There's No Such Thing As an 'Ideal' Engineer, Male or Female

A 5G pioneer points out that innovators in her field, any tech field, are no longer white and male, with glasses and a pocket protector.

learn more about Sanyogita Shamsunder

By Sanyogita Shamsunder

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Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

As an engineer, I've been fortunate enough to work on making 5G - - the fifth generation of wireless network technology - - a reality. 5G will offer a sea change in speed, cut latency to less than 10 milliseconds -- many times faster than the blink of an eye -- and allow connectivity in the billions of devices we use today.

Related: Fellow Women in Tech: Where Do We Go From Here?

This giant step forward has the potential to have a significant impact on how people live, learn, work and play. From autonomous cars and smart communities to immersive education: 5G will accelerate these and many other advances.

I've been part of the team that last year launched the world's very first 5G commercial service, Verizon's 5G Home broadband internet service. And through that process, one thing became clear about the engineers around me, even as they -- we -- worked at the leading edge of disruptive change:

There is no such thing as an "ideal" engineer, male or female.

With that said, I can add three hugely important takeaways for technology companies and entrepreneurs that want to be leading-edge change-makers. Companies and entrepreneurs that want to be "ideal" innovators. Here are those three things to move your company forward:

Break down stereotypes now.

You don't need to be a nerd to be a tech visionary. Yet, when people think of engineers and scientists today, they often envision Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory or Richard Hendricks from Silicon Valley. They picture someone cooped up in a lab. And that person typically is white and male, with certain stereotypical traits.

Sadly, such lingering stereotypes are still shaping the career paths of many girls.

While tech jobs are among the fastest growing in the country, girls are being left behind. Fewer than one in five computer science graduates are women. Thankfully, though there is an upswing in STEM education in schools, and organizations -- like Girls Who Code -- are introducing young girls to technology and challenging them to use their skills to solve real world problems.

My friend and I started a local chapter to help girls learn about strong role models in the tech space and to understand that being successful in technology has nothing to do with pocket protectors and glasses -- or gender.

In this context, it's important that hiring managers reconsider the standard job requisition. Not every role in technology requires technical knowledge. An engineering degree is not a requirement for work in engineering. Rather, engineering needs problem-solvers and risk-takers. It's these soft skills that more companies need to start exploring to determine how to expand their talent pool.

Related: Why Gender Diversity In Tech Matters

Invite diverse perspectives.

Research has proven that diverse viewpoints result in better products and a faster rate of innovation. According to a McKinsey study of 366 public companies, those in the top quartile for racial and ethnic diversity were 35 percent more likely to have financial returns above their respective national industry medians.

Similarly, Boston Consulting Group found that the most diverse enterprises it studied were also the most innovative. Ultimately, by welcoming people with different views and experiences to the table, companies can improve problem-solving and better understand the needs of their customers.

Bringing 5G to market last year involved a diverse team of engineers, but also a whole host of people with other competencies, and with hugely varying areas of expertise within our company -- professionals ranging from strategists to storytellers to market researchers.

Also required was a diverse set of partners with special knowledge of the different technologies needed to make 5G a reality. We brought together technology companies like Ericsson, Qualcomm, Intel and Samsung to move the entire 5G ecosystem forward.

Working with these partners on a shared vision of why the world needs 5G and how to deliver it helped accelerate the technology. Many in the industry predicted 5G wouldn't be available until 2021 at the earliest, but we succeeded in putting the technology in customers' hands in 2018.

Don't fear the unknown.

Part of my role is to dream big. Today, my job is focused on imagining how 5G will shape our world, and exploring use cases. My team has to picture how a next-generation network will impact sectors as diverse as healthcare, education, gaming and media. In other words, every day I imagine a future that's not built yet.

This means imagining how existing technology could be improved by 5G -- like putting sports fans in the front seat of a sports game through in-home virtual reality (VR) streaming. Another example? Envisioning disruptive technological breakthroughs possible only with 5G, like near real-time holographic communication and remote, near real-time robotics.

Related: What Is 5G? Everything You Need to Know.

It's difficult to be an ideal innovator, but bringing together a diverse, fearless team that challenges stereotypes is an actionable step any company -- perhaps your company -- can take. In doing so, you will be creating an environment that encourages new ideas, risk-taking and collaboration. Surely, this will be an environment where there will be no such thing as an "ideal" engineer.

Sanyogita Shamsunder

Vice President of 5G Labs and Innovation, Verizon

Sanyogita Shamsunder is the vice oresident of 5G Labs and Innovation at Verizon. Previously, she was director of Advanced Wireless and Mobile Technology Planning and has led the 5G Network Planning and Device Technologies at Verizon. She has directed and managed teams in all areas of the wireless business, including silicon, and network technology development, marketing, planning and strategy. She holds an MBA and a Ph.D. in electrical engineering and math.

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