Virginia Ford - 2017 SPIE Women in Optics Planner
Senior Opto-Mechanical Engineer
Thirty Meter Telescope Project, USA
Country of Birth: USA
My father encouraged me to study math and science. I liked physics in high school and selected physics as my major when I started college. Once I understood what engineering was, I switched to engineering since my driving goal was to learn how everything is made.
I am responsible for the second (M2) and third (M3) mirror systems of the Thirty Meter Telescope. Both mirrors are supported with optical precision and mounted on precise positioning systems. I write the requirements, interfaces, and procurements documents, and manage the suppliers who fabricate the mirrors and develop the positioning systems. I also design the interface hardware and handling systems. I support optical group tasks that arise and teach younger engineers that are supplying hardware.
When I started having children, I stopped traveling for work and turned down management positions that would require time away from my family. This turned out to be a good thing since I stayed technically oriented and did not head into middle management until I had achieved recognized technical expertise in opto-mechanical engineering.
When I started working, it was clear that my co-workers who came from engineering families had better insight. I had to reach out to older engineers for advice. They told me that staying technical would work out better for my career. I now have valuable current skills that help me in design, analysis, and management.
There are many different ways to meaningfully contribute technically. Search for the way that fits what you love to do. You may not find it while you are in school; but there are a huge variety of technical jobs in the working world. Have faith that you will find what fits you as prepare yourself. It is out there waiting for you and worth the effort that difficult classes require.