Happy Women’s History Month! Time Magazine recently profiled its top 100 Women of the Year–women who have broken barriers and whose contributions have advanced science, art, education, athletics, politics, law, society (the list goes on), essentially paving the way for other women. So I felt inspired to interview a couple of my female colleagues at Couchbase. Information technology is and continues to be a very male dominated field, and if you dig a level deeper to see who is developing or deploying the technology, you’ll find even fewer females.
With that as a backdrop, I connected with Couchbase’s Cecile Le Pape, Technical Enablement Manager, as well as Mary Roth, Vice President of Engineering Operations, to learn more about what drove them into the field of engineering, obstacles they’ve faced along the way, and what advice they would give other aspiring female engineers. What you’ll find is some awe-inspiring fodder worth sharing with other aspiring engineers in your life.
Why did you choose to become an engineer?
Cecile: For fun! As a child, I used to be a huge player (I’m still one, by the way). Everything from cards to video gaming, board games and every little riddle, it was all appealing to me. Math came very naturally to me as a child when Computer Science was still at an early stage. When I ran my first piece of code, it was very simple C coding where you could see the prompter looping on itself in the command line. To me, it was like creating life. Ever since that moment, I became an enthusiastic developer and switched to a Computer Science career. Later on, I discovered distributed computing, which was even more fun! You could create entities that communicate with each other over the network in a collaborative way. Finally, data. The new gold. What makes everything make sense. Why else would you care to build sophisticated systems if not to bring data where it matters and help people communicate with each other to build the Information Society we are now living in?
Mary: Through the tangled logic of a teenager; I had been told throughout my middle school and high school years that girls were supposed to be bad at math, so I decided I had better work hard at it and make it my major in college.
What barriers or obstacles did you have to overcome to become an engineer?
Cecile: Definitively, myself. I used to think that I didn’t have what it takes to embrace what I considered to be a male dominated career. I was lucky enough to be encouraged by my family and friends. But as a woman, I thought it could be tough to both raise children and take on an engineering career. Later on, I challenged myself again when I decided to evolve from an academic career to business. It is very exciting to help enterprises face strategic Digital Transformation situations. Still, I knew I would have to grow new skills and learn fast from the field. Again, I had the chance to meet incredible people on the road that encouraged me and gave me the opportunity to do it.
Mary: My very first obstacle was probably the biggest: getting a degree. I am the youngest of 6 children and the first one to go to college.
What do you like most about being an engineer?
Cecile: Dealing with real-life strategic situations and being an actual part of it. Enterprises are really facing a level of competition that they never have before, at a global level with rapidly-changing technology and volatile customers. Being a solutions engineer is an opportunity to actually witness what’s going on and actively participate in mapping out enterprise’s strategies.
Mary: Unlike the traditional sciences like Chemistry or Physics, Computer Science is a relatively young and rapidly-evolving discipline. I feel very lucky to be in a field (databases) where I have been taught by and have become good friends with the intellectual giants who built its foundation.
What advice do you have for women who want to pursue a similar career path as you?
Cecile: “Make the dream eat up your life, so that life does not eat up your life” – Philippe Chatel from the musical show, “Emily Jolie.” I spent hours listening to this musical show as a child and never forgot this powerful message.
Mary: Being female in a largely male field can be intimidating. But don’t be intimidated; be prepared. Step up to debate when you know your stuff, and you’ll earn the respect of others on merit.
Thank you, Cecile and Mary, for the inspiring insights you shared with me –and now many, many others.