Interview by Brooke Lazar
Janice Grabow, national practice director of embedded engineering at Randstad Technologies, develops software that is key in today's travel and medicine. She talks about her role and how more women can join the technology world.
Brooke Lazar (BL): What does it mean to be a national practice director at Randstad Technologies?
Janice Grabow (JG):
I am a national practice director within embedded engineering, which is part of solutions. I support business development and ensure that when we win business, we deliver as promised: on budget and on time.
Embedded engineering focuses on developing the electronics embedded in a larger system such as an airplane, a car, or a medical device. We do hardware, software, and system design. An example of what we work on is the computer that controls a plane's flight management. Embedded engineering can support aerospace, medical, or automotive technology.
I have two major customers that I support in the business. One is General Electric Aviation, and the other is United Technologies Aerospace Systems. For these customers, I support the delivery directors who work to deliver the projects that we commit to. We make sure we do what we committed to so that our customers are happy.
BL: What do you enjoy most about your job?
I enjoy interacting with my team and my customers and solving problems. I like listening to what people tell me they're doing and saying, "Oh, that doesn't seem right. Now, what could you do differently to do that faster? How could you do it cheaper?" It's fun to work with the teams to resolve issues.
BL: What influenced you to pursue a degree in computer science?
I have three older brothers who are engineers, and I have an older sister who is a secretary. Society promoted women to be secretaries, teachers, and nurses during their childhoods. I was the youngest one, so when I became of age, my dad said, "You don't have to be a nurse. You can be an engineer." It was a sign that the world was changing—so I thought about it.
I had a computer class in high school. Since there were no computers at my school, we walked to Northern Michigan University. They had a mainframe computer, and we typed our programs on punch cards. We ran the programs through the computer at the university and then picked them up on our way home to see if they worked. I knew I didn't want to be a chemical engineer like my brothers, but I thought I could do this. I became a computer science major, and the rest is history.
BL: Did parts of your education discourage you solely due to your gender?
Gender didn't necessarily discourage me. It's unique when you're in a field where there is one woman out of 15 men. In my first job, I was the only woman in a group of 30 men. So, I've seen it change over the years.
Sometimes women are treated differently, and that can be discouraging. It was a different experience than you would have in a more evenly dominated field. But I never let it stop me.
BL: How does Randstad Technologies help women in technology?
I've been at Randstad five years. When I came here, I had a difficult time connecting with a lot of women because of the position I'm in. There aren't many women in my group, but I go to annual leadership groups, so I'm able to meet more women in those environments. If not for those meetings my embedded engineering would isolate me because it is different from the rest of the company.
I don't see any barriers. There are opportunities for women to move forward in this company. Randstad is a good working environment for that purpose.
BL: How can we encourage more women to pursue careers in STEM?
The number of women in the STEM field almost peaked back in the 90s, and now it's dropping off.
What I have heard from young women is that men intimidate women going into this field because they're geeky. They've played with computers on their own from a young age, so when they come to college, they have a slight advantage over people who didn't take an early interest.
Women can do just as well in their studies. I encourage them to keep going because they can catch up with men. Women bring different communication to the corporate world that you won't get from that guy who's sitting in a basement programming his computer.
BL: What advice would you give other women in this field?
There are opportunities, and women make good leaders. I see a lot of talented technical women who can rise in the management ranks and do well in those areas. I encourage them to think about those opportunities as they're doing technical work.
BL: Why is being part of a network such as WITI important for women in technology?
Networks introduce women to other successful women, and they can see that it's okay to have a career, as well as a family. Sometimes people react negatively to women who have a career and a family. It's helpful to have other women in similar careers to talk to about work-life balance, as well as career opportunities. It's good to have peers, and since you don't always meet them in your office, a network like WITI is a great way to do it.
Brooke Lazar is WITI's content manager and digital editor. She has a BA in professional and technical writing from Youngstown State University.
Opinions expressed by the author are not necessarily those of WITI.
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