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Profile: Sarah Boen, Director of Strategic Technology and ASICs at Tektronix

Women in Tech: “Innovation is a product of diversity”

Sarah Schlothauer

Four years ago, we launched a diversity series aimed at bringing the most inspirational and powerful women in the tech scene to your attention. Today, we’d like you to meet Sarah Boen, Director of Strategic Technology and ASICs at Tektronix.

research study by The National Center for Women & Information Technology showed that “gender diversity has specific benefits in technology settings,” which could explain why tech companies have started to invest in initiatives that aim to boost the number of female applicants, recruit them in a more effective way, retain them for longer, and give them the opportunity to advance. But is it enough?

Four years ago, we launched a diversity series aimed at bringing the most inspirational and powerful women in the tech scene to your attention. Today, we’d like you to meet Sarah Boen, Director of Strategic Technology and ASICs at Tektronix.

Today’s woman in Tech: Sarah Boen, Director of Strategic Technology and ASICs at Tektronix

Sarah is a technologist with 20+ years of industry experience across semiconductors, communications, education, and defense markets. In her current role as the Director of Strategy Technology and ASICs, she is responsible for driving technology innovation for test and measurement solutions that accelerate the realization of essential technology. Her previous roles include GM Wired Communications, Marketing Manager, and Software Engineer. She has a Master of Business Administration and Bachelor of Science Computer Science from The University of Portland.

When did you become interested in technology? What first got you interested in tech?

I’ve always been interested in technology. When I was young, I remember when ATARI® came out and my mom gifted me a Commodore 64®. I just thought it was the coolest thing, so my mom supported that interest by ensuring we had a computer. I was also in Girls Scouts and vividly remember wanting to earn the Computer Badge for technology. It was always just a passion that I’ve been attracted to from a young age. Games like The Oregon Trail, Asteroids, and Lemonade Stand were titles that I also enjoyed playing when I was younger. When I was a junior in high school, I participated in classes like drafting and computer programming as elective courses. It was a very “boys-oriented” environment in the ‘90s, as we only had two girls, including myself, that were in these programming and technology courses. When it was time for me to decide on what I’d want to study in college, technology was just a natural fit for the interests that I had built. Computer Science to me was fun and I enjoyed it a lot.

Let’s talk about your background. How did you end up in your career path? What obstacles did you have to overcome?

I started working as a software engineer with internal software at Tektronix but wanted to get involved with functions that were more customer-facing. The customer service aspect was something that I really enjoyed. By talking to customers to understand their pain points and designing solutions, it allowed Tek to design solutions to allow them to do their jobs effectively. So, I made the decision to go back to school for my master’s degree in business. My amazing manager was very supportive when I made the decision to return to school. Once I graduated, I took a role on Tek’s marketing team which was heavily focused on electronics testing. The team was mainly comprised of electronic engineers who had physics backgrounds. This opportunity gave me the chance to really explore other areas in marketing for Tektronix and understand the breadth of our portfolios. After spending some time truly working with customers, I realized that I missed being involved with technology. I love to dream so I wanted to reconnect with what the future would look like and how technology could help enable innovations of those visions. Being able to be a part of efforts to think about what’s possible with technology trends is very intriguing to me, especially where these trends align through an economic and environmental lens. Taking a deep look at where these trends converge and how technology will prepare society for them is very exciting to me.

Did you receive support from your family and friends? Do you have a role model?

Growing up, I had a very supportive family, but my number one role model is my mom. She has supported me for as long as I can remember. Both parents were thankfully involved in my life, but my mom played such a critical role in who I am today. Growing up, we didn’t have a lot of disposable income, but my mom always made sure we had a computer. My mom supported me when applying for scholarships to go to college. Most importantly, she was always someone I could talk to about challenges in my life. She always listened to my troubles or situations I was going through at work. She provided me with advice on how to handle the tough times. Her support is something that I’ve always appreciated. Though she is not a technical person (I taught her how to use a computer), my mom is the person I most look up to in my life.

Did anyone ever try to stop you from learning and advancing in your professional life?

I was lucky in that regard. I never had anyone really try to stop me from learning or advancing in my professional life. My dad was really surprised when I decided to go into computer science. We only have a handful of us in the family went to college. Since he was one of ten children, it wasn’t really ingrained in my dad to go to college. So, it feels good to hear him say he’s proud of me for what I’ve accomplished in my career.

A day in Sarah’s life

I am currently serving two functions within strategic technology and the application-specific integrated circuit (ASIC) team at Tektronix. My main function is looking into the future and analyzing technology and capabilities that are needed through partnerships, driving collaboration specifically with research and institutions. The second role is that I help develop our own custom ASIC that is used within our Tektronix products. As the team manager, I am responsible for the design and the implementation of those chips that will go into our products. Due to our current COVID-19 climate, I spend a lot of time on the phone or in virtual meetings, as you can imagine. I ensure collaboration at all levels within my team, including my direct reports and their direct reports. I’m also responsible for helping shape their individual careers and their interests within the technology that we enable. As a newer role, it’s like going back to basics with mentorship and interdepartmental collaboration, helping to strengthen our relationships within the organization. You have to form good relationships with people, especially with our customers. I have to place my voice of the customer (VOC) cap on to try to understand their perspective.

I also like to spend an hour out of my day brainstorming on what could happen in the future with the advancement of technology. This requires a lot of reading and learning about what’s happening in technology, the geopolitical space, environmental and how those impact technology. For example, regarding environmental impact, we can look at the extraordinary consumption of power to fuel our digital economy and ask what technology society should invest in to address these challenges. I spend a lot of time in that space, talking to industry experts and customers, generating ideas as thought partners.

Technology will need to be the baseline in everyone’s education to be successful.

What are you most proud of in your career?

It was quite an accomplishment when I received my first patent. The project consisted of a few co-workers of mine in a collaborative effort to address capabilities within our product that were falling behind industry standards. We worked with the engineering team to put together a proposal to start a project to leapfrog the competition. Our work in this area began surpassing our competition, which was a really great experience. I was able to collaborate with a core team and establish relationships with people that wouldn’t have otherwise gotten to know. The greatest achievement stemming from this opportunity was to see the positive impact this had on our customers and help them achieve their goals in their own work. Going into the project, I knew very little about this technology so I learned a lot from this experience. I just really love learning and that’s why I loved being a part of this project.

Reflecting on this experience, it’s so important for people to seek out those who have a mentoring quality to work with. Those who want to teach you things and really care about your learning something in the end. As a manager, I’m looking for people who will have the right mentorship/mentee capability and not just the best engineer to work with. You look at the characteristics of who they are and match them with the right people. This type of relationship is so important as each person gains valuable experiences through this interaction.

Why aren’t there more women in tech? What’s your take on that?

Part of it is geographic makeup. The United States, for example, has big technology initiatives in big cities or locations around technology hubs. There’s Portland, Beaverton, and Hillsboro in the Pacific Northwest where there are a lot of technology programs available and accessible to students. I grew up in a small town in Oregon, mostly blue-collar workers, in which kids often did not grow up with parents or family members within the technology industry. Also, there were not many courses or programs in schools that encompassed technology. You can see in many regions in the United States that children oftentimes are influenced by the environment that they grow up in and how their parents influence their interests. With school systems across the country becoming more integrated with virtual instruction, this helps enable equality in the classroom, as well as enable efforts to expand visibility for women in tech. The entire education model needs to increase visibility in technology education and programs for students. Part of this is providing equality for women and underrepresented minorities to access technology in schools and programs. Further, how can technology be used to solve that educational gap? Visibility is the number one way we can improve this along with equal access to content that digitalization enables. Another area is thinking about technology and the digitization of industries, such as fintech, agriculture, and oil & gas, to name just a few.

Technology will need to be the baseline in everyone’s education to be successful. We need to be proactive about how technology is changing and will continue to change traditional jobs and how to craft the skills needed to be marketable in the future. All of these efforts will be rooted in technology somehow and will not be limited to engineering disciplines. There will be many more broad opportunities within STEM careers, so we’ll need to change the mindset of what technology will look like for the future of industries and career fields.

Could you name a few challenges (or obstacles) women in tech face?

Some of the biggest hurdles for women in technology are on the social side of this industry. For example, with my experience in marketing, going to events or dinners with colleagues can be challenging as a female to be invited or included. Sometimes you have to be aware of the social opportunities and proactively invite yourself.

One instance I had as a manager was when I was interviewing a male applicant for a position on my team. I invited him to lunch with my direct supervisor, but it seemed that the candidate was talking more directly to my manager than to me. I decided to decline the position to the candidate and shared my experience with my manager who did not realize this was occurring. This was important for me to learn that you have to be proactive in communicating your experiences because everyone has different perceptions or blind spots. It’s important not to assume that others see what you are seeing, so as a woman in technology, you should always be vocal about your experiences.

It’s important not to assume that others see what you are seeing, so as a woman in technology, you should always be vocal about your experiences.

How would our world be different if more women worked in STEM? What would be the (social, economic, and cultural) impact?

Innovation is a product of diversity. If the work world was more diverse, innovation would progress faster because a diverse set of thought leaders (women, men, minorities, etc.) coming together is a more powerful team. If there were more women in STEM, it would have a snowball effect of more girls becoming interested in those areas. This would give women more independence in careers, both socially and economically.

The discussion about diversity is gaining momentum. How long will it take to see results from the current discussion?

I think there has been a lot of progress within the diverse workforce, but ultimately it will take a generation or more for diversity to see full results. If you think about the hiring pipeline, the entire process will need to be diversified. For example, you’ll want to start diverse efforts very early on and ensure that your organization is representative of the diversity of the population. This type of scale would take a generation to develop. However, I’ve already seen a difference in the number of women and diverse candidates at Tektronix. The full process requires a healthy pipeline attracting diverse talent.

What advice (and tips) would you give to women who want a tech career? What should they know about this industry?

The technology industry is awesome. If you want to be a part of innovation and an industry that is defining the future, this is where you want to be. I would encourage those interested to find a mentor that will help you navigate your career in technology. With this, not all challenges will be technical. You’ll have a lot of emotional and psychological challenges, so it is very important to have a support system in place when building your career in the technology sector.

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Author
Sarah Schlothauer

Sarah Schlothauer

All Posts by Sarah Schlothauer

Sarah Schlothauer is the editor for JAXenter.com. She received her Bachelor's degree from Monmouth University, West Long Branch, New Jersey. She currently lives in Frankfurt, Germany with her husband and cat where she enjoys reading, writing, and medieval reenactment. She is also the editor for Conditio Humana, an online magazine about ethics, AI, and technology.

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