2013 Most Influential Women in Embedded: Victoria Mitchell, Director of SoC Software Engineering, Altera Corporation
Victoria (Vicki) Mitchell manages the worldwide embedded software team at Altera. Her group is responsible for models and simulation, development tools, and OS enablement for Altera’s microprocessor subsystems. She is responsible for the build-out of the software function at the Austin Technology Center. Vicki has more than 25 years of experience in low-level, systems software, mostly at semiconductor companies such as Cirrus Logic, SigmaTel, and IDT. Vicki holds a BS in Software Engineering from Colorado Technical University.
What are the biggest challenges you face on the job every day as a woman in high tech?
MITCHELL: The challenges I’ve faced have evolved over the years, from being a target of stereotyping to time management while raising a family. One of my biggest challenges is reaching optimal work-life balance. I tend to overcompensate for my gender, to aim for Super Woman, and the workload required for that goal eats into my personal life and interests.
How do you overcome those challenges? What or who is your inspiration?
MITCHELL: My inspiration is Sally Jewell, our next Secretary of the Interior. In her work as CEO of REI, as a banker, and as an oil company engineer, Sally has balanced obligations to her company, a practical obligation to engineering fundamentals, and a passion for the environment.
As women in engineering, we can use the inherent strengths of our gender to help achieve balance in our career, and also in product development. One example in embedded is Linux. We must safeguard developing IP, but at the same time actively promote our technology in the ecosystem. The analogy for women is nurturing and protecting our children, yet raising them in their community. I think women are uniquely comfortable with simultaneously holding close and reaching out.
How can more women be prepared to enter traditionally male fields such as engineering?
MITCHELL: For women in technology fields, success requires fostering two personal attributes that nullify stereotyping and demonstrate significant advantage to the organization:
1. Leadership: It cannot be taught, but it can be mentored. As Sheryl Sandberg writes, “Female leaders are key to the solution.” It is up to today’s leaders to set an example and to inspire. There are practical aspects of leadership applicable to anyone, but women can leverage our innate abilities to nurture and build community.
2. Fearless creativity: This is hard to foster when preparing for a tech career because applied science is not fantasy science. An active interest in literature, art, music, and dance helps inspire out-of-the-box thinking and provides a little bravado when voicing ideas.
How do you recognize when a new technology or application is one your company should invest/innovate in, versus a technology that will experience fast burnout?
MITCHELL: Every new idea that solves a problem in a unique way is worth some form of investment, but for how long, and how much? If a technology flames out, maybe the organization couldn’t find a path to implement it. Or, it could be because the idea is ahead of its time. In embedded, the investment path often differs significantly from that of application or enterprise software. Agile methodology and object-oriented design took a long time to catch on in embedded, but we now wouldn’t do without them. Consider how much simulation, modeling, and SystemC rely on OOD. Even if a technology does not appear sustainable or implementable, it still might be worth limited investment because it is a necessary step to the next “big thing.”
In the next 5 to 10 years, which technologies will present the most viable development opportunities for your organization and for the embedded industry?
MITCHELL: The ever-expanding Internet of Things will continue to drive embedded development – specifically distributed tech. Back in the days of mainframe terminal controllers, we all shared resources to keep availability up and costs down. When PCs entered the market, everyone got their own resources, and it was all about owning bigger hard drives and more RAM. Now, we are moving toward everyone having thin clients and sharing resources again. It’s all about mobility and always-on availability. This distributed evolution will drive opportunity for Altera and for embedded, in both infrastructure and end-user equipment.
Another factor is consumer trends. As an example: 3D printing is really hot right now. It brings robotics and automation to the people – makes it affordable and available just like PCs did for computing in the early ’80s. Robotic technology helps with science, like medicine and mechanics, and also with art, productivity, and efficiency. As engineers, we should keep our eyes open for anything that melds the analog and digital, the human-machine interface that bridges organic and inorganic.