We're continuing our celebration of NationalWomen in Engineering Day! View Part 1 here.As an all-female team, RE•WORK are strong advocates on supporting women in technology and science, so we're talking to female pioneers in the engineering field about ensuring equality, future breakthroughs, encouraging others to become engineers and more.The day was set up by the Women's Engineering Society and is dedicated to raising the profile and celebrating the achievements of women in engineering. By encouraging girls into engineering careers we will not only increase diversity and inclusion, but also enabling us to fill the substantial future job opportunities that have been predicted in this sector.Get involved with the day and share inspiring women in engineering that you know or admire by using the hashtag #NWED2016 Anjuli Kannan is a Software Engineer on the Google Brain team, and is interested in machine learning and its applications to language understanding. Anjuli recently collaborated with the Gmail team to develop Smart Reply, a feature in Inbox that automatically suggests responses to incoming emails.
Noramay Cadena is Co-founder and Managing Director of Make in LA, where she’s focused on developing principled leaders with solid product and business foundations and partnerships that support LA’s entrepreneurship ecosystem. She also co-founded the Latinas in STEM Foundation in 2013 to inspire and empower Latinas to pursue and thrive in STEM fields.
Mirella Di Lorenzo is a Lecturer in Biochemical Engineering at the University of Bath. With a PhD in Industrial Biotechnology and two post-doctorals completed, Mirella's main research interest is in the development of innovative bioelectrochemical devices for applications such as energy harvesting from waste, water quality monitoring and wearable healthcare sensors.
Jasmina Lazić is an Application Engineer at MathWorks, where she leads initiatives to drive software use to enhance STEM education and learning experiences, and works with commercial customers to solve problems across a wide range of application areas, including optimization, mathematical modelling, data analytics, computer vision and HPC.
Larissa Romualdo-Suzuki is City Data Strategist with the Intelligence Unit at the Greater London Authority, and an Honorary Research Associate at UCL. Larissa's innovative PhD research, completed in Computer Science at UCL in a joint program with Imperial College & MIT, has contributed to a growing body of knowledge in smart cities and urban data management.
What inspired or motivated you to begin your work in engineering?
Anjuli: As a child I was always interested in math, so when I went to college, I thought I would concentrate in math. I didn't really know what computer science or software engineering were. One summer during college, I was looking for a job last minute and, in desperation, applied for a job doing something I really had no idea how to do: developing software for a research lab. The researcher who put out the ad must have been just as desperate to find someone as I was to get a job, because he hired me anyway, then spent the summer patiently teaching me everything I needed to know. By the end of the summer I was proud of what I'd built, and I knew that I wanted to build more things. Now I work in machine intelligence, a field where we understand and describe models using math, then get to build them and see what they can do.Noramay: I was lucky. Growing up as a first gen college grad, the breadth of my conceivable options was small. The outside force was a gentleman from my community wanting to extend his success to others in our community. He became an instant role model.Mirella: One of the things that really motivates my work is the possibility to contribute to the development of a better world. Engineers have the responsibility and the possibility to change the trend and lead for a more sustainable world. The advance of technology has been the major cause of pollution in our Earth in the past. Nowadays we need to aim for a different type of technology advance, which has to be sustainable and environmentally friendly. Engineers have the power to create new technologies that are based on the principles of re-cycling, minimizing waste, reducing emissions.Jasmina: It was my avid curiosity about the world that drove me towards mathematics at a young age. With mathematics, the questioning of the world suddenly took a whole new shape and meaning. This was a doctrine of never taking anything for granted, never settling for obvious answers. This was a world where you would build different theories from axioms and theorems, like towers of cards. Sometimes they would prove the ground truths we are all used to, such as 2+2=4, but sometimes they were utterly astonishing, like a geometry where any two parallel lines meet in the end, or a universe curved into a fourth dimension. Ultimately, it was my passion for technology and using mathematics to improve the world around us that led me to begin a career in engineering. I am very fortunate to be working at MathWorks, a company whose main goal is to accelerate the pace of engineering and science. I get to support clients working on cutting-edge technology solutions, from cars and robots to solar planes. I get to use mathematics to improve our lives and society, and this is what I find most compelling about a career in engineering.
What can we do to ensure equality in the field of engineering?
Anjuli: An important first step is just starting the conversation, acknowledging that barriers and biases do exist. It's encouraging to see this happening in so many organizations. Going beyond that, it's important for organizations to create work environments that are inclusive and supportive, and to choose leaders that embrace these values. Simply hiring underrepresented groups into entry-level positions is not sufficient if these groups continue to be undervalued and denied opportunities for advancement. Thinking hard about inclusion is difficult and there's no easy solution, but ultimately it will benefit everyone, not just underrepresented groups.Larissa: Many studies have shown that companies with women in leadership roles shows improved organisational and financial performance. Yet women are not receiving support or opportunities that could help them to climb their career ladder. The simple reality is that many women find so difficult to survive in a system that has not being working in their favour. We have a lot of work to do to overcome the barriers that have prevented women to succeed in technology for so long. We must promote our role models, provide support to the personal, academic and professional development of women across the globe, and create an inclusive culture across all organisations.
How can we encourage more girls and women to work in engineering?
Jasmina: We need to have more campaigns aiming at early age, before any stereotypes begin to form. While it is great having female role models from industry and academia talking to girls and young women, I feel this is not sufficient to tackle the every-day culture of boy-girl stereotypes. We need to challenge this culture at its core, with both parents and teachers on board. Perhaps one part of the solution could be to organise workshops, seminars or other training events, where experts could provide advice and guidance to educators and interested parents. Larissa: As a woman in technology working in the field of smart cities, I think that the lack of women in technology creates a negative effect across all aspects of life. Digital technologies offer a new wave of opportunities to solve many challenges associated with security, utilities, health, communication, transportation, housing, education, and accessibility to basic public services. However, technology has the capability of providing benefits for everybody only when it is created by everybody. Different views avoid technology developments being designed by a singular perspective, yields positive economic and social results. Hence there is a great motivation to nurture and support a diverse workforce, and encouraging more women to join the amazing world of engineering will be good for innovation, technology, and all of society.
Which emerging or future technologies are you excited about?
Anjuli: The last few years have seen many advances in the field of machine learning. I'm excited to see how progress in machine learning may translate to advancements in the fields of science and medicine. I think we can make better use of data to assist human practitioners and accelerate progress. And like many commuters who sit in traffic for hours every day, I am also hopeful about innovations in transportation!Noramay: I'm excited about 3 things: 1) underserved communities breaking into tech to solve underserved needs better than an outsider ever could, 2) the potential of AR and VR to be used for social good, and 3) the expanding role of women on the investment side of the table.Mirella: I have a very strong interest in technologies that are low-cost, green, sustainable and that value waste as a resource. In UK only, over 10bn liters of sewage are produced every day and currently its treatment requires almost 2% of the average daily electricity consumption in the country. Wastewaters contain more chemical energy than this! Giving value to these wastes would alter economics in favour of deploying treatment, and would improve social conditions, environmental emissions and energy conservation and security One of my research interests in focused on microbial fuel cells, devices capable of generating electricity from wastewaters through the action of bacteria. No harmful gasses are produced and the fuel used is waste, something that we will never run out of!Jasmina: Artificial intelligence and the Internet of Things. With huge advances in sensor and wireless technologies, it is getting easier to collect massive amounts of data from all around us: at your own home, in your car, on the street, or even from outer space. However, although the quantities of data can be impressive, the data itself is not of much use to us unless we can gain any insight from it. This is where algorithms come into play. The most brilliant algorithms will not only provide the analysis of the past events, but also offer recommendations for future actions and decisions. This is why I find algorithms in the areas of machine learning, deep learning and artificial intelligence in general, most fascinating. Bear in mind that the artificial intelligence is not just some big scary futuristic concept - it is already a part of our every-day lives. Every time you talk to Siri or have your car plates automatically recognised by a camera device, you are experiencing artificial intelligence in action. The field of artificial intelligence is developing rapidly, with seemingly endless possibilities. True, it is also surrounded by a privacy and security controversy. Will our kitchen scales provide us with diet recommendations? Will our cars drive us to work on their own? Will our TV sets be spying on us? Who knows? Check out our Women in Tech & Science series for more Q&As. If you'd like to contribute to the blog, please get in contact with Sophie via our form here.