Throughout my years of writing about the semiconductor industry, I’ve met women from all over the world. I’ve often wondered what or who encouraged them to pursue careers in this male-centric environment? How much of their motivation is inspired by the culture of where they grew up? Can success be quantified?
The answers are as varied as the women whose stories we want to tell. Our goal with this SemiSister Success Story series is not just to showcase the acknowledged superstars, but to highlight as many women as are willing to share their stories so that others may be inspired.
This post follows the journey of Maaike M. Visser Taklo, Ph.D, an accomplished Norwegian research scientist who spent much of her career making her way up the ranks to Chief Scientist at SINTEF, Oslo, Norway, and is currently the QA manager at Disruptive Technologies (DT), an edgy, Norwegian start-up that makes the world’s smallest sensor for the Internet of Things (IoT). She’s also a member of the 3D InCites technical advisory board.
Inspired by others
I have witnessed this woman hike to the bottom of the Grand Canyon and back to the rim in one day (I ate her dust and waited at the top). When she says the harder she works, the happier she is, I believe her. But despite her clear drive and ambition, Taklo credits the people she’s met throughout her life for guiding her career path decisions.
She says she realized her passion for technology and its capacity to change the world in her mid-teens, while she was arguing its benefits with her friends and boyfriend, who were more interested in art, literature, and politics.
During her studies in Trondheim, coincidences led her to a project on Molecular Beam Epitaxy, followed by a master’s degree at the Norwegian Defence Research Establishment (FFI), and a subsequent traditional position at a company that manufactured optical sensors for advanced applications, like satellites. But just a year later, during a ski trip with friends working at SINTEF, she was convinced to accept a grant to do a Ph.D.; they tempted her with the opportunity to work with the just-launched SUSS SB6 wafer bonder, and so her story turned towards wafer bonding for MEMS.
Taklo says the support she received from colleagues made her time at SINTEF pleasant and easy-going; from achieving her Ph.D. through her years climbing the ranks to become Chief Scientist, a rare achievement for both men and women at the institute.
Any challenges came from career goals she set for herself while balancing a home life that included marriage and three children. As it turned out, she thrived on stress.
The arrival of her youngest child, a daughter, coincided with a reorganization at SINTEF, and Taklo was given the opportunity to move into advanced packaging and build her own team. She took on the challenge and prepared mentally using her maternity leave to do what she calls “passive work” – reviewing and editing the Handbook of wafer bonding with Peter Ramm, Fraunhofer EMF, and James Lu, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, “with my daughter on my lap,” she recalls.
What success looks like
Readers may recognize Taklo from many presentations on MEMS bonding at numerous technical conferences. In fact, she cites being invited to deliver the keynote at the IEEE 3D IC Conference in 2013, upon the completion of the e-BRAINS project, as one of her career highlights. Another was securing EU funding for the HyperConnect project she managed together with IBM’s Thomas Brunschwiler.
In general, Taklo doesn’t measure her success by her titles but focuses more on her achievements and the context of her work.
“It was wonderful to be appointed Chief Scientist in acknowledgment of all the extra work I did to bring SINTEF into the limelight,” she said. “But as QA manager at DT, I can fully pursue to work on the design for, and quantification of reliability. From here, my success follows any success of DT, which is preparing for an EU market release in the next few months.”
On being a woman scientist in Norway
Like in the US, the ratio of women to men in technology in Norway is generally low. While 60% of Norwegians pursuing higher education are women, only one-third of them choose to study math, natural sciences, and technology. Additionally, of the 33% of women entrepreneurs, only .99% start technology companies.
Taklo is one of three women among 39 men working at Disruptive Technologies.
Despite the disparate male to female ratio in the Norwegian semiconductor industry, Taklo considers it to be “woman-friendly”. She likes the kindness and “nerdiness” of the people.
Still, Taklo says that women engineers have to work hard to achieve the same level of respect and responsibility as men. Mediocrity is not an option. “Unless a woman is outspoken and self-confident, which many clever women are not, she may be ignored.” It can be a double-edged sword, however, because women are always perceived by men (and women) as talking the most, whether they are or not.
Did she ever think about doing something else? “Only when my husband was ill with cancer, which he is not anymore, thanks to the latest immunotherapy research, did I feel helpless that all my knowledge was in MEMS,” she says. “I was a doctor, but not the kind who could help at all.”
Advice to other women
“Believe in yourself and never be afraid to state your point twice if they do not listen the first time,” said Taklo. When you do speak, avoid using emotive, unsure language like “I think” or “I feel”, but rather state your case in more analytical and technical terms, and speak with assurance.”
She also encourages women to ask the silly questions, and leverage stereotypes to your advantage. “Check the people around you; most of them will be happy because they didn’t know the answer either,” said Taklo. “My impression is that men prefer to assume, rather than to ask to become sure.”
Taklo is pretty satisfied with the work/life balance she has achieved. So what’s next? “I’ve never had a ‘next step,” she says. “I like to focus on making the most of what my career is now. But if I had to think about it, I’d write more publications, presenting all the interesting work I do at present. That would be next.”
Based on what I know about Maaike Taklo, I’m quite certain she’ll succeed at whatever comes next. ~ FvT