In honor of International Women in Engineering Day, we spoke to Mingyan Qu, the Vice President of Quality Engineering at Carbonite. When Ming emigrated to the United States, she didn’t speak English and had never touched a computer. Now, 20 years into her engineering career and 4 years into her Carbonite tenure, she leads our largest engineering team.
Ming shares how she got to where she is today and offers advice to women who want to lead engineering teams in the future:
Why did you decide to become an engineer?
I am originally from China, where I graduated with a chemical engineering degree and worked for textile export/import business. My husband and I moved to the US so he could pursue his PhD degree. My son was five years old at the time and I started learning English alongside him.
While learning the language I also learned that Boston had lots of high-tech companies. I thought, if I had to start a new career in the new country, computer engineering would be an interesting field to explore. Two years into my stay in the US, I decided to apply to graduate school to study Information Systems at Northeastern. I took the TOEFL and GRE and got in. I was pregnant with my daughter at the time, and I had my daughter while I was a student there.
How did you manage to embark on a new career in a new country with young children?
It was a lot of hard work. And I had to battle the language barrier too. I couldn't fully understand the course lectures in real time, so I brought a Walkman with me to school and recorded my classes. At home I played my lectures over and over again, even when I was cooking or taking care of my children, so I could improve my English and fully grasp the course material.
Like other working moms, managing to embark on a new career with young children was not easy. You want to prove yourself at work and you often have to do more at home. Then there’s the guilt of not being able to be with your kids as much as you’d like.
When you’re busy multitasking with your career and your family, your children learn how to be more independent. My children have told me multiple times that they never felt like they missed out when I couldn’t be at events other moms could attend, like being able to chaperone on school trips or staying home with them more often. They have also told me that I have always been their role model for how to work hard. My daughter just graduated with a Neuroscience degree from Harvard and my son is a surgeon completing his residency. I am very proud of them.
What advice would you give women who are interested in pursuing careers in engineering?
We now know that women make up only 12 percent of engineers and 26 percent of computing professionals. We know that jobs in these fields are more important than ever and are growing exponentially. Research shows that women have just as much aptitude for these fields as men. I even think women can multitask better and value working with and helping people more. You should be confident that engineers are made, not born.
There’s a perception that it's hard for women to do engineering. I admit it, it’s not easy. It’s a very male dominated field, but it’s a very challenging and rewarding career that’s worth working hard for. It’s also important to work for companies with leadership teams that are invested in fostering a diverse workplace environment where you can develop and strengthen new skills and learn from many different people’s perspectives.
Did you have any memorable mentors who helped you progress in your career?
Absolutely, at every step of the way. I remember going to my advisor at Northeastern Engineering School when I first got accepted, because I was doubting whether I was up the challenge. I asked him if he thought my English was good enough for me to complete my degree. He assured me that it was and encouraged me to continue.
Once I entered the workforce and started working my way up, I had many mentors and teachers along the way, from when I was an entry level Engineer, to when I was a Senior and then a Principal Engineer. When I got to the Principal Engineer level, my manager at the time encouraged me to move to the management path. I was hesitant at first. But in the end, I’m very glad I made career path change. It has opened up my mind and I have ended up enjoying it a lot more than I thought. I made the switch because I was pushed and supported. Sometimes we all need a little push. We also need a lot of inspiration, support and opportunities to charge ourselves.
Where do you look for inspiration, support and opportunities to learn?
I attended the Mass Women’s Conference in Boston and Siemens Women’s Leadership events for many years. Those kinds of events allow me to get inspired by many different women in diverse fields. I also get support from my management team, peers and cross team colleagues. And much of my motivation in my management role is to try to lead by example and encourage more women to pursue engineering.
I think it’s important to find inspiration and energy outside of work too. I have a dance group that I have danced with for almost 20 years. And they have become my close friends. We don’t just exercise together. We have fun together and share our perspectives.
I think women should look for support everywhere we can to help assure ourselves. We can and should do whatever we want to – no matter the barriers. Working in engineering is its own constant learning curve. Technology changes so fast, we have to constantly adapt. Though that’s part of the reason I love it here – and why I love engineering, as a career.
If I had to go back and decide what to do all over again, I would choose engineering. Without a doubt.