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“Why It’s So Important To Trust Yourself” with Hien Nguyen

I learned from a mentor that early in his career, he had an idea laughed at by many, yet he pressed on and ultimately brought great success to his company with that same vision. Throughout my career, my suggestions have been discarded by some of my peers. At times I found the mistakes I had […]

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I learned from a mentor that early in his career, he had an idea laughed at by many, yet he pressed on and ultimately brought great success to his company with that same vision. Throughout my career, my suggestions have been discarded by some of my peers. At times I found the mistakes I had made with these ideas, and other times I was able to perfect a design project using the same concepts others look over.

As a part of my series about “Lessons From Inspirational Women in STEM and Tech”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Hien Nguyen.

Hien Nguyen is a Senior Electrical Engineer at Advanced Energy Industries, Inc. (AE), a leader in designing and manufacturing power conversion and control products for mission-critical applications. She is the technical lead of an R&D project, aiming to provide an innovative bias supply solution for semiconductor processing. Hien holds the roles of a system architect, inventor, and challenger. She has always provided vital support to all her teammates and colleagues. Hien is a connector among the engineering design team, application engineers, marketing, and supply chain.

Hien got her bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering at Auburn University, AL. She found her passion working with microprocessor programming in a robotics team while building a hybrid car with her teammates at Sol of Auburn. She got her Ph.D. degree in power electronics at the University of Colorado, Boulder. Before joining AE, she was a design engineer at two start-up companies in the San Francisco Bay area.

In her free time, Hien enjoys hiking, skiing, rock climbing and mountain biking.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

When I was in my senior year of high school in Vietnam, I followed Robocon, a robotics competition for the Asia-Pacific region, closely. The winner of that year was the University of Technology in Ho Chi Minh City, my hometown. Inspired by that team’s dedication and creativity, I decided to pursue my electrical engineering education with a dream that someday, I too, would build robots. While attending college in the U.S., I switched my interest to power electronics after discovering how a power converter operates while volunteering with a solar car projects team. Since then, I have been pursuing my career in power supply design. No matter which direction I go, whether it be robotics or power electronics, I’ll find passion in learning how something new works, building it, and making products come to life.

Can you share the most exciting story that happened to you since you began at your company?

A month after I joined Advanced Energy (AE), I had the opportunity to attend Tech Fest, an internal networking event for senior technologists, and recommended young engineers from different AE offices in the U.S. and abroad. My manager trusted me to present on a new technology our R&D group had been developing at that time. My presentation was well received and led to many rewarding follow-up conversations and future collaborations. In retrospect, I am grateful for my manager and other experienced engineers’ trust and the potential they saw in me. Despite the short time I had on the team, they were committed to handing over knowledge and investing in engineering’s next generation.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

While planning for Tech Fest, only a few weeks before the event, my manager asked me to email him the project overview file from my training session with a staff engineer who co-invented the technology and was close to his retirement. I accidentally emailed my manager the version with my comments on how the circuit worked and the design’s cons and pros. After reading my input, he decided I could be the next potential leader of this project and suggested me to present at Tech Fest. I learned a lesson to be more careful when sharing documents via emails. The more important lesson was that one should not be shy to demonstrate their skills and create new opportunities.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

Advanced Energy holds an innovation mindset and rewards the motivation to learn and be better. When the stay-at-home orders came into effect in Colorado due to COVID-19, I saw that my co-workers took the opportunity to learn new software tools or new design methods from each other while waiting to return to lab work. I also participated in a series of online brainstorming meetings where engineers discussed a wish list for our next-generation products. Those meetings created concepts that were just ideas that have now flourished into real R&D projects.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

I am leading an R&D project to design a new bias supply solution for plasma-aided processing of semiconductors. Our product aims to provide a powerful tool for semiconductor manufacturers to achieve atomic-level precision for their processes. For consumers, this means electronic devices, such as smartphones and computers, can achieve higher speeds, rich features, and more affordable options in a smaller form factor.

Ok super. Thank you for all that. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview. Are you currently satisfied with the status quo regarding women in STEM? What specific changes do you think are needed to change the status quo?

No, I am not satisfied with the status quo of women in STEM — I’m unhappy with the number of females in the industry. I’ve found myself asking where I can find other female engineers in an organization. My real-life encounters with females in this industry have been far and in between when it comes to senior technical leadership. I would like to see men have more involvement in changing the lack of females in STEM. In the family, fathers can tell their daughters that they are capable of doing great things. At schools, we need to have both male and female students excited about STEM, not just the boys. When female engineers and scientists join the workforce, we must consider success to include our life-partners’ respect for our career choice, inclusiveness from male co-workers, and strive to hold leadership opportunities.

In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women in STEM or Tech that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts? What would you suggest to address this?

I can name at least three challenges faced by only women in this industry. First, we tend to criticize ourselves the hardest. In a group discussion, we may restrain from bringing up a good idea because we think it is not good enough. We miss chances to prove our competency. Women set a very high bar for excellence and wait too long to ask for promotions. These situations don’t have to be setbacks but are opportunities to learn from male colleagues — women must be confident and advocate for themselves. Second, we do not have many role models to learn from in this industry. Networking, mentorship, and more publications about successful females in STEM (like this series) help address this challenge. Lastly, many women juggle between family and work. Having a five-month-old baby, I am still learning the home and work-life balance. I have a mentor who gave me valuable advice and helped me to prepare mentally for this challenge. I also find it helpful to be open with my husband, team members, and manager about my different responsibilities to receive the right support.

What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a woman in STEM or Technology? Can you explain what you mean?

Women are quickly labeled as too serious or uncool in the industry, especially in social contexts. Someone once told me that I worked too hard and needed to do something fun. Undeniably, I work hard in the office, but I am also up on mountains climbing or hiking on the weekends. I’ve learned to feel comfortable in my skin, ignore unnecessary comments, and remember that it is cool to be a woman in tech.

What are your “5 Leadership Lessons I Learned From My Experience as a Woman in STEM or Tech” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)

1. Trust yourself:

I learned from a mentor that early in his career, he had an idea laughed at by many, yet he pressed on and ultimately brought great success to his company with that same vision. Throughout my career, my suggestions have been discarded by some of my peers. At times I found the mistakes I had made with these ideas, and other times I was able to perfect a design project using the same concepts others look over.

2. Trust teammates:

Project scales expand, and trusting team members to perform tasks can free up time to tackle different issues. Teammates may make mistakes, but that is how they learn, grow, and bring value to the team as a whole.

3. Make mistakes:

I have made big mistakes, and damage from these mistakes has taken a lot of time and effort to resolve. However, the lessons learned have helped me avoid more significant errors in future endeavors.

4. Admit to being wrong:

It often takes courage to admit when you are wrong or that you do not know everything. Early in my career, I was worried about being judged if I did not know something and was worried about giving incorrect answers. This worry grew as I began to lead full teams. Gradually I did realize that it is not wrong to admit my imperfection as long as I commit to learning and becoming better. Besides, it is more productive to work under less stress.

5. Don’t be complacent:

There seldom exists a single solution to any given problem. We stop progressing when we are content with our current solution. This mindset continues to push me to think “outside the box,” both in work and life.

What advice would you give to other women leaders to help their teams to thrive?

Encourage open discourse and sharing of ideas within your organizations and always give credit where credit is due. Remember that teams should have an open floor to share knowledge, and to withhold information from your peers is detrimental to overall progress. Being more accessible and less timid opens opportunities to learn from others, stimulates discussions and helps engineers create better solutions. A sharing culture can only grow if team leaders are unbiased, give credit to the right team members and protect intellectual properties.

What advice would you give to other women leaders about the best way to manage a large team?

I am repeating age-old advice: communication, communication, and communication. Set clear expectations and practice ownership within your team. It is crucial to provide regular guidance, feedback, and updates to your team. I learned that building trust among team members is the best way to avoid micro-managing and maintain team productivity. Building trust takes significant effort at the beginning. I regularly engage with team members to ensure they are receiving proper support from the team. I also request their timely support for others. Gradually team members start to reach out to the right person directly and I only have to get involved in critical situations.

None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

My parents are my biggest supporters and mentors. I grew up knowing that there was no limit to what a girl can achieve if she sets her mind to something. They assured me that it was ok to fail and try again. When I was stressed and preparing for my college entrance exam, they pulled me out of my study desk and asked me to play badminton with them and my sister regularly. I learned how to stay healthy in mind and body to effectively face school, work, or life challenges. That lesson has stood the test of time.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

There exists a lot of power in mentorship. The best way I thank my mentors is when I begin to guide young engineers and trust that they will carry that same torch.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

My movement would be called Read a book. Share a book.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“No one can make you feel inferior without your consent” — Eleanor Roosevelt

We do not always meet friendly people. Some people unintentionally help us grow once we strengthen our self-esteem and stand up for ourselves.

We are very blessed that very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the U.S. with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂

Bill Gates! I would love to grab a bite to eat with Mr. Gates; admire his reading habits and dedication to the Gates Foundation.

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