Posts Tagged ‘engineering’

Stereotype Reminders

I spent Tuesday this week at my alma mater doing some recent graduate recruiting for work.  Unfortunately, it also ended up being a reminder that gender stereotypes continue to exist- even with those in college today.

The career fair lasted for 5 hours and I was talking to people non-stop.  I would guess I talked to about 75 eager job hunters.  Three people out of those seventy five assumed that I was an HR person.  They were somewhat suprised when I responded that I had graduated with a degree in electrical and computer engineering from this very school and had a very technical job at work as an engineer.

Now I’ve never been a man.  But I would venture to guess one of students approaching a guy standing in front of a technology company booth at a career fair  would not immediately assume he was with HR.  I can hope that the other 72 people I talked to thought of me as an engineer and did not immediately categorize me as probably being with HR.  But I’m really concerned that here in 2010, where women have been pushing to break down those stereotypes for over 60 years, 4% of the engineering population at a very established, highly regarded school, still verbalized the stereotype.

In fact, just last week we had a senior women’s lunch at work.  I was chatting with the most senior technical person in my division.  She mentionned that a few weeks prior she was doing interviews for an open position.  She walked into the interview room and the young man vying for the position said “hi, nice to meet you, this must be the HR interview”.  She nicely put him in his place and replied with “no this is a harder technical interview than your last one with the most senior developer on the team”. 

Just typing this takes me back to one more story.  A few years back I won a very presitigious achievement award at my company.  There were just over one hundred winners from around the company.  They flew us and our spouses to San Diego for the weekend to accept the award and party with management.  As my husband and I mingled, person after person walked up and congratulated him.  Each time he would smile and say, “no I’m just the husband, Allison won the award”.  Needless to say, there were a lot of red faces and “sorrys”.

Sometimes when I hear all the push about increasing diveristy and breaking down stereotypes I start to wonder if there is too much hype.  Maybe we’ve been talking about this all for too long.  Maybe women have gained enough of a footing in the technical space that we don’t need to keep pushing the equality.  Then I have an experience like this week and it reminds me- there has been progress, but there is still a way to go.

Friday Funny

I am always in need of a little laugh on Friday.  Earlier today I was deep in discussion about change control boards and I felt like we were addressing problems I didn’t even know we had.  Which happens to be a good example of engineers trying to engineer solutions to communication problems, resulting in complicated process, rather than just people talking to people. (thus the 1st cartoon).  I had seen it before, and in searching for it, I came across the second one, which is just so appropriate for anyone who has had an IM chat with me and seen all the misspellings that come with my fast typing 🙂

How to avoid firefighting in validation

One of the attendees to my DVClub talk last week just blogged about my talk.  I thought he did a good job summarizing what I said.  Cadence sponsored the lunch.  Here’s the link. (and a picture of me in the process of talking- not so flattering 🙂 )

Speaking at the Silicon Valley DVClub

I’m speaking today for the silicon valley Design Verification Club.  I think the presentation will be linked up to the website with some audio soon.

My topic “Tales from the Trenches: Validation Missteps Making us fulltime Firefighters”.

Engineering Yarn

One of the new skills I decided to learn this year was how to knit.  I am one of those people who has a hard time sitting still while watching TV.   I am always multi-tasking on my computer or cleaning.  Knitting has been on my radar for awhile.  When my grandmother passed away, my mom mailed me her knitting needles.  I figured it was time I did something with them and signed up for a knitting class this January.

The process of knitting amazes me.  You take a ball of yarn and two sticks.  You move the yard around with the two sticks and create scarves, blankets, hats….  This week was my third class.  The first two weeks we made what you would call a scarf, but tried out different types of stitches.  The result is sort of a hodge-podge of textures and mistakes that somewhat resembles a scarf.  (The first 4 inches of mine was a trapezoid with 3 unintentional button holes.)  At the beginning of this third class, I unraveled the “scarf” to start again.

My amazement really set in as I was unraveling.  To unravel you just take the scarf off your needles, grab an end of the yarn, and start pulling.  There are no knots, nothing to really “undo”.  The scarf I just made was gone in seconds.  How cool that you can just loop yarn around and make an amazing piece of clothing that looks dense and structurally secure?

It reminded me of when I really decided I wanted to be an engineer.  I was a freshman in college and learning about how computers worked, I had a similar sense of amazement.  Down at the core, computers are about moving electrons around.  How amazing is that?  Everything you see on a screen, games you play, videos you watch, skype conversations with people across the world…down at the core,  it’s all about forcing some electrons to move this way or that.

I continue to be fascinated by computers and technology.  My electrical and computer engineering degree focus was on the solid state physics side.  Actually understanding how you fabricate circuits and lay them out, and made that foundation for computers.  As I’ve advanced in my career I’ve added on additional firmware and software and system knowledge.  When you think about it, computers are just amazing complex systems with so many things that can go wrong.  The more I know, the more it seems to be a miracle each time I hit the “on” button and my laptop boots and does what it needs to for me that day.

I am happy I chose a study and career path that allows me to part of creating an advancing this technology.  I’m also happy when my new hobbies make me take a step back and remember how amazing and impactful engineering those little electrons can be.

Haiti Help, Engineering Style

The world seems to be focused on helping Haiti during this past week.  I thought I’d use the opportunity to highlight one of my favorite engineering organizations.

When I was younger, I wanted to be involved in medicine.  Not necesarily as a doctor, just in the medical field.  I learned about Doctors without Borders and was fascinated with the organization.  How cool is it to travel all over the world, visit new places, meet new people, and help them?

When I was in college I learned that there was a similar organization called Engineers Without Borders.  Just like doctors…but engineers who help build community infrastructure, bring electricity and water into their towns, and creating buildings to withstand the elements.  Quite a few college campuses now have EWB groups and there are professional groups all over the world.

There are 10 EWB groups n the US today who have ongoing projects in Haiti.  Check it out and maybe you’ll be inspired to check out a group near you…or donate to Haiti in a very engineering fashion. 🙂

The Exodus…elephant in the room

My post about the exodus article generated quite a few conversations.  I thought I’d follow it up with some more thoughts.

When you read the article, you can’t help but think there is an elephant in the room that no one is talking about – women having babies.  It’s hard to say that women having babies is the reason for so many leaving the technical/engineering work force because women in all career fields have babies and we don’t see similar exoduses.

What is interesting about the age range where women start leaving en masse, mid thirties to forties, is they have usually already have a few children.  The study doesn’t call this out, but I can speak to what I have experienced and seen during my time working ,  listening to results of similar studies as well as anecdotal stories.

Most technical women do return to work after their first child.  I think most come back after their second as well.  What I’m not sure about is whether the drop off happens due to the number of children- once you get to two or three children balancing the demanding engineering company lifestyle starts to wear on you.  Or is it not the number of children, but the age of those children.  At some point they start getting involved in extra-curricular activities and require more help in getting them to after school events.   Once again, balancing the demanding, fire-fighting, long hour engineering life style becomes increasingly more difficult.

Society makes it ok for women to step out and stay-at-home.  Whether you like it or not, there are many more societal pressures on men to continue working when they have families vs women.  At some point women decide the work of switching off and trying to maintain a sense of balance is not worth the stress.  It is easier to change the job environment you are in- either by staying at home, changing industries, or even taking on entrepreneurial ventures.   With these other choices, women have much greater flexibility in the hours and times they work.  The family balance becomes much easier.

I also believe that a majority of women engineers and scientists are actually talented in more than just math and science.   Most women who pursue these careers are very well rounded.  As a result it is easier for them to do non-engineering jobs as well.  They are not one-sided, but multi-talented.  We can spend 10-15 years doing a highly technical engineering job, then take on a second career as a teacher, and maybe a third 10 years later as a real estate agent.

I believe that one of the keys to understanding the exodus lays around children, not just having children- that’s not the issue, it’s more around balancing life as your family grows and diverges.  It is amazingly difficult to get part time engineering jobs.  Until women feel there are more options, and see other women using those options to remain technical and continue to advance, the exodus will continue.