Women in engineering and public office: interview with Bea Q. Rico, candidate for Port of Seattle Commissioner

Becoming an engineer is not an easy task. Excelling at it is even more complicated. And if you happen to be a woman and part of an ethnic minority, things will be remarkably tougher for you.

Today, I’m interviewing Bea Querido-Rico, an engineer with over 12 years of experience in the aerospace industry, who is also running for Port of Seattle Commisioner. Join us while we talk about what we can do to improve the world for future generations. 

Education is one of the big challenges of our time, with less students choosing STEM degrees each year. How would you encourage the younger generations to become the professionals that we need as a society?

The strategy that works the best is inspiring through understanding first what motivates younger generations. Once the motivation is understood, then link that motivation to S.T.E.M. and pair it with relevant fun courses as well as role models that they can relate to.

Growing up I was only exposed to sports, accounting, and nursing. Some people in my family took steps into starting a business and my brother pursued engineering in college but all of that in my world was so abstract until I landed an internship at the Boeing Company working for the C-17 military cargo aircraft. That summer internship in aerospace widened my perspective and heavily influenced the way I think and operate professionally.

What it took for me to pursue a field in S.T.E.M. was simply walking on the factory floor and seeing how parts from around the world came together to make aircrafts that ultimately bring people together. Later in my aerospace career, a Director of Engineering for the 787 program coached me on the job and later challenged me to take on a masters of engineering.

In a world dominated by gender inequality and unconscious bias, how do you feel that being a woman and part of a minority has shaped your career?

The complex reality is the human element of judgment. If everyone were truly treated equally, we would all be taking trips to the moon right now because we would all focus our energy and brainpower on the next disruptive transportation vehicle or perhaps solving world hunger.

However, bias will always exist and being a young professional woman of color in a male dominated, predominately older and Caucasian, has been the story of my career. In order to be taken seriously by the male peers in the industry and in academics, I needed to work harder, articulate points more creatively, and think smarter. How that has helped, well, I’ve become better at strategizing.

What made you decide to run for public office at the Port of Seattle?

There are many reasons why I decided to run for office and I can go into the detail as well as the systematic decision making process I approached to go all in, but I’ll save that over gin and tonic hour. I jumped into the deep end of local elections because I was inspired by the call to action from nonprofits where I volunteer to basically step up and serve the community in a capacity that requires some risk taking.

I was also fed up with the lack of innovation and a lot of waste I was seeing from my experience working as Port staffer. So instead of complaining by the cooler about the issues, I decided to do something about it and ran. One of my favorite quotes is from Ghandi “Be the change you want to see in the world.” Hence, my campaign material is “BEA The Change.”

I’m motivated to run for office for many reasons, but platforms I am advocating for are specifically: social equity and inclusion, innovation and technology, and government accountability and transparency. Since this is Geek on record, on the innovation and tech front, I’d like to elaborate that I’m interested in:

  • Introducing an Open Data policy
  • Elevating the importance of the Information Technology and Communications department at the Port because it’s buried inside the organization
  • Hosting a ‘hackathon’ at The Port of Seattle
  • Investing in initiatives that support “Blue Ocean” type work in the area of maritime, fishing, aviation, and aerospace. I especially will focus more in space commercialization because the responsibility of the Port of Seattle is to strengthen the economy through transportation, trade, and industry. Basically, I plan to focus energy on the jobs of the future

In what ways do you think tech companies could collaborate more with the public sector? What partnerships would you like to develop as Port Commissioner?

I mentioned it briefly above but the Port of Seattle basically needs to be more pro-active in this area. The Port has a tendency to react to the changing landscape and that’s not smart.

By collaborating with tech companies we can better prepare for capital infrastructure planning, training, work force development. I’d like to see an Innovation Technology Advisory Council or something to this extent that will focus on developing an innovation roadmap for the Port to take into account for Maritime, Aviation, and Corporate.

Seattle has become a tech hub in recent years. In what ways do you think that has impacted Puget Sound?

Seattle has always been a tech hub. That’s why the companies are drawn to this region and the Port should sustain, protect, and further grow the brainpower that resides in this region. The impact has been a drastic jump in affordability and because of the tech community manifesting even faster in the recent years, it has consequently displaced many people in the non-tech communities out of Seattle.

My agenda for social equity is to find that compromise with tech companies to provide more support towards our local heritage, culture, and history. Seattle simply cannot be like San Francisco, with regards to housing and cost of living, and local government has a responsibility to focus on this issue, including the Port of Seattle.

What are the top three technology enhancements​ that you believe the Port of Seattle should be focused on getting?

  1. IoT
  2. Virtual Reality/Augmented Reality
  3. Additive Manufacturing/Automation

These three technology enhancements are relevant and the Port will need to work with the Unions to find a way to introduce, train, and educate the workforce and community in a time frame that will work for the “non-startup” culture that exists at the Port.

In your website, you talk about wanting to establish an Open Data policy that empowers people to launch more startups. How do you think data transparency can benefit innovation?

You would be surprised how ingenious people are when they are given sets of data and numbers that they can transform to be more consumable to the public but also more applicable to improve operational efficiency.

If you had one ask for the tech industry, what would it be?

Please vote during the primaries, add more people that are S.T.E.M. advocates into office, and support Bea Querido-Rico who will be your partner for innovation. J

You can learn more about Bea at www.rockitbea.com

Using a Surface RT, 5 years later

Right before my last trip to Spain, rumors of a laptop ban in flights from Europe to the U.S. started appearing. I didn’t want to take my Surface Book and risk being forced to throw it inside my luggage on my way back (we all know how airlines treat luggage).

So what options did I have? Either leave my laptop at home, or travel with a device that I could live without, in case it broke after being handled like a sack of potatoes.

That’s when I thought of my old Surface RT, abandoned in a shelf for years. I wasn’t sure it would be “enough of a tablet” for my trip but coincidentally, that same week happened to be the 5th year anniversary of its presentation, so it was perfect timing for a test.

Would I be able to use my email? Write a little bit? Upload pictures to Facebook? Read Twitter? Buy tour tickets and make trip reservations? Would any of the old apps work?

The answer to all of those questions was, surprisingly, yes.

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My experience with Snapchat’s Spectacles

I got the Spectacles over Christmas thanks to my good friend Carlos. Back then, it was difficult to buy them because Snap was playing a genius scarcity game.

Today you can buy a pair online and get them delivered to your home in 1-2 weeks. Gone are those days when the Spectacles would sell on eBay for $3000.

Now, you might be thinking: “should I get them?” Let me help you.

Have you ever had a vacation to a sunny place, taking pictures here and there to immortalize the scenery? Having your phone with you all day might not be convenient, especially if you want to disconnect.

Have you ever been at a wedding where everyone is looking at their recording phones? Most of these people end up having just the memory of what their camera saw, not their eyes.

Can you think of a summer day when you hiked through a trail with breathtaking views? Getting your hands busy to take pictures might be uncomfortable and even dangerous.

I have been in these situations, and the weird-looking sunglasses truly allow me to be in the moment while capturing the memory.

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Tech interviews and how to cope with them

‘The recruiter will call you back soon’ told me the fourth (and last) interviewer I spoke with after a long day interviewing at the Microsoft campus.

I was pretty psyched about getting an offer and moving to Redmond. I wasn’t desperate (I think) but I definitely was a Microsoft fanboy willing to change his entire world to work there. I had decided to tell the recruiter that although I preferred a position related to developing Word’s ultimate new feature, I was willing to take pretty much any job there.

‘Let’s go straight to the point –  I accept your offer’, I practiced many times with a mirror. You can imagine my disappointment when the recruiter didn’t call me back, didn’t pick up my calls and didn’t reply to my emails.

Though I am not a black belt at interviewing in big tech companies, I have had my share of reality checks:

You had me at ‘hello’. I found that getting an interview with the Tech titans requires a lot more than building a nice resume and submitting it through their careers web page. I don’t think I am overstating when I say that this worked for me once in a hundred times. On the other hand, having someone internally refer me worked more often than not and reaching out to recruiters through LinkedIn also turned out to be a pretty good option. But by far the best way to get these companies’ attention is to be already in the club – once I joined Microsoft, other companies started poaching me.

The lucky streak. Succeeding in interviews requires a (very misbalanced) mix of luck and technical depth. I feel humbled to say that I have worked with a few brilliant minds who shine not only for their technical excellence but also for their outstanding ability to collaborate and their driven execution. Yet, many of them have failed to get an offer at these companies. How is that possible?

Think different. I agree in principle that it is expensive and risky to bring in someone new, so employers want to be very, very sure. In practice, however, these companies seem to have ultra-standardized processes that require applicants to interview a lot and only then, the ones who adapt quickly to the system get the offers. Presumably, this ‘uniform’ hiring bar ends up impacting the tech giants’ ability to attract diverse talent who can boost innovation.

‘Patience is a virtue’, said no one who has ever interviewed in the tech industry. The interviewing teams made an astonishing job on ‘selling’ me the position so I put my future in these companies’ hiring processes only to get disappointed after hearing back months after the interview, if at all.

Forwarding my life by a dozen rejections across multiple tech giants, I now sit on the other side of the table. I am someone who has been part of Microsoft’s and Google’s engineering teams and their hiring troops and someone who still scratches his head every time he is asked how to fix this. My guts tell me that there is plenty of bias to be removed and that no candidate should need to study for months before interviewing.

I’ve been told that tech startups are changing the game by doing more hands-on interviews where the candidate’s aptitudes are assessed as they fix a random bug in GitHub. I wonder if that will be the next turn… or maybe we should just go back to the era of erratic brain teasers with questionable ethics (just kidding!).

Facebook created a mess trying to take on Snapchat

If you use Facebook, Instagram, Messenger or WhatsApp, you have probably noticed recent updates that allow you to share a picture that expires after 24 hours.

Stories, Shared Days, or Status, all different names for the same feature across 4 different apps. This is what they look like side by side:

Facebook is trying to suffocate Snap by flooding every app they own with the one thing that made Snapchat special.

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Why did you stop posting on Facebook?

Many of my friends have stopped posting on Facebook. Some have uninstalled the app and others even deleted their accounts.

They are not posting on Twitter either, and the more ephemeral Snapchat hasn’t reached critical mass among my closest friends.

Instagram is the only place where I still get a glimpse of the most intimate side of the people I love the most, but I’d say only 20% of my online friends actively use it.

What causes someone to stop sharing on social media? Is it a natural part of being over 30? Or is there an actual problem with the platform? Talking to several of these friends, I learned that there are several groups.

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On Leadership

What is a leader? What traits do I want to make sure I have as a leader? What has my experience taught me so far? I’ve been trying to answer these questions and have been thinking about what leadership means to me. 

Even though the dictionary defines a leader as “the person who leads or commands a group”, I do not believe that this simple definition is the same thing as being a true leader. A person that merely uses their “power” to intimidate others into getting things done is not a leader. Likewise, a person who uses fear to motivate people into getting things done, or walks over people in a selfish attempt to achieve a goal, is also not a leader.

So, what qualifies someone as a great leader? Let’s start with a fact, and one that many leaders refuse to acknowledge; there are no perfect leaders. We are human and we have weaknesses. We are human and we have strengths. The key is to spot the differences between the two, understand the pros and cons of both, and be a leader that is balanced.

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I broke Facebook

I’m sitting on a train, on my way to Whistler, and I decide to check Facebook. I’m hoping to see what my friends did last night, or what their plans are for Thanksgiving, but this is what I see:

I don’t see almost any personal posts, or pictures that help me connect with my friends, with the people I love. Isn’t that Facebook’s mission? Instead, I get irrelevant stories.

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This is your tech bubble in Seattle

You wake up with fake sunlight from your Wi-Fi-enabled lamp and you reach for your smartphone before you even open one eye. After checking that you finally reached 90% of sleep efficiency, you start your morning ritual through your social media apps.

A few more ‘Clinton has already won the Elections’ news from your Facebook feed remind you that November 8th is finally tomorrow. You walk to the bathroom with a sense of accomplishment: you retweeted a couple of anti-Trump news articles that a friend shared.

The smart toothbrush congratulates you for not missing any teeth 3 days in a row and you jump in the shower while listening to OneRepublic’s ‘Future Looks Good’, how appropriate!

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On Risk Taking

“I wish they would lay me off so I can take time off”, “I would love to live abroad but it’s just too much of a change”,  “I thought of that idea first, I wish I had done it myself” and “That seems too hard” are some of the things I’ve heard friends and myself say so many times. Changing is hard, I know it, but why do we live “hoping” and “going with the flow” rather than doing? What are we afraid of? I don’t claim to know the answer but this blog post has some of my thoughts on how I try to approach taking risks.

The first thing is that each of us live in a comfort zone. It’s easier to deal with the known than with the unknown. It is easier to just go with the flow and let chance and others take decisions for us. This begs the question, why do we let this happen though?

We are afraid of failure. Failing is hard, and when you fail, you KNOW you fail. In Silicon Valley, failure is part of life and it’s encouraged. Only by failing we get better. People always talk about trying things and failing. However, there is still a big stigma in failing. In particular this is very strong in cultures like mine (I’m Mexican) where failure is synonym for loser.

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