Carmen Llamas, engineer: “I would tell the girls that, if they have a dream, they should go for it. Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do something”

by | Jun 24, 2022 | SOFTWARE, WS

International Day of Women in Engineering

Facing up to stereotypes and prejudice requires a certain amount of courage. This applies to many aspects of life. A very clear example of the presence of certain stereotypes is the low representation of women in STEM careers, especially in engineering.

According to a global survey conducted in 2020 by the specialized website GenderInSITE (Gender in Science, Innovation, Technology and Engineering), the Inter-Academic Association (IAP) and the International Science Council (ISC), engineering is ranked second to last for female participation out of the STEM professions (10%). In Spain, the percentage is higher, but even so, women only represent 25% of enrollments in engineering degrees.

Forming part of that minority percentage that decided to bet on an engineering career is our colleague, Carmen Llamas. Carmen graduated in Telecommunications Engineering from the University of Seville, and she did it with the best grades of all the engineering degrees taught at the Higher Technical School of Engineering (ETSI) of Seville.

Why did you decide to study a career and specifically Telecommunications Engineering? Has anyone guided and encouraged you to study this career?

I decided from a very young age to study a career because I observed that it was what offered better professional opportunities. Also, my parents encouraged me to do it; my father studied Medicine and my mother Chemistry.

I had always liked mathematics, physics, chemistry… Everything that made you think a little was what entertained me the most. I thought about being a math teacher, but my teachers told me not to go down that path, so I instead chose an engineering degree.

So I began to assess which degree I would enjoy the most among the different engineering degree options. I was between electronics or telecoms, but telecoms offered more professional opportunities. In addition, family friends who were also engineers helped guide my search. For example, they told me that engineering professions had little unemployment and good salaries. At that time, I didn´t know exactly what I was going to do or even what a smart meter was, but today I work with them every day!

What was clear to me was that I wanted to know how far I could go. To see what I could do. And along the way I was inspired and helped by very good teachers who taught me not only knowledge, but also how to think.

How is your day-to-day at WoodSwallow? What do you like the most about your job?

At WoodSwallow I work as a Firmware Design Engineer. Specifically, I work with smart electricity and gas meters, which are real time embedded systems. My day to day is based on solving problems. When a problem with a meter´s firmware is detected, my job is to analyze it, explain it, and locate its source, either within the code or in the communication messages (in my case with ZigBee). Once located, I implement a solution and a series of tests are carried out to confirm that the problem has indeed been solved. If not, we continue looking for solutions.

What I like most about my job is that every day offers a new challenge or problem which keeps me active because I´m not always stuck doing the same thing. In addition, you have a complete vision of the product development. The truth is that I never bored. For me it is a challenge to try to do it better every day, to improve the code a little more every day.

Plus, I feel very lucky for my teammates because there’s a lot of chemistry between us. We all contribute, feel heard, and everyone listens- all opinions count. This type of chemistry allows us to learn from each other every day. My team gives me a great reason to stay.

Firmware team at WoodSwallow

How was your experience at the engineering university? How many female classmates graduated with you?

Going through university was hard. I wanted to get good grades and that meant having to spend extra time studying. There was a lot of exigencies, many exams, and very diverse subjects. In addition, there was the challenge of having to leave Algeciras, where I am from, and move to Seville and start from zero here. But in general, my experience was very positive because I took with me knowledge and many friends.

I combined my last year of the degree with work at AICIA (Association of Research and Industrial Cooperation of Andalusia) and that opened the doors to the professional world to me. It also helped me identify and acquire certain knowledge that I had not previously learned but that I saw was necessary in the professional world. In May 2018 my relationship with WoodSwallow began. Until today.

In the first year of the degree we were around 200 people with only 15 of us being women.Since the proportion of women to men was so small, we were able to get together right away. However, even though the program was mostly male I have never felt at a disadvantage, although I can’t speak for everyone. They have never made me feel bad. Of course, there are always the typical jokes (that are becoming less common), but nothing special.

What do you think we can do to encourage more women to choose this type of career?

I believe that the most important thing is that no one tells you that you cannot do something. Or that they tell you what type of sector you have to go to. “If you are a woman, nursing. If you are a man, engineering”. Luckily this is disappearing. It is important that from a young age you are not conditioned through toys, for example, but rather that they show you all the options and opportunities, including technical careers, of course.

I think that more campaigns should be launched to make this issue more visible. Also, if teachers see a potential for engineering in their students, they should motivate and encourage them to consider a career in this area. It’s basic to have all the information so you, at least, contemplate the option. That, and not being afraid to enter a class with 90 boys and 3 girls. Nothing happens. We all have the same opportunities, and we all have access to them.

In addition, science careers are very beautiful and rewarding because they help make a better world. For example, the Smart Meters with which we work at WoodSwallow help people to know and control their electricity or gas consumption. And that positively affects not only the economy, but the quality of life. All technology helps improve people’s lives to a greater or lesser extent, and that makes me happy.

What impact do you think electronic, or telecommunications engineering has on the world? What does it mean to you to be an engineer?

I see the impact as very great because engineering itself is a direct part of the evolution of the human being. Telecommunications and electronics have been key in the development of the world as we know it. In addition, I believe that telecommunications engineering is one of the most complete careers and one of the most important professions in the development of society.

For me it is a motivation to know that you are going to be a part of that continuous change and evolution of the world in which we are living. The development of technological knowledge in a society is key. It is what allows us to continue improving our quality of life, and that impacts people’s happiness. In addition, engineering must play an important role in making the world more sustainable. We must apply everything we know, all our knowledge, to move towards a more sustainable development of both electronic devices and the cities in which we live.

What advice would you give to young women who have to choose a profession?

I have been lucky; I consider myself lucky for the team and the work I have. That is why I would encourage all the girls who consider engineering to do so, regardless of the rest.

I would tell them that if they are worried about being able to achieve something, to pursue it, not to doubt their abilities. With effort, sooner or later, everything can be achieved.

In addition, I would recommend them to have an open mind.  If you want something, go for it. That, and that it’s nice to make the world a better place and contribute to society. All professions are for everyone, no one should tell you what to do. And if you make a mistake, nothing happens. Just start again.

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