MEM Student Inspired by Female Engineers

Maninee Sharma (MEM '20) looks back on her experience attending the virtual Society of Women Engineers conference and Grace Hopper Celebration.

The Society of Women Engineers (SWE) conference and the Grace Hopper Celebration (GHC) are two of the largest events for female engineers. This year's events were both virtual as a result of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, yet both remained impactful and inspiring.  

Maninee Sharma (MEM '20) is a current student in Northwestern's Master of Engineering Management (MEM) program who aspires to be a product manager in a tech firm after graduation. Sharma attended both conferences, and recently took time to reflect on her experience and some of the highlights of the two events.

How inspiring was it to have so many women technologists together for SWE and GHC, even if they were virtual?

It was extremely inspiring to meet women in all stages of their career, from undergraduate students to meeting company CEOs and CTOs. It was a surreal experience interacting with these strong and ambitious women. I met women working at top tech companies and women who have started their own companies. It was interesting to learn about their unique journeys.

It also was great to see how the community of women has become even stronger and more willing to help during this pandemic. 

How would you describe your experience with the SWE Conference?

Overall, I would describe my experience as unique, considering that it was the first virtual SWE conference ever held. The virtual event comes with its pros and cons. The pros are that you can watch the talks after the event, join speed networking sessions to meet many amazing and inspiring women in corporate positions, and go through the list of companies and open roles beforehand. The cons have to do with the absence of personal interaction. 

What was a highlight for you from the SWE conference?

There were many highlights in the SWE conference. Some of them were the talks, especially 'General Dynamics Tech Talk: Let’s Talk About Machine Learning' by Lisa Finneran, who is president of engineering at General Dynamics Mission Systems.  

What were the two or three most important lessons you took away from GHC?

The most important lesson I took away from GHC is, ‘If you believe it, you can achieve it.' Looking at the diversity of women celebrating their successes together makes me believe that you can achieve anything if you truly believe in yourself and your abilities. 

What speakers particularly stood out to you at GHC?

Here are the three presentations that stood out for me: 

  • A Real Conversation About What it Means to be a Female CEO – Tracy Young
    What I really liked about this talk at GHC was that Young talked about her own personal journey as a CEO. She talked about how we as women can at times be really hard on ourselves or overcompensate. She talked about how she balanced her life as a CEO and her personal life. Her determination is commendable and inspiring. The reality about being a female CEO can be really harsh, but it was amazing to hear her overcome all obstacles and succeed at being a CEO. She believes that the world will benefit from a higher number of female leaders. Now is a great time to recognize and celebrate how well women leaders have handled the pandemic and how well they can lead in various industries.

  • Ethics of AI - Haerin Shin
    Haerin Shin talked about how AI is represented to the vast public. I liked that she spoke about how AI needs to be used carefully as we are aware of the various biases that are possible in the use of AI. She used the movie Ex Machina to display a set of stereotypes and biases that are so ingrained in the society that has certainly crept into the AI world as well. It is really important to be aware of these biases and do our part, working in the tech world, to ensure they are eliminated. 
  • Data-Driven Prioritization Framework for Platform PMs - Kirsten Querna and Lilia Abaibourova
    Querna and Abaibourova talked about the various facets of product management. They took us through how to generate a score for epics as a good way to evaluate work and know if it's worth your time. They also talked about getting feedback early on from stakeholders and engineers to improve your product and features. I especially liked this presentation because I am an aspiring PM and this was quite relatable to me.

How do you think you will be able to apply what you learned or heard at the conferences to the rest of your MEM experience?

The biggest point I have learned is the art of selling yourself. Selling your skills, education and work experience in the best possible way is what I witnessed during the conferences.

How do you think MEM will prepare you for what you want to do after Northwestern?

I think MEM’s product management concentration is perfect for students looking to break into the field. The courses offered in the curriculum enable students to develop the right skills that companies look for when hiring PMs. From the product ideation phase up until the creation of the launch plan, MEM students have hands-on experience working on building their products.

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