Sunday, July 31, 2011

Why more women should go into engineering

Every time I have a conversation with a girl about engineering as a career, I hear the exact same sentiment: "but I really don't like math/I'm no good at math." There are plenty of people smarter than me puzzling over the lack of women in the sciences (engineering being applied science), people who have found other big reasons.  Let me humbly submit my voice to the crowd: a lot more women would be a lot more successful in this industry than they think, and let me tell you why.

It's the industry's best kept secret: The vast majority of engineering is 40% organization and 60% communication. 0% calculus. 0% physics. Seriously.  And this isn't my idea: I realized this reading much more experienced and respected engineers.

Once you graduate college, only a small subset of careers will deal with differentials, Bohr's law, or the properties of electromagnetic radiation.  Just stick it through school and you're golden.

Let me give you an example. I spoke with a woman yesterday who volunteers at a food pantry, and as part of her job she manages what food is handed out. In the background, you have to figure out what food will go bad when, the relative nutritional value of the donated food, and how much space is in the freezer/fridge/cupboards.

That managing of scarce resources is virtually identical to SAN Storage Tiering, and requires just as little knowledge of math and physics.  What both require is organization to keep track of everything and communication to get people on board.  Earn trust.  Share your ideas, respect others' ideas, pick the best plan, be willing to compromise, follow through and execute.  If you can do that, no one cares that you can't do an integral.

And here's why you should go into engineering:

  • We get the best working conditions.  The most perks, flexible schedule, good money, no screaming customers (usually), no nasty hospital or sales deadlines.  Less pressure from your boss.  Lots of easy work training, expense accounts, work travel, etc.  
  • Engineering/IT culture is more relaxed.  We're just easier to get along with.
  • Our managers usually are superior to other industries.  Since this is such an intangible profession, it's impossible to reduce to an equation.  Typically, my bosses haven't cared at all where I am or what I'm working on or how I'm doing it.  Actually, my boss usually didn't understand what I was doing in the first place: it took me several weeks of research, and no leader can keep up with 10 people's weekly increase in knowledge.  Just get things done and don't break anything.
  • Engineers are in desperate demand.  Especially if you know a foreign language.
  • You can build your skills at no expense, no permission needed, no equipment needed.  You don't need a license like a nurse, you don't need a degree in your new skill.  Everything you want to learn is online for free, and if you understand it, it will be readily apparent to experts in that field and they'll find a job for you.   

In conclusion: we need more women contributing to the economy in engineering!  I hope that for women whose stumbling block is math/physics intimidation, I've knocked that myth out.  Don't quit because you hate math.  Make it through college, and then come enjoy the reward.  :-)

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