Don’t be afraid, be confident! advise leading Silicon Valley engineering women

Julie Bao speaks in the morning
"Girls don’t really ask questions," said Julie Bao in her morning speech. Photo by David Schmitz.

by SJSU student correspondent Huan Xun Chan

The 2019 Silicon Valley Women in Engineering Conference, held on March 16 at San Jose State, was a platform that connected young female engineering students with the female executives and professionals in engineering fields. One theme threaded through the day was the value of having self confidence.

Michelle Bockman, GM and Global Head of Automotive & High Value Applications, 3D Printing & Digital Manufacturing at HP Inc., said a conference like this is crucial because the speakers have been through a journey very similar to what these female college students face today.

"I always look to a woman, maybe who is older and has done more, and [think] what is she doing, what is her secret recipe, and I want to be like that, finding her secret recipe and making it my own," Bockman said.

The conference gave college students a glimpse at the real engineering world. Engineering is a vast and exciting field, covering everything from aerospace to tiny medical nanobots, from bridge design to app design. The emerging technologies such as 3D printing, 5G, and artificial intelligence will change life as we know it within the next ten years. And in this field that creates the world’s future, women still have a very small voice.

"Fifty percent of the world is men, yet 80 percent of the workforce is held by men, and 90 percent of our leaders are men," said Sonar Thekdi, the vice president of engineering business operations at Cisco. She said that while we educate engineering women and empower them, "including men in the conversation and really building that allyship is important."

In the career panels, the speakers asserted that building confidence is paramount for women candidates who are looking for jobs.

"In our classes, the people asking questions are guys. Girls don’t really ask questions," computer engineering senior Julie Bao said. "I really think that [building women’s] confidence is a huge factor."

Men are more proactive in promoting themselves than women, Google Vice President Meagan Pi said. She shared that even before a job position is open, there would be many people coming into her office and telling her how they are the best person for the position, and these would all be men.

Men apply for a job even though they do not qualify for all requirements whereas women tend to wait until they are confident enough in their own skills, Pi said. But that approach harms women, and they need to unlearn this habit of waiting until all the skills are in place.

"Doesn’t matter how much you have learned, how many internships you have had, and how many projects you have done, the real world is very different from what you have been through. You are not going to have the skills before a job on Day 1, but you will learn," she said.

Pi encouraged students to find a job they really want and go for it, because their love for the job actually makes them qualify for the job.

"You have to be a little aggressive and that’s okay," Erica Lockheimer, the vice president of engineering at LinkedIn said. She added that students should not be afraid to use their social networks when applying for jobs.