Why Should You Be An Engineer?

Why am I an engineer?  School was hard. I had some indication engineering would not be cake. Aside from the work, as a female we are outnumbered by typical women to men class ratios of 5:120 in my department. You have to deal with the boys clubs, egos, and people who just don’t believe you can succeed. So why fight it-why deal?

My friend Spencer used to tell me he purposefully looked for a female physics lab partner because they were smarter.  He used to say: ‘no really, if they’ve dealt with all this crap and they are still here, they really want to do this stuff.’

Spencer nailed it.  The simplest answer is: I really want to be an engineer, I really want to do this stuff.  Math always made sense to me.  It is logical-there is a right answer and a wrong one. In elementary school I joined Math is Cool and was in constant competition with the best boy math student.  All the guys would cheer for him and all the girls would cheer for me. That’s where it all began. I loved solving problems the more complicated the better. Solving problems is empowering. I also loved exceeding people’s expectations.  I’d like to think with time, I’m helping to make a difference and to change people’s idea of what an engineer looks like.

People will try to discourage you by saying you are not capable:

  • I’ve been told to give up and switch majors by a college counselor.
  • I’ve been told by a lab partner that I can’t do math when I pointed out a mistake he made.
  • I’ve been told my method was wrong when I found a faster way to solve a problem.
  • I’ve had my ideas in lab groups ignored until they tried all their ideas and came back around to mine.
  • I’ve been told by a coworker I was never going to get it after I asked one question during my first week of work.
  • I’ve had coworkers in meetings take credit for my ideas.
  • I’ve had a coworker point out men’s brains are larger.
  • I’ve had coworkers say real engineers can grow a beard.
  • I’ve been asked by my boss why I didn’t do fashion design.
  • I’ve been told by a lead my project was too technically challenging for me.

All of this fuels a drive to prove them wrong. And that is what they are; they are wrong. Why Am I An Engineer?  I love my job and I refuse to let people like this drive me away from what I love to do. I’ve found over time the people who matter will change their minds and give you the respect you earn.

This question is a complicated one and I wanted to give it the attention it deserves. In order to get different perspectives I asked four of the smartest and most successful women I know to help answer the question Why Should You Be An Engineer?  I hope their responses inspire you as they have me.

“I became an engineer because I wanted to help people. I wanted to be an advocate for people around the world. With the technology landscape ever changing, growing, and becoming more and more a part of everyone’s life, I wanted to be someone who could always be there to be a voice for the users. Someone who would challenge designs and technology that was unjust or created experiences detrimental to people. I want to design great experiences that can enhance and inspire people to be the best they can be and to do what they want to do.”  –Caryn [Associate UX Consultant]

“In college I almost majored in English, but considered engineering because I also liked math and physics (much more than biology). There were two things that gave me a personal high and drove me toward engineering.
First, the immense satisfaction of fixing a problem, coding a program, solving a mathematical proof, working with your team toward a common goal to create something cooler than you ever imagined. Understanding a system and then using your creativity and practical skills to change it…few fields allow you to do that. Practicing medicine as I am now is similar, and I get to make diagnoses and order treatment, and participate in peoples’ stories which is the best part; but I miss the unique beauty and creativity and satisfaction of engineering.  All that is fairly gender-free.
Quite unlike the second thing that drove me toward engineering, which was the satisfaction of proving people wrong.  A lot of my life that was really important to me…refusing to accept the identity that others formed for me. Maybe it was a result of being the daughter of a single mom in a situation where a lot of people thought I was not significant. I did this subconsciously, though. But sometimes I think women in male-dominated technical fields display grit and excellence in part because there is great pride in disproving those who don’t believe in them.
Ironically, the medicine and business worlds have been even more challenging from a gender perspective. The toughest things for me have been (1) feeling accepted without pressure to change myself to fit a predominantly bro-EY culture, and (2) finding the right balance of “confidence” in a setting where being sure of yourself is associated with masculinity.” -Prano [Bioengineer/Resident Physician]

“I never knew I wanted to be an engineer until I entered into college where they forced me to pick a major. All I knew was I loved math (which did seem to surprise everyone. Including my parents). All I wanted to do every day was math. Then I started taking EE classes, and it clicked.

It can be very overwhelming at times but the pay out is worth it.  I love the innovation, detail, finesse, hard work, and confidence that females bring to the engineering industry. Things are changing, and I’ve been so proud to be part of it.”     -Ashley [Electrical Engineer]

“I thought I wanted to be an engineer for basic reasons that show up on career guide tests: I heard fun tales from both engineer parents, I like to fix things, and I liked math and science classes. But what I really wanted, deep down, was to understand how everything works and to spend my time solving problems and building things. I considered becoming a surgeon, a structural engineer, a chemist, and several other occupations. Now that I think about it, medical doctors are engineers. “Human body engineer” sounds bad, must be why they stuck with “doctor”. I finished my studies in computer engineering because of one of my TAs. He approached me, and told me from my performance in his class he thought I would excel there, and he was excited about how his field of study was changing the world. Someone told me I could do it. So…

Why should you be an engineer? You could be amazing at changing the world. I watched a speech by Bill Gates that resonates with my beliefs. A girl said in Q and A that her goal was to become a rich person: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rZWql53Fsys and his response is perfect. If you’re fascinated by how something works or some problem you want to solve, that can be a powerful force in you that gets you through hours of trying and failing to a solution.

Things I have enjoyed about working as a software engineer: The things I do benefit other people–make their lives a little easier. I go to work each day with people who are also excited about solving problems and building organized digital masterpieces. Fixing software glitches can be like a game, like playing Clue.”                                             -Jillyn [Software Engineer]


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