All posts by Joanna Goodrich

Seven Tips on Becoming an Effective Leader

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Oracle executive Leslie Robertson shares what she has learned from nearly 30 years in the software industry

THE INSTITUTEThink about great managers you’ve had in the past. What qualities did they have that made them stand out?

Being an effective leader requires more than just conducting meetings and delegating tasks. There are certain traits and skills associated with leadership, and not every manager has them.

Leslie Griffin Robertson, vice president of user and developer experience at Oracle, in Redwood Shores, Calif., talked about the leadership lessons she has learned during her career at the IEEE Women in Engineering International Leadership Conference, held on 23 and 24 May in Austin, Texas.

Robertson was promoted to a leadership role at Oracle relatively late in her career. She began working at the company in 1989 after graduating with a bachelor’s degree in professional writing and creative writing from Carnegie Mellon. She eventually left the company and, before working in managerial positions at Hewlett Packard Enterprise and Nebula, she worked for several startups. Oracle rehired her in 2015 as director of technical content strategy. Today she’s responsible for making sure the company’s cloud infrastructure products and systems are up to date and for helping to drive the engineering culture within the organization.

Here are seven tips she shared on how to be an effective leader.


Take the time to articulate why you want to be a leader and what you enjoy about your profession; jot it down. When you’re having a tough day and need some encouragement, take out that note to remind yourself of your goals and why you like your job.

 “It will refill your emotional well and strengthen your resolve to push through the tough situations,” Robertson told the conference audience.


It’s important to be genuine in your actions, Robertson said. “The best leaders are always authentic,” she said.

Being who you are also means following your passion. When Robertson began her career, she found she was most interested in working for startups, even though she acknowledged that she was sometimes nervous about joining one because of the uncertain future. She ended up spending 10 years working as a freelance technical writer for several fledgling companies. She said she enjoyed building something from nothing.

“It’s also important to remember that your path is your own,” she said. “You don’t have to have the same career path as someone else.”


Volunteer to take on tasks that aren’t in your area of expertise, she suggested. By doing that, your company can see that you are willing to tackle new challenges head on and aren’t afraid to learn.

After she was promoted last year to vice president of user and developer experience, the first item on her agenda was to build a new team. She hired eight people, then found that the company left new employees on their own to learn about the organization. She volunteered to create onboarding sessions for new hires to teach them about the company’s policies and important skills they would need to acquire. She also helped develop a boot camp for new engineers.

Thanks to those programs, she said, “instead of taking several months for new employees to get trained, it took just a few days.”


It’s all right to be scared or nervous about making a change, she said, but it’s not okay for your fears to hold you back. “It can be daunting,” she said, “but you must let go of your fears and do it anyway, because it may lead you to your next big project or job opportunity.”

She gave the example of when she first started working at Oracle, where she met her future husband. After they were married, they decided that working for the same company was risky, so she looked for another job. Robertson was hired by a startup. That’s when she discovered she enjoyed working for that type of company. She went on to join Ariba, Intuit, and Sun Microsystems when they were just starting out.


Don’t be afraid of receiving feedback, Robertson advised. Whether it’s negative or positive, feedback can be the golden ticket to success, she said.

It can be hard for some employees to draw up the courage to criticize their supervisor, but to be a strong leader, you need to be open to criticism so you can lead more efficiently.

“I try to create a safe space by reserving a conference room and asking questions about my performance to my employees,” she said. “I then leave the room and give them time to write down their answers. By doing this, I’m able to learn what I need to do better and what is working.”

Be inquisitive

If you need clarification on a point, ask questions—even in a large meeting. Even if you think you’re the only person with a particular question, it might turn out that half your colleagues are wondering the same thing, she noted.

“By asking questions, you are able to create better outcomes,” she said. “When someone is unwilling to entertain your questions, it says far more about them than you.

“Asking questions was my lifeline to understanding the requirements and delivering solid work. Relentless questioning often results in better outcomes.”


Being upfront about what you expect from an employee is an important part of the hiring process. During the interview, Robertson shares with the candidate what traits she looks for, such as open communication, honesty, and a sense of humor.

By being candid with potential new hires, you set their expectations. It also helps candidates gauge whether you are a good fit for them.

Let things go

When you learn about negative comments made about you, you can’t always take them seriously, Robertson said. She shared an experience she and one of her female colleagues went through when they were subjects of an unflattering, sexist comment on a social media platform that allows people to post anonymously about their workplace. The message stated that the two women did not deserve their leadership positions and got their jobs only because of their gender.

 We live and work in the best and the worst of times, where more women are in high-level positions but still face very real obstacles,” she told the conference audience in Austin. “You just have to laugh off these comments sometimes.”

Katherine Johnson, the Hidden Figures Mathematician Who Got Astronaut John Glenn Into Space

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The NASA technologist received the IEEE President’s Award for her work on Apollo 11

THE INSTITUTEKatherine G. Johnson’s mathematical calculations of orbital mechanics at NASA were critical to the success of Friendship 7 and several other U.S. human spaceflights. She was one of the women featured in the 2016 Oscar-nominated film Hidden Figures.

IEEE last month recognized her work with its President’s Award, “for fundamental computational contributions to the success of American’s first and subsequent manned spaceflights, including Apollo 11.” Johnson, who turned 100 in August, was unable to travel to the ceremony. Her daughters, Katherine Goble Moore and Joylette Goble Hylick, accepted the award on her behalf at the IEEE Honors Ceremony, held on 17 May in San Diego. Johnson “has a real passion for learning, and always aspired to teach others everything she knew,” Hylick said. You can watch the presentation on

As IEEE marks the 50th anniversary of the moon landing and spaceflight through the Footsteps: IEEE’s Commemoration of Human Space Travel effort, The Institute is highlighting IEEE members and other pioneers, like Johnson, and the technologies that helped propel the program forward.


In a 2017 interview with The Washington Post, Johnson said she always wanted to be a mathematician. She attended high school when she was 10 years old, but due to segregation at the time, she wasn’t allowed to attend her county’s high school in Greenbrier, W.Va. Her family moved to Institute, W.Va., and she attended West Virginia State College, now West Virginia State University, which offered high school courses to black students.

She finished high school at age 14 at West Virginia State, then continued taking college courses there. She graduated in 1939 summa cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in mathematics and French. She planned on continuing her education and was selected as the first black woman in the state to attend the graduate school program at West Virginia University, in Morgantown. She withdrew from the program after one semester, however, to start a family with her husband, James Goble. Johnson worked as a math teacher at a black public school in Marion, Va.

According to her biography on the NASA website, Johnson always knew she would eventually leave teaching to become a research mathematician. In 1953 she joined NASA’s predecessor, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, at its Langley laboratory, in Hampton, Va., as a pool mathematician. Those mathematicians, called computers, analyzed data collected from flight tests and airplane black boxes.

 Thanks to her understanding of analytical geometry, just two weeks after she joined NACA, she was assigned to the maneuver-loads branch of the Flight Research Division. She spent the next four years analyzing data from flight tests and plane crashes.


When the Russian satellite Sputnik was launched in 1957, the United States was already working on sending satellites into space, but Sputnik’s debut led to the formation of NASA. Due to Johnson’s work at NACA, she was among the first employees hired by NASA in 1958.

Working as a technologist for the spacecraft controls branch, she calculated the path for astronaut Alan Shepard’s Freedom 7 mission in 1961, America’s first human spaceflight.

In 1960 she became the first woman to receive credit as an author of a research report, “Determination of Azimuth Angle at Burnout for Placing a Satellite Over a Selected Earth Position.” In it, Johnson and her coauthor, engineer Ted H. Skopinski, explained the equations describing an orbital spaceflight in which the craft’s landing position is specified.

Her life changed in 1962, when astronaut John Glenn asked for Johnson to double-check the trajectory calculations for Friendship 7. Because of the mission’s complexity, the space agency collaborated with IBM in the construction of a worldwide communications network. They built and linked tracking stations to IBM computers in Bermuda, Cape Canaveral, and Washington, D.C., so engineers could follow the flight live. The computers had been programmed with orbital equations that would control the trajectory of the Friendship capsule from blastoff to landing. Glenn, however, was nervous about putting his life in the hands of machines, which he believed to be prone to mistakes, according to NASA.

According to the NASA biography on Johnson, Glenn asked engineers to “get the girl”—meaning Johnson—during the preflight check, because of her experience with trajectory analysis. He wanted her to run the same numbers that had been programmed into the computer, but by hand, on her desktop calculator. In an interview with CNN, Johnson recalls Glenn saying while she was working, “If she says they’re good, then I’m ready to go.”

For her work on Friendship 7, in 2015 she was awarded the U.S. Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor. At the White House ceremony, President Barack Obama said, “No one knows that John Glenn wouldn’t fly unless Katherine Johnson checked the math.”

In 2017 NASA unveiled the Katherine G. Johnson Computational Research Facility at the Langley Research Center, in Hampton, Va., the same location where she started her career at NACA. Earlier this year, the agency renamed a facility in Fairmont, W. Va., that housed a program that monitors the software used to track NASA’s high-profile missions. It’s now called the Katherine Johnson Independent Verification and Validation Facility.

Executives on How to Succeed in Engineering

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At the IEEE Women in Engineering conference, executives shared tips on how to set goals and overcome imposter syndrome

THE INSTITUTEThe aim of this year’s IEEE Women in Engineering International Leadership Conference (IEEE WIE ILC) was to increase the number of women in middle- to senior-level positions. I attended several sessions that offered career advice to attendees about how they could rise up the ranks. The event was held on 23 and 24 May in Austin, Texas.

“This conference is all about following your passions and making sure women thrive in technology,” said IEEE WIE ILC chair and Senior Member Kathy Herring Hayashi in her opening remarks.

Eighty-five percent of women in electrical engineering quit in the first 15 years of their careers because they feel unsupported or undermined at work, according to Herring Hayashi. She recalled that at one time in her life, she too thought about leaving engineering because she felt isolated. Today, she’s an engineer at Qualcomm in San Diego.

Project Diana Honored With an IEEE Milestone

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The demonstration prompted the United States to enter the race to space

THE INSTITUTEOn 10 January 1946 four standard-array antennae at Camp Evans, on the grounds of Fort Monmouth in New Jersey, sent a radar pulse toward the moon as it rose above the horizon. Just 2.5 seconds later, the signal had bounced off the lunar surface, its echo appearing clearly on an oscilloscope.

That seemingly modest demonstration, called Project Diana, had a lasting impact, marking the birth of radar astronomy, which has been used to map other planets. It also set the stage for the space race in the United States.

Project Diana was dedicated as an IEEE Milestone on 17 May. Administered by the IEEE History Center and supported by donors, the Milestone program recognizes outstanding technical developments around the world.


During World War II, scientists emitted short bursts of microwave signals from one point on the Earth to another by bouncing them off the ionosphere. The so-called skywave-communication technique, which reached up nearly 400 kilometers, was used mainly to detect enemy aircraft.

The Camp Evans laboratory, called Site Diana, built a large transmitter, receiver, and reflective-array antenna to bounce radar signals off the moon. The transmitter, a modified SCR-271 radar set from the war, was connected to the antenna, composed of an 8-by-8 array of half-wave dipoles and reflectors.

The receiver compensated for the shift in frequency of the reflected signal because the motion toward or away from the line of sight differed each day. The receiver’s rotation angles were carefully calculated for each trial. The antenna could be rotated only in azimuth, meaning it could be turned only from side to side, not up and down. The attempt could be made only as the moon passed through the 12-degree-wide patch in the sky the antenna was aimed at during moonrise and moonset, because the antenna’s elevation angle was fixed. Scientists could observe for only about 40 minutes due to the transition of the moon and the lobes of the antenna pattern.

Engineer John H. DeWitt Jr. and chief scientist E. King Stodola received the first reflected signals at 11:58 a.m. EDT on 10 January. It took a little more than 2 seconds for the signals to be reflected, the same amount of time required for light to travel to the moon and back. The experiment demonstrated that radio communication could be conducted through the ionosphere.

Since 1946, mapping of astronomical objects has been done with radar, although it’s more sophisticated than what the Project Diana crew did. But the basic technique of bouncing radio signals off distant bodies that was developed for the project has been used to gather data about the geological and dynamic properties of many of the solar system’s planets and other heavenly bodies. Additionally, the technique has been used to determine the distance from the earth to the sun and the scale of the solar system itself.

Project Diana was honored on 17 May on the former grounds of Fort Monmouth, in Wall Township, N.J. The post was selected for closure in 2005 by the U.S. Defense Department’s Base Realignment and Closure Commission and officially closed in 2011. The site is now being redeveloped.

“Project Diana brought promise of a coming golden age of science and technology arising from the aftermath of World War II,” IEEE Life Member Albert Kerecman said at the plaque’s unveiling ceremony. “It refocused engineers and scientists to establish new goals centered on benefiting humanity, and created a need for developing solid-state technologies capable of surviving space launch and environments.”

The plaque, mounted near the entrance of the building that housed the laboratory, reads:

On 10 January 1946, a team of military and civilian personnel at Camp Evans, Fort Monmouth, New Jersey, USA, reflected the first radar signals off the moon using modified SCR-270/1 radar. The signals took 2.5 seconds to travel to the moon and back to the Earth. This achievement, Project Diana, marked the beginning of radar astronomy and space communications.

This article was written with assistance from the IEEE History Center, which is funded by donations to the IEEE Foundation’s Realize the Full Potential of IEEE campaign.

Facial Recognition Faces More Proposed Bans Across U.S.

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Critics say the technology is not very accurate, and is often rolled out first in minority communities

THE INSTITUTESeveral companies, including Amazon and Clarifai, are working to create reliable facial recognition technology for use by government agencies and law enforcement to catch criminals and find missing children. 

Amazon’s Rekognition can identify, analyze, and track people in real time. Within seconds, the software can compare information it collects against databases housing millions of images. Law enforcement agencies have used the technology to help find missing people and to identify suspects in terrorist attacks.

While this technology may have benefits, it has recently faced some backlash. Many people are concerned about racial bias and protecting citizen’s privacy.

Advice for Women, From Women, on Dealing With Difficult Workplace Situations

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IEEE WIE webinar highlights three ways to improve your conflict-resolution skills

THE INSTITUTEMost people view conflict as negative and something that should be avoided. Women have a more difficult time than men dealing with conflict, because they tend to foster a collaborative work environment, put higher value on fostering relationships with team members, and are more empathetic, says Charmaine Hammond, a conflict-resolution expert.

Hammond, along with corporate trainer Pattie Vargas, gave tips in a recent webinar, “The Resilience Factor Is Your Superpower: Dealing With Conflict and Change Management.” The virtual session was sponsored by IEEE Women in Engineering and moderated by IEEE senior member Kathy Kerring Hayashi.

Through personal anecdotes, the two women offered three ways to deal with difficult but common situations women face in the workplace.


Address conflict head on, they say. Women tend to value relationships and therefore fear hurting someone’s feelings by confronting them, according to Hammond. But when people avoid conflicts, trust erodes and relationships are damaged. Being proactive can keep the situation from getting worse and can help to build stronger relationships and teams.

Two examples of when conflict is typically avoided are when a coworker or manager is disrespectful to you or blames you for something you didn’t do—in front of others. Although those are difficult situations to handle, it’s important to address them as soon as possible, Hammond says. Be respectful to the individual but meet with the person immediately after the incident and explain how you feel.

“Do not let the conflict linger,” Vargas says. “Many times, the coworker who is being disrespectful does not realize how he is coming off. He can’t fix his behavior if he doesn’t know how it makes you feel.”

If that doesn’t work, Hammond says, go to your company’s human resources department and ask it to mediate the conflict.


Women in leadership positions often feel that if they don’t have all the answers, they’ll be perceived as ineffective, Hammond says. But employees generally don’t expect perfection from their supervisor. A manager who lets her staff see a bit of her vulnerability tends to create stronger relationships and actually boosts the workers’ confidence in her because they view her more as an equal.

“It’s important to know that as a leader, you can say, ‘I don’t have an answer, but I’ll find out,’ or ‘I don’t know how to deal with this—what does my amazing team have to say about it?’” Hammond says. By involving the team and asking the workers what they think, the leader is showing trust.

Another time when managers should concede that they don’t have all the answers is during a reorganization. Employees often want to know how secure their job is; more often than not, the supervisor doesn’t know, Vargas says. Instead of acknowledging that, some managers try to reassure their employees that their job is safe, Vargas says, but that can be a dangerous approach because if it turns out not to be the case, all the employees can lose trust in the leader.


Hammond says that one of the most-asked questions she gets is how to deal with being excluded from a discussion or from a meeting. She tells people to insert themselves into the situation.

Many women tend to ask permission to speak, she says. They might use a phrase such as “Can I say something?” Instead, Hammond recommends you be confident and simply state “I have something to add.” That way, she says, you make sure you are heard.

If you’re excluded from a meeting, it might simply be an oversight, Vargas says. Instead of assuming you were purposely left out, approach the organizer and inquire about the meeting’s purpose. One approach is to say, “I noticed there’s a meeting Thursday, and I haven’t received an invitation yet. Maybe I’m not needed at the meeting, but I just wanted to check to see if I need to slot that on my calendar.” Vargas says that most times, the organizer simply forgot to tell you or will explain why you aren’t required.

You can watch the webinar and other sessions on demand.

You can still register for the IEEE Women in Engineering International Leadership Conference to be held on 23 and 24 May in Austin, Texas. The goal of this year’s meeting is increasing the retention rates of middle- to senior-level women in technology. It will feature panel discussions, a career fair, and workshops. Keynote sessions are expected to cover empowerment, leadership, and diversity and inclusion.

Q&A With Jelena Kovačević, Dean of the NYU Tandon School of Engineering

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The IEEE Fellow talks about her career and her efforts to inspire other women to enter the field

THE INSTITUTEEngineers tackle some of the world’s biggest problems, such as bringing electricity to underserved populations and inventing life-saving medical equipment. But for others, like IEEE Fellow Jelena Kovačević, guiding the future generation of engineers is just as important.

“As a leader of a university, I have the opportunity to impact more people,” says Kovačević, dean of the NYU Tandon School of Engineering.

She, along with the deans from the City College of New York Grove School of Engineering and Columbia University’s Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science, recently talked during a panel discussion about how their universities are keeping up with changes in engineering.

Kovačević has been the Tandon School’s dean since August. She is the first woman to hold that position at the school, which was founded in 1854.

She began her career at Bell Labs in Murray Hill, N.J. After that, she became an adjunct professor at Columbia and a professor of biomedical engineering and head of the electrical and computer engineering department at Carnegie Mellon.

In this interview with The Institute, she talks about what led her to accept the position of dean and how IEEE has helped her in her career.

What inspired you to get into engineering?

Ever since I was a little girl, I’ve loved math. I was fortunate enough that I had parents who thought that was really cool. When I got a little older, I wanted to go into a field where I could do math for a living. Most of my friends who were good at math went into electrical engineering, then so did I.

I hate to say it, but I did not have some preordained plan. I didn’t really think it through. But people told me you use math in electrical engineering, so that’s where I went. I earned a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering in 1986 from the University of Belgrade, in Serbia. There I discovered engineering was much more than just numbers. In the end, I found I could have an impact on someone’s life through engineering.

Why did you accept the position at NYU?

I was really blown away by the student body at the Tandon School of Engineering. I was inspired by how many first-generation and underrepresented students there were. All these people, with different experiences and backgrounds, came here to study a subject they are all passionate about.

Whenever I meet students, I think of them as my own kids. It’s important not only to make them responsible citizens and lovely humans, but also to make them feel supported. They had to face many more obstacles than I did during my time in university. I feel a responsibility to do something for others, and that led me to academic leadership positions.

I hold an open house once a month where students can talk to me about issues they are facing. I also meet monthly with student leaders to talk about how we can create a better learning environment and provide more internships and volunteer opportunities.

All 5,400 students motivate me to do the best job I can.

What are some of your goals for the school?

I have spent this past year working with everyone to create a strategic plan; it has crystalized into three pillars: research, students first, and community.

Engineers impact the world through the research we do. We want our research to address problems of societal importance to create healthy, secure, and connected environments around the world. We also want our cutting-edge innovations to be thoughtfully and successfully introduced into society.

It’s important to focus on students from the moment they step foot on campus until they graduate and beyond. We want to be a student-first community by improving affordability and being a nurturing home for all students. We are creating a flexible undergraduate education, focused on doing, critical thinking, and real-world experiences such as internships and research. We are also reimagining our master’s education by expanding its global reach and ensuring its relevance to industry. From student life on campus to the curriculum, there are changes that need to be made, and students are partners in helping us see what they need.

The final focus is to build a sense of community, not only among students and faculty but also with alumni and parents. It’s important for everyone to engage with us to help move our goals forward.

What challenges did you face as a female engineer, and how did you overcome them?

I came to the United States to attend Columbia and graduated with a master’s degree and a doctorate in 1988 and 1991, respectively. When I began my Ph.D., I noticed there were only a handful of women in the engineering program. At first I didn’t question why there were so few. At the University of Belgrade, there were a large number of female students. It was not an unusual thing for young women to choose this field.

When I was pregnant, a male colleague said to me, “Well, you’ll see once you have your baby, you’ll love it so much, you won’t want to come back to work.” I asked him why he came back to work after he had two children of his own, and he was taken aback. Why, I wondered, is my intellectual self any less important than his? Whether you come back to work or stay at home with your children is a personal choice, not a choice based on gender.

As the department head at Carnegie Mellon, students came to me with stories about microaggressions and sexual harassment they had faced, and I needed to address them. It became my mandate to be their advocate as well as to increase the number of both women and underrepresented groups and make the learning environment more inclusive.

I don’t have the blinders I had on when I first came to the United States.

How do you think your appointment will affect the gender gap in engineering and computer science?

I want both young men and women from all backgrounds to see women in positions such as a dean or a scientist. I think my appointment and the increase of women in these roles will help break the stereotype that only a certain type of person can hold these positions.

What would you say to a woman who is thinking about pursuing engineering?

It’s a fantastic field, and there is something for everyone. There is a place for someone who enjoys math, as well as for those who want to be in the lab. But just because things are better now doesn’t mean the environment is perfect just yet. You still may face microaggressions. But if you’re interested in this career, then pursue it. Facing these issues is a lot easier when you come into a classroom and half of the students are women.

How has being an IEEE member benefited your career?

For engineers in research, becoming a member is a no-brainer. It’s a natural part of our professional development. I got involved as a student member. I went to IEEE conferences where we would connect with other graduate students and professors, and we would present papers. This led to collaborations in research and brainstorming sessions about what we could do in the field to make an impact.

Throughout my 30 years in IEEE, I’ve served in a number of positions, including on the board of governors for the IEEE Signal Processing Society. I was the editor in chief of IEEE Transactions on Image Processing and associate editor of IEEE Transactions on Signal Processing. I currently serve on IEEE Spectrum’s editorial advisory board.

A Look Through the History of U.S. Space Travel

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Photographs show key moments of the effort to land on the moon

IEEE is marking the 50th anniversary of the moon landing and spaceflight through the Footsteps: IEEE’s Commemoration of Human Space Travel effort.  These images were provided by the IEEE History Center, which is funded by donations to the IEEE Foundation’s Realize the Full Potential of IEEE Campaign.