How did you become a software engineer? Mary Brians shares

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There are many paths in which a person ultimately becomes a programmer and software engineer. Some start very early with an interest in science, engineering, and software development. Others are drawn to it a little later in their life, through a fortuitous journey.

Some people experiment a bit with both paths. This is the case of Mary Brians, a software engineer recently recognized by Cognizant Softvision as a woman of notable achievements in a diverse field of engineering and STEM-related candidates.

Initially pursuing an art degree, Mary fell into engineering by accident while at the University of North Texas. Since then, she has discovered a new passion for Linux and the development of embedded applications.

Design News caught up with Brians to find out more about her background and what it’s like to be a female software engineer. The following is part of DN’s interview with Ms. Brians.

Design News: How did you get into software engineering?

Mary Brians: Both of my parents were electrical engineers. My family had computers when I was growing up, but I only used them for games. Then my dad set up an ignition station in my room and taught me about and human controls. I then familiarized myself with the bash and csh command line.[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 to be an art student in high school and college, so it took a while for me to find my professional calling. I discovered software engineering in part through a course at the University of North Texas called Game Programming, taught by Dr. Ian Parberry. I liked the fact that software engineering was not as subjective as art or other industries.

Design News: Do you consider yourself a programmer or a software engineer? Why?

Mary Brians: There were times in my career when I was a programmer and other times an engineer. I think the definition depends on the freedom you have to design underlying systems. I’ve had jobs where I’ve been told what features to add and how they should be designed. For me, the more freedom you have to design, the more you can call yourself an engineer. Since customer needs tend to vary from project to project, the design freedom really changes depending on the project. I tend to focus more on engineering, but each client offers new opportunities for growth.

Design News: How Are Women Leaders in STEM Careers Helping Women Overcome Engineering Challenges?

Mary Brians: I believe it starts with being confident enough to speak up and find your voice. I am often not very assertive with managers or colleagues. However, I try to fight that stillness when it counts – but in the past I was always quiet. I feel like a lot of other women in engineering have this problem. Much of the female management I have had has both encouraged me to speak up and become confident. As a woman in STEM, I think we need to encourage each other to speak up and not be afraid to ask questions when it matters most. I enjoy being a key member of training groups and often share my time and encouragement with others to help them broaden their engineering skills, allowing them to evolve in their respective roles.

Mary Brians, Cognizant Softvision, used with permission

John Blyler is the editor of Design News, covering the areas of electronics and advanced manufacturing. With a BS in Engineering Physics and an MS in Electrical Engineering, he has years of experience in hardware-software-network systems as a publisher and engineer in advanced manufacturing, IoT and semiconductors. John has co-authored books on systems engineering and electronics for IEEE, Wiley, and Elsevier.

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