From Shy Girl to Engineering Firm Executive
This post is a continuation of our 2016 National Engineers Week series. To read Part 2: Kevin Pope’s “Engineer Your Career” please click here.
Considering that about half of the work force is female, why is there still such a shortage of women in STEM industries of science, technology, engineering and math? Why is this happening when we see females outnumber males in college enrollment and graduation? I have been in engineering nearly 20 years and these questions still have me perplexed. While I cannot provide answers to the questions, I can share my personal experience as a female engineer and leader; and hopefully, it will trigger something in one young girl who will decide to pursue a career in engineering.
So what spurred me to pursue electrical engineering in the first place? Well, honestly I wasn’t even sure it was right for me at the beginning. I did know that I was good at math, had a strong desire to “figure things out” and I could get completely lost in analyzing problems with the end goal of creating something new or making something better than it was before. I often lived in my head and I was painfully shy, but what others didn’t realize is that this shy, introverted girl was observing, listening and analyzing all of the time-and not just with my studies – with people, too.
As I first entered the engineering program in college, I was presented with little subtleties that I was a minority and maybe needed to prove myself a little more than my fellow male classmates. At the time, I was not sure I understood this exactly, but I’ll say that my innocence was to my advantage because I could have made it harder on myself or become discouraged. I remember standing in line at the financial office at the beginning of a semester, and when I received a check back from my scholarship instead of paying money, the lady behind the counter looked shocked and said “Oh wow, you’re a pretty girl AND smart!” I just took that as a compliment and moved on.
Moving through college, I did get discouraged at times and felt like I wasn’t smart enough or good enough – but you know what? I never felt like it was because I was female in male-dominated classrooms, it was because I was human. The curriculum was hard and there was quite a bit of it. In my final senior design class, I worked the entire semester with a team, and I was shocked to find out that I worked better that way. I naturally gravitated toward leading and organizing the team, even when I felt I wasn’t an expert in the specific technical task at hand. This was the moment that I realized I could lead people and actually enjoy it – imagine that…the painfully shy girl who didn’t talk to many people, was good at it.
Once I graduated and received my degree in electrical & computer engineering with mathematics minor, I still was unsure about what I wanted to do. You see, there so many sub-disciplines of engineering and types of companies that I found it difficult to choose. This is where fate (or luck) intervened for me. I was fortunate enough to land my first job at a MKK Consulting Engineers, Inc. a consulting engineering company who performed “architectural engineering.” I got to use my technical problem-solving skills to design electrical systems for buildings and see my work prominently in the built environment, not just writing code at my computer! I also realized that I could be an Engineer that sits in the office designing, analyzing, and calculating part of the time, but also would be able to be creative, collaborate with people, or put on my boots and hard hat to walk a site with contractors. My gender has never been an issue. There were female engineers already at MKK, who had been working at the company for at least 10 years and were Principals and Associates and who interviewed me!
Applied Creativity is how I like to describe my job with the added bonus of collaboration with other Engineers, Architects, and Contractors and being able to give something back. Now, I am still reminded at times that I am in a male-dominated field, but that doesn’t stop me and it usually doesn’t take long for the males that I work with to get past the initial stereotype that pops into their head. As more and more females enter the engineering field, this mindset will continue to change.
Did I hear society’s messages of females’ worth being largely connected to how we look?
Did male colleagues talk over me or completely ignore me?
Were the contractors in the field dismissive of me?
Have I been called bossy for exhibiting my leadership skills?
I can answer YES to all of these questions and probably will continue to run into these things, but I will say it doesn’t discourage me. Being an Engineer is the coolest job ever and I get to work with other geeky Engineers that do cool stuff, too. What other profession allows you to work wherever you want (indoors or outdoors), by yourself or with a team, with an architect or a contractor, with food, chemicals, machines, electricity, bridges, software, and to make a difference – truly impact our world?
Well, Engineering is the answer!
About Angie: Angie Huber, PE, CLEP, LEED AP, is MKK Consulting Engineers, Inc’s Director of Production Operations and a Principal. Angie is responsible for managing the engineering operations of the firm. Angie is a Certified Lighting Efficiency Professional (CLEP) which distinguishes her as a leader in the field of lighting efficiency. Her extensive experience in lighting design, with an emphasis on energy efficiency, provides optimized energy savings for clients seeking aggressive goals or certification requirements such as LEED or WELL Building.