Kristen Sanderson, Vice President of Engineering, Grid Software, GE Digital
BS, Computer Science & Mathematics, Auburn University
What first drew you to engineering? / When did you first know you wanted to be an engineer?
I had many interests growing up. I loved math and English and considered marketing, journalism, and architecture as career options. When I was a senior in high school, my Dad, who is a software engineer, encouraged me to take a programming class as an elective. That class opened my eyes to a brand new world of structured logic and set me on my path to Engineering. As my career has progressed, I have found ways to incorporate my other interests.
Were there any influential engineers (women or men) who helped shape your decision to become an engineer? If so, who and why?
My main inspiration was my Dad. He inspired and encouraged me to enter this field. Both of my parents always told me that I could do anything I set my mind to and then they encouraged me to reach for the stars.
One woman engineer I really look up to is Grace Hopper. As a pioneer in software, she created the compiler and the COBOL language. She was a strong woman leader who was candid and biased to action…exactly what I want to be.
Since I started my career, I look for inspiration from everyone around me. I feel strongly that there are things for us to learn from each person in our lives. I observe those around me looking for things I can learn to do to become a better person and leader.
What barriers do women face in today’s engineering world, if any?
There are still too many situations where I am the only or one of few women in the room. I am very happy to say I don’t find this in my business unit, but I still see it plenty as I work within the industry. Unfortunately, when that happens, too many women decide not to stick around, creating an even bigger gap.
Globally, there are still too many areas where women are not encouraged to study STEM subjects or pursue STEM careers. They are discouraged from leadership roles. This is one of the areas I feel passionate about. As a leader in Engineering, I am a role model. I have and continue to focus on building a pipeline of young women in STEM through GE Girls, a GE-sponsored program designed to encourage girls to explore STEM careers, and speaking both internally and externally with women.
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?
The most memorable project I have been involved in was our new Advanced Distribution Management System (ADMS) redesign in 2012. We realized our product needed to be redesigned to meet the needs of today’s grid companies.
I was assigned to the project as a Consulting Engineer – a senior technical resource. Our mission was to relaunch the product in a year to capture new customers and market share.
One of the biggest criteria for success was our user interface (UI). I realized early on that this was a gap for us – we did not have user experience (UX) design talent or leadership to do this work and it was falling by the wayside. After some deliberation, I stepped up into this role and took on the UX redesign. I pulled in a design company and we worked together with internal experts as well as our customers to do research, gain insight, and design a new UI paradigm for our product.
With the redesign in hand, it was time to build the product and I realized that we weren’t set up for that to be successful either, so I took over leadership for the development of the product. In less than a year, we were able to build on the insights we gained and launched our new product with highly successful feedback from the market. Challenge met. I went on from there to lead more engineering teams and products to get to where I am today.
Describe your biggest engineering challenge. How did you conquer it or resolve it, or what was the outcome?
The Energy Transition is presenting many major engineering challenges for my team and for our customers. As the number of available renewable energy sources and the mix of renewable energy utilized on the grid increases, there are new challenges to solve along with the customers’ need to solve them faster. Here is a great example of how we tackled one of our biggest challenges:
One example is our day-ahead energy market clearing engine. Deregulated retail utilities purchase electricity at market-determined wholesale prices and then sell that electricity to customers at market-determined retail prices. This software takes in the bids to the energy markets, processes the bids with respect to the physics of the grid so utilities can determine which bids to accept for the next day. A plan is produced and then communicated, monitored, and adjusted in real time.
With the scale and complexity of the grid increasing, we needed to resolve the bids to plan 33% faster than we have in the past. To achieve this, we brainstormed different ways to tackle this problem from leveraging capabilities in new technologies, to changing the user process around the software. We set up a test system that emulated the clearing window at scale and then executed our action plan with a series of changes we could then measure for impact. It was a nail biter at times, but we achieved our goal!
Filed Under: Women in Engineering