March 5, 2010Her job: Senior Software Engineer, Motorola
Describe what you do in your current work situation?
Currently I am serving as the technical lead and embedded software developer for a project. Each day is different. One day I might be working with a contractor to develop requirements. The next day I might be benchmarking code. On another day I will be reading technical specifications to find the right component to work with our system. One of the biggest tasks I do on a daily basis is to recruit information from my team members in order to make the best possible technical decision for the project and the team. This means I need to be able to speak to many different disciplines of engineers and do my own independent research.
Why did you choose engineering?
I chose engineering because it excited me. I have never turned away from a challenge and I found a challenge in engineering.
Where did you go to school and what degree(s) do you have?
I went to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign where I graduated with a Bachelors of Science in Computer Engineering and a Minor in Mathematics.
What kinds of activities have typically been part of your work?
I have green-wired boards to debug them. I have looked into kernel code, modified drivers, integrated with third-party code, built custom kernels, and written gobs of code. I've worked with Java, assembly, Flash, Perl, HTML, C and C++.
What do you like best about being an engineer?
The challenge of finding an answer to the problem.
Which of your career accomplishments are you proudest of?
I am most proud of being in the industry for 10 years. I have had my low-points in my career where I've wanted to find an "easier" path for my life. But I cannot leave the challenge of finding the answer and the possibility of making a difference in the world through engineering.
What challenges have you met and conquered in your pursuit of an engineering career?
One of the challenges that I have faced was learning that engineering is not about 1s and 0s. Engineering is a people discipline. So many of the stereotypes do not accurately portray what an engineer does. I spend more of my time communicating with others and seeking to understand than I do coding. And I firmly believe that's the way to a successful project. Anyone can write code. But it takes a lot of effort to understand what that code is supposed to do and why.
Please tell us a little about your family.
I come from a family of three siblings where I am the only girl. I grew up in the Midwest and while I've worked on both coasts, I have come back to the Midwest to stay. My father was a union painter who taught himself about computers and programming. He always pushed himself to achieve the next certification and then the one after that. My father has always had a thirst for knowledge. My mother also works outside of the home. She currently works in an accounting department. I've learned how to be a better citizen of the world from her. My mother has also shown me how each person is different and communicates in a different way. I've come to respect those differences and try to work with them when possible. My two brothers are very smart and very into technology. Probably more so than I. I am married and have no kids. My husband is in sales. We have two cats.
What are your short-term (1-2 years) and long-term (10+ years) goals?
In the short-term, I hope to have started a family. I do plan on working while having a family as I believe that children need to see that men and women can be employed. I also plan on becoming more involved on projects as they come into my department.. I feel that my ability to discuss requirements and get to the real need will be best used in that capacity. In the long-term, I plan to become more involved with engineering outreach organizations. I would like to eventually work in a university setting where I can mentor freshmen engineering students.
What (or who) had/has the greatest influence on your life choices?
My mother. So much of who I am has come from her.
What advice would you give to a young woman considering a career in engineering?
Do not shy away from your natural talents as women. If you are a good at asking questions and carrying on conversations, see that as a strength to your engineering skills. Using your creativity and communication will make your projects better and make you a better employee. After 10 years, I see engineering changing as a profession. You don't need to be the "best" coder anymore. You need to be the "best" informed person. And while a lot of information is available in books and online, there is a lot of information in the heads of your clients and colleagues. Communicate with your clients to determine what they really want. Sometimes they need to be guided to the real requirements and sometimes they know exactly what they want. It's up to you to ask the questions.
Describe something about your life outside of work: your hobbies, or perhaps a favorite book.
I love to knit. I try to knit every night at home while watching TV after dinner. It's great because it keeps my brain engaged but I don't have to think about timing diagrams or board layouts.