Focus for Research: Been-Jon Woo

July 13, 2008 at 10:06 pm (Culture Site)

When I first read about our culture site research project, I knew I wanted to focus on someone in the high tech field, preferably someone who designs microprocessors. The microprocessor is really one of the wonders of the modern world, providing incredible amounts of processing power in packages as small as a child’s pinkie nail.

Most people are impressed when they learn how powerful these very small devices are, but what they normally don’t know is how cheap they are. Depending on the quantity made or purchased (thus adding to economies of scale) microprocessors can be priced as low as 10 cents each! Considering that each tiny chip must be designed, built (really it’s more like they’re grown) and tested before being shipped to a customer, it’s not just impressive that microprocessors are affordable, it’s a damn miracle.

So I was very excited to come across Been-Jon Woo in my research. Been-Jon Woo is the director of technology integration at Intel, and was inducted into the Women In Technology International, or Witi, hall of fame in 2006. Been-Jon has a PhD in physical chemistry from USC, and has worked on the cutting edge of silicon technologies for more than 20 years. She holds at least 13 different patents on technologies which improve on the chip manufacturing process. She is respected among her peers and considered to be a major contributor to Intel’s technological advances, specifically in the area of non-volatile memory. Non-volatile memory is essentially computer memory that stays around after power is turned off.

Been-Jon is originally from Taiwan, is married and the mother of two children. Some of her co-workers have expressed admiration not just for her technical acheivments, but for her success at balancing the demands of a carrer and family.  This last bit is really what caused me to focus my attention on her.

For many of us, men and women, graduating college and entering the work place, we are experiencing shifts in our priorities. School, family and relationships must move aside (to some extent at least) for our careers. This a big change, and the possibility of losing that which we value most (presumably the relationships we have with our loved ones) over our careers is frightening. Finding a person in the tech industry who has found that balance means finding a valuable role model for us as students.

To be honest, I’m not sure about interviewing Been-Jon Woo. She must be very busy with work and family as it is, and I wouldn’t want to pester her with an undergraduate research assignment. Also, the questions I would really want to ask her are probably far to personal in nature for a casual conversation: How do you find time for your family? Did any of your family from back home disaprove of your success?

And here’s one I’m really curious about: Why is it so common for your co-workers and peers to call you B.J.? I can’t imagine refering to a high power executive or senior engineer by a nickname unless I was their close personal friend. Is this something she chose to avoid the American difficulty of pronouncing foreign names (Although Been-Jon doesn’t seem particularly challenging to say out loud)?

Maybe she is just a friendly personality that enjoys a good nickname; I know I do, and B.J. is not a bad nickname as far as nicknames go.

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