Recently, we sat down with some of our engineers to talk about being their stories and experiences being female in engineering for International Women’s Day. Alyssa, Talesa, and Kaitlyn (USA) and Bianca and Ana-Maria from our Romanian office in Cluj offered their responses. Enjoy their answers and reflections!
What’s your background in? What did you study in school?
I am a software engineer who builds data-driven marketing automation solutions. I studied Informatics at the University of Washington and first joined Digilent as an intern during my senior year in 2018. – Alyssa H.
I studied computer science in high school and Electronical and Telecommunications Engineering in university with a specialization in Applied Electronics. – Bianca P.
I graduated with my degree in Electronics, Telecommunications and Information Technology at Technical University of Cluj-Napoca (Romania). As I think about it, I realize that in just a few days I will celebrate 2 years at Digilent! – Ana-Maria B.
I went to Washington State University where I studied Electrical Engineering with a focus in Computer Engineering. – Kaitlyn F.
I had what might be considered an “odd” trajectory. I always loved mathematics so I began as a pure math major in undergrad. That didn’t feel like quite the right fit, so I wound up graduating with a BS in ecology of all things. After working for a few years and discovering more about my interests and what really compels me, I decided to go back to school for an engineering degree. I got an MS in Mechanical Engineering, specifically control theory for the University of California – San Diego. – Talesa B.
How did you become interested in engineering?
I started learning about HTML and CSS when I was 15. I continued picking things up on my own through high school, then I took my first actual programming class in college and immediately knew that’s what I wanted to study. I was drawn to Informatics specifically because of the variety of courses offered and because of the emphasis it places on the end-user. – Alyssa H.
I guess I always had a tendency toward technical problems and electronics in general. I liked math and physics in school. I wasn’t into abstract, theoretical things, but more into a hands on approach. I wanted something touchable, I wanted my work to be physically reachable, so I chose electronic design. – Bianca P.
Even at a very young age I was fascinated with electronic toys. My parents always wanted me to play with dolls, but I wanted radios or remote-control cars, any electronic toy that can produce sounds, or flashes and lights. I wanted to disassemble them, look inside, and figure out how they work. My father gave me a nickname: “my little engineer”. Since then, I always aspired to be an engineer. Then as growing up, I created my own projects at home. – Ana-Maria B.
That’s an interesting one, you could say I stumbled onto it. I’ve always been interested in science and math as a way to explain and reconcile the world around us, and I love solving problems, to an annoying extent. Probably part of this is who I am (I built a working stroller from tinker toys for my doll as a kid) , and part is because my dad started me young teaching addition and subtraction with chocolate. On the other side of things (although very related) music and art has always been a large part of my life, playing different instruments and painting. I knew I was going to go to school for something math or science related and have always been most interested in the parts of physics you can’t see, because physics and math gives you a way to see it. Music theory makes the most sense when you understand the math and science behind it right? Through physics I found E&M and decided on an engineering degree, as it is a path that can lead in many directions. – Kaitlyn F.
After undergrad, I worked several different jobs in coaching, education, and non-profit. I quickly learned that what inspires me more than anything else is problem solving and working with highly intelligent problem solvers. So I asked myself, “where will I find the smartest problem solvers?” Answer: engineering. That was roughly 10 years ago. That calculation turned out to be right and I haven’t looked back since. – Talesa B.
What has your experience been in engineering, a male-dominated industry?
I didn’t always feel like I belonged in the male-dominated world of engineering. It can be intimidating, sometimes. I was the only girl on my team when I first started working at Digilent, which was naturally an isolating experience. And unfortunately, I’m not alone in this. It’s not uncommon for women in this industry to feel that way, especially those working in technical roles. – Alyssa H.
It used to be more difficult – at least it was for my generation. You needed to speak up more and some people still underestimated you, but it’s getting better day by day. I had people telling me that it’s not a field for women and I should try something like economics and marketing that are more fitted to a woman. I remember that even when enrolling in university I struggled because the adviser kept trying to make me choose another specialty because engineering was “too hard”, and that I will fail exams, so I should reconsider in order to not give up later on. – Bianca P.
I am fortunate to work in a friendly, respecting and encouraging workplace. My team always made me feel welcomed, accepted, always listened to my inputs and they were supportive when I went through tough times. – Ana-Maria B.
It’s almost like living in a different world, especially in school. I’ve had customers refuse to talk to me because they prefer to talk to a man or don’t believe I know what I’m talking about, I’ve been called gender-based expletives in meetings, and I’ve had to and still have to work harder to prove my technical acumen and worth than some of my male colleagues (and those are some of the lighter examples). However, I’ve been extremely fortunate since going into industry in that I’ve always had peers, managers, customers and even subordinates, that see and respect what women in the field have to go through to get where they are and appreciate what I as an individual bring to the team. – Kaitlyn F.
What I’m about to say is not the common answer, which in and of itself suggests that we still have room to grow. That being said, I think this is a great opportunity for me to serve as an uplifting example of the positive progress we’ve made so far. My personal experience has been overwhelmingly…positive. I have never felt discounted or disrespected for being a female in engineering. I feel my ideas have always been heard on their merits. While that’s not everyone’s experience, it is mine, and I think that is an awesome thing. I hope more and more women can share in my experience going forward! – Talesa B.
What trends do you see for women in the workplace moving forward? What do you hope to see?
Now that a lot of tech companies are embracing remote work permanently, that means individuals have a lot more options when it comes to finding a job, right? I hope this means jobs become more accessible for women and other minorities for whom relocating is not an option, or who might otherwise have limited opportunities. I would love to see more women in technical roles, as well as in leadership positions. – Alyssa H.
Recently I watched the NASA Perseverance rover landing on Mars. I felt so proud when I saw how many female engineers worked on this project. This is a sign that things are going in the right direction and valuable smart and talented women are making a more visible difference in our world. Such examples may raise awareness that women should be seen at their real capabilities and I hope one day women from all around the world will not be disregarded because of their gender. – Ana-Maria B.
One of the biggest things I’ve noticed in the past couple of years is that more and more of my colleagues respond to my experiences and the stories I tell with empathy, instead of trying to put a positive spin, minimize, or gaslight. They simply listen and empathize in the case of past experiences and are willing to help find a solution in the case of present experiences. While I think this is a huge step, I hope to see more proactivity in the future from companies and individuals, as opposed to reactive steps. I also hope that this conversation and understanding extends into intersectional change. I think that a core part of the working relationship is a basic personal connection, and I hope that one day no one feels like they can’t tell a heartwarming story about their family, express their identity, or bring their significant other to work events. – Kaitlyn F.
I think I have a bigger concern with universities than the workplace. When I wanted to change my major from mathematics to something else, I went to the university counseling office and asked for advice. I got zero pushback from the counselor and honestly pretty much zero advice. I was young, used to succeeding, and I had gotten behind in one math class due to being a student athlete. That was enough for me to get scared and want to drop my major. I got no good advice against that from anyone, and ended up taking a much easier way out, only to come back around six years later and have to work much harder, and pay much more, to get into an engineering program. I don’t think my story is unique here. I hope we find a better way to guide young people, women and men, toward the best industries for them, especially engineering! – Talesa B.
What’s a message you have for young women that are interested in engineering?
My advice is to be persistent. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and to offer up your ideas and opinions. Also, I would suggest joining a club or online community to build meaningful connections with other women who share your interests. Tech Ladies, for example, is an online community that also offers a lot of great resources for women and other marginalized folx looking to build a career in tech. – Alyssa H.
My hope for the young women interested in engineering is to just take a leap and not be afraid to try. It’s a rewarding feeling when you see your work making a change, getting good reviews, or when you just see the final product in your hands. It’s hard, it’s challenging, it takes patience and effort, but once you make it, it’ll be worth it. I hope that more women will choose the field they dream of and push forward to achieve what they desire. – Bianca P.
If engineering is your passion, then go for it! It will reward you with so much satisfaction, adrenaline in the chase of solutions, meaningful projects, creative thinking and if your curiosity is high, it will push you forward to keep learning about new things and develop new skills. The sky is (not) the limit! – Ana-Maria B.
Wow, there’s so much I would say! The biggest things are: trust yourself; remember that asking for help is not a weakness; and never let anyone minimize your experience. I’d also highly recommend always making connections outside of your department or job, whether that be a mentor or friend at another company, in a totally different field, or joining a club based on a random interest. Having someone “on the outside” was invaluable for me in college. And lastly, always remember that engineering is supposed to be hard academically, but socially and culturally – it shouldn’t be. – Kaitlyn F.
There’s nothing holding you back but your own hesitation, if you are feeling hesitant. Engineering is a great field for anyone looking to solve problems, challenge their intellect, and work with interesting people. I recommend taking a personality test to learn more about yourself and what really makes you tick. Figure out what “fills your cup,” and if engineering is right for you. – Talesa B.