Growing up, it never occurred to me that being good at math or science made me different as a female -- it felt natural. At 16, I never would have believed I would eventually be awarded nearly 100 technology patents. In fact, I didn't pursue traditional degrees in computer science or a STEM-related field. Instead, I tapped into my curiosity of people and market research.
I received my M.B.A. from Columbia University and entered the workforce when cell phone technology was emerging. Like many professionals, I juggled family and career. Out of necessity, I began dreaming of ideas to fill the gaps in virtual communications -- focusing on telecommuting and mobility.
Today's workforce is agile and we work virtually anywhere, but back in the 1990s, we were just laying the groundwork. After spending years researching, drafting and filing patent applications in my free time, I was awarded my first patent in 1996. It felt awesome.
The patent was for a personal locator service. During a time when people used forwarding numbers or had to be at a particular location to take a call, this technology provided a way to reach a person rather than a location -- eliminating "telephone tag." I continued to apply for and be awarded patents, eventually expanding to manage a team that invented a suite of virtual communications services for remote and office workers. Today, the heart of my job still involves listening to customers -- some of AT&T's largest corporate clients.
Having an impact on the evolution of technology and being at the forefront of innovation makes for an exciting career. I humbly believe a technology degree today can do what the old liberal arts degree used to accomplish -- it will open doors anywhere for you.
To any female thinking about entering the STEM field, seize the opportunity laid out in front of you and create your own future. Your education is a privilege, and the knowledge you're obtaining is power. You can use it to help yourself and others.
As a daughter of Holocaust survivors, I see pieces of myself in young women I mentor -- a brave maverick spirit, born of immigrant parents or learning English as a second language. It's not that we STEM veterans are so brilliant to offer our advice, but we want to be a ready resource for support.
You bring a special perspective to the STEM field as a female. You really can have it all, but you must stay dedicated. You will be respected in whatever field you choose if you strive to work harder and produce more than anyone else. I've taken that to heart in my patent development and career.
To help you succeed, here are three things I ask you to remember:
- Choose your career wisely.
- Listen, then create.
- And invent with urgency.
As Althea Gibson -- who broke the color barrier for women in both professional tennis and golf - so honestly said, "If I've made it, it's because there were an awful lot of people who cared enough to help me."
That's so true. Remember, we're all rooting for you!