Jul 09, 2019, 9:00 AM.
Editors’ note: Marilyn Erhardt, one of the first women software developers for NASA’s Space Shuttle program and long-time computer engineer, has several decades of experience including working for Fortune 500 companies across the world, Oracle Corporation, and the Department of Defense. Erhardt owns Sabianet, a consulting firm where she has been involved with several startup companies over the years. In the following, she offers her best advice for Florida International University’s women engineers.
What type of engineering degree is best? There are many paths and disciplines in engineering, but out of all the disciplines data science and machine learning is the future. Software engineering has seen continuous growth over the past few years and there is no sign of it stopping but continuing at a more accelerated rate.
Education Equals Freedom
Education is essential, but education is a lot more effective when it is used as a tool to enhance your vision and gifts versus aimlessly studying for the sake of studying. Education is our key to freedom of choices in life. It is a continuous path of learning, discovering and researching. The most important lesson you learn in college is to learn to learn. Online learning with FIU Online is an excellent way to prepare women in engineering. It provides flexibility, it allows for richer research experience in your own time and can be more affordable.
Best Areas of Focus
In my opinion, the best technology and engineering disciplines for women are computer science and information technology, electronics and communication engineering, biotech or bioengineering. Still today, computer science offers the highest salaries.
The top problems to resolve in these fields are developing advanced, personalized learning; creating economical solar energy; enhancing, integrating and applying virtual reality; engineering better medicines; reconstructing the healthcare industry; restoring and improving urban infrastructures; and disrupting the manufacturing, retail, and hospitality industries. And doing all of these things while securing the cyberspace.
Do not get discouraged by the typical things society and your peers throw at you when choosing a technology or engineering career. Know that the engineering and tech industries are still male dominated, know that you will often be the only woman at the table, know that at times you are not going to be taken seriously. Ignore all of that. Continue forward because your passion will drive your dream and your dreams will compel you to be educated in this field all the way to the finish line. Look for inspirational mentors that can pull you up when traversing the valleys. Know that the best software engineers have been women in times when this was not possible.
What I Wish I Knew
I wish I knew that there was no rush for me to climb the corporate ladder and to be more patient in climbing the “character” ladder as I moved forward in a field totally dominated by men. I wish that I was not so in tune with the cultural trends of the time, which distracted me from my goal and that I could see the path all the way to the finish line. When we make choices, career choices or job choices, we must understand where those choices take us in the long run and see with clarity if they are taking us to our ultimate goal. I regret not realizing early in my career that one critical element of success comes down to our relationships with other people. Many obstacles in business and personal relationships are due to our poor understanding of people. Emotional intelligence is more important than high IQ.
What is important to remember in engineering is that we can directly affect the world and humanity in amazing ways, regardless of who we are.