Jennifer Brace, User Interface Engineer, Ford Motor Company
Summarize your experience and what you do now. Please give a brief summary of your current role.
I’ve been working at Ford Motor Company for 8 years with the majority of my time in the Human Machine Interface group as a user interface engineer. My responsibilities include defining the way drivers interact with their infotainment systems. To do this I define the type of interface needed (touch screen, hard switches, voice rec, etc.), logic around performing a task (if a driver wants to save a radio preset, how do they do it?), layout of the controls (where do buttons belong) and work with our graphic designers to create a visually interesting and user friendly system.
Do you think that being a statistical minority in the Tech world has given you that extra push that you needed to become a top performer in your field?
Yes and no. I have always had a personal drive to excel in everything that I do. This has been true since I was in school, whether it was on a homework assignment or in a volleyball game, I always wanted to be a top achiever and that still holds true in my work and personal life. At the same time I can say that being a female in this male dominated technology field often makes me feel the need to prove myself in order to earn respect from peers. It’s not uncommon for people who don’t know my position to assume that I’m an administrative assistant or simply someone hired to talk about my product at auto shows. I generally welcome this incorrect assumption and love seeing the surprised look on faces when they find out I’m an engineer and that I know the ins and outs of my product because I actually designed it. However, I do try to simply let my work speak for itself. I won’t go out of my way to prove that I’m qualified because I know that I can back up my position if needed and frankly it doesn’t matter what other people think.
How did you choose the technical field from all other possibilities that were presented to you?
It was really an easy choice, this field played to my strengths in math, science and problem solving while offering me the opportunity to work on products I was passionate about. I always wanted to work on something that had a big impact on customers in their everyday lives so the technology they use in their car was a great fit.
Do you think that the tech field provides the opportunity for you to think more creatively or to innovate more freely than other fields?
Absolutely, the tech field is perfect for innovation and quick thinking. In the automotive industry a lot of projects require planning and execution several years in advance of the product hitting the market. What I love about the tech side of the industry is that you must move faster than the typical automotive time table to be a leader. Consumer electronics move on a monthly time scale and thinking in a year to year time frame simply won’t cut it. Consumer’s expectations of what’s relevant and useful changes along with the devices they carry, like smart phones or tablets. The vehicle environment needs to represent that.
If you were asked to mentor a young woman interested in a tech career, how would advise her?
I would suggest working hard and being herself.She doesn’t have to be ‘one of the guys’ to excel in the field and it’s actually beneficial to have a different perspective than some of her colleagues. Embrace what makes her unique and let that help guide how she approaches problems and looks for solutions. Having a different view point is very valuable when it comes to designing any consumer products because you have to keep in mind that every consumer is different and will have different needs. The more diversity you can bring to the team the more likely you are to think about the unique needs of each potential customer.
What advantages have you found being a woman in the technology field?
I think the most important advantage I can bring to my team is the way I approach and use products differently. For example when I design buttons on a touch screen I think about how I would need to interact with it when I have long fingernails, something most of my male counterparts would never consider. The way I carry my personal devices is usually different as well, it’s not uncommon for my phone or MP3 player to be in my purse instead of a pocket in my pants. Simple examples like that allow me to offer some insight on how women might need the technology to be designed with different needs in mind.