Spotlight on Women
Susie Armstrong, Senior Vice President, Engineering, Qualcomm Technologies, Inc.
Photo by Lauren Radack
What inspired you to become an engineer?
I got my degree in computer science, and I chose engineering because I was good at math and science and I enjoyed it. I initially wanted to be a veterinarian, which is also a science.
Where did you begin your career?
I started with Xerox as an engineer programmer. I worked for 10 years on computer networking.
When did you join Qualcomm?
I came to Qualcomm in 1994 because my husband took a job with UCSD. At that time there were 1,500 employees, and now there are 15,000 in San Diego, with a total of 30,000 worldwide.
What has been your career path within Qualcomm?
I stayed in engineering in various capacities and am currently going into the Governmental Affairs area. My engineering background will be very helpful in that area. Before that move, I headed up Customer Engineering—1,400 worldwide engineers who help our customers to put our chips and software into their phones. That role took me to Asia many times, and exposed me to many different people and cultures.
When you were in college, were there a lot of women in engineering?
There was about 25 percent, but it has dropped since. STEM diversity at kids’ level is a concern today. They tend to drop out when they hit their teens.
Who were your mentors?
I had great parents and people around me who were gender-neutral. I have had very supportive bosses, and they provided me with incredible opportunities within the company. We’ve always been mentored in place. We now have more formal mentoring programs, called IMPACT.
How do you manage to get through a company the size of Qualcomm?
We are divided into different businesses. The core of the work group remains very small. The company encourages innovation, so teams get together to bring ideas into fruition. The company gives individuals 20 percent of their time to work on IMPACT and they also may provide other resources such as equipment, sponsors, and travel. Then we have a silent auction, which gives senior executives the opportunity to view projects created by IMPACT.
How do you create balance between personal and business?
I work hard and set my own boundaries. You have to be comfortable with what you are doing. It is not healthy to spend your entire life working.
What do you do when you are not working?
I run, paddle, make glass-bead jewelry, and I love to make marionettes.
How do you give back to the community?
I often serve on a panel for high school girls, educating them about what it is like to be an engineer. I also serve on the board of San Diego Coastkeeper.
What has been your favorite project?
I was a key part of the first wireless packet data that came out. This is the technology that allows you to surf the web, send a picture, or look at video on your cell phone. When my husband sees an individual at the top of the escalator looking at his phone, he comments, “That’s another zombie that Susie created!”
What are your future goals?
I enjoy work because it keeps your mind active. There are so many opportunities within this company, but for now my move to Governmental Affairs gives me the opportunity to bring my engineering perspective to GA and affect the impact that some of our policies have on our business.