To celebrate International Women’s Day this week, as well as Women’s History Month, we chatted with some of our very own engineers here at Zazzle about the importance of representing women in STEM fields.
What made you want to become an engineer?
Irena: I followed my genes. My entire family is in science or tech.
Laura: I never planned on being an engineer because no engineering-related classes were offered in high school, and it never really occurred to me as an option. I was an Italian major in college and planning to go to law school, but I never really felt satisfied with that decision. I took a computer science class just to satisfy my engineering distribution requirement, and I loved it so much I backed out of all my law school plans (I had even already agreed to do an internship at the Massachusetts Department of Justice) at the last second and crammed as many CS classes as I could into my remaining time at school.
Sharon: I like creating things, particularly visual things like drawings and other crafts. In undergrad, I found that creating computer programs and algorithms is very similar. In fact, part of computer science is programming design tools to help others more easily create visual designs! After taking my first programming class in undergrad, I decided to major in computer science and then moved on to grad school. Now I’m here at Zazzle, and look forward to furthering the development of these design tools.
What is your favorite part of being an engineer?
Irena: Solving problems, exercising my brain, automating solutions.
Laura: My favorite part of being an engineer is getting to build things and see them work. With something like law or business or accounting, you’re a crucial part of the team that eventually makes a product, but it’s hard to point to something tangible and say “I made that” the way you can when you write a program that works. I also love Silicon Valley and the fact that engineers are crucial to businesses that are revolutionizing medicine, communication, transportation, commerce, etc. Plus, our society has become so technology-focused that being an engineer is incredibly useful even when you’re not at work, for instance if your smart phone and laptop apps aren’t syncing up
Sharon: I specialized in computer graphics/vision, which is a sub-field that looks at how computers can be used to understand and generate visual content. We use computer graphics in search and improving the design tool, as well as previewing how designs will look on physical products. One plus of this focus is that a lot of the results will be images, and it’s fun to quickly iterate on a program and literally see the results evolve. On a broader level, it’s motivating to think that the tools we create are actually being used by many people and that we can positively impact the design creation (and buying) process.
Do you have any advice for other women pursuing careers in STEM?
Irena: Women’s brains can do it all and add unique value to science and tech. Persevere. There is a career space for you. We need you, ladies!
Laura: A lot of men act extremely confident even when they shouldn’t. They will swear that the bug couldn’t possibly be in their part of the code, or that the answer they derived couldn’t possibly be incorrect. Also, when people encounter a group of male and female engineers, they will never assume that the female engineers are more talented or in charge, and you will have to work harder than male engineers to prove that this is the case. So you will have to be extra confident to compensate. That being said, I have not experienced this at Zazzle. Everyone here has been great, and I am extremely proud of the number of female engineers and product managers we have 🙂
Sharon: For undergraduates, I think it’s very helpful to work on projects outside of regular coursework, particularly working with a professor and/or doing internships. It’s a good way of solidifying and applying your knowledge, making connections, finding something to specialize in, and seeing what are all the exciting new problems we’re facing in the field today!