BUILDING A BETTER BOEING This is an occasional feature about Boeing employees and the work they do that helps the company be more successful. Emily Howard is the first woman to lead Boeing’s Technical Fellowship. The human factor Boeing technical expert helps fuse the principles of engineering and psychology By Candace Barron and photos by Bob Ferguson 36 BOEING FRONTIERS / DECEMBER 2013–JANUARY 2014 By the time Emily Howard was 12 years old, she knew she wanted to become a psychologist. A self-described “nerdy, curious child,” she planned her academic career toward that pursuit. “I was always fascinated by why people would behave the way they did,” she explained. “I also knew I wanted to help people.” It wasn’t until halfway through college, though, that Howard came to accept that she wasn’t only a whiz in behavioral science but was pretty good at math and computers, too. Through a passion for competitive sailing—also found in college—Howard became interested in the need for people and technology to work together as a system. From there, she discovered the quickly growing field of engineering psychology, often referred to as “human factors.” A perceptive professor, aware of a lack of women in aerospace careers, convinced Howard that the diversity she would bring to this field could be a challenge, but would ultimately prove to be an advantage for her career. Howard had found her calling, was recruited by Boeing heritage company Rockwell International, and eventually worked up the engineering ranks into the Boeing Technical Fellowship, which she now leads as the company’s first chairwoman. Aerospace human factors is a critical part of Boeing’s technology mix. Among other advantages, the field fuses the principles of engineering and psychology to make sure that pilots effectively interact with flight systems. Specialists such as Howard are involved in the analysis and design of platforms, as well as the study of factors affecting aviator performance. Howard’s innovative contributions have been to translate this discipline to apply to a broad range of Boeing products and services. “We design and build highly complex and technically advanced machines, but we ultimately build these machines for people, to help them do a wide variety of missions,” said Allen Adler, vice president of Boeing’s Enterprise Technology Strategy and corporate sponsor of the Technical Fellowship program. Based in Huntington Beach, Calif., as part of Boeing Phantom Works, Howard now serves as the user experience architect for the Digital Aviation business within Boeing Commercial Aviation Services. In the past, she has worked on numerous Boeing products, including fighters, bombers, tankers, training systems, hand-held radios, and various command and control stations. As a Senior Technical Fellow, Howard is one of Boeing’s top technical leaders and has spent a significant amount of time encouraging and supporting other technologists, particularly women, to advance along Boeing’s technical career path, as she did. “One thing I wish I knew earlier when I first started in my career is that people don’t always think the way you do. And that’s a good thing,” Howard said. “That’s one of the advan-tages of human factors. It helps bring people with different thought patterns and approaches onto teams that might have in the past held more of a homogenous view.” Most of that diverse thinking comes from an individual’s life experiences. But some of it can be as simple as biology. The psychologist in Howard appreciates the neuroscience that within the past 20 years has shown gender differences in response to stress, for example, based on fundamental brain chemistry. “Men and women tend to react to stressful situations differ-ently. They think differently. They will often approach solutions to problems differently,” Howard explained. “And so achieving better gender diversity among our technologists will lead to competitive advantage.” Despite this latest neuroscience, however, Howard stresses that group traits should not automatically be associated with PHOTO: Senior Technical Fellow Emily Howard (foreground) reviews data with Linhcat Nguyen, a computer software engineer for Phantom Works in Boeing Defense, Space & Security. A renowned expert in human factors, Howard encourages and supports other technologists to advance along Boeing’s technical career path.
Frontiers December 2013—January 2014 Issue
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