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This week’s story is brought to us by Nita Patel, Chair and Founder of the IEEE Women In Engineering International Leadership Conference and Systems and Software Engineering Director at L-3 Warrior Systems.
When I was growing up, my mother encouraged us — actually, forced us at first — to learn a new craft each summer. I can’t quite remember where it all started, but I know it was pretty early. We made our own holiday cards; we designed our own personally sketched wrapping paper; and, we made, rather than bought, anything we wanted to give anyone. Crayons, markers, and creative ideas were my best friends growing up.
I remember one summer in the early, big-hair-mania of the 80s we made barrettes. We took standard barrettes and added large, colorful flowers and shiny beads to them. My cousins and friends loved the first ones we made to my surprise and annoyance. My surprise because gobs of glue showed through. My annoyance because that gave my mom an excuse for us to make barrette and ponytail holder kits for everyone. I remember making more than 200 that summer to give away. I loved how I got to experiment with new designs and different techniques.
We went from barrettes to cross stitch (my favorite), to needlepoint (multiple sets of pillowcase covers), to knitting (I could make a mean doily), to purses, decorative tissue box covers, candles, wood work, and scarves. One summer we had to sew our own outfits. We started with the basics of a hem and adding a button to a blouse and graduated to making two skirts and a dress, which we actually had to wear to school. We started with hand sewing and graduated to using my mom’s sewing machine.
It was electric when I got to use the machine. Wow! A device that could reduce the time it took to make a skirt from about a week — after you already messed up and started over about five times — to an hour. The concept that an electric machine that could simplify my arts and craft workload was wonderful. The idea that an engineer creatively imagined and then created the sewing machine was interesting in and of itself. But the fact that the device saved me time, made my stitches more even and allowed me to use techniques that would have taken forever to do by hand was incredible.
As long as I can remember, I have been in love with technology and engineering, the art of creatively solving problems and making lives better. The sewing machine was one of my early encounters of engineering and technology truly making a difference in someone’s life, my own. Engineering truly is the application of technology for the benefit of humanity and this is what keeps me engaged in and passionate about what I do – I know that what I engineer affects others and, hopefully, makes their lives easier, simpler, better.
Although my stitches come out a bit uneven now due to lack of practice; the creating, learning, making, designing, and engineering are still with me.
Nita Patel is Chair and Founder of the IEEE Women In Engineering International Leadership Conference to be held 23-24 May 2016 in San Jose, Calif. By day, Nita is Systems and Software Engineering Director at L-3 Warrior Systems, manufacturer of night-vision and electro-optical systems.
Read the other stories, here:
A Note From The Editor: An Engineer’s Story
I Became An Engineer: Because Of A Lunch Box
I Became An Engineer: Because of Christmas Lights
I Became An Engineer: Because Of The Cool Jackets
I Became An Engineer: Because My Dad Said Not To
I Became An Engineer: Despite Being Bad At Math
I Became An Engineer: Because of Uncle Chet
I Became An Engineer: Because I Can’t Stop Asking ‘Why?’
I Became An Engineer: Because of Star Trek (Specifically Montgomery Scott)
I Became An Engineer: Because I Was A Really Lucky Nerd
I Became An Engineer: But ‘Nobody Knows’ Why