Melissa Heckman, Senior Backplane Engineer, Elma Electronic Inc.
BS Electrical Engineering, California Polytechnic State University
Melissa is a Senior Backplane Engineer and has been with Elma Electronic for almost 25 years. She holds a BS in Electrical Engineering from California Polytechnic State University – San Luis Obispo. Melissa is an indispensable leader in the design of high-speed backplanes used for implementing embedded computers based on high performance open architectures like OpenVPX, SOSA and others. She works through the entire backplane design process, starting with supporting sales on the technical aspect of customer quotes; working with the PCB designers for the schematics and layouts; verifying designs while helping to ensure a quality finished product with the manufacturing team. She is an integral part of a team of mechanical engineers and cable designers that design and deliver the full embedded computing chassis and backplane integration built to customer specifications.
Talk about the culture at your company. What makes it inclusive or supportive of women in engineering and automation?
Elmanians, as we call ourselves, are a truly multicultural group! We pride ourselves on the diversity of our teams, who represent people from all over the globe and walks of life.
The culture at Elma welcomes women and people from all types of different cultures. Women are listened to, and our opinions have weight. Most engineers are accepting of women in our industry, and due to that, I feel very fortunate to be in this field.
Describe a recent company project (in which you were involved) that went particularly well. How did you and your team go about ensuring success?
A recent project came to us from a long-time customer, whose newest computing platform was quite small. They wanted us to fit the backplane and two computer boards. It required organizing internal meetings with a special team of backplane designers, a mechanical designer, signal integrity engineer and cabling designers. Due to the severe space limitations, we had to work out a way to fit all the electronic circuits. The solution we proposed came out of a different approach than our usual methods. The team had to be flexible to accommodate changes from the customer, and with frequent internal meetings, we could keep everyone informed and included in the process. It ended up a very rewarding experience for everyone involved, a process that we have continued with new projects.
What first drew you to engineering and this industry?
My father was an engineer. He enthusiastically encouraged my fascination with and love of NASA’s Apollo space program. He also brought home one of the early programmable calculators and taught me how to play a submarine game on it. When it was time to choose a university program, I chose electrical engineering, originally because I wanted to get into solar energy. Now I support customers who help enable innovations in the energy sector as well as other industries.
Describe your biggest career challenge. How did you solve it — or what was the outcome or lesson learned?
In the early to mid-90s, I experienced multiple layoffs. It was frustrating and demoralizing, but I stuck with it because I enjoyed what I was doing and wanted to continue to grow in my chosen field. While interviewing, I learned to read red flags, and how to find the positives. The experiences also taught me to understand what I liked and disliked about working in certain industries. One important thing I learned is that I enjoy working for companies that aren’t too large.
What career advice would you give to your younger self?
Find a mentor who will teach you about navigating professional relationships and company politics. Don’t leave early because you think no one will notice. Somebody always notices.
Filed Under: Engineering Diversity & Inclusion