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Women and STEM: LEGaTO Advisory Board member encourages young female scientists to dream big

Michaela Blott is a Distinguished Engineer at Xilinx. As an Industrial Advisory Board member in the LEGaTO project, she gives LEGaTO valuable real-world feedback about project interim results and helps identify exploitation opportunities.  In this interview, Blott talks about the path that led her to this career and how young female scientists should not let societal expectations hinder them from following their dreams.

"Distinguished Engineer" sounds like a very important title. What does it take to become a Distinguished Engineer?

Hard work, drive and direction, a good support network, a bit of luck and a lot of persistence! 

Could you take us back to the beginning of your computer science career? What got you interested in this field?

I think there were three factors at play: Firstly in school, it was clear I had an aptitude towards maths and computer science. These were subjects that came naturally and easily to me and I liked the idea of contributing to scientific advancement at that stage. Secondly, I wanted to have a job that allowed me to be independent and travel the world. And finally, what ultimately pushed me, was being told at school that girls couldn’t be engineers and I had to prove them wrong.

Did you ever experience any setbacks as a woman working in STEM?

I believe the biggest challenges are those of every working mother: Firstly is striking a balance between family and work life, finding enough time to look after kids, husband, job, and yourself. Second is society, having to justify that you put your own personal interests before your loved ones. Many still consider working mothers as sub-optimal parents, causing even greater insecurities in young aspiring women. 

Your work is focused on hardware. Is there any reason why you are drawn to this versus software?

I’m driven to understand everything in detail from the ground up. The logical consequence of this was that I slowly moved down the stack.

You are on the Industrial Advisory Board of the LEGaTO project. Could you explain what this work entails? What is the value for you?

To me, LEGaTO is a great EU initiative which brings together world-class researchers to investigate enabling further rollout of artificial intelligence to IoT, for example to advance health care, and to reduce energy consumption by leveraging heterogeneous compute devices. As this involves FPGAs and Machine Learning, it’s right at the heart of my own research interests. As an industrial advisor, my contribution entails regular review. This allows me to stay in touch with the latest research advancements, and understand the directions the experts in the fields are taking.

You recently won the Data Scientist award at the Women In Tech Awards. How does it feel to be recognized in such a prestigious manner?

I’m extremely honoured to receive this wonderful recognition. It was a great moment to pause and reflect upon the long way that led here.

Is there any advice you would like to give young women who would like to follow in your footsteps some day?

It's an excellent career choice with family-friendly work hours and high salaries which allows you to be independent and stand on your own feet. It also brings job security as engineers are always in demand. There will be many opportunities and this career choice gives you the possibility to find a job wherever you go. So don’t let society discourage you, dream big and don’t believe the typical misconceptions about working mothers (your kids will be great!).