How I first became interested in STEM is a tough question, because my interest goes pretty far back! I always liked puzzles and problem solving, was good at math and science and also had some fairly early exposure to basic web development because my dad is also a software engineer. In high school, I was able to take classes like Computer Aided Drafting & Design (CADD) and AP Computer Science, which furthered my interest in architecture, civil engineering and computer science/software engineering. By the time I was applying for colleges, I knew I wanted to major in engineering, but wasn’t sure what type!
“I always liked puzzles and problem solving, was good at math and science and also had some fairly early exposure to basic web development.”
I went to college at the University of Pittsburgh. All engineering majors at Pitt start out taking the same classes freshman year and declare their major mid-spring semester. It was hard for me to choose between civil, industrial, and computer engineering, but I think I made the right choice! After taking a mix of both hardware (mostly circuits) and software classes, I realized that I was better at and enjoyed the software classes a lot more, so I made sure to take as many software-focused elective classes as possible. Then, when looking for internships, I made sure to apply for software development/engineering positions. I ended up interning at Vanguard (an investment company) between my junior and senior year, and came out with a job offer, which I accepted! Now it’s nearly four years later, and I am still there, working on internal web applications which support the business.
My typical day starts with a morning meeting (we call it “scrum”) where the team gives updates on what they’re working on. Then, the rest of the day is mostly spent doing a mix of designing or implementing different features, meeting with our business partners to figure out what features we should work on next and collaborating among the team of software developers and engineers.
The most exciting project I’ve worked on is my current project, because I have been a part of designing and building it from the very start. It’s really cool to have been there for the whole process. (A lot of times in software engineering, you do more maintenance and improvements on existing things than starting from scratch.) I enjoy figuring out how to design and create the software that our business needs—that goes back to my love of puzzles and problem solving—and I also enjoy the people I work with.
I’ve been lucky enough to not feel like I have been treated differently as a woman in engineering, either in my education or in my career. (I do sometimes wonder if I actually have been treated differently, and just haven’t noticed.) One of the biggest things I got used to pretty early on is being one of few girls/women both in classes and in my working environment, since even in high school, there were often a lot more guys in math and science classes. So, I guess the thing to overcome is not being afraid to speak up among the guys and make sure they hear you. I also think I probably experience more “imposter syndrome” than my male counterparts, and for that I just try to remind myself that I’m every bit as capable as they are!
“So, I guess the thing to overcome is not being afraid to speak up among the guys and make sure they hear you.”
If you are interested in software engineering, go for it! There is a lot of need for more software engineers out there. And if you get the chance, take advantage of any opportunities to start learning more, such as at camps, classes and even exploring online on your own. Alice is a free drag-and-drop programming environment that can be good if you are just starting out, and there are a lot of other resources like code.org, Khan Academy, and even Coursera (though I will admit of those, I have only personally used Alice back in 2010!).