SAN FRANCISCO If you thought the workshop "Women in Design Automation" at the Design Automation Conference was a "chick" panel that male engineers could safely ignore, you would be mistaken.
The workshop here on Monday (July 24) covered issues ranging from how to herd an entire family out of the house in the morning to the art of discovering and promoting unique skills. Panelists also offered engineers a blunt assessment of conventional management wisdom.
The workshop's topic was "Working the 80/20 Rule for Success," but Reynette Au, a vice president at NVidia Corp., the strategy is "the criticality of identifying what you are good at and what you are passionate about" in achieving 100 percent.
Under that principle, 80 percent of results come from only 20 percent of the effort applied. But Au argued in her speech, "The goal is [still] getting 100 percent." Instead of the 80/20 rule, she focused on her own "complementary" rules, whose objective is to fill the gap and get the remaining 20 percent of results left out by the 80/20 rule.
First, woman engineers need to know "what you are good at" and what you are passionate about "doing a little bit more or little bit better." That also means being single-minded, Au said, "even if your choice at that time may seem counterintuitive."
Another key is making work matter to others, she noted. "I used the skills I have to promote changes. It's important to make the skills matter to everyone around you."
Finally, colleagues and bosses need to be convinced that the work has value, Au said, "Rarely people around you pay attention to what you do. What you do is often unappreciated and undervalued."
An engineer's advancement often comes down to a choice between pursuing a management track or committing to "pure" engineering. Au suggested a third option. "This engineer came to me and made an effort to explain to me what he does is valuable." By helping her understand what he did, Au was able to save his job.
Kathy Papermaster, director of the Sony/Toshiba/IBM Design Center (Austin, Texas) that is developing the Cell Broadband Engine microprocessor, advised against dwelling on recipes for getting ahead in the corporate world. Instead, she said, "Focus on what you enjoy doing . . . then results will follow."
Eileen Sullivan, who spearheads the Women's Mentoring program at Cadence, said, "Don't look in the rear-view mirror." Don't worry about what others believe you should be doing to succeed, she added.
Many women regard mentoring programs as a complement to what they may miss in informal networking. Soha Hassoun, associate professor of computer science at Tufts University, disagreed. While acknowledging isolation from male colleagues, she stressed, "Networking doesn't only happen at night, by going out and having drinks with guys." She added, "You need to keep an open mind. In attending a conference like this, for example, I usually create five or six networking goals. Unless I find those five people I need to get to know, I wouldn't leave the conference."
Denise Brouillette, founder and president of the Innovative Edge, suggested trying the Web. "You go online, put the word out for what you are looking for. Before you know it, you will have responses from eight people with answers," she said.