October 14, 2010Her job: Principal Engineer Operations, Intelsat
Describe what you do in your current work situation?
In my current work I work with Design & implementation of Ground Network systems which complement Intelsat's satellite fleet to provide end to end communications for customers across the globe. The technologies I work to support include Digital Video Braodcast (DVB) systems, iDirect technologies, Cisco networking technology, etc. I also lead & Resolve Network Operations Center (NOC) 7x24 escalated problems during working hours or on call (that is when off the clock on some nights, holidays or weekends. I also provide technical support to the NOC, Satellite Control Center (SCC), Digital Video Broadcast (DVB) Hub stations & International Operations Center (IOC) on all aspects of Ground Network Engineering operations and correcting system problems.
Why did you choose engineering?
As far back as I can remember, I have always loved math and science and a good challenge. I always dreamt of doing something that required this skill set. I was very lucky to have a father who challenged me in math and encouraged me to tackle sciences. I thought about possible careers that would allow me to use math and science and did not settle on Engineering until my last year in high school when my dad took me to his work place where I met some telecommunication engineers and spent a day observing and asking questions about what they did. I loved the way logics and creativity came together and I wanted to become an engineer. My mind got made up when the team challenged me to apply for engineering and promised to provide my first programmable calculator if I got accepted into Engineering school. Needless to say, I took the challenge.
Where did you go to school and what degree(s) do you have?
For Engineering school I first studied in Moi University of Science and technology in Eldoret, Kenya. I obtained an honors degree as a Bachelor of Technology in Electrical and Communications Engineering. I also obtained a Masters of Science in Telecommunications Engineering and management at the University of Maryland, College Park, MD, USA. Due to the fast changing pace of technology, I have also kept learning through participation in work shops, certifications and manufacturer training.
What kinds of activities have typically been part of your work?
The activities that have been typically a part of my work include:- -creativity -trouble shooting -Building communication systems -Project management
What do you like best about being an engineer?
I like being able to work in extremely diverse teams where ideas thrive into tangible products that can be used by clients worldwide in meeting their business needs. I also love that during some projects, there is a lot of travel to different places in our globe.
Which of your career accomplishments are you proudest of?
I am proud of being part of the team that built and provided emergency telecommunication services to Indonesia following the Tsunami. I remember doing with less than 4 hours sleep each day during that February month, but the staisfaction of providing communications to aid in the rescue and rebuild was priceless.
What challenges have you met and conquered in your pursuit of an engineering career?
The engineering career has been pre-dominantly male even in this 21st century. My first shock in the field was when I interned at the Kenya Railways Electrical department and there was no women's restroom because the infrastructure did not foresee women entering that field. Other challenges have been the absence of mentors and coaches who can guide women especially earlier on in their career. Having to always put in extra effort before peers can accept your contribution as equals is also a problem that surfaces every time teams change or the career opportunity changes.
Please tell us a little about your family.
I am the oldest of 4 sibblings. I grew up as a child of two worlds. School time was spent in the city where both my parents lived and worked and all school holidays were spent in the country with my grandparents. My father was an accountant and my mother was a secretary. Ours was one of the earliest two parent working families and we had to assume responsibilities around the house to ensure a balanced family life for all of us. My family has always been supportive of my endevours and now that I have my own family, I can use some of the parenting skills I observed when I was a child in Kenya in raising my own children here in the USA. An engineer is a good observer and can analyze issues and draw conclusions. Engineering has taken me places and opened up opportunities for me and my husband and children.
What are your short-term (1-2 years) and long-term (10+ years) goals?
I would like to move from an individual contributor to management. In the long term I see myself in the executive suite and playing more of a leader role in the industry in terms of consultancy, etc. I feel like a moving library of information and i have to find a way of sharing this for the next generation of engineers.
What (or who) had/has the greatest influence on your life choices?
My father, David Akoto who has never doubted my capabilities even in an environment where nobody gave a woman a chance to succeed. Engineer Majani for providing mentoring and direction during my early career choices. Successful woman and engineer migwalla, unfortunately I lost touch with her but I learnt a lot about professionalism by observing her management style when i was a trainee egineer with Kenya Posts and Telecommunications in the early 1990's.
What advice would you give to a young woman considering a career in engineering?
By all means do it. Do not shy away from sciences. Do not be ashamed to ask for advice and always let your voice be heard.
Describe something about your life outside of work: your hobbies, or perhaps a favorite book.
I love sports especially basketball. i have been able to infect all my children with the love of the outdoors and active participation in sports. When time allows, i act as coach and sometimes I am just the driver to sporting events. I always find time to pull out a book and read. I am currently reading "It's Not a Glass Ceiling, It's a Sticky Floor" by Rebecca Shambaugh. I read industry journals from IEEE and other professional organizations to keep abreast with technology. I also do light reading like the Reader's digest. I also regularly participate in a local congregation to help keep my focus and hope alive.