March 2, 2011

Problem Solving and Observation by Software Engineer plus Photographer Ingrid Truemper

Photo by Aaron Estrada

It was at a course taught by Human Factors International where I met Ingrid Truemper. Her enthusiasm for software engineering is matched by her practice of photography. Here, she shares her thoughts about being active in making Webapps, “drawing with light,” and living in a city where art and technology thrive:

Can you please tell a little bit about yourself?
Where are you from?
I was born in Cleveland to German immigrant parents, and grew up in Dallas. I’ve lived in Switzerland, Michigan, and London, and now make my home in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

What do you do for a living?
I’m a software engineer with a large tech company. I work for an internal consulting group, whose employees get contracted out to a variety of business units, so the nature of my projects often change.

My work is typically in Web application development: I design, code, and support the Web-based software that internal employees and external customers use to support their business processes.

What is your statement about being a software engineer?
Software engineering is an extremely creative, collaborative job that offers a high degree of freedom and flexibility, as well as great quality of life.

How did you get interested in the world of software
and become a part of it?
Growing up, my mother was a programmer, and my father was a computer science professor, so maybe it was inevitable that I ended up where I am! They always encouraged me to pursue technical studies, and I experimented with programming at a young age, but then lost interest until much later.

It wasn’t until I had my first job working as a Web and print editor for a publishing company, and coded content for the publisher’s Website, that I realized this was something I enjoyed and could excel at. I went back to school 10 years ago for a Master’s in computer science, and have worked as a software engineer ever since.

Writer Alissa Walker wrote an article called
“Women in Industrial Design: Where My Ladies At?”
Where are the Ladies in Technology?
Girls are often not taught to have a sense of confidence with technology and figuring things out for themselves. They may not perceive themselves as having the ability to do technical work. Women also sometimes have a false perception that software engineers sit alone in a cubicle all day writing code. In fact, constant communication and collaboration are essential to developing successful software.

Girls also may be turned off by male-dominated geek culture, but you don’t have to be into geek culture or gaming to be a successful developer. I believe that anyone who is persistent, a logical thinker, and enjoys puzzles or problem-solving can be a good software engineer—the rest is just learning the trade. Women are often detail-oriented, patient, and good communicators—all attributes of an excellent software developer.

How does time factor into your work?
What tools and materials do you use to work on your ideas
and make them grow?
There is never enough time for everything I want to do! I stay organized at work by using a text file, as a scratchpad, that contains my to-do list as well as various notes, with the items organized by priority. All day long, I make notes and rearrange items on the list. It’s a simple, low-tech solution that works well for me.

In my personal life, I follow the goal-setting process suggested in the book Creative Visualization. Every six months or so, I get out a notebook and brainstorm my goals for the next month, two months, six months, five years, 10 years, and for my lifetime.

I’ve also experimented with some of the other techniques in the book, such as creating treasure maps that symbolize your goals. I’ve been doing that for about eight years, and when I look back at my older goal lists and treasure maps, I’m amazed how much I have achieved.

You also practice photography. How did you get interested
in this and does it influence your work?
My parents gave me my first film SLR [single-lens reflex camera] when I was 17, and I’ve been hooked ever since. In the last five years, I’ve been using digital SLRs; currently, I have a Nikon D90. Digital technology has simplified the photography process tremendously, but sometimes, I get nostalgic for the days of the traditional darkroom. There was something magical about watching your print slowly appear in the tray!

Stone Cliff Winery, Dubuque

My programming work and interest in the visual arts intersect at times. Usually, I don’t have the luxury of having a human factors engineer or designer on my team, so I often find myself in the design space. I’ve been educating myself on user-centered design, as well as recently starting to take formal training. It’s an important aspect of software development and one that is often neglected, particularly with internal applications.

Disney Performing Arts Center, Los Angeles

What is the most rewarding part of being a software engineer?
Getting to use your brain all day long is a privilege. There never is a dull moment, and there is so much to learn. I spend all day researching, coding, and collaborating on problem-solving.

Was there a part of your work that was particularly trying
and how did you deal with it?

It’s ironic that the aspect I like most about my job can also be the one that is most trying. The rapid development pace of technology is a double-edged sword for software engineers. It’s a great field to work in if you love lifelong learning. On the other hand, the breakneck speed of innovation can be overwhelming. It’s hard to keep up, even if you specialize in a single niche.

I keep up with changes as much as possible by reading technical journals and attending user groups and training, reading blogs and news sites, and listening to podcasts like This Week in Tech.

How do you stay creative? Do you draw? Or keep a journal?
Photography is wonderful for honing your observation skills. I’m always scanning my environment looking for potential subjects. I try to focus on out-of-the-way spots. I have a hobby of photographing street art and murals; it is amazing what you can discover if you just wander and keep your eyes open.

Mural, Albuquerque

Travel also helps me break out of my usual way of thinking and seeing things. I try to take at least one international trip a year, and return with a fresh perspective on my life and goals.

Kayaks, bridge to Djurgården, Stockholm

What are some of your sources of inspiration?
Digital technology has unleashed a global explosion of photography. There are so many talented amateurs. I use Flickr as a venue for viewing others’ work, learning new techniques and getting subject ideas, and interacting with other photographers around the world.

Living so close to Santa Fe is fortuitous, as so many talented photographers make their home there. I belong to a local photography club that invites a professional photographer to speak each month, and it’s always inspiring to see their work and hear their stories.

What is special about Albuquerque, New Mexico?

El Día de los Muertos parade, Albuquerque

I feel very fortunate to live in Albuquerque; to me, it’s one of the country’s best-kept secrets. It has the same unique blend of Anglo, Hispanic, and Native American cultures; striking high desert scenery; and laid-back lifestyle as Santa Fe or Taos, with a much lower cost of living. Like those other towns, Albuquerque also has a vibrant artistic community that is attracted by the area’s unique landscape and culture.

Abandoned ATSF railyard, Albuquerque

Window, Abandoned house, Abeytas, New Mexico

What is your advice to Ladies who aspire to enter
and engage the world of software?

Don’t let yourself be intimidated. Try taking an entry-level programming class at a local community college. Or check out a Web design class: Many women become interested in Web development by starting off in design. If the creativity and joy of problem-solving strikes a chord in you, software or Web development may be for you.

Once you complete your education, look for a company that has a commitment to gender equality. I’m fortunate in that my employer strongly supports women in technical professions, as well as maintaining a work-life balance. That can make a big difference in your job satisfaction.

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Photographs courtesy of Ingrid Truemper.

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