Friday, August 7, 2015

#ILookLikeAnEngineer Helps To Combat Stereotypes in High Tech

#ILookLikeAnEngineer was started this week by Isis Wegner, a self-taught Enterprise Software Engineer with OneLogin. 

In just a few days her hashtag has taken on a life of its own with over 1.2 million hits on Google and over 50,000 retweets and pictures on Twitter. I'm fully on-board with this viral campaign to combat stereotypes in High Tech and I've added the hashtag to my profile pictures on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, and Google+ - and I'm posting it wherever I can. 

The point is clear - don't judge a woman in Hi-Tech (or anywhere else!) through an outdated lens!


Here's my story of how #ILookLikeAnEngineer

I decided to become an Electrical Engineer in my teens at a time when nothing seemed hard and everything seemed possible. I was right - it wasn't hard and everything is possible - so I did as I had planned.

Back then we didn't have STEM terminology and I knew nothing about the vast array of challenges that I would face in the world and in the workplace. All I knew was that I wanted to be an Electrical Engineer and I was singularly focused on achieving that goal. Solving difficult intellectual and practical problems made my soul happy (still does).

After graduating from High School, I got an earnest introduction to my first career love when I joined the U.S. Air Force in the Delayed Enlistment Program. I signed up for a role as an Electrician Specialist, departed for boot camp 6 months later, and never looked back. The path that I had chosen was the right one and I thrived on it.

I served our country with a young patriot's heart, eager to do my best as a soldier as my first priority while taking classes in the evenings as my second priority. I was a disciplined soldier and I still live by the same values:

 "Integrity First, Service before Self, Excellence in All We Do

I completed my tour after the Gulf War began and then stepped onto the world stage ready to take my place - somewhere.

After completing my Bachelors of Science in Electrical Engineering (BSEE) from the University of Florida at Gainesville, I joined Corporate America where I began to see how segmented the world really was. While in the military or in school I didn't pay too much attention to the pockets of people that would form in lunch rooms, in break rooms, in meeting rooms, at house parties, or at restaurants. I noticed, but I didn't dwell on it.



I knew that I was unique. I also knew that I had the mental chops to hang with the smartest of the smart - and that made me proud instead of apprehensive. My friends were as diverse as they came in those days - Black, White, Asian, Indian, Hispanic, Caribbean, Haitian, Canadian, German, Polish, English - tall, short, medium, strange, genius, weird - almost all males. I had a great time with these amazing individuals and I enjoy seeing their updates from time to time on Facebook or on LinkedIn.

Who says 
men and women can't just be friends?

Never mind the comments of Nobel Laureate Tim Hunt. We were friends - the cool kind - and we cared for and supported each other through tough classes, through life transitions, and beyond into our early careers. Life has taken over and many of us have lost touch, but I have no doubt that we will pick up in familiar territory when we meet again. 

We were cool, proud geeks - Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Mechanical Engineers, Computer Scientists, Semiconductor Engineers, and a Bio-Medical Engineer - just one in our group. We expected that we would have great technology careers and we were right.

Wait for it...

After spending a couple of decades in the corporate world, I'm still in love with my start as an Electrical Engineer. I've held roles as a Semiconductor Device Engineer, Wireless Data Test Engineer, Wireless Data Network Engineer, Telecom Technical Advisor, and Senior Technical Consultant - all during the first stage of my career. I was ambitious and hard working to say the least.

Over the years my career options expanded with advanced degrees, professional development programs, personal growth engagements, leadership stretch assignments, mentorships, and sponsorships. Each of the opportunities gave me tremendous experience and insight into the inner workings of the C-Suite and Corporate Functions. 

I was often the "only one" selected for various types of leadership programs because as the saying goes "there simply wasn't anyone else available." The landscape in Hi-Tech must continue to change in more ways than gender. I have a daughter who will be in the middle of the fray in a decade or so and I refuse to watch it go down for her the way it's gone for so many others.

I don't want her to face the surprised look on her colleagues' faces when she enters a room simply because of her gender or color. I don't want her to be given a double-take as if she's lost when entering decision-makers' meetings (unless she's actually lost!). I don't want her to experience disrespectful cat calls and other types of "harmless humor" from the males around her.

While these things don't happen all the time, they happen way too much for way too many women - so given the opportunity to change minds about women in Hi-Tech in a collaborative global chorus with something as simple as an impactful hashtag, I'm all in. There's much other work to be done and I'm in there as well.

To professional women in Hi-Tech who are just beginning your careers or who are in mid stride or to those of you who still hold wide-eyed amazement at what's possible in Hi-Tech careers, hang on to your vision! Change is here. 

If the original path that you laid out doesn't pan out as you thought it would, then find new ways to do what you're passionate about. Hi-Tech needs you so don't give up on it. Electrical Engineering is part of my career DNA and I'm proud to support #ILookLikeAnEngineer.

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