Ladies in the Lab

When telling people that I'm a Computer Science major, I'm often asked how I like being a woman in this field. I have yet to think of a satisfying answer to this question; I have never wanted to do anything else. The new Engineering and Physical Sciences building, Kingsbury Hall was just being completed when I arrived at the University of New Hampshire (UNH). Move-in day found me, with my Computer Engineering Dad by my side, poking our heads into empty classrooms and offices and gawking through windows into locked rooms filled with equipment.

Females are certainly outnumbered by males at the University of New Hampshire InterOperability Lab (UNH-IOL), but that fact has never made me feel unwelcome or unworthy in classes or while working. Every person has something to offer the world, regardless of gender, age, experience, or background. This happens to be a field that I enjoy learning about and working in, and it's great to be here with other people who recognize the value of passion and hard work. All the while, gender has never been a a factor in that equation. It is clear, that the managers at the UNH-IOL find joy in passing on knowledge and passion to another generation, and I'm starting to experience it from their perspective as well.

The UNH-IOL recently had the opportunity to host a group of 6th and 7th grade girls who are participating in UNH's Engineerista Tech Camp. The girls were given the opportunity to learn about the UNH-IOL and take a tour of the lab, as well as take part in some hands-on activities. They were split into pairs, given cat5e Ethernet cable and crimping tools, and they learned the process of cable termination. They had a blast! Each pair was thrilled when they saw “PASS” appear on the Fluke tester screen to confirm that their cable was assembled correctly.

I remember my own excitement at that age, and even younger, terminating cable with my dad before running the cables through the walls and ceilings of our new house. Finally, when everything was set up, he would unplug a cable or two, give me a map of jacks, routers and computers, then send me off to diagnose the problem. It was one of my first experiences with engineering, and I loved every minute of it.

As I got older, I made the usual discoveries-- learned HTML and CSS and spent countless hours writing and tweaking code until my pages looked exactly how I wanted them to. Though I've traded HTML for C++, things haven't changed much. I still easily lose track of time when I'm working on a problem. It's fun to now formally study a topic that has been an interest for so long. Working at the UNH-IOL is especially unique, because, in spite of the great diversity among students, we're really all in the same boat. We all love technology, we love learning and experimenting, and everyone is eager to share stories of their own adventures-- many of which involve amusing blunders (and successes) that make my own childhood experiences look pretty boring.

So, I guess the simple answer is that I like being a woman in Computer Science. I enjoyed seeing other young girls who were eager to learn about engineering and the like. I love working with like-minded people and I have a great appreciation for the way the UNH-IOL prepares us for future careers in the field.

Amy Davies, Student Technician