Brilliant Women in Tech Lisa Kurahashi
You may not have ever heard the name Lisa Kurahashi before, but I guarantee you have used or at least heard of the product she works as an engineer on. A product that is rated one of the best if not the best security products on the market; Norton Internet Security. Lisa is a principal software engineer at Norton by Symantec and is also a Brilliant Women in Tech. Check out our Q and A with Lisa below!
-Can you tell us a little about yourself and your background? I'm a native Los Angeles gal, but I don't know anything about movie stars or go to the beach. But I am attached to my car (pepper-white Mini Cooper, named "Button").
-Describe how you got to where you are? (How did you get started in technology, or at your current position?) I took my first CS class in high school and majored in computer science and engineering (the "and engineering" part means they threw in some electrical engineering) at UCLA.
I landed a job on Symantec's Norton Utilities team as a Quality Assurance Engineer. As I moved through a few internal teams, I became a software engineer.
-Was it tougher because you were a woman? No. No one ever told me that I couldn't do something because I was a woman.
-If there was such a thing as reincarnation, would you come back as a man or woman-holding all other things equal? If you'd asked me this when I first started in computer science, as a woman in a male-dominated field, I might have thought it would be easier as a man, but as the years pass I become more comfortable in my own skin. I've decided I make a pretty good woman.
-Describe a "normal" day in your life. It really depends on where my team is in the development cycle. But it always varies between periods of extreme individual focus mixed with collaboration with coworkers.
If we're in the requirements and design phase it goes between heads-down planning to bouncing ideas off coworkers and meeting with folks with a stake in the outcome. In the development stage, it's focused coding mixed with planning with quality assurance and other internal teams.
In the testing stage, it's debugging and researching mixed with working with QA, tech support and other internal teams.
-What's your favorite aspect of working in technology? Seeing our yellow Norton boxes lined up on a store shelf is always a thrill... the code I write protects millions of computers every day. When I add a feature, when I fix a bug, I'm helping millions of people. It's humbling and exciting.
-What have been some of your challenges you faced, and how did you tackle or overcome them? Making the switch from quality assurance (QA) engineer to programmer was a challenge. QA is about looking for flaws; finding the places where a programmer didn't think through every scenario and the code can break. Being a programmer is about both handling the general scenario as well as edge cases. Both require detail-oriented thinking, but they have different mindsets.
When I switched to programming, it was intimidating to realize that I'd need to write a bunch of code from scratch instead of looking for problems in the existing code. In college I had only written programs with a few hundred lines of code. In the real programming world, there are tens of thousands of lines of code in a single component, to say nothing of the entire product.
I realized that a bunch of my experience from QA did carry over. Problem solving is key to being a good programmer, and I had practiced that as QA. I progressed to bigger projects, and with experience, got more comfortable. And it sure helped that other programmers were willing to spend time with me and give advice.
-Have you ever felt like you needed to hide your femininity or that fact that you were a female? Sometimes. As a woman in a male dominated field, it sometimes seemed like it would be better to be one of the guys.
But there's something to realize about programmers. They respect competence. If you are good, and especially if you can articulate your ideas clearly, you'll get respect.
-What advice do you have for females interested in getting into your field? Try it. Pick something that interests you - any aspect of technology - and try it. Create a web page, learn a programming language, assemble a computer. It doesn't matter where you start, just pick something that sounds interesting and dig into it. There are billions of resources online these days.
-What's one gadget you can't live without? Well, I am pretty dependent on my iPhone, but it's the boring ol' PC that I can't live without. I need my full keyboard and a big honking monitor (or two).
-Do you have a personal 'mantra' or certain words you live by? This year, for the first time, I picked a mantra for myself. It's "Explore." A reminder to look at life, at work, at everything, as a treasure trove of possibilities, not as a fixed landscape.
-And lastly, what drives you? I need to create. To make new things with my own brain and my own hands. As a programmer you can literally turn your thoughts into reality. I can type for a few hours and create something out of nothing. (It does help, however, when a few thousand coworkers have your back.)
We hope you enjoyed our Q and A with Lisa!