Stories of Women in Engineering – Elissa Bou Karam
In pursuit of potential
Engineering Consultant – AUTOSAR Consortium
Elissa has a Bachelor’s degree in Physics, another in Electronics, and a Master’s in Electronics from the Lebanese University. While at university, she worked part time as a teacher and also did two internships, one in IT and another in firmware development. “At ALTEN,” says Elissa, “I work with AUTOSAR*, a worldwide development partnership among automotive manufacturers, suppliers and service providers. My tasks vary from concept discussions to document reviews to coding – all of this to set with the standards for tomorrow’s cars.”
What brought you to ALTEN?
I’d always wanted to come to Germany, so I applied to several companies, and I found that ALTEN had the best options in the career paths I was interested in. I saw that they had more than one position for which I might be a good fit so I applied to all of them. They reached out to me very quickly and I had a great talk with my business manager, who helped me to realize my potential. This had a huge impact on me. She told me they would find the position that was the best fit and get back to me.
What do you enjoy most about your day-to-day at ALTEN?
What I enjoy most is that every day is different. I enjoy being a member of many teams, which gives me the opportunity to have interdisciplinary tasks. One day I’m coding, another I’m taking trainings; other days I’m participating in discussions or doing document reviews. It’s never the same, and that keeps me on my toes. There are lots of opportunities to learn and grow. I find it important to challenge myself, to find ways to grow.
What values do you share with your colleagues at ALTEN?
One of the most important things is that we are trying to create a better tomorrow. Whatever technologies we are working on, we know they are going to impact people’s lives in the future. That’s a big thing.
What makes you want to come to work every morning?
Working in a productive environment with respectful colleagues makes it easy to look forward to coming to work. Also, the fact that no day is like any other – this means it’s always exciting. I ask myself, what will today be like? And I’m pretty sure it’s going to be good and different from yesterday.
Do you feel empowered at ALTEN?
The trust my colleagues and team leaders have in me makes me feel confident in making decisions. Management makes sure that we see that the more we grow and learn, the better the whole company functions. We are valued as employees and are seen as assets. There’s so much support and there’s an abundance of trainings to advance in our careers.
What does Building Tomorrow’s World Today mean to you?
I have the opportunity to work on technologies that will be implemented in tomorrow’s cars and that will literally affect people’s lives in the future. So we are truly building tomorrow’s future today.
How do you think our clients view us?
I think our clients view us as important partners. We have the center of excellence for AUTOSAR* and this shows how much they value our presence in the consortium.
How would you define the role that you play for your clients?
One of my colleagues pointed out that I am kind of the wild card on the team – I’m there whenever help is needed, wherever the biggest problem is. They put me there because of my skills and my wide background, the things I have trained for. That gives me an advantage.
What would you say to someone who is thinking of working at ALTEN?
I would tell them that ALTEN gives you the opportunity to advance your career and learn new skills, to choose different career paths – be it in business management, engineering consultancy or technical directions, whatever you like. Also, that it is easy to move across borders.
Tell us about your experience as a mentor while at university.
As a third-year physics student I joined the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), a worldwide organization to help engineers and scientists collaborate and innovate for a better future. I became a member of the student branch at the Lebanese University. Our advisor and chairperson asked me to become a committee member. This helped me to develop my communication and leadership skills in a different way. I always told our student members: don’t be afraid of failure; be afraid of being the same next year as you are this year.
How does this affect your drive to be a better professional today?
As a student, I was able to learn a lot from my chairperson and my colleagues. I discovered skills I didn’t know I had, which led me to change my career path and go into electronics. This made me want to do the same for someone else. Now, when people come to me for advice, I know I can make a difference in their lives.
In Lebanon, your family were beekeepers, right?
Yes. We live in the mountains, and we always felt connected to nature. My father grew up being a beekeeper and then had to stop for a while, but recently we started beekeeping again. We started with a few beehives and now we have over a 100. It is an amazing experience – opening the beehive and taking care of the bees makes you calm in so many ways that you never imagined. You have to be very careful, but also very quick because you cannot open the beehive for too long. It’s a very rich experience.
So the knowledge was passed on from your father.
Yes, and not just in beekeeping. I grew up as a very curious child and my father played a huge role in encouraging me. Whenever I asked a question, he would say, “Let’s find a book that explains this.” Be it electronics or beekeeping, it’s had a huge impact on my life.
When I was a child, my teacher and my parents put me in a choir. In a choir, you learn to sing while listening to others. You have to hear the others. You have to follow the music, the tempo, the harmony. You cannot be completely different, but you can’t be the same as the others. So it teaches you to be unique while working in harmony with others.
Are there more fields that you’re interested in?
I was brought up to always be curious, always ask questions, always look for answers and never let that kid inside me die – the one who always wants to know how things work and why they work that way. Just because I don’t pursue a career in a certain topic, like psychology or astronomy or whatever, it doesn’t mean that I cannot be interested in it. I think it is important that we are involved in lots of different things and that we enrich ourselves.
Women at the heart of technological transformation
ALTEN’s women and men are the driving force behind our business. Our Group’s ability to develop and promote the best talent available is fundamental in enabling us to meet our customers’ needs. Over past years, we have made concerted efforts to counter certain widely held stereotypes and misconceptions in order to encourage engineering vocations among young women. This collection of profiles, Stories of Women in Engineering, is aimed at just that.
“ALTEN is committed to motivating women to join the technical and scientific fields. We hope these Stories of Women in Engineering will contribute to a growing awareness of the vital role women play in science and technology, as innovators, as experts and as colleagues.” Simon Azoulay, Chair and CEO.
Come along their journeys building tomorrow’s world.