Getting Started: "I was actually going to college to
be a pulp and paper engineer," Susan says, "and as I started
realizing that I really didn't want to do that, I met some friends
who worked at the computer center, and I started hanging out
there." She took a part-time student job in the computer lab,
and found she loved what she was doing. Susan left her engineering
program to concentrate on working with computers. "That was
1989," she says, "and there really wasn't a degree in what I
wanted to do."
She worked for a few years at the University of Washington on
mainframe computers, then left to work as an operator and consultant
at NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration). "That's
where I really started to get into networking," she recalls.
"I was the one in charge of our connection to the internet,
on a daily maintenance basis." Subsequent jobs in software and
networking companies earned Susan additional experience in customer
and product support. Her current position with ASTA Networks
- a start-up software and equipment firm for network technology
- enables her to combines all these skills, and to further pursue
her interest in network engineering. "I started here at ASTA
in June and I love it," she says.
Education: Susan had studied engineering at Michigan
State University and then the University of Washington, before
she discovered her love of computers. "I met some friends who
worked at the computer center, started hanging out there, and
then I got a student job. I soon realized that I was ecstatic
about going to work - and that was just as a lowly computer
operator. So I turned a part time student job into a full-time
position and have just been working my way through the industry
ever since. So I never finished my degree."
Susan says her years of job experience has always compensated
for her lack of a college degree - but in the current job market,
she's noticed more and more employers requiring a Bachelor of
Science. For this reason, she's decided to go back and complete
her B.S. in Computer Systems from Seattle's City University,
while working at ASTA Networks. "They have distance learning
classes," she says, "so I'll probably only have to do one or
two in-the-room classes."
At the same time, she says, "ASTA networks is training me and
paying for my CISCO networks certifications, so I get to go
do all the CISCO certifications I want for free." The company
has an in-house, full-time trainer, so anyone in the company
who would like can get their certification. "And they'd like
as many people as possible to be CISCO certified," she says.
Greatest Professional Achievement: Susan says she's proudest
of creating the deployment department at her last company, Aventail,
a maker of encryption and safety software. "At the time," she
says, "the field engineers and the NOC had no communication
whatsoever between the two of them, so I stepped into the middle
and created the deployment department, which worked with sales,
field engineers, NOC and internal engineers." She also developed
a test for equipment and the software, to be sure it would perform
properly in the field.
"I was able to take this chaotic situation and set up processes
and communication flow and testing and I got it running smoothly,"
she says. "We saved the company so much money, cut the workload
so far. But what I really felt most proud of was just that I
seemed to be the person that enabled this. I stepped in and
made decisions and made things happen."
Barriers: "I'd say I've experienced more barriers from
dropping out than from being a woman," Susan says. "At first
the computer industry was focused on what you could do rather
than what degree do you have, but especially in this harder
market I see much more 'must have bachelor's of science in computer
science or electrical engineering' or something like that. I'm
lucky in that I have quite a few years of experience that can
offset that. But if somebody had less experience it would be
a real barrier right now." With this in mind, Susan has begun
the process of completing her own bachelor's degree, studying
part time while she continues to work.
Working with Men: Susan says in her early days she came
across a few men who seemed uncomfortable working with women.
"But that's really decreased lately," she says. "I haven't seen
anything like that since the early 90s." Although she did work
in one company with an all-female engineering department, most
of her colleagues these days are men - especially on the technical
side of the business.
"This company is very definitely male-dominated," she says.
"But I have been lucky enough not to have run into problems…
I think I was also lucky in that I grew up with three older
brothers and they treated me like one of them, as did my parents.
So I've always been comfortable in what I was doing."
Advice for Women: "I had some friends in the 80s and
90s who would try to 'de-feminize' themselves, but I have never
tried to do that," Susan says. "I think you have to find your
own balance, be yourself and try to take everything with a sense
Her advice for other women is to "be yourself - and have a sense
of humor about it all. If you're too prickly about it, it's
hard to work together as a team."
" I have had to prove myself technically a few times, before
I could get the unquestioning trust of the other engineers,"
Susan says. "But I don't think it was any more or less because
I was female, I think it was because of how I've moved through
the industry, because my knowledge is self-taught, and I don't
have the degree. So sometimes I've had to prove myself, but
once I did there were no problems," she says.
Typical Workday/Environment: "My typical day starts with
reviewing what's happening at all our customer sites," Susan
says. "I use our software to look at alerts about network happenings,
I check on every piece of equipment that's out there and make
sure it's functioning properly."
Part of the start-up challenge is working to build relationships
among various departments within the company, and help define
internal processes. "I have a couple of meetings where I go
over the activities of the past 24 hours with developers, engineers,
program managers, sales people, and we look at anything interesting
at the customer sites over the last 24 hours," Susan says, "and
then the afternoon is mostly set aside for providing product
support and answering customer inquiries." She has also gone
out with installation teams to various client sites, to educate
herself on the installation process, so she is better able to
respond to customer questions.
Career Ladder: Susan says there are two different ways
to get started in a network administration career. "One would
be getting the college degree in computer science or electrical
engineering, and out of school getting a junior network engineer
type position," she explains. "That's more the theoretical,
routing side of things…the other way would be getting
a job say as a NOC (Network Operations Center) technician or
At the start, she says, "you'd probably have to take the weekend
shift or the night shift. But once you're there you can use
your time in the NOC to get experience working with the equipment,
talking with the other engineers, talking with the customers,
using the time to study for Cisco certifications." For an NOC
engineer or technician, she says, it might take five to seven
years to work towards a full-fledged network engineer position.
"In order to get to the senior stuff, no matter where you come
from," she says, "you do have to have the Cisco certifications."
Salaries for a starting position might be in the low 30s, but
Susan says each certification you earn will bring you a raise.
"You can get very high very quickly," she says. "In five years
you can be earning in the mid-40s and with certifications and
more than 5-7 years you can get up into the 60s easily."
Professional Associations: Susan is a member of Digital
Eve - a Seattle group of women working in technology,
and NANOG (the North American
Network Operations Group).
Hobbies: "My big one is racing cars," Susan says - mainly
a Miata that's been prepared for racing, although she has also
raced in a Yugo and an Austin Healy. She also enjoys bird watching.
"And I read everything I can get my hands on," she says. "History
and biography are some of my favorites, along with good classic
fiction." In keeping with her historical interest, Susan makes
period costumes for special occasions and events.
*Annual salary number is not the role model's actual salary. Salary for Computer Networking based on the Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2008-09 Edition