“There are a lot of fun things about working in engineering,” says Amy Parish, project manager at UFA, Inc., a premier developer of Air Traffic Control simulation systems. And, while it might be reasonable to guess that exposure to advanced technologies like high performance 3D modeling or developing cutting-edge surveillance, weather, and flight data systems would be her favorite part of her job, her real passion is helping people.
“My favorite part is being able to work with people to figure out a solution that works for them, being able to deliver it, and seeing what they are able to do with it,” Parish says. “If they are able to use (that solution) for all of their goals and achievements, and then get recognized for that accomplishment… it is really something nice to see.”
Parish’s experience isn’t unique among her female counterparts who enjoy long careers in engineering fields. Recent studies suggest that if the content of engineering work itself is made more societally meaningful, women will pursue careers in STEM fields in far greater numbers than they currently do. That applies not only to computer engineering but also to more traditional, equally male-dominated fields like mechanical and chemical engineering.
“To start with something that doesn’t exist and create something that makes people’s lives easier and better is really fulfilling,” Parish adds. “It’s a great feeling.”
Keys to success
But it isn’t enough to simply have a desire to help, Parish cautions. There are some key components to creating the kind of solutions that make a difference,
“I’ve found that being organized is extremely helpful,” Parish notes. Indeed, healthy organizations are often constructed around the kind of core organizational principles that engineers use every day. But optimizing organization doesn’t mean that progressions are always fully known at the beginning of an engineering project, she says.
“Sometimes you just have to make a decision, even if it isn’t the right one, in order to proceed down the learning path,” Parish notes.
After organizing a project and proceeding through the decision tree to reach its conclusion, it’s important to learn lessons from your work, she believes. “You always need to have a debrief session to find out what worked and what didn’t work, because there is always going to be something that you could have done better,” says Parish.
Advice for young engineers
Though research indicates that stereotypes, gender bias, and the climate of science and engineering departments in colleges and universities continue to be barriers to women’s progress in STEM fields, Parish believes that, ultimately, pursuing an engineering career will prove worth it to those who choose to do so.
“If I could give some advice, (I’d say) if this is something that you might be interested in, just go for it,” Parish says.
And for those who take the leap, the constant chance to grow and learn in the engineering profession is a major reason they’ll be satisfied with their choice.
“It’s definitely always a learning experience – you’re always going to find something new, or some better way to do things.”