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Women In Technology

Today, one in ten engineers is a woman – In avionics, it’s fewer than that.

This is really a shame, because I find that women are extremely well suited for jobs in high tech careers.

Here’s a short list of why I think this is true along with explanations as to why I think this is so.

  1. Women are more patient and determined
  2. Women can juggle a lot of tasks simultaneously
  3. Women can attend to small details and see the big picture at the same time
  4. Women don’t get derailed by the small stuff
  5. Women have a better support system.
  6. Women are more sympathetic and understanding

I’ll stop at this group of six, although I could add a few more. They are not true of all women, but that’s probably because they haven’t had the experience.

Just take a look at what current society expects of women and I think you’ll see why I think women are more patient and determined! Case in point, I just got an email on “How to Create Perfect Eyes” through makeup application. Can you imagine a heterosexual male having the patience to take the time to apply all the goop we women have to put on our faces to be seen in public? Also, remember how determined we were to walk in high heels so we could pretend we were grown-ups?

Programming, system design and integration requires patience and determination. It’s a step-by-step process. All the pieces have to work together to produce the correct outcome. It’s no different that making a food dish from a recipe, although in most cases you’ll have only your experience to formulate the list of ingredients and right steps to finish the job.

Think about getting the family ready for school/work in the morning. How many things are you trying to do at once? Multi-tasking is standard operating procedure for most women, who can adapt to chaos in the blink of an eye.

I know chaos. Other than being the oldest of nine children (5 girls, 4 boys), I drove a school bus for about 4 years while I was attending college. I was given a long, country route that paid well and gave me enough hours to qualify for health insurance. After I had driven the route for about six weeks, my supervisor asked me how i was doing and what did I think of the kids. I said I thought I was doing okay and the kids were a little rowdy, but we got that under control. Otherwise, I said the kids were a bright bunch and generally inquisitive about everything. (“Miss Pam, what’s a hickey? Our teacher says it’s something you get in dominoes.”)

I found out later that these kids had been through 4 bus drivers in 4 weeks. The last day of that school year the kids on the route gave me a plaque that said “World’s Best School Bus Driver”. I was impressed, even though they misspelled my name.

I’ve discovered that women, as a whole, performed better on mission critical tasks that required a lot on concentration and coordination of several activities that had to occur simultaneously.

I couldn’t make a practice session for a particular field test, so the guys were going to fill in for me. I heard that it took them an extra long time to get started, because they couldn’t figure out how to calibrate the instrumentation. (They took the same training class that I did!) Let’s just say that they were more than happy to let me take over the operation after they were introduced to all the steps involved in the pre and post fly-over operations.

Lots of tasks mean lots of details to keep track of with almost no time to double-check anything. Women do this sort of thing all the time. Think about putting together a meal, folding clothes fresh from the dryer, putting on makeup. You don’t really think about it, you just do it. Juggling home, family, and career by itself is one big accomplishment.

We took two years to perfect all the pieces that made up the testing for the 727QF certification. We worked out the weather station in Roswell, NM. We took the acoustic analyzer to Moses Lake, WA ( to work out the routine we needed for testing. (Desert dust at 35 knots in no fun, but it can’t hold a candle to the volcanic ash from Mt. St. Helen’s that we ran into in Moses Lake. They got about a foot of ash from that explosion and the ash was dumped at the airport. Right where we were working!)

The only missing piece was the data download from the data logger on the meteorological (met) plane.

I sat under the wing of the small Cessna in the hot Texas August heat with a laptop atop my crossed legs, dodging fire ants, as I worked out the best method for our technician to save the data acquired after each run of the met plane. I got it down to a few steps, ran through it with him, and we had the met data canned.

All those pieces, met plane, weather station, acoustic analyzer and DAT (digital audio tape) data, were part of the big picture that was noise testing. The other parts were the group support systems – data download, availability, and analysis, There was so much data flowing through the pipeline, we held a meeting every morning to discuss who needed what, how much, how they wanted it, and what data could be taken to archive.

The next-gen sequencing efforts are producing an astronomical amount of raw data. Data that has to be stored, analyzed, and archived, creating one complex system. It’s a massive task and one I can sympathize with.

Women don’t get derailed by the small stuff.

Maybe this wasn’t so small, and sometimes it hit close to home, but a lot of the things I did got satirized via a cartoon or paste-up on bulletin boards all over the plant on the 727QF program.

For instance, I developed this relational database model that would store measurement information for the two aircraft we were testing.

One of the technicians had started his own local database, but he had no understanding of relational data concepts. So he had thermocoupleA and thermocoupleB, where A represented on aircraft and B represented the other. The thermocouple in question was the same on both aircraft, causing duplicate records for the same part info.

At a informal meeting we were having in the instrumentation lab, I said that his database design was stupid because we didn’t need more than one copy of the part’s basic attributes. The next day there was a flyer on the bulletin boards with a picture of the tech with a bubble over his head that said, “I stupid.”

There was some other verbiage, “Coming soon son of stupid. When relational is not enough.”

Stupid Database Flyer

Stupid Database Flyer

Since the technician was a friend, this was funny. There were others that weren’t so entertaining.

I think women are more sympathetic and understanding of other people. The problem is to not be so understanding that you are taken for a ride.

As a support system, we have probably the best weapon in the arsenal – we can cry. Not in public, not on the job, but we can got somewhere private and cry. Sometimes this is the only way to get it our of your system.

I put a lot of dents in a lot of old hardware and ran miles and miles, but. sometimes. even that did not cover it.

I will end by saying that I was pleasantly surprised at the number of women involved in the life sciences. By this, I mean as directors, P.I.’s, or other positions of power. However, men in the field still earn one-third more than the women.

Maybe one day, women will wield as much power in all branches of technology, and their paychecks will actually reflect this status.

BioCamp 2009 at Rice University

Bill and I attended BioCamp 2009 at Rice University on Saturday, Sept. 12. There were several presentations followed by lively question and answer sessions.

The atttendance consisted of entrepreneurs, those seeking guidance on turning their ideas and research into viable products, consultants searching for marketable products, and members of the legal profession offering advice on intellectual property, patents, trademarks, and the like.

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