Meet 5 women building game-changing products at Boston tech companies

by Quinten Dol
June 18, 2019

Big projects are afoot in tech companies throughout Boston and the surrounding region, offering Bay State engineers the chance to flex their mental muscles on some of the most vexing challenges of the moment. Some of those developments include building 3D printers for the Fortune 500, reimagining business finances, automating the production of predictive models — and so, so much more.

To learn more about the work, an individual engineer’s role within it and the kinds of career moves that lead to those coveted positions, we spoke with five Boston-area engineers — all of whom happen to be women — about what they’re working on, and how they got here.

 

datarobot boston women in tech
photo via datarobot

As any recruiter will tell you, skilled data scientists are in short supply right now — meaning their time is very, very precious. DataRobot’s software platform helps data scientists save time with tools that rapidly build and deploy predictive models with the help of some nifty automated tasks. The company claims to have built the world’s first and only automated machine learning platform, necessitating little-to-no coding or machine learning skills from users.

Front-End Software Engineer Ashlinn Brennan worked in several different industries in a number of different roles before starting work on DataRobot’s user experience and interface.

 

Tell me a bit about your engineering background. Did you attend a school or bootcamp? How did you arrive at your current position?

After college, I ended up working at a tiny nonprofit where I had to wear many hats as part of my role, which included updating the organization’s website. I found myself really enjoying the technical aspects of my position and would spend time after work teaching myself basic coding skills. When I learned that transitioning to the web development field was actually possible, I ended up leaving that job and spent three months as a student in the Web Development Immersive at General Assembly in 2015.

I then spent three years working at a publishing company, but started looking for a more challenging role where I would be able to have a larger impact. Once I started interviewing with DataRobot, I was blown away by the work they were doing to make AI a reality for customers. I knew this was where I wanted to end up, and I could not be happier to be a part of the DataRobot team.

 

I am incredibly lucky to work with smart and friendly engineers.”

What is your favorite project you have had the opportunity to work on, and why? When you hit a snag on a difficult project, how do you work through it?

I have to say the first project I worked on at DataRobot has been my favorite so far. It involved updating two of our charts to provide more context for our users and working on it was a pretty challenging experience for me. As it was my first project, I was still unfamiliar with the application and codebase, but it provided me with more knowledge about how our app worked and helped me gain familiarity with the standard development procedures at DataRobot. As this was a fairly difficult project, I worked through the challenges by reaching out for help from more knowledgeable engineers and took opportunities to step away and clear my head for a bit.

I am incredibly lucky to work with smart and friendly engineers who are always willing to lend a helping hand whenever I’m struggling through a problem. With a supportive team of engineers and a company work environment that both motivates and challenges me, I’ve been able to continually develop my skills and evolve as a UI/UX engineer.

 

formlabs boston tech engineers
photo via formlabs

Founded by a trio of MIT students back in 2011, Formlabs designs and produces a range of 3D printers and the software they run on. The company has put printers in the hands of some of the biggest names in the U.S. economy, including Ford, Google and Tesla. Formlabs has offices in Germany, China and Japan to supplement its Somerville headquarters, and officially achieved unicorn status last summer.

R&D Engineering Technician Melinda Cross described her work with the company’s newest 3D printing product.

 

Tell us a bit about your engineering background. Did you attend a school or bootcamp? How did you arrive at your current position?

I didn’t originally start out on an engineering track. I used the hands-on skills and design mentality I developed in art school at Tufts to work as a freelance technician and fabricator after graduation. I had some great mentors and an informal apprenticeship with a custom equipment designer. I also ran a professional studio for custom papermaking and letterpress, which required finding, repairing or building all the equipment myself.

In 2014, I joined the Formlabs customer support team when the company still had less than 50 employees. I became very familiar with our products and our customers’ needs. With my hands-on experience from past jobs and side projects, I was able to transition to the engineering team where I’ve helped run, validate and debug prototypes for new product development. It helped that I had made several connections with engineers from different teams and had already been running experiments with them on the side. I was also obsessed with learning SQL and Python in my free time, which got me thinking about how we could improve internal data collection.

 

I really enjoyed getting into the guts of the printer during development and making adjustments for testing.”

What is your favorite project you have had the opportunity to work on, and why? When you hit a snag on a difficult project, how do you work through it?

If I had to choose a work project, it's definitely the Form 3, our newest stereolithography 3D printer. This is the first product I have been able to work on from early prototype to final product. I really enjoyed getting into the guts of the printer during development and making adjustments for testing. There was always something new to work on or learn, and my coworkers are really great about bouncing ideas off each other. We also invested in some great tools that allowed us to do more with internal data collection and analysis during pre-production testing. I enjoyed learning how to use these new tools to improve our internal response time for troubleshooting.

When I hit a snag I usually take a step back, grab a coffee and try to think about the issue objectively. It is important to look at the big picture, think about how everything comes together and start working on the problem from there. It makes it easier to swerve if you are aware of the root cause of the problem and not just reacting to the symptoms.

 

peapod boston tech startup grocery delivery
photo via peapod digital labs

By replacing squeaky-wheeled shopping carts with the digital equivalent, complete with a checkout line, browsable web experience and speedy deliveries, Peapod Digital Labs is vastly improving upon the traditional grocery store. The user experience includes tools to sort items by price, view customer ratings and impose a check on impulse purchases. Acquired by Dutch retailer Ahold Delhaize in 2001, the company’s Massachusetts employees work out of Quincy.

Mobile Developer Carly Kraft said it was an exciting time to work on the company’s tech team.

 

Tell me a bit about your engineering background. Did you attend a school or bootcamp? How did you arrive at your current position?

I was lucky enough to be introduced to technology by my mother, who was a web developer early on in her career. I went to the Rochester Institute of Technology and studied new media interactive development, where co-oping was a huge part of the program. The RIT co-op program introduced me to Ahold Delhaize where I became a co-op for eight months. After graduation, they extended me a full-time offer and I began working on the PDL mobile development team.

 

There are big changes coming to our brand apps, and being able to help craft the solutions at such an important time for the company has been really rewarding for me.”

What is your favorite project you have had the opportunity to work on at your company, and why? When you hit a snag on a difficult project, how do you work through it?

My favorite project thus far at PDL has definitely been introducing e-commerce to our traditional brick-and-mortar grocery store brands. There are big changes coming to our brand apps, and being able to help craft the solutions at such an important time for the company has been really rewarding for me.

With that being said, there are always going to be low points in a project. We all get stuck on something at some point, and usually that means getting in a room with our teammates and white-boarding out the problem — just talking about it out loud sometimes solves the issue.  Being in a collaborative environment has allowed us to move quickly and solve robust problems.

 

hopper boston women in tech
photo via hopper

Hopper uses powerful data analytics technology to combine trillions of data points with machine learning algorithms within its mobile apps. The app can then make personalized recommendations for travelers, monitoring airfares for drops in price and then facilitating purchases with a few taps of a button. In addition to its Cambridge headquarters, the company has offices in Montreal, New York and Sofia, Bulgaria.

After an extended period in the academic world, Software Engineer Vera Pavel decided she wanted a change of pace.

 

Tell us a bit about your engineering background. Did you attend a school or bootcamp? How did you arrive at your current position?

I have coded on and off since high school. The first time I wrote code was for an online game that I was into at the time, which ended up leading to an internship writing in Perl. I received my undergraduate degree in mechanical engineering and a Ph.D. in oceanographic engineering. I did a lot of data analysis during graduate school, learning memory management and working with MATLAB. Eventually, I realized I didn’t want to continue working in academia.  While I was on maternity leave with my daughter, I participated in an open-source project. My previous employer called me after seeing it on my online resume and I made the transition to software engineering.

 

I’m always learning something new, being exposed to new things and getting better at what I do.”

What is your favorite project you have had the opportunity to work on, and why? When you hit a snag on a difficult project, how do you work through it?

It might sound cheesy, but often my favorite project is the last project I worked on. At Hopper, I’m always learning something new, being exposed to new things and getting better at what I do. The last thing I worked on was our new feature offering travel insurance to our users. It was exciting because I got to more or less lead a mobile project for the first time, with great support from my manager and team members.

This was the first feature we built using Hopper’s new internal design system, so we hit some snags while working on design specifications. For example, we had to have a lot of back and forth with the design team over the specifications and purposes of a new button, which sounds small but ended up being a big discussion. I like working at Hopper because every team is dedicated to their work and we will always discuss any new feature to make sure it’s going to work for our users from all sides — technical, UX, UI and so on.

 

plastiq boston women in tech
photo via plastiq

Business costs come from all angles — taxes, freelancers, leases, insurance — and few of those parties accept credit cards as a form of payment. The result? Businesses lose out on those all-important credit card rewards, which can make a big difference to the bottom line. Plastiq solves this problem by charging a business’ credit card, and then issuing payment in whatever form the receiver prefers, be it a wire transfer, check or bank account deposit.

Principal Software Engineer Marie Cuddy is currently helping the team rebuild its product from scratch around a newly-discovered market.

 

Tell me a bit about your engineering background. Did you attend a school or boot camp? How did you arrive at your current position?

I studied electronic and computer engineering at university, and then specialized in web development. I arrived at Plastiq because a previous boss of mine was the CTO at the time, and he sold me on the team and the exciting work they were doing.

 

We are rebuilding our product from scratch, tailoring it to serve a market we didn’t know was the best fit for Plastiq’s offering.”

What is your favorite project you have had the opportunity to work on, and why? When you hit a snag on a difficult project, how do you work through it?

My favorite project is the one I am working on right now: we are rebuilding our product from scratch, tailoring it to serve a market we didn’t know was the best fit for Plastiq’s offering when we started as a company. We are taking the opportunity to completely change our technology stack, get things right and build for the future.

If I hit a snag on a project I reach out to someone on our team who may be a specialist in that specific area, or just someone else to bounce ideas off. We love pair programming at Plastiq and it can be especially useful when we are working through complex issues.

 

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