Larissa Suzuki on the importance of visible role models

QEPrize Ambassador Dr Larissa Suzuki smiles at the camera in the middle of a busy street.

19 June 2018

Author: Larissa Suzuki


My passion for technology started when I was around 9 years old. I was fascinated with the mechanics of things that change state - machines, cars, TV, radio and so on. My main curiosity always centred around what it was controlling these things, and when I started pulling them apart I discovered that they all had a central brain – meticulously programmed to make them behave in certain ways. As I began my career, I realised that being a computer scientist and engineer had a lot of perks. One of the main ones is the chance to follow your passions, regardless of which field of science they fall into.

In my case, my work involves helping cities to plan for population growth - introducing a more sustainable, efficient, and liveable model in urban development. See, digital technologies offer a new wave of avenues to create a balance between social, environmental and economic opportunities. As such, mega-cities around the world are competing to close skills gaps. They're creating innovative solutions that attract and retain digitally-savvy and creative talents.

Mentors and role models

Throughout my career, I have been fortunate enough to have received mentorship from several amazing women and men. Some mentored me on career choices, others on negotiation, technical leadership, and research. Not all of them were engineers, so bringing those different perspectives together was truly beneficial to my career. My role models are those women who have considerable vision, technical skills, and are well-regarded in their field. They work towards increasing the visibility of women in tech and are also fantastic change makers.

Sherry Coutu (CEO of the ScaleUp Institute and serial entrepreneur), Megan Smith (former CTO of the USA), Ginni Rometti (Computer Scientist and CEO of IBM), and Melinda Gates (Computer Scientist who helped create many of Microsoft's multimedia products) are all good examples. Given the impact of mentors and role models on my career, one of the things that I am most proud of is my role as an advocate for women in technology. While technological innovations shape the whole world, the ideas for them are only drawn from a small subset of society.

Hidden figures

There is a big skills shortage in technology, and we need a more diverse pool of talented people creating this technology. We need both women and men to join the tech workforce, but currently, it is more difficult for girls to make that choice. The reason? To me, it’s the lack of visible role models. How can they aspire to become the next Grace Hopper (inventor of the computer compiler used to program computers) or Barbara Liskov (Turing Award winner for her work on software engineering) if they’ve never heard of women excelling in the field? As Marie Wilson once said, “You cannot be what you cannot see”.

Women have been pivotal in the creation of most modern technology, but their story is often not told nor celebrated. We know about the contributions of Gates, Jobs, and Zuckerberg, but we rarely about the contributions of women. Instead, great female pioneers in technology have been all but erased from history. When I was at university, as the only girl, I never heard any mention of Ada Lovelace (the first computer programmer), Radia Perlman (the inventor of the spanning-tree protocol - STP), Hedy Lamarr (the inventor of frequency hopping technologies used in Bluetooth and WiFi).

We must make female engineers and other underrepresented groups more visible. Their ground-breaking work can serve as an inspiration to all, particularly those in the generations to come.

Engineering today

Technology is now an integral part of everyday life. From mobile phones and cars to movies, games, and medical equipment – technology is everywhere. It influences how we do business and communicate with other people, and solves the most impactful problems in the world. There’s never been a better time to take up a career in STEM, and at the end of the day - engineering and computer science are just methods for problem-solving. They are extremely multidisciplinary and involve a multitude of activities. What's more, they will allow you to travel the world in pursuit of the work that you want to do.

If you’re a bit unsure about whether you want to become an engineer - just try it. If you like problem-solving, or get any sense of accomplishment when you build or fix something, then it’s likely that engineering is the right career for you. There are plenty of resources available online to watch and learn. What's more, there's various meetup groups and hackathons, which provide a safe environment to help you explore your passion.I am certain that if you dream about becoming a change maker, then a career in STEM will enable you to create the solutions that will change the world. What it takes to get there is to have a passion for what you do, forget the stereotypes, and have faith in yourself.

Do you have anyone to thank for inspiring your career? Let us know on Twitter!

More on the author, Larissa Suzuki

Dr Larissa Suzuki is an award-winning, passionate computer scientist, inventor, Chartered Engineer, and entrepreneur. She is a AI/ML Practice Lead at Google, and her continuing academic work is at UCL where she serves as an Hon. Associate Professor in Computer Science. Her career includes 15 years working in many fields of engineering, including smart cities, ML, emerging tech, and neuroimaging.

More from this author Become a contributor

Related Articles