Each month, the Anita Borg Institute profiles Senior Technical Women. We have selected 7 questions and asked each of these amazing women to share their answers. This month, IBM Master Inventor Dr. Valentina Salapura discusses her lessons learned for success.
1. How did you decide to pursue a career in technology?
My father was a physicist, so I was surrounded by science from a young age. As a child, I was attracted to mathematics and science, and I wanted to become an architect. I was always interested in how science can improve people’s lives, and information technology appeared to be a key discipline. Thus, I became a computer architect, building machines which help advance science and business.
2. Based on your own experience, what skill(s) or characteristic(s) do you think are most important for technical women to succeed?
A passion and enthusiasm for technical problems are key, coupled with dedication to a common goal and persistence in pursuing one’s own ideas. From a personal perspective, the readiness to work outside one’s comfort zone is required to ensure continuous growth.
3. What was the greatest challenge that you overcame in your career?
The greatest challenge should always be the next challenge ahead. This is how we can guarantee to continue growing and to accept new, challenging opportunities. When I moved from academia to an industrial research lab, that was a significant challenge. Others followed – as a technical leader, taking on project management responsibility, and most recently, by accepting a role with the IBM Research Strategy and Worldwide operations team to help lead the Global Technical Outlook for the IBM Research division. As you know, the Global Technology Outlook is one of the most significant processes in IBM Research. Not only does this annual exercise provide guidance to focus and inform our internal Research Agenda, but the output of the GTO is also incredibly influential in shaping the discourse of coming technological opportunities with IBM’s partners and customers.
4. How do you deal with work/life balance?
I make an effort to manage my private life in the same way I am handling any projects – make plans, do my research, block time in my calendar, and respect deadlines. Important events in private life have to be handled in the same way as any urgent project deadline, and the two need to be balanced. Otherwise, small problems grow, and ultimately become serious. You can be more focused and successful in resolving technical problems if your private life is well taken care of.
5. What advice would you give to women in high tech who want to advance on the individual contributor technical track specifically?
The key to moving to this higher and more broad contribution level is to be willing to accept new challenges and to work outside one’s comfort zone. They will also learn to be resilient, and stay the course in the face of setbacks.
6. How do you stay current in your technical field?
Computer science and engineering is a very dynamic, continuously changing field. I enjoy attending conferences, seminars, and talks of leading researchers in the field. I also volunteer in organizing technical events in my technical field, where I have to review a number of papers. In this way, I am exposed to many novel ideas. For every problem, in addition to identifying the more traditional solutions, I also ask is at least one a completely different and non-traditional way to look at the problem, and solve it.
7. In your opinion, what (if any) are the remaining barriers faced by women in technology?
Technology is still a male dominated field. Girls are pushed by society into non-technical fields, and into “feminine” career choices. I believe, gender stereotyping of professions is still a big problem. It dissuades girls interested in sciences and engineering from pursuing their passion, to conform to externally created expectations instead. As technical women, we have a responsibility to encourage those aspiring engineers.
Recently, the makers of Barbie were looking for a new profession for Barbie, and the selection of computer engineer as a profession is a very encouraging sign. I hope it will also serve as a catalyst to make girls to think of engineering as a filed where women can excel at. And I encourage all of you to get a computer engineering Barbie for your daughters.
Dr. Valentina Salapura is an IBM Master Inventor and System Architect at the IBM T.J. Watson Research Center. Most recently, Valentina accepted a position with the IBM Research Strategy and Worldwide Operations team where she serves as a lead for the Global Technical Outlook. Previously, Valentina was a computer architect for the Power8 processor definition team, and has been a technical leader for the Blue Gene program since its inception. She has contributed to the architecture and implementation of several generations of Blue Gene Systems focusing on multiprocessor interconnect and synchronization and multithreaded, multicore architecture design and evaluation. Valentina is a recipient of the 2006 ACM Gordon Bell Prize for Special Achievements for the Blue Gene/L supercomputer and Quantum Chromodynamics. She is the author of over 60 papers and 50 patents on processor architecture and high-performance computing, and is an ACM Distinguished Speaker.