Women in tech: Whitney’s journey from Xbox intern to Microsoft engineer
Testing Xbox gear.
That’s how Whitney Giaimo spent her final summer before SPU graduation. An electrical engineering major, Giaimo fulfilled her required internship by working in Microsoft’s interoperability testing department. “It was a lot of playing games,” she says with a laugh.
But at Xbox, games are serious business — and the internship gave Giaimo firsthand experience with testing. “I worked on the Xbox Bluetooth headset, making sure new products worked with our controllers, and with every kind of Xbox we’d made so far. You have new firmware, and you never know how that’s going to act with the Xbox console.”
From Internship to Career
Interning at Microsoft gave Giaimo a taste of working at a tech giant. After graduating with her electrical engineering degree, she came back to Seattle Pacific and earned a Master of Arts in Management with an emphasis in Social and Sustainable Management (MAM-SSM) in 2013. Today, she’s well into her third year as a Microsoft engineer.
Giaimo works as a DfX Engineer II, which stands for “Design for X,” a problem-solving method for product development. In Giaimo’s case, she examines circuit boards to help make sure Microsoft designs can be manufactured on a large scale. Some of her past projects include Surface Book, Surface Pro 3, different Surface accessories, and Microsoft’s new holographic HoloLens headset.
As virtual and augmented reality become big business, she’s getting a front row seat. For the HoloLens, she helped the design team design flexible circuit boards. “The HoloLens has a band,” she explains, “so a circuit board made of fiberglass is too rigid. We created flexible circuits, made of layers of a film and copper laminated together.”
Women in Technology
Though Seattle is known as a gold mine for technology careers, women remain underrepresented in the workforce, holding about 30 percent of technology jobs, according to diversity reports published by the world’s largest 11 tech companies last year.
“I think having a diversity of people really enriches engineering and technology,” Giaimo says. “I can have a voice in how the product goes.”
Melani Plett, professor of engineering, likes getting to mentor women who are pursuing male-dominated engineering fields — one-on-one, and as faculty advisor to SPU’s Women in Engineering and Computer Science club. An SPU alum herself, Plett has been teaching at SPU since 1993 and is chair of the electrical engineering department.
During Giaimo’s sophomore year at SPU, Plett recruited her to help with a research project, and the two still keep in touch years later. “I went to Dr. Plett’s house not too long ago,” Giaimo says. “We had hot chocolate and we talked about work.”
Plett says she loves watching students like Giaimo grow and progress in their careers. “You get to watch them grow up. A lot of times, people like Whitney will come back to meet with students or give talks about their careers or for certain classes.”
Nationally Ranked Engineering Program
All of Seattle Pacific’s engineering degrees are EAC-ABET accredited, and the University is nationally ranked as a top undergraduate engineering program by U.S News & World Report for 2017.
“There are hundreds of tech companies within a 30-mile radius of SPU,” Plett says. “A number of companies have hired our alums over the years. They come to us and say, ‘We have an opening and we want to interview an SPU engineer.’”
This past spring, SPU’s Center for Career and Calling held a Career Trek at Microsoft’s main campus in Redmond, Washington. A total of 70 undergraduate and graduate students spoke with Microsoft HR representatives, networked during an SPU alumni reception, and met with Microsoft employees in departments closest to their career paths.
Giaimo talked with students about Surface engineering and production, while Tim Stuart ’02 shared about Xbox finance and Carl Anselmi ’85 took students on a tour of user experience testing labs.
“I love being a part of tech,” Giaimo says. “It moves so fast, and it helps so many people. It’s been an awesome ride so far.”
Exploring Microsoft: Through Career Treks, SPU Students Visit Local Employers
Every year, Seattle Pacific University’s Center for Career and Calling takes students to visit local employers, like Nordstrom, Tableau, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research, Zillow, and more. In May 2016, 70 graduate and undergraduate students visited Microsoft headquarters in Redmond, Washington.