Denise Butler, Mechanical Engineer, Bishop-Wisecarver
B.S Mechanical Engineering, San Jose State University
A.S. Engineering, Thomas Nelson Community College
A.S. Science, Thomas Nelson Community College
Denise Butler is a Mechanical Engineer at Bishop-Wisecarver in the R&D department. Her focus includes developing tests and interpreting data related to product development, as well as participating in presentations and researching new ideas. Prior to this, she was an intern at Festo where she was responsible for programming, testing and installing working systems for customers and mechanical troubleshooting for functionality. Denise earned a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering from San Jose State University where she served in leadership with the Alpha Omega Epsilon female engineering sorority and provided hands-on projects and skills to the next generation of women in technology. Denise also served as a FIRST Robotics team mentor where she guided high school students in programming, electrical engineering, and mechanical engineering. Denise worked for several years as a bartender as she paid her own way through college, is an avid rock climber and native of the Bay Area of California.
Talk about the culture of your company. What makes it inclusive or supportive of women in engineering and automation?
Bishop-Wisecarver definitely has a family focused culture. In the few months that I’ve been here, so many people have reached out to see how I was settling in and if I needed anything. This happened my first week and then continued into the following weeks where, even with everything happening via Zoom because of COVID-19, colleagues contacted me directly to make sure I felt part of the team and to offer support. I also have weekly meetings with my direct manager where the focus obviously includes work, but also my overall state of being. Being recognized as a human, and not just a working robot, is an important part of feeling supported.
As a female engineer, I have always found it important that I got an interview because I’m good at what I do and not just because I am a female. When I interviewed with Bishop-Wisecarver, I felt heard and not just another check box for the day. It was a cool experience to have my ideas and goals considered and discussed beyond the standard interview process. And now that I’ve been working here, I feel included and supported because I am not treated any differently than my male counterparts. I’m given the same responsibility and the same opportunities and we all work together as a team.
Describe a recent company project (in which you were involved) that went particularly well. How did you and your team go about ensuring success?
I’m part of a concept development team that generates ideas for future products. The process is one that gives a real sense of teamwork and support as there are several team members from different levels within the company and we get together often to brainstorm ideas. We are encouraged to give our crazy ideas and outlandish sketches and it is a super creative process that is fun, while also productive. I think that helps provide the best ideas. We then pick and choose among our ideas to create a formalized concept and we just presented one of those for review. While we wait for feedback from that concept, we continue brainstorming for multiple product ideas.
What first drew you to engineering and this industry?
I’m the youngest of four siblings in my family and the only girl. My dad and brothers all work for the same company as elevator mechanics and a part of me wanted to find a way to match my brothers. Mechanical engineering was the way I could join their conversations and not only understand what they were talking about but throw in the physics and theory behind it as well.
Manufacturing is the perfect industry for me as I studied mechatronics for my capstone project in college and making things move provided intense gratification. I knew I wanted to use my engineering skills in a hands-on way and manufacturing lets me do that.
Describe your biggest career challenge. How did you solve it – or what was the outcome or lesson learned?
This is my first full-time job as an engineer and the biggest challenge has been the shift between working the pre-career job and then acclimating to the career job I’ve worked towards for so long. I was a bartender for 6+ years to put myself through college and pay rent and bills. It was great for the social aspects and physical activity, and each day was different, but my main role and responsibilities were generally the same. With engineering, my mind is constantly active and it uses my mental muscle in new and meaningful ways each day. There are so many new projects and possibilities and I love working through each one, but I’ve also found that having control of my planner is key. With my mind going in so many directions, I want to ensure I’ve prioritized the time and focus for each project. Without it, my mind would be spiraling with ideas, but I wouldn’t be as productive.
What career advice would you give to your younger self?
Do the weird hobby! Even if it isn’t necessarily popular with your friends, find programs and clubs for things like robotics or programming. Don’t be afraid to do them and you will always find other people that share your interests. I would have had a much easier time if I had been introduced to some of these prior to college where it was like a new mystery and I had a steep learning curve. I am passionate about programs like FIRST Robotics, because I’ve seen it make a difference for students. I help mentor FIRST teams so I can help younger students have the hands-on opportunities and learning I missed.