DOD Undersecretary Shares Tech Career Advice With Women> US Department of Defense> Department of Defense News


Throughout her career, Heidi Shyu was no stranger to discrimination. The Under-Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering shared some of her early experiences and advice in the workplace at a summit on women in technology, hosted by the Laboratory of Physical Sciences of the University of Maryland.

“[In] with every challenge of my career, I have come to learn a very valuable lesson, ”the Under Secretary said today. In her very first job interview after graduating from college, with a master’s degree in mathematics, she faced gender discrimination at a major airline, she said.

“I was shocked during the interview [when the hiring official said], ‘I [looked] to your CV and your two degrees are in mathematics. So what is it that makes you so sure you can actually do engineering? I was literally flabbergasted by this question. I leaned over him and told him that in my first year I had taken a complex analysis course with 32 other male engineers in the class. I was the only woman and the only non-engineer. I came in No. 1 in the class by far, so I’m not in the least intimidated by engineers. “

She said she was sure when it came out of her mouth she wouldn’t get the job. “But in fact, it didn’t matter if I got the job or not. What was important to me was not to be looked down upon and treated like a second-class citizen.” And she got the job.

Shyu shared several lessons learned with the audience.

“You have to trust yourself. If you don’t trust yourself and speak for yourself, you can get run over,” she said.

And while she got the job, she still faced the challenges of working in a male-dominated environment.

“The first week I was on the job, an engineer colleague came into my office and said, ‘The only reason we hired you is because you are a female minority. [Asian], because we hire male engineers, ”she said.

Shyu finally made a breakthrough in the business when she voluntarily solved a three-dimensional math problem for a senior male scientist. She tackled the problem, solved it, and took it upon herself to extrapolate to the final dimension, so it would be any dimension the scientist wanted.

“I walked over to the boss’s office and said, ‘Here’s the solution to your three-dimensional problem. That, I can tell you, his attitude towards me has shifted 180 degrees.”

One of the main lessons she learned early on in her career is that respect doesn’t come automatically. “You absolutely have to earn it,” she said.

Shyu added that due to these unpleasant exchanges that took place at the beginning, she was determined to go back to school and get an engineering degree, so that she would not be treated like a second-class person. who “only had a math degree”.

Her next lesson learned was that she should never reject any opportunity and that she should keep learning.

Five years into her career, she learned to speak up when others around her were promoted and she wasn’t.

“I noticed that my colleagues were much more verbose about their achievements, and I sat very quietly in my office doing calculations to solve engineering problems.” She felt that her accomplishments were not noticed, until she began to speak and communicate. “Once I started doing this, the perception of my managers literally changed,” Shyu said.

She said the lesson learned was not to be afraid to speak up. “You have to communicate and you have to keep your communication very succinct. Get to the heart of the matter quickly,” she advised.

Another lesson learned is that women shouldn’t let their bosses put them in a narrow area of ​​expertise. “To advance in your career, ask to broaden your base,” Shyu advised. “At every stage of my career I have looked at people two levels above me [and asked], “What skills do they have? “”

Get out of your comfort zone and don’t be afraid to take on some really high-risk projects, she said. “Set a high quality bar for you and your team. Make sure you remove the obstacles for your team to try to achieve ridiculous goals, but it is also very important to help them achieve when you are in. a very stressful job. “

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