Women in engineering: Q&A with Maria Heriz from Tektronix
On International Women in Engineering Day, Electronic Specifier speaks with Maria Heriz, Vice President, Commercial Operations, EMEAI at Tektronix about how it feels to work as an engineer, her interest in technology and the challenges she has faced.
How does it feel working as an engineer?
It feels great! I genuinely think that being an engineer is one of the coolest jobs you can do. The reasons are multiple:
With an engineering education, you can work in many areas inside a company, a research centre, a school, a university etc. You can be in advanced research & development, be improving processes in operations, developing software, designing electronic boards, be a professor, work in marketing, be a lawyer in a high-tech company or a HR business partner. Some lawyers and HR people I have worked with have engineering degrees. This is what I tell kids in high school when I meet them – as an engineer, you can do so many things during your life!
I also enjoy being part of the incredible change that technology has brought to our lives and continues to do so. Being able to understand it from its heart and enabling other engineers – women and men – to deliver their innovations to humanity is very encouraging and inspiring. This goes from helping a designer to test a battery for an electrical car that will save energy, to being part of the research for future 6G applications which, in turn, will create so many opportunities to improve lives for people.
Our latest product, the MSO2 oscilloscope, is a breakthrough in its category and all the engineering students we have shown it to have been truly amazed with what it brings to them. For me, personally, it is very exciting to see that spark in those future engineers’ eyes – seeing their excitement for an oscilloscope!
What makes you most proud about your work?
The inclusion and diversity culture we have at Tektronix makes me very proud. We, at Tektronix, believe that we have a role in building a community where everyone belongs, where you can speak your mind, be yourself, and feel supported. This is truly something that is lived in our company, and it starts from our CEO and is exemplified by all the management chain. It is not something we just put in posts as it is “trendy” today, we do believe and live it.
Some personal examples I can give are that I have never worked with so many women in my professional life since I came to Tektronix, and it is refreshing when we know we are in a very dominated high tech male world. If you look at our management positions, we do have women in General Management jobs, in Sales leadership roles, in Operations, in Marketing etc, and our President is a woman. When I said we live through it, it is also because we prove it.
In Tektronix, we have a long history of female engineers. For instance, in a time where being a woman engineer was rare, our former colleague, Connie Wilson, led the development of the CRTs used in early oscilloscopes in the 1960s. This was during her time at the company from 1957 to 1974. We have established an achievement award in her name to recognise her accomplishments and show this example to other girls who want to engage in STEMcareers.
When did you become interested in technology?
I’ve always been interested in technology. Since I was 7-8 years old, I would tear down the science part of the newspaper my parents bought every day and read every piece of news in detail. Yes, maybe I was a bit of a nerd, right? But really, I was amazed with what biologists, mathematicians, engineers were doing out there.
I admired Marie Curie first, Edison, De la Cierva (a Spanish engineer who made the first prototype of what became the helicopter). I also loved my brother’s electrical train; it had those cool cables you could connect to change the signaling of the train track. I wanted to open the radio at home as I did not understand how that voice could get into that box and one day my father simply explained to me: “all around you is governed by maths”. I was amazed by that sentence, how was that possible? There is still a bit of that girl in me – curious and amazed with what so many smart people are able to invent and how maths surrounds you without us even realising it.
What obstacles did you have to overcome during your career?
One of the biggest ones came early and it was when I started the engineering school. Moving from being at the top of my class to finding myself surrounded by many very intelligent kids, mostly boys, who knew so much about software programming, computers, electronics and I did not even had a PC at home!
The real challenge was to overcome the thoughts building up inside me saying, “you are not and cannot be as good as they are”. That challenge has been one of the best learning experiences in my life and has served me in my career. Once I proved to myself that I was and could be as good as my colleagues, I stopped putting that mental barrier up but I can tell you, I worked very hard to prove that to myself.
Then, later in my career, as a woman sales engineer with three children traveling every week in a world where that was not very common, well, I have had other challenges and obstacles but nothing which could not be overcome with good organisation, hard work and support from others.
What helped me is that I never questioned that I could not do my job as well as anybody else because I was a woman doing what was considered a man’s job. Like everyone, I have also been judged by other’s biases, like being regarded as a “bad” mother as I was leaving my babies at home and traveling a lot, or assuming that when I changed company the first time, it was to take a less demanding job so I could take better care of my children and it was not, or, that I was less good in understanding some technical aspects of our products because I was a woman.
I have lots of those experiences, but I never gave them any importance and simply moved forward. I just do not feel I am different from anybody else and never wanted to be treated differently, that is how I overcame those challenges.
Who were your supporters along your way?
My family has always been, starting from my mother who always encouraged me to put “wings” to my dreams, to my husband who is my best partner for us to build our family, our lives and supporting each other all the time. It has also been men and women who have believed in me. I can think specifically of a manager, a man, who challenged me so hard and never put in doubt that I could get to the next level. Lastly, companies that believe in you and give you opportunities despite your age, level of experience, gender, nationality etc. I have had all those and how lucky I have been!
Why aren’t there more women in tech? What’s your take on that?
I believe a lot comes from those mental and personal barriers young girls put to themselves or by others that make us doubt we can complete difficult studies. Some of those barriers come from the environment and the education we receive; some others may be personal. I once participated in a roundtable with 16-17 year old girls to promote STEM careers in a high school and I asked them this provoking question: “how many of you sincerely think you do not have the capabilities to be an engineer, even if you would like to?”. I was so sad to see their answers because too many raised their hand. I would love to remove those barriers for those girls because truly, with hard work and grit, there is so much anybody can accomplish!
Could you name a few challenges (or obstacles) women in tech face?
The biggest one is the access to tech. If we solve it, the rest can be solved. When you are in a technical job, our challenges are no different than other women have in other industries. We must enable, encourage, and get more girls into STEM careers as we need their brains, their ideas, their innovation, their amazing intelligence and all the diversity they can bring to our world.
What’s your advice for young female engineers?
Go for challenges, consciously knowing that you do not have all the experience or skills to fit 100% of the job description. Do not let any mental barrier be an obstacle for what you want to do or be, believe in your potential and look for people who can be your supporters and your trusted challengers.