Jeanne Luce didn’t always want to work in technology. Though she’d always been interested in science, she was drawn to both music and linguistics. However, she ended up studying chemistry in college and she planned to stay in the field. It wasn’t until her last year of grad school, after seeing her thesis advisor go through a nasty intradepartmental ordeal, Jeanne decided to go into industry instead of academia. From there, she ended up in Silicon Valley. Now a principal engineer at Intel Oregon, she discusses her career journey and why she loves working in areas of technology with a lot of uncertainty.
Tell us a little bit about who you are, what you do, and your career progression.
I grew up in the Portland area within a few miles of what would be Intel Oregon. My parents were technicians in the Tektronix fab where Tek made their own chips. My dad went to school part time while working full time to become an engineer; my mom became a tech writer, then left the industry (and not for the reason you may think). I spent a couple of years in Germany, one year in high school and one year in college. I did my undergraduate at Oregon State in chemistry and German (more scholarships available if I did both), then got my PhD at UC Berkeley in chemistry.
After my PhD, I ended up at a start-up semiconductor tool manufacturer. I was there for 3 1/2 years as a process and tool development engineer, with my number one customer being Samsung. We were eventually bought out and shut down by Canon.
I started at Intel in 1999 as a module and tool owner in the high-density plasma deposition of dielectric gapfill layers for front-end isolation purposes. Over the time I have been here, I have owned three different deposition technologies from three different manufacturers in various combinations, as well as reinvented the use of one toolset for a purpose never proposed by that supplier. I have been a participant in four tool selections and instigated/lead three of those. I also lead the implementation of the results of two of the three tool selections I led.
After a head injury in 2016, I could no longer support a 24×7 job expectation and my role shifted. I started work on fundamentally changing how the engineers working on the manufacturing tools work with our automation departments—and how to increase the efficiency of the technicians and engineers in my area and others. This program has been quite effective at improving operations. More recently, I have added coordinating efforts between my area and various technology programs to my job scope.
What excites you most about working in technology right now?
I love working in areas of technology where there is a lot of churn and uncertainty and forming them into well-ordered areas with clear targets and timelines. Shifting conditions create opportunities, and I am excited for the opportunities that exist in today’s environment.
We still have a long way to go with female representation in the tech industry. One of Intel’s 2030 goals is to increase the number of women in technical roles to 40%. What do you believe the tech industry needs to do to improve female representation?
We are very fixed on what particular roles mean and how they should be executed. I’ve had to be very persuasive to reshape how I do my job, to build roles that are more collaborative vs. using “traditional” means (data as a tool and not a weapon), that intersect between domains (i.e., process and automation), or how they are executed (from home vs. in the office–COVID won that argument for me).
Unfortunately, those intersectional jobs, although valued, are not necessarily promoted like their counterparts. Until we value and promote these non-standard sorts of positions, I think we will continue to see lower representation not only of women, but of people in general who embrace a more flexible vision of what is possible. These are exactly the types of people who will help us succeed in the future and should be recognized for that.
What do you think is the best part of being a woman in the tech industry?
For me, I think the best part is that I get to work on world-class problems that constantly challenge me while working with a bunch of very, very smart people who are endlessly creative and who consistently solve problems that the rest of the world thinks can’t be solved—and get paid a reasonable salary to do so. We might be a little behind now, but we’ve been there before, and we are making the fundamental changes that are needed to regain our leadership position.
What do you wish you had known about being a woman in the tech industry? What advice would you give to a woman considering a career in this industry?
Every time I enter a room with people I don’t know, I’m automatically considered incompetent by at least some people in the room, regardless of my actual level of expertise. Even now, I have to convince people who aren’t experts in my area that I know a bit about dielectric gapfill, even though I’ve been in that field for almost 25 years. I am no wilting flower, so I tend to correct that assumption quickly, but it gets tiring and frustrating. I also get frustrated when I am criticized for behaviors that have been proven to be successful for others. However, I think this will get better as more women progress in the technical pipeline.
I’d still recommend women consider a career in this industry—a few people with poor interpersonal skills shouldn’t deter you from what you want to do. If you get frustrated, find a mentor. And find allies and friends, both men and women. They have definitely helped me become a better coworker and leader.
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