Angela Williams, Senior Quality Engineer, Accumold
B.S. Industrial Engineering, University of Iowa
What first drew you to engineering? / When did you first know you wanted to be an engineer?
Growing up, both of my parents had jobs in a local factory. My dad worked as a test engineer and would often get called into work on off-shift hours for support. He would let me tag along when he knew it would be a quick fix and then take me to see different parts of the factory and teach me about some of the manufacturing processes. I still find joy in touring factories and especially learning about manufacturing processes that I haven’t previously seen. I also enjoyed math and science in high school, so it seemed like a natural next step for me to study engineering in college. Once I got through my first year of college and the known weed-out courses, I was able to ease into getting internships and coops with local manufacturing companies while taking classes. I was even able to return to do a project with my dad and one of his colleagues my sophomore year where we simulated multiple test station layouts to determine the optimal choice.
Were there any influential engineers (women or men) who helped shaped your decision to become an engineer? If so, who and why?
I had an engineering coop job my junior year of college where they allowed me to work non-traditional hours to work around my schooling. At this job, I worked closely with an engineer who excelled at his job. He took a lot of extra time explaining processes and introducing me to key changemakers on the assembly line and then tasked us with getting to work. It was my first role in working directly with a larger team of fabricators and assembly people with a key goal to streamline and make improvements. I gave project overview presentations to management and performed return on investment calculations for capital that was identified by the team. The trust and confidence that this engineer placed with me in this role solidified my desire to continue to pursue engineering in a manufacturing environment. I also got the opportunity with my first job after college to participate in an engineering development program – the leader of this program took time to talk career opportunities and then placed engineers into shorter-term roles where they would tackle a project in each role. This program’s leader was influential in allowing some additional exploration of multiple engineering pathways right out of college. My advice is to find the engineers who will take time with you to both teach and listen to you. The helpers are always there, you just must find them.
What barriers do women face in today’s engineering world, if any?
Allow me to start by simply saying that this was my experience and I understand and acknowledge that others have different experiences and barriers. I was lucky to have finished college in the late nineties when the economy was booming, and jobs were aplenty. I was able to interview with companies all over the Midwest for engineering roles and secure several offers. During a post-interview factory tour, I was whistled at by an employee. This simple act caused me to pause in my excitement for this company. After some reflection, I accepted their offer as I wasn’t going to let someone’s actions deter me from taking an opportunity that I felt was a great fit for me professionally. There has been a lot of change in the last 20+ years in the workforce. While cat-calling people in the workplace is no longer common, I’ve experienced that it still takes a bit more time and patience for women to be acknowledged for their viewpoints in the workplace. As the workforce diversifies, people gain experience of working with people who have different viewpoints, and this can open hearts and minds of some people. I see a shift in workplace segments that are emphasizing inclusion and bringing your true self to work every day. This not only makes the employee experience better by improving the work environment, but also affects the bottom line by minimizing turnover.
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 my current role, I am involved in various product launches with multiple customers. I find that it is important to build a strong sense of teamwork with both internal and external team members. I always strive for full transparency with the entire team and listening to everyone in the room. It’s important to pull out ideas and experiences of all present and express genuine curiosity for all those ideas. In doing so, it allows the team to fully understand the obstacle and work together to tackle it as quickly and seamlessly as possible.
Describe your biggest engineering challenge. How did you conquer it or resolve it, or what was the outcome?
I’ve encountered many technically challenging problems throughout my career. However, looking back on my work experience, the biggest challenges have typically been those that take place in high-pressure situations that involve interpersonal skills, such as working with an upset customer or a supplier who cannot fulfill commitments. Those situations always involved traveling to those places and getting to work with a team of people. As cheesy as it sounds, teamwork truly can make the dream work. When everyone is on the same page working towards the same goal it can be exciting to implement change and move forward to resolve challenges. I’ve seen the most successful solutions come to fruition in working sessions with team members who are open to meaningful change. Of course, when there are certain types of personalities that are present in those meetings, I usually remind myself of something my parents always used to say growing up: “a polished rock is still a rock”. Just because someone in the room can spin something and present it in a more pleasant way doesn’t necessarily make that the better way. I’ve always been pragmatic in my approach and avoid the “spin” and keep everyone moving forward. The challenge that I still have to this day is working through opportunities with genuine curiosity with those people who enjoy polishing more than I do.
Hopefully, I will continue to work through challenges with people of varying experiences and viewpoints with genuine curiosity for a few more years of my career. Thanks for the opportunity to share some of my experiences.
Filed Under: Women in Engineering