You Don’t Have to Be Loud to Be Bold

March 08, 2017
By Alicia Abella

Today, women across the globe are celebrating International Women’s Day to accelerate gender equality.

Many young girls think you have to be a doctor or nurse to make an impact, but that’s not true.  Making the world a better place can be in many different job descriptions, including those in STEM.

Here at AT&T Labs, the worldwide holiday feels a bit sweeter this year. We’re celebrating Dr. Pamela Zave, who received the 2017 IEEE Computer Society Harlan D. Mills award for bridging theory and practice in software engineering.

She is a lead inventive scientist on the Cloud Technologies and Services Research team with me. Each day, she works behind the scenes to help ensure our network is at its best. Her work has led to 28 patents, an AT&T Strategic Patent Award and 3 Best Paper awards.

Though her work is often unseen, it’s not unnoticed. Pamela is proof you don’t have to be in the spotlight to inspire change.

I sat down with her to talk more about how she got to where she is today and what this award means to her.

Alicia: What does receiving the 2017 IEEE Computer Society Harlan D. Mills award mean to you?

Pamela: The award is extremely meaningful to me. I actually worked with Harlan Mills, one of the founding greats of software engineering. He passed away some time ago, but I knew him when I worked at the University of Maryland. Teaching there was my first job, and Harlan was a member of our visiting faculty.

When I considered leaving the University of Maryland to go to Bell Labs, I asked Harlan for his advice. He felt it was better to do research in the industry than in academia because you’re closer to the problems. That was 35 years ago. And I’ve had a wonderful career.

Receiving this award, I’d like to think I’ve followed in his footsteps. I now have the advantage of finding beautiful solutions to real world problems.

Alicia: Some people may think if you go down a path outside of STEM as an undergrad, you’re stuck there. But you shifted from studying English at Cornell to attending grad school to study computer science. What inspired that change?

Pamela: I loved studying English as an undergraduate, but I didn’t really see it as a career for me. I took a computer science class halfway through undergrad and loved it. This was in the early days of computer science, when it was extremely rare for a university to have an undergraduate program in computer science. I was fortunate to get into graduate school even though I didn’t have an extensive background.

I went to graduate school at the University of Wisconsin. I believe I was the third woman to get a PhD in computer science. The first 2 women were my close friends.

Alicia: What was that like, graduating among such a small group of women?

Pamela: This was a long time ago, so many modern norms were just coming about. I got my PhD in the ‘70s. So perhaps it was tough, but I didn’t realize it. My focus was on exploring computer science.

Alicia: What would you tell a young women growing up today? What would you tell her to inspire her, to empower her?

Pamela: You should realize the loudest, most aggressive people aren’t necessarily the smartest or the best. If you feel silenced in a group, there’s always a second chance to communicate. Be creative in making your voice heard.

Alicia Abella - Assistant Vice President – Inventive Science, AT&T Labs

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