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As the head of the Advanced Networks and Computing Group for the Sarnoff Corporation, Maya Gokhale (GO-klay) confirms the observation that there are fewer women in computer science and engineering. "Many times, at a technical meeting or conference, I’ll be the only women in a group of men. When I started out" — she is now 45 — "computer science was a relatively new field, and computers were seen as arcane. They were supposedly the domain of `hackers,’

engineers who were young, obsessed, and male. In reality, computer science

requires a logical mind and clear thinking — attributes men and women share."

Gokhale finds more women at computer science meetings now, and their company is welcome. "It does make you feel a little lonely," she says. "When you’re talking about technical subjects, you all have something in common, but when the men start talking sports or cars, that’s something I really don’t share." But gender differences have made no other impact in Gokhale’s career. "In my first job, I did technical field support, and when I had a question at one customer site, I had one man say, `Come sit on my lap, honey, and I’ll tell you all about it.’ That’s the only time that happened. Initially, people tend to underestimate me because I’m a woman and I’m small and I’m not white. But after we work together, it’s no longer a problem."

And after a few minutes of conversation with Gokhale, it is obvious she finds Sarnoff an environment in which to thrive. "You can start with an idea and follow it through to a research prototype. Then you can be part of the spin-off company that takes it into the marketplace and get shares when the product starts selling. Sarnoff spans that whole spectrum, both in the topics addressed and the range from research through commercial product."

She compares Sarnoff to Lucent Technologies, "though we are smaller than one of Lucent’s divisions. They have a very large product line in addition to basic research, while we spin off companies and let them develop products independently. We want to be able to devote ourselves to the next big idea — and we find that small companies tend to be more nimble. Start-ups can make their own rules and really move, without all the government accounting procedures a large R & D company must follow."

Founded in 1942 as RCA Laboratories — and a wholly-owned, for-profit subsidiary of SRI International since 1987 — the Sarnoff Corporation retains much of the maverick edge of founding father, David Sarnoff, extending to its employees, says Gokhale, "pretty much an open charter. There is no built-in bias, as other companies might have, that `this isn’t our product line’ or `not what we do, don’t work on it!’ There are no restrictions at all to new ideas."

Sarnoff now employs 850, with about 100 in the Information Technologies

division where Gokhale works. Other divisions include Electronics and Biomedical Systems, Integrated Circuit Technology, Solid State, and Ventures and Licensing. Each division is broken down into laboratories that are then organized into smaller groups. Gokhale works with the Communications and Computing Laboratory, heading up the five-member Advanced Network and Computing Group.

Sarnoff is a heady mix of research daring and commercial success, with a corporate culture, says Gokhale, that typifies "thinking outside the box." Within just a few years, the company has changed from contracts and consulting to aggressively pursuing licensing and spin-offs. That vision really turned the company around. While there is more biomedical research in Princeton than in electronics, I think Sarnoff really amplifies what’s going on." Driving much of the company’s innovation is the cross fertilization among diverse groups. "We have brainstorming sessions, pizza dinners in the evenings where we put together joint proposals. It’s very fertile ground for the exchange of ideas."

Gokhale oversees many different projects. "In the computing area, we now have a new field called adaptive computing, a revolutionary way to accelerate computation by using Field Programmable Gate Arrays or FPGAs. I’m working with a semiconductor company to develop a new chip which will contain both a conventional processor and an FPGA. I am now building a compiler that targets this new chip, and the technology will allow you to write a software program that the compiler can transform to a combination of hardware and software. That technology will allow a computer to work much faster."

Gokhale’s group has also built the world’s largest Pentium cluster, connected to 260 processors with "a couple of levels of very fast Ethernet. We’ve basically built a supercomputer out of commodity parts, multiprocessing technology that can be used by financial houses, biomedical companies, and the visualization world — all of which need many cycles and very fast communications." Her group has also developed a virtual network interface that "works as if it’s a thousand interfaces. A program can now talk directly to the network interface without the operating system getting in the way. The implication of virtual network architecture is, again, to increase an application’s effective speed."

Another possible implication is to increase Sarnoff’s revenues, which have been robust for several years. "That," Gokhale says, "is what we were counting on."

Born in Bombay, India, she came to the United States when she was two. Her father taught history at Brunswick College in Maine. "I didn’t know any English when I first arrived, and when we returned to India a few years later, I didn’t know any Marathi." Her family — "a very book-oriented family" — settled here permanently when she was 7, her father establishing an Asian Studies program at Wake Forest College in North Carolina. Her mother’s mother had been

a gynecologist and her own mother held a Ph.D. in education.

Interested in biology and the natural sciences, Gokhale enjoyed math and logic even more. She majored in mathematics at Wake Forest, where she received a bachelor’s in 1972 — after a single college programming course. "I was so scared of the computer that I had my boyfriend write the programs for me," she now laughs. "I finished college in just three years, so I was tired of school and wanted to find out what the real world was like." With high marks on a logic test administered by Burroughs Corporation (now Unisys) to new applicants

and a one-week training course, Gokhale was sent out into the field to install computers. "I started the year knowing nothing, and by year’s end, I could reconstruct a corrupted database over the phone. I really learned a lot on that job."

Drawn more to research and development than to technical support, Gokhale moved to eastern Pennsylvania to help Burroughs develop software. "I wanted to tackle more complicated problems and I decided I wasn’t sick of school anymore." She earned a master’s in 1977 in computer science from the University of Pennsylvania, working for Hewlett-Packard for three years before "I decided I wasn’t sick of school again." Her doctorate was also from Penn in computer

science for her work on the development of compilers for data-flow machines.

She taught at the University of Delaware for five years, with research funded by the National Science Foundation, before going to work for the Supercomputing Research Center in Maryland. She stayed at SRC six years, and when her boss left SRC for Sarnoff, she was recruited to start a new group within his lab. It was at SRC that Gokhale wrote a program she calls her proudest achievement, an FPGA application used during the Gulf War.

Gokhale is now involved not only in management but in technical development. "I manage five programs, so I’m responsible for all the financials and deliverables. I’m also the major investigator and technical lead for all of the adaptive computing work, and I contribute technically to the other projects as well." She has come, in other words, a very long way from the 20-year old who was intimidated by computers, and now stays on top of a staggering learning curve.

"You have to immerse yourself in it," she says. "You have to stay current in your own subject and at least be familiar with related ones to gauge how what you’re doing fits in. Many of the new trends are coming out of Silicon Valley, so you have to stay on the Web as well as pursue traditional ways of keeping up, multiplexing yourself because there is so much going on."

Working at Sarnoff, she says, fosters that flexibility. The company also permits flexible scheduling that has proved invaluable for her family. Her husband, Ron Minnich, also works at Sarnoff as a technology leader in computer engineering, and their two children, a 13-year-old son and a 10-year-old daughter, sometimes get computer-literacy overload. "My husband and I discuss problems that come up on joint projects — to the point that our daughter at the dinner table says, `Stop that alien talk! I want to talk about something else!’" When her children were young, Gokhale would start work at 5:30 a.m. while her husband got them off to school and daycare. Her typical day now starts at home at 6 a.m., typing while her children have breakfast. After putting in a day at Sarnoff, she is back at home working on a laptop while her children do their homework.

"It is a non-stop and exhausting day, but the reward is that I’m there with my kids." The flexibility that has characterized her career is key to the parenting exchange she shares with her husband. "There’s no easy way to deal with it, and it has to be a partnership," she says. "When the mother stays at home, the father often works long hours and the children never see him. With our kids, they know they’re going to get one or the other, usually not both. But they’ve ended up being very close to both parents, and I think that is essential."

by Phyllis M. Maguire

These sidebars by Barbara Figge Fox were published in U.S. 1

Newspaper on January 21, 1998. All rights reserved

@HEAD 24 = Ruth Daly: Persistent Astrophysicist

Ruth A. Daly made international news earlier this month for her discoveries about measuring the universe. An assistant professor and theoretical astrophysicist at Princeton University, Daly had postulated a cosmological model representing the expansion history of the universe; her model says the universe will not halt and recollapse on itself. Harvard/Smithsonian and Berkeley researchers, using a different method — the maximum strength of supernovae — have just come to the same measurement conclusions (New York Times, January 9).

"We can say, with 95 percent confidence, that the universe is open and will continue to expand forever," says Daly. "We are the only other group with a method — my method that I published in 1994." "The supernova people are using somebody else’s method. Our number has been out for two years. From my point of view they are confirming our number."

Women who want to be scientists need to find good mentors and be careful what advice they take, Daly says. Her own strategy is "to do lots of really interesting and important work and hope that someday it will account for something."

In college she had been shunted to the liberal arts. "I have always been interested in the stars," says Daly. "I was at the top of my class in math and science at Boston College, but when I went to the counseling center at the end of my sophomore year, I was advised to switch to the humanities. My advisor said I should really be in special education."

This was 1977 and the feminist movement was in full swing, so Daly can’t imagine why that advice was given — and doesn’t say why she took it. But by the time she discovered the suggested major "wasn’t a good use of my talents" she was too far off track to go back to science, and only later did she go back to get her advanced degrees in physics and astronomy.

Daly grew up in a family of nine in West Springfield, Massachusetts, where her father was a psychiatrist and her mother, a former Rockette, was nationally active in such arts groups as the Sweet Adelines. She left high school a year early and graduated from Boston College, Class of 1979, as an English and psychology major.

The psychology training wasn’t, after all, a total loss: "There is an interpersonal element to science," says Daly. "Many scientists are completely blind to understanding motivations and prejudices. Having read a lot of psychology helps me to understand the politics and interactions, what is motivating people, and why they have the perspective they have."

After working in Scotland, she returned to Boston University for master’s and doctor’s degrees in physics and astronomy. After postdoctoral work at the Institute of Astronomy in England, she came to Princeton in 1988, and joined the faculty in 1990. She has taught two graduate courses, and is currently teaching physics for engineers. Rather than do the actual observations, she is a theorist, working with pencil and paper and trying to look at what is known with a different perspective.

Daly married Russell Mina, a poet who is also in the pet business, and they have daughters, 2 and 1. At the time of this interview Daly was packing her daughters’ suitcases so they could stay with relatives while she and her husband went to a meeting in Europe.

Now, about that science of hers: Imagine all space constantly expanding, Daly explains. "If you are sitting at one point, the farther away something is, the higher the velocity at which it is moving." This velocity of recession is called the "red-shift." "The`distance’ depends on the global geometry of the universe," says Daly. "The precise relationship between red-shift and distance tells us the expansion history of the universe — and its fate."

"Now we have taken the data — our predictions and our observations — and folded them through our radio source model, matched it to our observations — and compared it with what is expected by other cosmological models. The match-up is stunning," says Daly. "It is concrete proof."

Perhaps because of her college advising experience, perhaps because of her psychology perspective, Daly questions whether women are receiving sufficient encouragement to pursue careers in astrophysics. In the theoretical arena (postulating theories rather than concentrating on observations) she says that one percent of women are at her level and overall women represent two percent of researchers nationally. She wonders whether these ratios might reflect the subjective component in evaluating theoretical work, as opposed to experimental work or more concrete observational work. "It’s not that women are not interested or motivated or smart or working hard," says Daly.

Mentoring, she believes, is extremely important: "If you work with someone who is supportive and will play the role of a mentor that could make a big difference." For her PhD thesis she worked with Harvard’s Nobel prize-winner Sheldon Glashow. "Shelley is a category unto himself. I don’t think he knew that I was a woman — he is purely cerebral. I loved interacting with him because

my gender was not an issue. We had wonderful scientific discussions."

She tries to make sure her own door is open. "That’s important. I mentor both men and women but I am particularly sensitive to the experiences that women have that men don’t have."

Daly stops short of saying that her work has been given less credence than if she were a man but notes that public relations is "a huge component" to science. "I have been working on other projects. They spend a lot of time making sure the press is aware of their projects. Our numbers are two to three years old but we haven’t been calling the reporters — we have been giving the results at scientific meetings. We have other results which I think are more important than


"Unfortunately there is a certain amount of promotion in science, more so than the public is usually led to believe, but other scientists usually recognize self promotion for what it is," agrees David T. Wilkinson, professor of physics at Princeton. "If you really want to impress your colleagues you’d better do good science rather than be out there promoting yourself."

Daly acknowledges it "would be fun" to win one of the major prizes, "but I am more interested in finding out what is happening in the universe, having the stimulation of figuring things out."

Says Daly: "The advice I would give to women coming along — don’t listen to people who dismiss your work as not interesting or important. Don’t allow anyone to tell you that what you are doing isn’t right up there with what everyone else is doing."

Woman and Science

Kathie Young met her first mentor at a breakfast at Marshall Fields in Chicago. A post doctoral student in Northwestern’s molecular biology department, she had responded to a survey instigated by the launch of new perfume that was tantalizingly named "Destiny." The marketing firm for the perfume recruited 200 professional women to be mentors and then processed applications for young women asking for guidance. Young "won" as her mentor a chemist who belonged to the Association for Women in Science.

Young then moved here to work for American Cyanamid, and she helped establish New Jersey’s first chapter of the Association for Women in Science. Though this chapter has no formal mentoring program, Young says it gives her a perspective to look at her situation in context. "We are so friendly in our group that people feel comfortable calling anyone. At this point we can mentor college or graduate students."

Young grew up in Lakewood, Ohio, near Cleveland, where her father was a technical salesman and her mother worked for the school board. She took a track scholarship to Penn State and was one of the few pre-vet majors with no intentions of being a vet. "I wanted to get a job in the zoo and work with species that were endangered to do captive reproduction and repopulate the wild." Discouraged by the restrictions on zoo research she switched her

interest to biology and earned her doctor’s degree in reproductive physiology

at the University of Florida. After her stint at Northwestern she moved to American Cyanamid and became a principal investigator. She has just moved from Cyanamid to work on Ridge Road for Wyeth Ayerst, a sister company also owned by American Home Products. She will be working on neuro-degeneration diseases such as stroke and Alzheimer’s.

Young was the founding president of the AWS, Rosie Wong of American Cyanamid was last year’s president, Deirdre LaMarche at FMC is this year’s president, and Marcia O’Connell, who teaches genetics and does research on Zebra fish at the College of New Jersey, is the president elect.

In addition to its meetings the group has garnered corporate sponsorship to award a $500 scholarship to a high school senior who plans to major in science. Association members are available to speak at high school and college career days. Local dues are $10 and national dues range from $25 to $70 and include a bimonthly publication plus the privilege to vote and hold office. At a free meeting on Wednesday, February 25, at Bristol-Myers Squibb, Elizabeth Antry will discuss how to present technical information to a non-technical audience,

"You’ve Got What It Takes." For information call Sandra Carson at American Cyanamid, 609-716-2000.

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