Women in Engineering - Elise Kain
For our final International Women in Engineering Day interview, we’re continuing to salute and celebrate the contributions of the driven and intelligent women who are solving problems and innovating through engineering.
Beginning in the UK in 2017, National Women in Engineering Day went worldwide due to an enthusiastic reception from an international audience. International Women in Engineering Day (INWED) was born to enable a global celebration of women in engineering.
We were lucky to have chatted with Elise Kain, a Software Manager here at Everactive. She graciously shared her career highlights, her unique perspective, and her advice to young people looking towards careers in engineering.
Can you tell me a little bit about yourself, your current position and a brief history of your career and experience?
I am an Engineering Manager for the Analytics and Data team here at Everactive. I am also the Tech Lead for our Machine Health Monitor (MHM) products, so I serve in a hybrid role at the moment. We’d love to have the team grow, but right now I am managing the Data team composed of a Data Scientist and three Data Engineers. We’ve set goals for the year and things we want to improve on for our products like reliability and performance. We’re heavily focused on our steam products because that has the most of our analytics.
The other two subcategories we’re working on are: fleet health, or how our sensors are behaving out in the field, and vibration threshold alerts on our MHM devices. All together we have a lot of big plans for this team related to moving into machine learning modeling development for steam, to building out an analytics platform so that our team itself, but also other Everactive team members can get the data they need from our sensors in the field. Eventually long term, there’s also the idea of our customers being able to access a data warehouse that we curate.
The other side of my role right now is the Tech Lead for our MHM Product team. I’ve helped with all the discovery work, so working with our designer, product manager, and product owner to coalesce around what we want to build for the customer so they can get their job done. We do a lot of that discovery work and what I do is act as the bridge between those team members and individually contributing developers to figure out that this is the vision. But how are we actually going to build it? So I talk with our back-end and front-end developers, we look at the designs, we break it down into smaller pieces of work so we can achieve them one by one and deliver those features.
I came up into these roles as an individual contributor. I started out at Everactive three years ago, as a frontend developer. We were a much smaller team at the time and for a while I was the only front-end developer, so I was really jumping into a bunch of different things at once which was a great way for me to learn about the system and has really served me well in my dual roles here. Because we’re still a pretty small startup, I was also actively involved in designing what I built in wireframe. I had a lot of the same conversations I am having now with Katie, our amazing designer. I’m thrilled to have a wonderful designer because I used to be a designer as well!
How did you get involved in engineering?
I didn’t major in computer science or engineering, I was a communications major at Ithaca College, in what was called Communications Management and Design. I did a lot of corporate communications, internal communications, and event planning. My first job out of college was director and tournament official for the Philadelphia PGA, so it was running all these junior golf tournaments and driving around in my loaded up minivan. I did that for a few years and ended up at the USGA as a Rules of Golf associate. People playing golf will have questions about the rules and call up the USGA and I got to work the phone and it was just the coolest job in the whole world.
That was my first career, so to speak, and then I got married. My husband and I moved down to Charlottesville, where my husband got a job and so I had to figure out something different to do. I was working for a nonprofit and was asked to run their website. I didn’t know how to do any of it but I started taking online classes and some classes here in the local Charlottesville tech community. I found out I really loved it, did a coding bootcamp, and moved into software development and engineering.
What do you like about being an engineer?
It feels really powerful telling a computer to do something and it just does it. It’s also super frustrating because if there’s a mistake you didn’t tell it what to do the right way! What I love is that there are a plethora of different ways to be a technologist or an engineer, depending on what you’re interested in learning about. At the end of the day, everything I get excited about is using technology and tools to get the job done easier or more efficiently. It’s also why I love building Everactive’s application that has a presence in the real world because we are building tools that other people can use to get their jobs done easier. There’s so much potential for what we can do with that information to turn into real-life insights for our customers.
What do you find challenging about being an engineer?
It’s the other side of the coin, right? There are so many tools and technologies that you can get lost and never dive deep into any of them. If I had any recommendations it would be that you find the tools and technologies that feel powerful and that you can do anything with them, and then don’t be afraid to dive deeper into those. Find the things that excite you and learn the in’s and out’s of those tools and skills.
The other hard thing is knowing what the right thing to build is. It’s easy to get excited about all things you could build, it’s a lot harder to ask what’s the right thing to build in the right way? Those are the questions that I like working on.
What impact do you feel you have created as a visible woman in this field?
I think this is a hard question for most people to answer about themselves – reflecting on the impact that they’d made. I would like to think the best impact I’ve had is showing that being a woman in tech is just a normal career path you can choose to pursue. And that’s true even if you haven’t been coding since you were a kid or you really love reading books instead of playing video games.
There’s a lot of events, organizations, and support for people to learn to code from different backgrounds. And that’s amazing! I engaged with a number of those during my own career change and it made such a difference to see others learning alongside you. But my hyper-optimistic dream is that one day we won’t need all these special on-ramps for people to learn to code. The barrier to entry won’t feel so high, and once you get in the door, it will feel comfortable to be where you are professionally. I know that’s not the world we live in yet, but I want it to be.
Can you provide some advice to other young women interested in entering STEM careers?
Find, as best as you can, a professional sponsor to help you navigate the earlier stages of your career. There are professional mentors and sponsors. Mentors will give you advice, while sponsors might have similar conversations with you, but will also help put you up for opportunities in different spaces. During your job search, if you feel you have found a place that will sponsor you, make that a priority.