Women in Engineering-Interview with Senior Engineer Judy Johnson

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Jessica Sauers

Hanover, MD, 15 November 2018

Judy has been a software engineer for over thirty-five years, and has been at Onyx Point since 2015. Jessica interviews her to talk about current technology, innovation, and being a woman in tech.

Jessica: You have a lot of experience managing teams! Tell me about your leadership style.
Judy: Hmm, I like to be part of my team. For example, when my old team did an installation, I would remain with them until the work was done, even if it was 3 AM. I prefer to minimize meetings, but if they are necessary I make sure there is an agenda to start, and usually food to keep us going, and I always provide a summary, including action items, following the meeting. In general, I try to ensure people get positive feedback - I work to find the value and the good in everyone. I learned this from one of my kids’ elementary school teachers - “It’s not how smart you are, but how you are smart.”

Jessica: Women in the field of technology are definitely in the minority, so why did you decide to pursue a career in tech?
Judy: Well, I was good at math! I had the most amazing guidance counselor in High School, and he really encouraged me to go in a technical direction.

Jessica: How has your background prepared you for success in the industry?
Judy: My Dad was an engineer, so I may have started with an advantage. We had a computer in our middle school so I was able to start writing actual code early. In High School, I was lucky enough to get a part-time and summer job that required computer literacy, and I really enjoyed it. I like people and I like connections, and networking has been a huge help in my career.

Jessica: How do you feel being a woman in tech has affected your work environments or career in general?
Judy: I think I have had the good and the bad experiences we all expect. I have been talked down to, ignored, and interrupted. People have been “surprised” that I am an engineer, or that I knew something they did not expect. I also have many friends and co-workers who respect me for who I am, what I know, and the skill set I have. I have qualities that may be related to being a female that help in work environments; I like to help people, I try and keep peace, keep communications open, and I love to bake. I have many qualities that define me, and my gender is only one of them. I feel that there are many underrepresented groups in tech, and my awareness of what many people go through has made diversity and inclusion an important goal. And yes, I do a “diversity inventory” at almost every meeting I attend.

Jessica: What was your most interesting job?
Judy: Oh, definitely selling CDs at a music store…
The jobs that I enjoy the most, though, would be ones where tasks vary day-to-day. My very first job out of college, I was the sole programmer in a group of hardware engineers. I did everything from writing an 18x128 pixel display driver from scratch to writing a database, also from scratch. At my current job, I wear many hats and I enjoy the variety.

Jessica: What advice would you give to women looking to break into the field of engineering?
Judy: Work really hard. Be kind to people around you. Cooperate rather than compete. Don’t be afraid to be yourself. Find the good in everyone. Network!

Jessica: What is the greatest transformation in technology you’ve witnessed in your career?
Judy: Okay, this may be an unusual one, but I will go with FOSS (Free and Open Source Software). As a young programmer straight out of school working on a hardware team, I always was jealous that they were able to put together pre-made components to create something new, while every project I did pretty much started from a blank screen. Now that we are all connected and have software repositories such as GitHub, and online communities like Stack Overflow, we can share bits and pieces of software and combine them to get what we need.

Jessica: Have any women in technology influenced you? How?
Judy: Good question! One of my very first bosses was a woman, and she also supervised her own husband! She was a stubborn, outspoken, and delightful woman, and I learned a lot from her. I love to read about women in our field, such as Ada Lovelace, Admiral Grace Hopper, and Katherine Johnson. There are some great role models out there for us (a book plug if you have kids, I LOVE this one ) How have they influenced me? I think just knowing that no obstacles can stop us! I’d also like to throw in a plug for all the interns and students that I have been lucky enough to work with. They keep me optimistic for the future!

Jessica: What are your thoughts on the next transformation in the tech industry?
Judy: I’m all about what Artificial Intelligence will do for us. Yes, it’s a little scary, but I watched AI become commonplace starting from Amazon recommendations, electronic assistants, and spam filters, and head towards self-driving cars and beyond. I can’t wait to see how we next use our innovation to assist, direct, and educate us.

Jessica: What do you want to see in the future for women working in tech?
Judy: Simple. I look forward to the day that a “woman engineer” is just called, “an engineer.”

At Onyx Point, our engineers focus on Security, System Administration, Automation, Dataflow, and DevOps consulting for government and commercial clients. We offer professional services for Puppet, RedHat, SIMP, NiFi, GitLab, and the other solutions in place that keep your systems running securely and efficiently. We offer Open Source Software support and Engineering and Consulting services through GSA IT Schedule 70. As Open Source contributors and advocates, we encourage the use of FOSS products in Government as part of an overarching IT Efficiencies plan to reduce ongoing IT expenditures attributed to software licensing. Our support and contributions to Open Source, are just one of our many guiding principles

  • Customer First.
  • Security in All We Do.
  • Pursue Innovation with Integrity.
  • Communicate Openly and Respectfully.
  • Offer Your Talents, and Appreciate the Talents of Others

diversity, women in tech, women engineers, women in computing, female programmers

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