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Career Quick Look
Salary: $50,840* Education:
Years in Field: 25 A.S. Engineering, Quality Control
Certificate, and Electrostatic Discharge
Certificate, Soldering Technology
Certificate in Machine Tool Technology
City/State: Monroeville, PA View Marilyn Lawrence's Resume

To other women considering a career in electronics, "I say go for it! There just aren't that many of us in the field. And electronics isn't really that hard. There are all different levels of skill...You don't always have to know everything; you just have to be able to troubleshoot. There are many different [technician level] jobs in testing, engineering development and field service."

"I'm proud of my accomplishments. I've always worked hard to better myself."


Getting Started: In the 1970's, Marilyn Lawrence was earning $2.40 an hour working in the fast food industry. Teaching electronic circuitry and soldering was probably the farthest thing from her mind. But with two children to care for, Marilyn wanted to earn a "dad's" income in order to support her family. She thought about becoming a secretary but decided that she couldn't afford the wardrobe. Instead, she ended up being hired at Varo Electronics in Garland, Texas processing image intensifier tubes for night vision equipment. She found she liked electronics because she could "do as a woman, but make money like a man" without having to climb up telephone poles or squeeze underneath cars. Marilyn worked at Varo for 4 years and was eventually promoted to a group leader. It was at Varo that Marilyn was exposed to a female engineer for the first time. Before this, Marilyn thought an engineer was someone who drove a train. She was very impressed and said to herself, "that's what I want to be."

"In high school I had a lot of math," she says, "so I figured I could probably do it. Then once I got into the program itself, I started really enjoying it." She completed the Electronic Technologies program in two years, and started her first job in 1980.

Education: Inspired by the engineer she met, Marilyn looked into the local community college and found an Engineering Technology Program. Varo Electronics was willing to pay for her schooling, so Marilyn enrolled in part-time night classes to begin pursuing her Associate's degree in Engineering Technology. Because Marilyn only enrolled in a few classes at a time, it took her almost 10 years to complete her degree, but she was an honors level student with an excellent GPA. The degree gave her a strong engineering background in both electronics and mechanical technology, as well as some basics in Quality Control. After achieving her A.S. in Engineering Technology, Marilyn further supplemented her education with a 1 year certificate in Quality Control and is one of the first women in the United States to get Electrostatic Discharge certification. This background has allowed Marilyn to work in many different areas of electronics for several different companies during her 25 years in the industry, as well as prepared her to start her own business as a Technical Trainer and Consultant.

Greatest Professional Achievement: Marilyn is proud to have the University of Pittsburgh as one of her clients. Among other projects, she works with the school consulting on the development and assembly of electronic components for a particle accelerator at CERN, The European Organization for Particle Research, based in Switzerland. CERN's particle accelerators are among the world's largest and most complex scientific instruments in the world. Particle accelerators help scientists explore what matter is made of and what forces hold it together. This research has led to diverse developments ranging from medical imaging to the WorldWide Web. Marilyn is excited about contributing to such a significant international project, and it allows her to use a little of her French.

Barriers: Having worked in the Electronics industry for over 25 years now, Marilyn has encountered numerous barriers to her promotion and success, requiring huge amounts of persistence and patience on her part. Co-workers were sometimes confused about her job title, not understanding that she really was a technician and she was occasionally ignored by certain management because she did not "look the part" of a technician or engineer. She also dealt with condescending names such as "solder girl" when she taught soldering along with other technical skills to company employees and was always required to prove her abilities before they were recognized. But Marilyn was not discouraged from her career choice and continued to work in the field and pursue her degree and certificates, despite the problems she encountered. A co-worker once told her that she was ahead of her time. Now she has the freedom, independence and satisfaction of owning her own business as a technical trainer and consultant. "I'm proud of my accomplishments," Marilyn states, "I've always worked hard to better myself."

"Every time I got laid off," she says, "I came back to TVI and I kept up with the latest technologies. So when things turned around the employers would notice, and it really paid off."

Working with Men:
Marilyn often did get lonely as a female working predominantly with and for men. She always had to prove her abilities while her male co-workers were taken at face value and she was generally segregated from the main working group. "In a technical sense, guys are scared to work with women; they feel threatened that you might show them up. I never understood that because I always worked as hard as them," Marilyn says. But she persevered and trusted her own abilities and knowledge. Now she has the satisfaction of serving as a role model to encourage other women and girls towards the electronics industry. If things get hard, "just hang in there," Marilyn advises.

Advice for Women:
To other women considering a career in electronics, "I say go for it! There just aren't that many of us in the field. And electronics isn't really that hard. There are all different levels of skill...You don't always have to know everything; you just have to be able to troubleshoot. There are many different [technician level] jobs in testing, engineering development and field service," says Marilyn.

Typical Workday/Environment: Marilyn's job as a Technical Trainer involves a combination of technical and interpersonal skills. She accommodates all experience levels at Conformance Technologies, so getting acquainted, asking about background experience, and coaxing her students is as important as the technical knowledge she uses to instruct them. Marilyn trains small classes, usually no more than four people per class. She begins by performing demos to the class along with verbal instruction and then allows her students to practice with the equipment hands-on. Marilyn offers instruction in soldering and electronic assembly of circuit boards as well as certifications for specific technical jobs. In addition to this, Marilyn also works as a consultant for other companies on technical projects.

"I like helping students," she says. "I know so much more now than I did at 20, and it's great to be able to pass that along."

Career Ladder: An entry-level job in electronics may offer $10 - $15 per hour depending on where you live, who you work for and what specific job you're doing. Advancement may take several years, but there is usually room to grow as one achieves additional technical certifications. Remaining at the technician level, you can become a Technical Specialist or Associate Engineer, which both require more specialized knowledge and experience and begin at approximately $35,000-$40,000. A management position may take up to 10 years to achieve, but salaries usually begin around $45,000 per year, again depending on where you live and work. Many electronics companies offer good benefits as well as assistance towards education.

Professional Associations: Surface Mount Technology Association (SMTA), National Association of Radio & Telecommunications Engineers (NARTE), and Electrostatic Discharge Association

Hobbies: In her spare time, Marilyn enjoys singing, playing guitar and violin, speaking French, and gardening. Also, she was just accepted into the Mendelssohn Choir of Pittsburgh.

*Annual salary number is not the role model's actual salary. Salary for Electronic Technician based on the Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2008-09 Edition

 


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