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Women in Engineering: An Interview With Ita Richardson

Written by: The Wiley Network / Kelly Kerridge
Published on: May 12, 2020



It’s no secret: Engineering is not just a man’s world. Perceptions – along with demographics - are shifting, and Wiley are proudly part of the movement to raise the profile of women in engineering, to inspire future generations. 

Here, we celebrate engineering researchers in a collection of interviews with authors, editors, editorial board members, and society contacts. In this piece, we meet Prof Ita Richardson, Editorial board Journal of Software: Evolution and Process. 

Ita Richardson is an Associate Professor with the Department of Computer Science and Information Systems, University of Limerick. She has a Ph.D. (1999) in Software Engineering. Within Lero – the Irish Software Engineering Research Centre, funded by Science Foundation Ireland, and ARCH – Applied Research in Connected Health Technology Centre, Ita’s research
focuses on Global Software Engineering, Software Engineering for Healthcare and Connected Health. She collaborates internationally with industry and with healthcare organizations,working with software engineers, clinicians, patients, and management to develop solutions.
She also teaches Software Quality, Software Engineering, and Software Design to undergraduate and postgraduate students at the University of Limerick. Ita has supervised 15 Ph.D. students to completion.

How or why did you choose Engineering as a career path/area of study?
I originally chose a degree in Mathematics (as they applied to Management & Industry). The degree course had ‘Computing’ elements – and once I graduated I was offered a job in an Information Systems department of a company. I very much enjoyed working in computing (this would now be
called ‘Software Engineering’) – working with users, developing solutions to problems, understanding the industrial world. I then completed a taught MSc in Maths & Computing. From that, I got a job as a junior lecturer at the University of Limerick. After 2 years on a temporary contract, I was faced with choices – would I continue in academia? To do this, I had to embark upon a Ph.D. (parttime). I was married with 2 small children under the age of 5, so this was a big decision for me. That’s what I decided to do – I really loved lecturing and researching, I enjoyed the discoveries and problem-solving that were opened up to me. 23 years later, I am still at UL, leading a Software Engineering Research group.

What inspires you about Engineering?
Figuring out what Users’ needs really are – rather than just accepting at face value that the solution they tell you they want is actually what they want, but working with them to understand that for me as an engineer the outcome is more important, and that it is my job to give them the solution which will ultimately give them that outcome.

What challenges do women face in the Engineering professions /academia?
[Amongst many challenges]... “not being listened to at meetings – an idea put on the table, not even discussed or recognized, and later on, when a man makes the same suggestion, it is accepted. (I have a friend who once stood on a table so that the men would listen to her!); going into interview
boards and being faced across the table by an interview board with no women on it – how can a woman break down that barrier?

What is the most exciting thing about your job?
Doing research, coming up with solutions; teaching students. Opportunities to have a varied work-life

What would you say to girls in school/college who may be considering Engineering as a career choice/study option?
Engineering is exciting – it will provide you with great opportunities. If you like problem-solving and coming up with solutions, then Engineering is really good. It is no longer about hard hats and getting dirty. There are opportunities for travel. And, it would be nice to be living in a world built by men and women for men and women...

Do you think the perception of Engineering as a male-dominated career can be changed, and if so, how?
It is taking a long time – but I would hope that with the rise of social media, we can portray more and more about female engineers, which will have a greater effect on the younger generations.