Introduction

Kiara Navarro is a relentless embedded lover, Linux / GNU contributor and self proclaimed “IoT Spartan”! You can see more of what Kiara does via her Instagram account and her website.

May Interviews - #WomeninSTEM

Today’s Interview with Kiara Navarro

  • Name: Kiara Navarro
  • STEM Field of Study (or profession): Embedded Hardware Engineering
  • Online Handle: sophiekovalevsky

Q: Do you have a favorite quote? What is it and who is it from?

El mundo es demasiado grande como para perder la capacidad de asombro. Pablo Arribas.

Kiara Navarro


Personal Experience

Q: What was (or is) your favorite subject in school and why?

Kiara: “During high school it was programming. At university it was electronics and nowadays it is embedded systems. Programming served as the bridge that plugged me into the computer universe. Now, I see it as a tool where you can find a diverse set of mindsets that helps you about how to solve life problem. That is one of the best pros with programming. The concepts absorbed from there can be extrapolated to different life areas. On the other hand, electronics it is a kind of treasure that describe how physical phenomena works. People sometimes think that it is kind of magic, which in some way it may be truth, but the fact is that electronics have been so develop that now you can sense almost everything around you so that you can improve or repair physical environments. The learning curve in this field is really slow but it is worthy. There is a lot information in the process learning and once you start to get into the roots of the concepts, then, you will be able to understand how the world works in a very fancy, funny and awesome way. Furthermore, the improvement in your environment will have a solid background to be not only good, but reaching into perfection. At last but not least, my favorite one is embedded system, because it is the top of the tops. It requires the mix of programming and electronics. It is when you start to manage devices through code. Pretty much everything that we do as human beings involve some touch of programming and electronic, even when you do not notice.”

Q: What was your daily routine like (in school, work, or at home). How might this have impacted/influenced your participation in STEM?

Kiara: “I do not have a particular daily routine. I work as an engineer and I am learning new concepts each day. Today, it is not enough to know just about your field. To have a balance you need to do other activities. Then, aside of my general learning process focusing in electronics, I do workout and reading. Workout more than say that have been an activity that influenced my participation in STEM, I would say have been in reverse. Workout it is great for the body and brain. Why the CEO of the tech companies put aside part of their time each week to do workout? I read once, that is because they respect themself, so do I. On the other hand, reading is something that I have been doing since when I was really young. When you know more through reading books you start notice that you know less. I do read a lot because I find truly joy, but it is true as well, that even when this activity may not have relation with my work as an engineer, reading about topics in general make me stronger in other areas such as electronics, just to mention. Reading represents a big tool in my STEM journey. I do really appreciate the time that people invest of getting ready a book. When you read, you are learning concepts that somebody else first, took a time to learn and consequently prepare that content in the best way to share with you. It is one of the best way to get educated yourself: through the best of what other people have learned in some span time of their life.”

Q: Describe the first time you heard about STEM, why was this an appealing thing to be a part of?

Kiara: “I do really not remember. However, what I was sure since before get into university, that I wanted to become part of something meaningful. After a sometime ago, I realized that this is one of the desire that most of the millenials have. I could not imagine how would it be my life without the advances that we have now thanks to the crazy increasing change that STEM live every day. Being part of STEM represents that I am changing the way we see the our world, that we can help others called human beings, animals, nature. One century ago the world experienced big changes. I would venture to say that it was the century where we had so many changes that makes our life far beyond what we thought would it be. Think about it, it was the first time that we delivered electricity to homes, we created what it is known now as computer, the invention of the Integrated Circuit, the transistor introduced the game changing key to have SoC, microcontrollers, embedded systems. STEM is everywhere now and we can not avoid it, being part of it represents becoming part of a family that integrates the inventors of the past century, those who wanted a world a better place.”

Q: When was the first time you became actively involved in STEM? Do you recall a specific project or initiative?

Kiara: “We are getting back to 2010 when I attended FUDCon (Fedora Users and Developers Conference) at Panama City. Alejandro Perez, an active Fedora contributor of the panamanian community introduced me to what it was then FEL (Fedora Electronic Lab), a Fedora ready to go version with a set of electronic packages pre installed. I got interested since the very first moment and since then I became part of the Fedora community. Now, it is more than seven years ago and I have met such kind, brace, clever and great developers that shares of the same interests than me, getting back to the community a piece of what we have received from.”

Q: How have your beliefs, motivations and aspirations changed over time? When did a career in STEM become a priority or choice?

Kiara: “I am a geeky girl, since the beginning of my entire life, then I knew before getting into university that I wanted to do something related to computers but I was not sure if it were computers in depth. That’s why I started off to research about the careers available in my country and then I found out Electronic and Telecommunication Engineering. My engineering career, more than a priority, I would say that it is passion. I heard this a long time ago: “if you do not want to work in your life, look yourself something that you can do without charge” and that what I chose. Motivations changes overtime and I do not hang myself on them. One day you can be motivated, other day don’t, I rather stay with discipline. Aspirations it is an endless path to follow, where I always making adjustments for the purpose of be a better version of myself.”

Q: Who has served as an ‘influencer’ in your path to a STEM focused education and/or career?

Kiara: “Sophie Kovalevsky is definitely one of those. This woman was the first one in being able to teach at university when times were not the most optimal to do it for women. Marie Curie as well, I admired the way she overcome difficulties to move from Poland to France to get a degree in the area when she was good at. Living abroad in a different country, away from family and studying over a foreigner language is not an easy task, but that proves that women are capable of do anything when we really want to do. Finally, Grace Hooper, I won’t never forget her nanosecond demonstration, it is a really clever way to show the importance of noticing the matter of time when it comes to programming”

Q: What is your dream job? Can you see any roadblocks or challenges which might be influenced by your gender?

Kiara: “My dream job is to take care of my world doing what I love must: electronics and programming through the development of Embedded Applications. For that, I need to have more expertise in designing Printed Circuit Boards and physical layers protocols such LoRa, WiFi, ZigBee, Bluetooth, WiMax. In addition, to gain more experience programming a vast variety of microcontrollers, sensors through RF and serial communication. Getting more interaction with toolchains to build custom Linux / GNU embedded operating systems.

One of the challenges that I see is the lack of women comparing to the percentage of man that works in electronic industries, more as a PCB designer. I am happy to see that in the last two years, I have seen in the scene more woman to share their STEM experience in general, but I would love to see woman involved in PCB design and in embedded application development. It is hard to say why it is the way it is, however, as a young woman engineer I have the desire and duty to spread the word that it is exciting to work in this field to little girls so that they could know that there is nothing wrong to take a hammer and start creating things from scratch or even start taking apart machines to see how they work.”

Q: Are hobbies in STEM important? What about hobbies in general? Can you share some of your hobbies that may (or may not) have contributed to your STEM involvement?

Kiara: “100% yes. I tend to see hobbies now as activities of my daily routine which I replied in a previous question. However, there is something interesting that I want it to plug here and it is when I was studying at university. At the same time I was starting to get involved in the open source and free software panamanian community. I had a blog where I wrote about my learning experience in electronics in general. I was doing those activities as hobbies since my main aim was my university studies. Nevertheless, where I am now would be impossible without the hobbies that I was doing over those time. Having a blog taught me to not keep my thought inside but to show with others and learn from them as well. I remembered that I did a 3x3x3 Cube Leds which I show it in the Festival Latino Americano de Software Libre (FLISOL) using Arduino, BJT transistors, wires, and a piece of breadboard. It was really neat. Afterwards, I became packager of the Fedora Project which my basic goal was taking open source projects more focusing in (Electronic Design Automation) EDA software and make it ready to be at the official repositories so that anyone could get it them from the yum package manager. In that process I drove the theory in electronics into the reality, it was awesome. Doing those hobbies helped me to speed up my process in becoming familiar with the physical components earlier mentioned in classes and get ready to the action.”

Q: Has there been any point when you (or someone close to you) wanted to give up STEM (work, hobby, both)? What made you stay?

Kiara: “For sure. I think that it is normal to have the desire to give up. I do not scape of that feeling even now, what it is important to know is that it always be there and would be better to start thinking about how you can dance with that feeling instead of trying to get rid of it. The birds even when they are falling down they get up. When I was doing my career at university, I remembered that I had troubles to understand electromagnetism in general. I felt really bad when the time of tests came because I invested so many time trying to understand and was not able get the results I wanted. I enjoyed the classes since I had a really good teacher, seriously I had. At the end of the semester I just got the enough points to move forward. I thought that I was not good enough to keep ahead in my engineering. However, I did not give up and soon I decided to take again the subject. Once my mind was okey to think about it, I noticed that my two main problems were that I were not prepare to deal with the vectorial mathematics involved to solve the problems and that even I liked the subject though, I had a terrible fear due my poor vectorial math skills required to tame that giant as electromagnetism is. It took me two years to be prepared and take the subject again, and in that time I get it and really well. I felt so happy because I demonstrate to myself that it was not me as I thought at the beginning, it was a matter of time to get my brain prepared. Now, thanks to that barrier that I found out in the middle of my career, I would say that I treat with such care the way I use the devices showing them respect about how they work. Understanding their behavior through the nitty gritty is what make me who I am as an engineer. Then, I would say that my faith in me is what let me this that heartbeat bearly enough to keep going. We need to know that we are human beings, we do not process information in the same speed than others, we should embrace what we are and never feel less since we are capable of, we need to have faith in us that we will.”


Women in STEM Impact

Q: What does STEM mean to you?

Kiara: “It represents a beautiful journey to follow in life where you enjoy the happiness of learning something new everyday.”

Q: Can you recall any times when you questioned your involvement in STEM because of your gender?

Kiara: “I have thought all my entire life that a woman is capable of doing everything she want to be. I think that I have never questioned my involvement specifically because of my gender, by other reasons yes, but not for this in particular.”

Q: What are some of the personal experiences - or compelling arguments - that have influenced your thinking around gender and STEM, and have motivated you to get involved in being an advocate for change?

Kiara: “Society let us think that there are certain jobs that you can do based on your gender and that is not true. I wonder where this idea came from? Then I think that one source is what we get from the media and how the media see the different jobs. If you ask to a little girl how they visualize an electronic engineer, probably the first thought would be a guy holding a soldering iron gun. How we can change that first perception? With the introduction of women role models to follow. Women that demonstrate their achievements in their career, that welcome a shift mindset and how we do visualize jobs that for years the most recognized examples were by man.”

Q: Can you talk a bit about some of the specific ways you have advocated for change? If so, please tell us more about the successes and challenges you faced?

Kiara: “One way for me is changing the perspective is through the participation in local events. If we see more women involved, then, we can get the attention and wake up the curiosity from others. Then, during the year, whenever is possible for me, I try to give a brief talk about what I am doing as an engineer in Open Source and Free Software events. Those events may be FLISOL (Festival Latinoamericano de Software Libre), Software Freedom Day, or Fedora Release Party. There are so many girls that attend the events and would be great to let them know that the participation on women is important and that we will welcome them with excitement and happiness if they want to join the some specific community. Probably the most difficult challenge for me is trying to keep in touch with possible newer contributor women not because I do not want but the schedule in other professional activities does not allow me.”

Q: Do you have a network of women in STEM around you to share knowledge and remind you you are not alone? If so, how did you go about creating that network?

Kiara: “Sadly, no. I have contact with local networks about STEM in general but not women. That is something that I would like to do in the future, once I settle down in a country.”

Q: Do you have a mentor or friend who inspires you? How/Why? (someone you know personally)

Kiara: “My professor when I was studying circuits theory at university. She taught me that to really appreciate things we need to invest time, energy and face the problem with determination. She had an original way to explain circuits concepts from current, voltage, operational amplifiers, up to Thevenin and Norton theorem and when you did not get it, she found out a way to define it differently so you were able to see from other perspective. You know as a student when a teacher teach from the inside out. She has a truly vocation to teach students.”

Q: Are you involved/can you recommend any organization(s) that support Women in STEM (shoutouts)?

Kiara: “I would recommend the Outreachy program (https://www.outreachy.org/). I have been following them up since several years and it is amazing that more FOSS communities are driving forces to introduce more women into really neat and challenging projects. On the other hand, the International Centre for Theoretical Physics (https://www.ictp.it/scientific-calendar.aspx) always welcome applications for their workshops to young research women in a diverse set of science areas that covers from Internet of Things, Physics, Computer Science.”

Q: Can you name any women who have made a strong impact in the STEM community? How has their impact made an influenced your life?

Kiara: “Elecia White is great. She wrote a book (between others) about Embedded Systems which is totally awesome called: Making Embedded Systems. I do follow her post casts in embedded.fm Actually, the content is so richest and the work she is doing is worthy to appreciate. Having in the scene a woman that knows well her niche and brings you the best in each episode it is awesome. The impact of her in my life is to letting me know that I can combine a set of different skills in conjunction with STEM: writing and voice skills. Writing skills it is something that we must develop as engineers to organize and clean up our thoughts. Taking the example by people that have done before you as creating a book, it is a great opportunity to learn from. In addition, the process of getting live a podcast opens up a new panorama about the way you can share your knowledge and expose hidden skills, in this case the one that you develop when you speak at radio, that maybe as an engineer without internet, would be impossible to do due physical boundaries to reach your target audience.”

Q: Are there any (YouTube, Instagram, Twitter, etc…) influencers out there who inspire you regularly? How/Why?

Kiara: “Limor Fried, she have been for so long doing electronics which is great because has become a great role model to follow. I learn an infinity set of techniques from her “Desk of Lady Ada” episodes. I like her sharing spirit and I share her vision that it is more fun to mix software and hardware to create things. She has put a lot effort in creating a new whole ecosystem for education in hardware and software that push off ourselves to go beyond our boundaries, leading us to other stage where innovation comes. That is why we have some neat projects in the way we use electronics in wearables, or how we gather data from our environment.”

Q: Top three changes which could make life easier for Women in STEM?

Kiara:1. You possess an inherently creative process that generate awesome ideas, do not hesitate to share them. Make yourself listen to. 2. Get involved with local STEM communities around, you will be surprised how great and amazing people you will spend time. 3. Exposing more young girls in environments that encourage them to expose their ideas and gain knowledge.”


Advice to the younger you and women considering a career in STEM

Q: Which achievement do you look at and think “I’d love to go back in time and tell younger me that this was possible”?

Kiara: “I would love to go back to my universities years and tell me: “Building printed circuit boards it is not imDo not let your curiosity shut down by no one, by nothing. Question everything and make your conclusions based on your own experience.

For both second and third: Making yourself interested in STEM history and how is related to women to stop questioning and keep your head up. You will noticed that woman have faced hard challenges, however, even though the vicissitudes of the time, they overcome them. possible, but it requires efforts to start to find the balance at the beginning. Once you are moving, there is nothing that can stop you.””

Q: Did you ever stay at a place where politics got in the way of curiosity, technical progress or personal growth? How did you realize, and at which point did you decide to move on?

Kiara: “I did not.”

Q: If you could go back and change one thing in your STEM path, what would that be?

Kiara: “I would not change anything. I like to think past is past and that we must move forward and learn from the experiences happened in that frame time.”

Kiara:1) Do not let your curiosity shut down by no one, by nothing. Question everything and make your conclusions based on your own experience. 2 - 3) For both second and third: Making yourself interested in STEM history and how is related to women to stop questioning and keep your head up. You will noticed that woman have faced hard challenges, however, even though the vicissitudes of the time, they overcome them.”

What’s Next?!

As a reminder, this week, we will be meeting with Ana aka @anaqueenmaker of @EpicQueens. To read more about this week’s interview, and to learn how to participate, be sure to checkout the 96Boards OpenHours website! Countdown and instructions on how to join can be found there!