Laura Allison, Director of Technical Operations, Siemens Mainstream Engineering, a business unit of Siemens Digital Industries Software.
Mathematics, Jacksonville State University.
What first drew you to engineering? / When did you first know you wanted to be an engineer?
Math was always easy to me; the solution to a math problem was something I could prove to be true – not just accept. Since “girls were not good at math,” my competitive nature kicked in. With support from great high school math teachers, I was able to advance into college-level math. I took 300 level math classes just for electives and an “easy A.”
When I started college, I planned to be a high school or college math teacher. But I quickly realized I wanted the additional challenges and financially security that the field of engineering could bring. I have always enjoyed identifying the root cause of problems, developing a plan or technical solution, and then executing the plan to resolve the problem. Software engineering offers daily opportunities to grow that skill. I am also personally rewarded by helping people. In software engineering, the solutions we provide enable us to help our customers be more productive and develop better solutions for their customers too.
Were there any influential engineers (women or men) who helped shape your decision to become an engineer? If so, who and why?
As a child, I visited my grandmother almost daily, and she never let us watch TV. She always played card games and dominoes with us, making us think, strategize, and use our brains. My grandmother never completed high school, but I clearly remember her telling me that she had always wanted to be a “scientist.” She was the smartest and most logical woman I ever knew. She taught me a strong work ethic, common sense, and problem-solving. She would be proud of me today – a scientist.
What barriers do women face in today’s engineering world, if any?
I have worked at Siemens more than 30 years. Siemens values diversity and the benefits it brings. Being a woman in a male-dominated field never made me feel inferior. As individuals, we each bring special skills of expertise and different ways of thinking based on unique experiences. Applying this diversification across our team helps us succeed. Over the years, our team has developed strong relationships based on trust and our combined successes and our failures. We have grown together through the years, and we respect one another regardless of gender.
Give us an example of your involvement in, a design project, a product launch, the development of a new technology, or the adoption of a new technology or process. How did you better your team, if applicable?
In October of this year, Siemens launched a new product called Xcelerator Share, which helps users collaborate on design and engineering projects in the cloud. I helped lead the two teams that created the web client in-app guidance and ensured the product quality.
While products from across the Siemens Xcelerator portfolio are connected to Xcelerator Share, our Mainstream Engineering division developed the web client. My greatest personal contribution to the Xcelerator Share release was supporting the other products across Siemens. My specific role was to triage all incoming Share web client questions and defects from the various Siemens products, prioritize them and work them to resolution. I was able to take proven processes and non-ambiguous decision-making skills and reapply them to this new SaaS world. My attention to detail and analytical thinking helped me along the way.
The product quality team developed end-to-end automation scripts that replicate user workflows. These scripts ensure that the workflows continue to succeed in today’s world of continuous integration, continuous deployment (CI/CD). Both teams help make our customers productive.
Describe your biggest engineering challenge. How did you conquer it or resolve it, or what was the outcome?
The Solid Edge portfolio includes a Windows-based 3D Computer-Aided Design (CAD) program. We started developing Solid Edge more than 25 years ago using the traditional waterfall software development lifecycle. About 5 years ago we recognized the benefits of switching to Scaled Agile. This required us to replace existing processes and tools and introduce Agile Sprints, Program Increments, and Scrum teams.
As the Solid Edge Release Manager, this transition was one of the biggest challenges I faced in my career. The change empowered teams to self-organize and make decisions at the team level, but cross-team communication was the key to implementing high-quality solutions across our broad product offerings.
The biggest benefit I have seen from this change has been the ability to deliver many more quality features for our customers each release. By allowing teams to self-manage, we found huge gains in innovation. With the help of my teammates and good processes, we just released our fourth major Solid Edge release using all Agile processes.
Filed Under: Women in Engineering