Ruth Barry knows how to make a spark and she does it with greater frequency than the average engineer. Plus, she can predict the future (kind of)!

Q: Name?

Ruth Lorraine Barry

If you asked me when I was three, my response would have been “Ruth ‘The Rain’ Hebb.”

Q: Title?

Director of Electrical and Software Engineering

Q: What is your expertise?

Product development, engineering management, project and program management, electrical engineering (with a controls system focus) and continuous improvement. Add a passion for talent development and a zest for fostering collaborative work environments.

Q: Why did you choose your profession?

Math and science were always favorite subjects. Plus, I have had a strong desire to discover and invent since I was a kid – I was a youth during the heyday of NASA and the Apollo missions. I was fascinated with computers, robotics and automation which ultimately led me into the land of electrical and computer engineering.

Q: Brief history on your background/career?

I’m a Midwest farm girl with seafaring roots from Lunenburg, Nova Scotia.

I graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering from University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Between UW and now, I earned 25+ years of product development experience in the automotive, medical, dental, industrial controls, consumer, telecommunications, and wireless communication industries.

I’ve worn many hats; my titles have included Design Engineer, Project Manager, Director of Global Project Management, Director of Global Engineering Alliances, and Director of Research and Engineering.

Q: What is your favorite part of your job?

That’s easy. Developing high-performing teams capable of innovative solutions!

Q: What’s one thing you can’t work without?

Collaboration

Q: You’re a female in a profession (engineering) dominated by males. What has that been like?

High-tech engineering is pretty gender-neutral so it has been rare to be singled out as a woman. In international business it has been very critical to understand other cultures and maintain a very professional presence with emphasis on my skills and not my gender.

Q: Your field (software and electrical engineering) changes rapidly. What changes have had the most impact on product development?

The miniaturization of electronics and rapid increases in computing power at our fingertips has been a steady evolution throughout my career. The emergence of the internet has, of course, been a game changer; it’s made the world a much smaller place.

In more recent years, the emergence of wireless technologies and amazing new sensing technologies are unleashing a new world. Consider “The Internet of Everything,” virtual reality and self-driving cars – all were influenced (if not made possible) by electrical and software engineering! George Jetson, here we come!!

Q: Where do you see the future of electrical and software engineering [where future=10 years]?

Computers have moved from the lab to the desktop to our pockets. We increasingly value the ability to customize/configure personal solutions like we can with the array of software apps at our disposal. I foresee that area continuing to grow and can envision the short-term moving toward Internet of Things (IoT) with a personalized twist.

Electrical and software engineering will be an even more exciting field in the foreseeable future. Self-driving cars are already being prototyped so our roads will carry a combination of “old-fashioned” manual drive classics and new auto-drive cars – with all the amazing infrastructure to support them (M2M, M2P and M2I interfaces). The Department of Transportation will be able to tell your car to watch out for black ice where other cars have recently slipped. Taxis will not have drivers. Security requirements to thwart potential hackers who seek to redirect our cars or other “smart” electronic devices will become increasingly critical.

Reality is rapidly catching up with futuristic movies and television shows. We already have hand held computers/communicators and virtual imagery, how far behind is the ability to regenerate failing organs or to transport ourselves to another place?

Q: What is your philosophy?

People are our most valuable Intellectual Property.

Q: Name a product you wish you could innovate. How would you change it?

The automobile. I would rather have a transporter.

Q: You lead a large team of software and electrical engineers. Describe the team in 5 words.

  1. Innovative
  2. Dedicated
  3. Problem-solvers
  4. Pragmatists
  5. Talented

Q: What types of projects do you and your team love?

The ones that no one else has been able to solve. Everything is impossible until someone does it.

My team enjoys working on alternative energy storage solutions. Plus, we love to push the envelope on the limitations of wireless technologies by reducing size and increasing communication distance.

Q: What’s the best piece of career advice you’ve ever received?

Never surprise anyone. Does that surprise you?

This may be a tidbit from Project Management 101, but in the realm of product development, discussing risks to performance, cost and schedule are best done early and often. No one enjoys delivering negative news, and no one likes to hear it either, but what is worse is to hide it and hope that it will go away. You’ll be doomed to deliver the bad news late in the game.

Second great piece of advice: Hope is not a strategy!

Q: Tell us one secret talent.

I take great action photos of fast moving canines, right up to the point where they run into me!

Q: Education?

Bachelor of Science – Electrical Engineering from UW-Madison

Extensive project management training

Executive leadership training