I got into engineering because I wanted to solve problems and to have a positive impact on people. A natural extension of wanting to solve problems at a large scale with efficiency led me to Software Engineering. At first, I majored in Biomedical Engineering, concentrating in bioinformatics at Drexel University. Someone once called me a “bad programmer” so to prove them wrong, I minored in Computer Science, focusing on artificial intelligence and human-computer interaction. I love solving problems in the biomedical field as much as I love the possibilities of programming.
At Drexel, I had three co-op experiences, which were full-time positions that lasted six to nine months. I worked as a software engineer at a start-up on psychology research, as a data scientist at a pharmaceutical company, and as a bioinformatics cancer researcher at a hospital. Each role cemented a solid foundation in applied Software Engineering on biomedical problems in various contexts.
My most significant experience in college was attending a local hackathon for accessibility, developing solutions for people with special needs. I became a better engineer by learning about the deaf, blind, and aphasic communities, in order to design solutions challenging my own algorithmic biases. Algorithmic biases are unintended aspects of you that sneak into your code. How do I check my algorithmic biases? By writing software with the mindset that software is intended for people who are not me. Continuous life-long learning about the diversity of people still applies to how I write software every day. I follow governmental software standards for accessibility (Section 508) to make software more inclusive for all of us.
I am currently a Software Engineer for a life sciences and technology company, Essex Management, where I develop websites and application programming interfaces (API). I am grateful to be part of an exciting and growing field where I get to build things that make a lasting and positive impact on people’s lives. Genomic information can be very complex, so I am very grateful for my background in biomedical engineering. I’m able to leverage my scientific background to better understand scientific researchers and how they expect the software to help them analyze massive amounts of genomic data. One of the projects I worked on was called “NCI-MATCH”, a clinical trial which used genetic information to match people with cancer to potential treatment options.
I work with an 80/20 balance between technical and people work. This means 20% of my day in the mornings involves communicating with my team, which can include planning, design, and troubleshooting issues. In the afternoons, I focus on writing software or APIs to exchange genomic or clinical data. I also spend my afternoons testing my code by improving upon either software that I wrote or software someone on my team wrote.
To girls interested in engineering, communication is critical for sharing and building upon your innovative engineering ideas, so communicate early and often. Building a network from professional societies, such as the Society of Women Engineers, Women in Computer Science, and American Computing Machinery, will open opportunities for you to try job shadowing or an internship.
Also, choosing your college major may seem like a really big, defining choice, but you can absolutely switch majors or even combine disciplines like I did. You can make this decision by using a “gather and reduction” approach, which is similar to the path searching algorithm, A*. Gather all of the information that you can and then reduce the problem set. Once you have all of that information and experience, then you can eliminate choices and find out which option is best for you. Some important questions you can ask yourself are what seems practical? What are you good at? What do you really enjoy and can see yourself doing almost every day, at least five days a week? What feels the most authentic to you? It’s OK to be uncertain about your decisions. As long as you learn from your experiences and carry that knowledge over into your next choice, you’ll eventually make better choices over time (human intelligence not artificial intelligence).
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