National Engineers Week: Becky Stern Interview
As many engineers and engineering enthusiasts are aware of and excited about, this week is National Engineers Week (February 19-25, 2017). The goal is to bring awareness to the contributions to society that engineers make. It is also a time for engineers to highlight the importance of learning math, science, and technical skills.
For some people, this industry can be daunting. Young girls and/or those who may feel the creative spark but have difficulties with mathematics, often feel insecure or incapable of exploring the world of technology and the many avenues it encompasses. These days however, we’re lucky that access to STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics) knowledge is more abundant than ever and easy to learn through a plethora of online tutorials, no matter who you are or what your challenges may be.
At Morai Motion (being female owned and operated), we have a rather biased soft-spot for encouraging young girls to become curious and involved in STEAM-type activities. With the upcoming Introduce A Girl To Engineering Day (February 23, 2017), we wanted to get a woman’s perspective on working in this typically male-dominated industry.
I asked Becky Stern (Content Creator for Instructables), if she would have a moment to offer her insights and she was gracious to agree. Interesting fun fact, while Becky has had some engineering training, she is not technically an “Engineer”; most of her education stems from an art and design background. More accurately, she is an artist working with technology to design fun and creative projects, aka “Maker”. Her unique blend of design and technology experience goes to show that you don’t need to have a fancy degree (or be great at math – like myself!) in order to use technology to make, create and beyond – just as engineers do!
Becky Stern on Design and Engineering
What does engineering mean to you?
Engineering means solving problems, often with opposing forces at play.
What would you say to young girls thinking about a career in engineering? What if they struggle with math?
In any career, domain mastery is important, but communication skills are absolutely essential. There’s likely to be someone on your team who can help guide you, so long as you know how to explain what you’re after. Most creative people I know struggle with math, but the successful ones don’t let that struggle keep them from what they want to make. There’s always going to be some part of a job/project that’s harder than the rest, and it’s your ability to research and connect that will get you through. The future isn’t getting any less technical, so it behooves any young student to embrace engineering topics into his/her path of study.
On a more personal level, working in any male-dominated field has its quirks, both positive and negative. My advice to young girls and women is to identify the privileges and use them to your advantage– it’s only fair if you have to deal with extra junk just because of your gender. And never let the haters get you down. I don’t come from an engineering background (I went to art school), and I’ve struggled with self confidence in my coding and electronics skills, especially when working with professional engineers.
“Iterate quickly. Fail faster. “Perfect” is the enemy of “finished.” Break apart your ideas into components and research them concurrently. Don’t let the haters get you down. Surround yourself with positivity and people who amplify and elevate you. Say no to most requests/opportunities that will draw you away from your focus and/or happiness. Eat protein at breakfast.”
What is your favorite part about what you do? What is your least favorite part?
My favorite part about creating online tutorials is inciting creative spark in others. It’s so satisfying to see folks beam with pride when they show off their creations based on my work or teaching!
My least favorite part? Trolls and stalkers.
What is one of the most common complaints you hear in your world?
That we need more women in STEM, or engineering specifically. It gives me pause because I’m not an engineer, though my creative work often incorporates technology. I think it’s important for girls and women to master technology in whatever domain they pursue. As Douglas Rushkoff writes in Program or Be Programmed: “We are looking at a society increasingly dependent on machines, yet decreasingly capable of making or even using them effectively.” As technology permeates every aspect of life, all things now have at least one layer of engineering, whether it’s a circuit board inside a product or something more abstract like a software system for efficiently distributing a product (or idea) around the world.
What resources would you recommend for a young person interested in exploring engineering?
The internet is a treasure trove of DIY electronics tutorials. Recently I published a free Arduino class on Instructables that I think is a pretty good place to start (or any of the other 30+ free classes at Instructables.com/classes including 3D printing, CNC, LEDs & lighting, electronics, and more). The Adafruit learning site is also an excellent resource for electronics.
You must have been asked just about every question! Is there anything no one has asked but you wish they would?
I get asked frequently about the subjects of my work, but rarely about the process of creating the media comprising it. I wish folks would ask me more about what it takes to capture, edit, and publish tutorials online. I geek out over the nuances of communicating the joy and techniques of making through a screen. I’ve always loved cameras and I’m a journalist’s daughter.
About Becky Stern
Becky Stern has authored hundreds of tutorials in everything from wearable electronics to knitting. Before joining Instructables as a content creator, Becky worked as a senior video producer for MAKE Magazine and then as the director of wearable electronics at Adafruit Industries. She lives in New York City and enjoys riding her motorcycle, making YouTube videos, and collecting new hobbies. Her work has been featured by VICE, the BBC, The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, Engadget, CNN, Business Insider, Forbes, and Science Friday.
More From Becky
If you live in the New York City area, you can sign up for some local classes she teaches:
- SVA’s Products of Design MFA program: Making Studio (a mix of electronics, crafts, & documentation)
- Previous students’ final projects:
- Arduino Intro class at the hackerspace NYC Resistor (3 hour program, next one starts 6/17)
Get Involved for National Engineers Week
Although the week is halfway in, it’s not too late to get involved with National Engineers Week activities. You can volunteer in your local community or create projects at home and share your results with friends and online.
Below are some great resources to either get involved or get inspiration:
Also try searching your local communities and schools to find an event or group to get involved with.
Even when National Engineers Week comes to an end, that doesn’t mean the inspiration, involvement and creations should come to a halt. Engineering, art, design, technology, engineering – all these creative pursuits which shape our world, continue and grow all year long and there is no lack for resources!
Whether you’re a verified Engineer or a creative enthusiast, get out there and #MakeSomething, #MakeAnything!
I would like to thank Becky for her valuable time, contributions and insights to what it’s like working as a woman and a designer in an engineering world. She is truly an inspiration and proof that if you want to do something, the only obstacle standing in your way is yourself!
“You have to be yourself and if that means being different, be different. You’re a female. An Individual. You have something positive to offer. Don’t limit yourself or let the world limit you. Pursue the things you love. Do that endlessly; without compromise. And without fear of failure. Do that and there will be no time wasted; nothing to regret. See things in a different way. Every detail an empty space. Imagine something new there. Carve your own path and don’t look back.”
About the Author
Nicole Huntley is the Director of Sales and Marketing for Morai Motion. She has a passion for design, technology, clean energy, Muay Thai, Sci-Fi and helping our clients find the best motion control solutions for their applications.