I sat down last week at CES to chat with Liat Ben-Zur (in the above video) about the Internet of things and how our appliances, cars, phones, toys, TVs, locks, lights, and security system are beginning to wake up and talk to each other so that they can better understand our needs and keep us connected. She leads the AllJoyn business focused on Qualcomm’s Internet of Everything software strategy.
We also talked about how she came to work in IT, why the industry needs more women, and what she plans to do about it. “I could not be happier with the path I took,” she says of her career. But she did not grow up playing with computers, building things with electronics, or coding. “I didn’t grow up tinkering and doing those things that you think engineers do,” she admits. “I was more artistic.” But she insists that doesn’t matter. In fact, she says, it is her creativity that has made her successful in her highly technical work at Qualcomm, maker of mobile chips and other technologies.
How did a creative girl end up working enthusiastically in such a technical field? “When I got to college,” she told me. “I decided I would find the hardest major. So I decided to get an electrical engineering degree. It was not an easy program!” And it was predominantly male, something that still bothers her about this industry. “When I was taking classes all my professors were male. This was in the early 90s. I was one of maybe two women in the school of engineering at UC Davis. So when we were taught complex topics, the professors used analogies that had to do with cars.” This didn’t help. “But I think that is pretty common. And it is one reason this industry needs more women. So there will be more female professors.”
But it’s not the only reason. “I go to conferences all over the world,” she says. “And it is always like 90 percent male. Yet when I do work with other women there is a tangibly different approach to problem solving. And that results in different outcomes. When companies don’t have a lot of women, they continue walking down the same path. Diversity of thought is really important and we need more of it.”
It’s not, she says, only that women should be better represented in this industry for the sake of the women. But for the sake of the industry itself, which would benefit from product development that takes into consideration the point of view of women. Not only because women buy products but also because women often see things from a different angle and – when inventing things – it’s essential to look at problems from many perspectives.
The same goes for creative personalities. “Originally, my idea of working in tech was someone sitting in front of a computer writing code,” she says. “But the entire world of IT has opened up as to what you can do – everything from finance to legal to management to marketing to public relations. If you are someone who is very articulate and creative in the way you think, you can take complex concepts and mash them into ideas.”
Basically, she says, it is an industry that needs all types: Women and men; creative and nerdy. And everything in between. “A company like Qualcomm," she says. "Is made up of a lot of different roles and types. Some of the people might be hacking in the labs. But a lot of the people who are coming up with the vision are not like that. They are trying to think about what people need. It doesn’t take one type. The more diversity we have, the more successful we will be.”