This week, we catch up with Robotics and Mechanical Engineer - Camille Eddy. Currently studying a degree in Mechanical Engineering at the University of Idaho, Camille has extensive experience as an intern at esteemed companies such as NVIDIA, HP Labs and Google X.
Camille has also given great talks on machine learning and AI bias, and is an advocate working with numerous groups to encourage more women into STEM. Here's her story:
Newnham: What were you like growing up? How would your friends and family have described you?
Eddy: I was nerdy and quiet during my teen years. Doodling or designing elaborate ideas for inventions. My mother encouraged me to dream big and talk about my dreams. My sister and I home-schooled for our entire primary education and we are inquisitive learners. With this education, I learned to dissect information for myself and apply it when I could.
Newnham: When / how did you first get interested in tech? And a bit about your career journey so far?
Eddy: I was 12 and researching what I wanted my career to be and I thought engineering described what I was doing already, so I started learning more about the field of engineering.
I got started preparing for engineering studies during my freshman year of High School when my mother took me to the local university to learn about their engineering program. That is where I met my soon to be the mentor and former astronaut Barbara Morgan. I became an Idaho Science and Aerospace Academy Scholar during High School.
Later, I began studies as a freshman college student in Mechanical Engineering at Boise State. Because of the school's amazing research-centered community, I completed three academic research positions by the time I finished my sophomore year. After that, I started a two-year internship at HP and I also discovered I had an interest in public speaking because of the coaching I had received from my mentors. And it was around that time that I started traveling to speak at conferences outside of the university. Since then I have taken a gap year in my education to complete two other consecutive internships for a year and a half at Google and NVIDIA, keynoted at several conferences, and transferred to the University of Idaho to finish my last year of school.
Newnham: As a multi-talented engineer, what are the areas of tech you are most interested in and why?
Eddy: I primarily focus on two different intersections of tech, the intersection of hardware and software and the intersection of engineering and humanities. I focus on these areas because they reflect my intersectional life as a Black woman. I have learned that a lot of exciting decisions happen when it is time to merge the two disciplines into one project. And I like to be in the room where those product design decisions are happening. I am also interested in how our intermediate design decisions will help or not help those we are intended. And there is the even harder question, what will be the unplanned and unconventional uses of the products and any unintended consequences? I like to call it thoughtful tech creation.
Newnham: You are a great STEM advocate – what three things do you think we can do to make the tech field more diverse and welcoming?
Eddy: Be authentic - We need more authentic networking in the diversity space. It seems that we have been working on dropping more diverse candidates into the tech pool. But if we continue to increase the number of relationships with different people, I believe we can improve the rate that we hire qualified individuals from all backgrounds. Expanding broad-ranging relationships should be a goal for everyone, the intern, the job-seeker, the recruiter, the hiring manager, and the employee. We all need to seek to expand the number of relationships we have across identities not just when we want to fill a role but as real community members encouraging the best in each other.
Don't seek to direct change for someone else's space - I think this would benefit a majority of tech workers, not just the diverse candidates. I have experienced mentoring that is geared towards helping someone who thinks differently to think more like the rest of the team. For example, telling someone to speak differently or controlling an individual's approach to problems, but not on an engineering level, more on the personal side of work decisions. The basis of the idea seems kind, in that they may want you to fit in, but in an ideal world if we could create more bridges to allow for communication across language and cultural barriers we could maintain teams that hire diverse candidates and ultimately different experiences. It's about being aware of the personal bubble we each have and what individuality and personality can bring to an organization moving forward on these issues.
Be capable of directing impactful change as your workforce grows and expands - Another thing I noticed for myself is that I will run into repeated rejection at work solely by my identity as a Black woman. I become aware of it especially when my boss or coworker starts apologizing for the environment. If we as allies see something, we should take some steps to change the situation and be allies that affect positive influence in our circles for our coworkers. They key to this is to not be self-centering on your ability to be the changemaker. Something as simple as shutting down a joke at someone else's expense or giving back the spotlight to the person who is presenting after an interrupting are great ways to shift the culture of your team quietly.
Newnham: What advice do you have for young girls looking to start a career in tech?
Eddy: Always try new things and be available to new opportunities that you think are worthwhile. You need to trust your instincts. Maybe you don't have the most technical training but it is not a matter of IF you can get it, but WHEN you get it. Even though many might make it seem like there is a lot of technical expertise on top of a position in the tech field, at the end of the day tech careers are still about the people you work with and HOW you work with them. So don't lose sight of that. Lastly, I believe in having a million mentors so I look to everyone who will talk to me, even other students, to give me advice. At the same time, I am not afraid to fire a mentor after a certain amount of time and if the partnership is not helping either of us. Even if a mentor has a lot of experience, their experiences might not help me and my identity. Because of this, I have learned how to recognize the difference between forward progress, stalled progress and backward progress for myself and you can do it too! Trust your instincts!
Newnham: What are you most proud of and why?
Eddy: I am proud that I have achieved over 3.5 years of internship experience. And the new benefit is that I can confidently say I know where my interests are. If someone asks me where I see myself in five years or ten years I have no hesitation. There used to be a lot of ambiguity for me when I started my career about where I would land. Now I have narrowed it down because I have benefited from a lot of experience. I thank my mentors, past and previous, for their time and effort and I continue to look forward to my next phase of life.
Newnham: Have you ever felt like you “failed” – where something in your career didn’t work out – and if so, how did you overcome it?
Eddy: The workplace is so dynamic and sometimes I feel that I don't assert myself when I need to. I wish there was an app that told me if I had been assertive enough for the week because I feel that I do lose gains and resources when I don't put my best, assertive and confident self out there. So when I find I am letting my environment or shyness get to me, I remember how others have shown me examples of how they took charge of their career and then I look for tangible warning signs (not just a feeling) that I am not taking charge myself. Here are a few examples...if I am repeating the same request too often, then I need to try to automate the task or get the authority to take on that process myself. If I keep going to a meeting where I don't say anything at all, I either need to ask for more duties or get out of going to that meeting.
And finally, if I look around the room and I feel I have no one I can ask for help, I need to find someone on a different team a couple aisles away that I can go talk to without feeling like I am being judged for asking questions and seeking out help from teammates. I want to be able to work efficiently and not get bogged down in the weeds. I am also the responsibility to free up as many burdens or barriers that keep my body of work from being excellent and easy for me to accomplish.
Newnham: What’s next for you?
Eddy: I am hoping to have a productive year in 2019 and accomplish some exciting projects. I don't know what is in store, but I am open to the possibilities. I will be traveling abroad pretty soon for my first international keynote and in the summer I will be teaching a workshop on ethical AI. I am willing to take any suggestions on cool projects while securing the check so anyone feel free to @ me if you have them!
Newnham: If you could go back in time – what one piece of advice would you offer a younger Camille?
Eddy: I don't think as a young student when I was getting ready to work in research or internships, that I had enough coaching on conflict management. I believe mentors and career counselors sell this idea of, once you get the opportunity it is going to be peachy. So to my younger self, I would say, learn to talk back to people, respectfully. When people stand in your way and try to bait you into believing that there are barriers or reasons you shouldn't or can't do the work, politely reject their experience. And be comfortable rejecting them in the moment, engage in the conversation versus running away from it. Speaking up more often will get you ready to handle conflict more readily and the next time it happens, you will be able to move on to a resolution. It is better if your coworker feels you can work through criticism and become a better person, versus taking the blame and internalizing it. What I have learned, the older I get, the higher the stakes get. So going through trial and error as a younger professional is much better.
Camille on Twitter / LinkedIn / Instagram