November 5th
written by Alonna

Today I traveled to Baltimore, Maryland to attend a National SWE Conference.   I have been a member of the Society of Women Engineers, or SWE (pronounced “sw-ee”) since college.  SWE is a national non-profit organization which encourages women to enter and succeed in the engineering field.  I’m President of our local Southwest Idaho SWE Section, and I was lucky enough to get HP to fund my trip!

Sunset from my flight:

For some background on me & engineering, here is a profile I wrote for a SWE newsletter last year.

SWE Newsletter – October, 2007

How I got into engineering
Growing up I was always interested in math and science and excelled in these subjects. In high school I really enjoyed my Chemistry, Physics and Calculus courses. One day in Physics class, two professional engineers came to talk to us. One was a female and a Chemical Engineer. She told us about a summer internship she had which involved taste-testing ice cream. I didn’t know very much about engineering at that point—and to this day I’m not really sure how much engineering her internship involved—but at the time I thought, “There’s a job I could live with!”

With the encouragement of my parents and high school math teacher, I decided to give engineering a try. I initially considered, of course, Chemical Engineering. However, when I started college at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, I took one semester of Chemistry and decided that ice-cream tasting internship or not, I was definitely not interested in Chemical Engineering. Luckily the following semester I took a Computer Programming class, and right away I knew that was it. As college continued and I moved from general engineering courses to more specific Computer Engineering courses, I became more and more excited and confident in my decision to pursue Computer Engineering.

My current job
I have worked as a Hardware Design Engineer in Boise for 4 years. My job involves working with a team to design and test computer chips (Application Specific Integrated Circuits, or ASIC) that control LaserJet printers. At this point in my career I would say this job is pretty close to ideal. Although working on printers may not sound particularly spectacular, let me explain why I enjoy it so much.

The work I do is interesting, challenging, and provides continual learning. No matter how much you like the people you work with or your paycheck; if you don’t enjoy the day-to-day work that you do, I am not sure you would ever consider it your ideal job.

The next best part of my job is the people I work with. I have been lucky to work with a fun and intelligent group of people. Our work environment is relaxed and emphasizes teamwork. I am continually impressed with how willing my coworkers are to help each other out. Coming into work with this group of people makes every day enjoyable.

The final area that is great about my job is the benefits and opportunities that HP offers to employees. I appreciate benefits like flexible work hours, the ability to telecommute, flexibility when raising a family, and the importance placed on work/life balance.

I love my job, but that doesn’t mean I don’t love my non-work life as well. I like the motto “work hard, play hard” and I practice this by sticking to a 40-hour work week most of the time and taking vacations throughout year. Another great thing about working for a large company like HP is that there are a lot of opportunities to change jobs and try new things. Although I have just told you how much I love my current job, I do not expect to be doing the same thing in another 5 or 10 years! I like to be challenged and continue to learn new things, and at HP I don’t think I will have any trouble accomplishing that.

Why I like engineering
Someone once described engineering to me as using science to develop practical solutions to real-life problems. What initially drew me to math and science is my interest in how the world works and my natural aptitude in the subjects. But what got me hooked on engineering is the idea of taking that science and applying it to find solutions to problems. In addition to problem solving, I like engineering because it allows me to do what I really enjoy in life – spending time with my family and traveling.

Why I am involved with SWE
There are many reasons why I enjoy participating in SWE, but I will focus on the two most important to me: outreach and professional development.

I am passionate about outreach because I think there is a social pressure for young girls to shy away from math and science. Until our society changes, it is important for us to encourage young girls and women by informing them about engineering, providing role models for them, and supporting women who are pursuing engineering. As a whole, women are not better or worse engineers then men, but they do bring diversity of ideas and skills to the workplace and they should not be discouraged from entering a profession dominated by men.

My second reason is professional development. By taking officer positions and organizing programs, I am able to improve my leadership, teamwork and communication skills. This benefits me personally and also in my career. SWE is an excellent way to develop leadership skills because it is a low-pressure and supportive environment.

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