There are many paths in which a person eventually becomes a software programmer and engineer. Some start at an early age with an interest in science, engineering, and software development. Others are drawn to it a bit later in their lives, through a serendipitous journey.
Some people experience a little of both paths. Such was the case for Mary Brians, a software engineer recently recognized by Cognizant Softvision as a woman of notable achievements from a diverse field of engineering and STEM-related candidates.
Initially pursuing an art degree, Mary fell into engineering by accident during her time at the University of North Texas. Since then, she found a new passion in Linux and developing embedded applications.
Design News sat down with Brians to learn more about her journey and what it’s like to be a female software engineer. What follows is a portion of the DN interview with Ms. Brians.
Design News: How did you get into the field of software engineering?
Mary Brians: Both of my parents were electrical engineers. My family had computers while I was growing up, but I only used them for games. Then my dad put a spark station in my room and taught me the commands apropos and man. I then got familiar with command-line bash and csh.[Editor’s Note: Apropos is a command to search the man page files in Unix and Unix-like operating systems. It is handy when searching for commands without knowing their exact names. Bash and csh shells are command processors which run on a text window and cause action when a user types a command.]
I rebelled and tried my hand at being an art student in high school and college, so it took a while to find my professional calling. I discovered software engineering partly due to a class at the University of North Texas called game programming, taught by Dr. Ian Parberry. I appreciated the fact that software engineering was not nearly as subjective as art or other industries.
Design News: Do you consider yourself a software programmer or a software engineer? Why?
Mary Brians: There have been times in my career where I’ve been a programmer and other times an engineer. I believe the definition depends on how much freedom you are given to design underlying systems. I have had jobs where I’ve been told what functionality to add and how it should be designed. For me, the more freedom you have to design, the more you can call yourself an engineer. Since the customers’ needs tend to vary from project to project, the amount of design freedom really does change on a per-project basis. I tend to focus more on the engineering side of things, but each client provides new growth opportunities.
Design News: How do female leaders in STEM careers help women overcome challenges in engineering?
Mary Brians: I believe it starts with being confident enough to speak up and find your voice. I am frequently not very assertive with managers or coworkers. However, I try to fight that quietness when it matters - but in the past, I was always quiet. I feel that many other women in engineering have this problem. Much of the female management I’ve had has both encouraged me to speak up and grow confident. As a female in STEM, I think we have to encourage each other to speak up and not be afraid to ask questions when it matters most. I enjoy being a core member of training groups and often share my time and encouragement with others to help expand their engineering skillset, enabling them to grow in their respective roles.
John Blyler is a Design News senior editor, covering the electronics and advanced manufacturing spaces. With a BS in Engineering Physics and an MS in Electrical Engineering, he has years of hardware-software-network systems experience as an editor and engineer within the advanced manufacturing, IoT and semiconductor industries. John has co-authored books related to system engineering and electronics for IEEE, Wiley, and Elsevier.