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November 14, 2023

Navigating challenges and seizing opportunities as a female engineer

Tessa Ronan

Senior Perception Engineer

A career in the tech industry has always been in the cards for me. While working towards my Masters in Electrical Engineering, I took an internship to work on an exciting prototype of low-power, wireless irrigation automation. This opened my eyes to how thrilling it can be to work on building something novel while also getting to see tangible results was incredibly rewarding. 

Uplifting women in tech 

Throughout my career, I’ve learned that the support we need as women in the tech space evolves in tandem with our growth trajectory. Our needs change as we mature and progress through our professional lives, and companies looking to uplift their female employees must take note. 

Recent graduates, for example, might benefit the most from having access to the same meaningful mentorship opportunities as their male counterparts. Further down the line, employees returning from maternity leave will benefit more from the grace and opportunity to resume their career trajectory at the same pace. For example, when HR processes dictate that a certain promotion should take a year, returning mothers should be given the opportunity to demonstrate that they deserve it on a shorter timeline, such as six months. This would be a testament to the support returning mothers receive from their organization.

Outrider has helped to develop my career by always giving me the opportunity to try something new. For example, when I decided to make the move from the embedded space into robotic controls, Outrider gave me full autonomy to lead several projects in that domain. 

Tessa Ronan, Senior Perception Engineer, hard at work at Outrider. She uses Deep Learning to detect trailers and their features within the distribution yard

Flash forward a few years, and my curiosity in robotics perception had grown even more. Once again, I was encouraged to learn and evolve in that space while continuing to lead projects I was passionate about. Working at Outrider has given me the chance to explore new areas that interest me, and turn that enthusiasm into tangible results. 

Words of advice

As I reflect on the support I’ve received throughout my career, I’d like to pay it forward and offer young women looking to navigate the tech industry some pieces of advice: 

Apply for jobs – even if you don’t tick all the boxes! Prepare for it and practice tirelessly. No matter how well you know a topic, interview nerves will take hold. So, be sure to rehearse so you’re able to express yourself how you want to. For software engineers, there can be a coding portion of the interview process, so practice the coding questions under a time constraint. 

Getting the answer 100% right is only a bonus. Don’t be afraid to say you don’t know something. It’s better to be honest than to give a subpar answer. In that same vein, don’t shy away from asking clarifying questions. Break down a problem into sizable chunks and think out loud. Interviewers are looking to see how you process logic, operate under pressure, and think on your feet.  

Combating self-doubt 

Unfortunately, doubting yourself and dealing with imposter syndrome is part and parcel of navigating this industry as a woman. I doubt myself all the time, even at this point in my career! 

Working in engineering, there’s no shortage of technical debate. People tend to be ruthless about expressing their opinions and showing off how much they know because everyone wants to be the expert in the room. I once witnessed a co-worker ask a manager a question, then an hour later boast to another team about how obvious the answer was. When you’re surrounded by ego like that, it’s nearly impossible not to doubt yourself, especially when gender dynamics are tossed into the mix.

While there’s no magic wand to wave away self-doubt, you can chip away at it by seeing and acknowledging the impact of your work. You have a right to be proud of your accomplishments, so be sure you’re adequately patting yourself on the back – even for the small wins! You’d be surprised at how positive reinforcement can improve your self-perception. 

If you feel as though you’re being treated differently from your male peers, don’t let it impede your ability to do your job. Never miss an opportunity to shoulder more responsibilities or take on a challenge. By continuing to do your best work, no matter what the world throws at you, the respect will soon fall in line. 

Tessa Ronan, Senior Perception Engineer

As a perception engineering, Tessa applies deep learning to detecting trailers and their features within the distribution yard – a critical part of the Outrider System. Previously, she was the firmware lead at Cypress Semiconductor working on its Bluetooth low-energy (BLE) chip. She holds an MEng in Electronic Systems and a gold medal from her BSc in Applied Physics from Dublin City University. Tessa was awarded several prestigious scholarships, including the Naughton Research Scholarship at Notre Dame University and the San Jose Dublin Sister City Scholarship.

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