Barbara Cima, Quality Engineer, Mitsubishi Electric
BS in General Engineering from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Barbara Cima has worked in industrial automation for more than 15 years as both a production engineer and a supplier quality engineer. Her current focus is on quality assurance through supplier development and process and system design. She received a BS in General Engineering from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where she studied mechanical and electrical systems design, and environmental quality. She was also inducted into the Gamma Epsilon engineering honor society and is an active member and former local chapter president of Junior Chamber International, a civic leadership organization.
Talk about the culture of your company. What makes it inclusive or supportive of women in engineering and automation?
In my experience at Mitsubishi Electric, I can’t recall ever feeling that my input, or the input of my female coworkers, was discounted because of gender. I often see company managers and leaders ensure that women are included in key discussions by asking for our input, deferring to our experience or expertise, and crediting our ideas. In some workplaces, a woman explaining a work process or technical subject is still seen as being “pushy” or “know-it-all,” but at Mitsubishi Electric, I am typically thanked for taking the time to help others. In interactions with suppliers and customers, my male coworkers are quick to correct any questions or requests incorrectly directed to them instead of me.
Describe a recent company project (in which you were involved) that went particularly well. How did you and your team go about ensuring success?
We’re nearly done implementing a company-wide visual management program. We have a small core project team and a large number of participants responsible for developing and maintaining content specific to their department. Working with a large group of people across departments to do something new, on a short deadline, with most staff newly transitioned to working remotely can be challenging. I employ a lot of the coaching skills I learned as a volunteer leader to help guide the participants to develop content that resonates with them and ensure the project has staying power. We are also employing frequent brief check-ins to drive progress. We’re continuously updating our training materials and approach to share examples and lessons learned. Finally, we divided the project tasks so that the core team is responsible for the administrative tasks and the other participants can focus on creating the content unique to their work areas.
What first drew you to engineering and this industry?
Like many engineers, I’ve always enjoyed building and fixing things, as well as taking them apart to see how they worked. Although I have several family members who are also engineers or work in other technical fields, I didn’t consider engineering as a career until I was in high school. I became a fan of author Carl Sagan, who inspired a deeper interest in science and technology. Industrial automation wasn’t really on my radar until I completed a college internship at the manufacturing facility of a large producer of motion control equipment, and I was subsequently hired full time after graduation. This industry covers such a broad range of applications, from traditional industries to cutting edge work, that there’s always something new to explore. I grew up listening to stories of my dad’s work designing aluminum and glass window systems for skyscrapers and am now configuring components for Internet of Things applications. I’m glad I chose a career with such breadth of possibilities that impact people’s lives.
Describe your biggest career challenge. How did you solve it — or what was the outcome or lesson learned?
As a production engineer, I led the implementation of a new production system along with a next-generation product line. The semi-automated production system was custom built in our parent factory in Japan. I worked on every aspect of the project, including uncrating the equipment, troubleshooting the custom work instruction software, and supervising the prototype build. I worked many long days and got to practice my Japanese skills. Aside from sheer hard work, the keys to success were organization and frequent communication. The result was by no means perfect, but I learned that digesting and applying large amounts of technical information is one of my top skills. It can be helpful to develop comfort with ambiguous information and have confidence that, if you stick with it, understanding will begin to develop.
What career advice would you give to your younger self?
Try not to worry whether you have enough experience or training to take on a challenge. You probably know more than you think you do and can learn the rest pretty quickly. Finally, asking questions and asking for help don’t come naturally to a lot of people, especially, I think, the type of people who are drawn to engineering. But they’re important career and life skills that get better with practice.