The New Generation of Engineers: Maria Eugenia Zuñiga, Systems-Compliance-Engineering.com, Quantum Technologies
Maria Eugenia Zuñiga is a Co-founder of Systems-Compliance-Engineering.com and Vehicle Software Quality Engineer for Quantum Technologies, Inc. Maria has more than 15 years of experience as a Software Architect, developer, and processes implementer. Her strong analytical and creative problem skills have enabled her engineering teams to focus on their development tasks while automated processes help prove compliance without adding administrative burden. Her accomplishments include a flawless launch for first time in 30 years in a Cluster dashboard design, managing multicultural teams, automotive process compliance in less than 6 months, and company startups.
What got you interested in electronics and the embedded engineering space?
I spent most of my childhood at my father's store. He was an electrical technician and frequently took me to provide in-house service to fix TVs. I was fascinated by how a box can provide such functionality. By the time I turned 14 was when I had my first embedded hardware experience – my father taught me how to fix Atari video games. I focused on electronics in high school, and that's when the digital world started to make sense for me as a career path.
How have you turned that experience or motivation into a successful career-to-date, and what are the key factors that have enabled success so early on in your career?
I saw electronics transform from analog to digital thanks to my father, and my dynamic and entrepreneurial mother had a business too. At 19 years old, I started my own video games company called Play Time. The concept was a store for customers to rent and fix video games. The key factors were the encouragement, tools, and out-of-the-box thinking that my parents taught me. I haven't stop since then.
Given your area of expertise, what have been the greatest challenges and/or breakthroughs during your time in the industry?
My experiences with my parents and rental store were just the beginning. I worked for Delphi Automotive systems and that brought big challenges. The significant trend of changing from analog to digital development in the automotive industry was a big deal. It was expected that we, "the newbies," were the new generation implementing the new systems. We had to learn a 30-year-old technology and translate it to a new, fast growing one.
Another challenge was the fast-paced development where everything had to be done quickly, but comply with high quality standards. Developing strategies and processes that allow fast development is not easy. The learning process is a must to make this happen. I was not only managing teams, but also learning at the same pace as the engineers how to be on top of possible risks or delays. I see this happened in my current work at Quantum Technologies. I can only assess safety risks if I know the product or implement a process efficiently. I currently leverage this expertise by proving consulting services through a company that I cofounded, Systems-Compliance-Engineering.com.
What has been the single most influential trend to come out of your generation of embedded industry professionals? What do you see as the most disruptive trend or technology over the next 5-10 years?
I think that my generation is the "glue" between the old school and the new school. Embedded electronic devices were barely known 30 years ago. Engineers from that generation worked differently than millennials do. We saw and experienced the "big boom" in the embedded systems. For example, cellphones shrank in size drastically and got new flexible screens. In a similar manner, the automotive industry has also changed drastically in only 15 years from systems integrating only the main computer up to two hundred minicomputers. My generation was part of all that. The trend that I have seen is the collection of data through embedded systems like those currently on cellphones to collect personal preferences for marketing, or in automobiles to measure the driving habits. Everything is data. This implies more "in the cloud" systems and more connectivity. Embedded systems will be the interpreters of data, but I see an inevitable merge between information technologies and dedicated embedded systems.
What advice would you offer the next generation of engineers?
As I tell my former professors at the Instituto Tecnologico de Durango: The new generation must experience the world. Their minds must be free in order to be creative. Walk through your designs, pay attention to the details, and use the gadgets as tools, but not as a lifestyle. Learn from older and more experienced people. And, don't be afraid to build your own company. After all, what is the worst thing that could happen? A failure? You still tried. There are always new opportunities to apply what you have learned.