December 4, 2005Her job: Computer Engineer, The MathWorks, Inc.
Describe what you do in your current work situation?
I am a principal software developer at MathWorks. We make software for engineers and scientists. In the past, I have led a department of people reporting to me across a range of the application areas: math, signal processing, image processing, and communications. Together we planned the products we would ship and figured out how we would staff the projects. It was gratifying to see our work help others do their work. Currently I work with customers in key industries for MathWorks to help them understand how to make the best use of our products, especially the foundation one, MATLAB.
Why did you choose engineering?
From the time I was a little girl, I wanted to be a mathematician and an astronaut. I also wanted to be a professional ballet dancer, but the odds of that working out were always very slim! Not to mention that I have yet to reach 5 feet tall.
Where did you go to school and what degree(s) do you have?
B.S. in physics from MIT Ph.D. in earth sciences at Scripps Institution of Oceanography.
What do you like best about being an engineer?
Writing and debugging software is, for me, like solving a crossword puzzle. You have to be careful, but also creative. When you're on a roll, everything falls into place. Working in a software company where this is my daily job is a real thrill!
What challenges have you met and conquered in your pursuit of an engineering career?
The biggest challenge for me is knowing that I can’t do everything I’m interested in and having to choose. Often I choose by seeing if someone else has time to work on one of my ideas. If so, I try to let that one go so other ideas can also get attention. It’s hard to give up the idea of me doing all the hands-on work myself. It took me a while to be comfortable with the notion that I could get a lot more of my ideas done if I worked with more folks; it also meant that I had to be willing to not "own" some of these projects on my own. In the end, I found out that all of the projects have benefited by a larger group of really smart, talented people working on them.
What (or who) had/has the greatest influence on your life choices?
One of my favorite quotes is by Edwin Land: "Every creative act is a sudden cessation of stupidity." It reminds me that sometimes you have to drop a way of thinking, especially if things are looking very complicated, because often there is a more direct and elegant way to accomplish the same end.
Describe something about your life outside of work: your hobbies, or perhaps a favorite book.
I love reading a broad spectrum of material, from novels to science and engineering journals. I also love traveling and seeing new places, people, and environments. Swimming and glassblowing are also havens for me – my brain goes into a different state and I can think about things from a different perspective. You never know where your next great idea will come from so it's worth expanding your horizons as much as possible.