never sell themselves short or rule out different career possibilities, even if they don’t begin with the most traditional of backgrounds.

“Your capability is determined by what you believe about yourself, so if you believe that you can only do small things, you’re probably only gonna do small things,” Modzelewski said. “But if you believe that you can — you are intelligent, you are hardworking — you are capable of accomplishing the goals that you set for yourself.”


Atiya Irvin-Mitchell is a 2022-2023 corps member for Report for America, an initiative of The Groundtruth Project that pairs young journalists with local newsrooms. This position is supportedby the Heinz Endowments. -30-
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