Celebrating International Women in Engineering Day
Today is International Women in Engineering Day, and to celebrate, we’re talking to Maria Shiao, our Chief Sales Officer about her route into engineering. She holds a BS (Honors) in Electrical Engineering from Columbia University, New York, and an MS in Electronics from Télécom Paris.
How did you get into engineering?
I grew up in Spain, where engineering is a very highly regarded profession. Attending an all-girls school, I was brought up with the ethos that you could be, and achieve, anything in life. I excelled at maths and sciences and was fascinated by electronics, so engineering was a natural route to take. My uncle was an electrical engineer, working in the semiconductor industry in the US, so in many ways he encouraged my interest for the subject. I took the leap and followed in his footsteps by moving to New York and studying Electrical Engineering at Columbia University.
What is it about the subject that really excites you?
My initial interest was in microchips and programming, and as my career has evolved, this has grown into a wider passion for telecoms, power grids, renewables and the smart energy and sustainability sector. The chip-to-grid journey is extremely exciting and important if we are going to reduce our environmental footprint.
The difference that engineers can make to society is incredibly empowering and there is seemingly no limit to what can be achieved. For example, it is amazing to see boundaries continually being pushed, especially when it comes to miniaturization. When I started my degree, engineers were designing microchips in micron sizes, but now nanochips are possible, and they’re even looking at photon-based circuits for quantum computing!
What current challenges are there for women wanting to get into engineering?
There are presently very few women at the very top of organisations to look up to, and in some companies, there is still a certain masculine culture. While attitudes are generally improving, I believe it will take a whole generation for the male/female ratio to become more balanced in engineering.
Much has been done in the past few years to encourage women into the profession, with campaigns run by the leading institutes to showcase the opportunities that exist and to celebrate women’s successes in the field. However, the industry also needs to work on retaining women. One solution is the return-to-work schemes run by some of the larger engineering companies.
The flexibility that new, modern technologies afford to women is also promising. As demonstrated by the pandemic events of the last year and the shift in working environments, it is now easier than ever before for women to work remotely, giving them the means to better balance work and home life.
Which female engineers to you most admire?
Some of the early pioneers in computer science, like Grace Hopper are great inspirations. But I also vividly remember first hearing about Kim Polese and Java. They were real trailblazers in their respective fields of programming and software development.
Lastly, why is engineering a great career for a woman?
Being an engineer has allowed me to work at the leading edge of technology, and it is one of the most enabling careers you can have. Engineering is a very broad subject and there are many avenues to explore, for example from electrical and aerospace, to biomedical. So, there really is something for everyone.
All the big challenges that the world faces today, such as water, climate and health, are engineering problems, so there’s opportunity to make a real difference. And I believe women have all the skills needed to answer these problems.
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