Lisa Seacat DeLuca is a mobile software engineer with IBM and the company’s most prolific female inventor, with more than 225 patents to her name. She’s made multiple “who’s who” lists, including MIT Technology Review’s “35 Innovators under 35.” The accomplishment she’s most proud of, though, are the four children she’s raising. Lisa identifies herself as a “mother working,” not a “working mother.”
Editor’s Note: Answers have been edited for length.
Florida Poly: What was the origin of your interest in STEM?
Lisa: “Growing up in Montana, my brother and sister and I were always using our imaginations to play games and entertain ourselves. Eventually my brother convinced my parents to get a Nintendo, which ultimately got me excited about computers. I loved how a push of a controller button could cause a character on the screen to respond. When I was in high school, I started playing with … websites, where I’d make hideous animated clipart sites just for fun. I eventually taught myself how to write HTML. I actually got into (Carnegie Mellon University) for computer science before I had taken a single computer programming class.”
Florida Poly: What were some challenges you faced on the way to IBM and how did you overcome them?
Lisa: “Coming into college with zero programming background put me at a disadvantage, especially compared to the other students, who I swear could’ve taught the classes. It was tough, and I wasn’t used to not getting straight As. But I pushed through it, got some internships where I found out what real world life would be like as a software engineer, and I stuck with it. I wouldn’t say I faced any challenges being a female in a male-dominated industry early on.”
Florida Poly: Who inspires you and why?
Lisa: “John Cohn, an IBM fellow, is my current career inspiration. Not only is he a technical genius, but he’s relatable, easy-going and human. He understands the importance of family and is always willing to inspire the next generation. An IBM Fellow is the highest technical achievement within IBM, but John makes time for the future of our company. He is always energetic; his excitement for technology and his job runs off him, leaving you with a smile from even a short conversation. I hope to one day be like John.”
Florida Poly: You’ve made it clear that your family is your priority. What’s the source of that decision?
Lisa: “Becoming a parent. Ask any parent and they will tell you family comes first. But for some reason in our society it is scary for people to voice that out loud in a larger audience setting. Sharing stories about family brings us closer to our colleagues and clients. Life is short, and ultimately, when we retire our biggest legacies are our children. I would say that as a woman, more people ask questions about work life balance and family as well as how to get more women into similar careers. So it is easy to come off as vocal on these issues.”
Florida Poly: How do you manage your work life balance?
Lisa: “What work life balance? If work is fun, then it doesn’t feel like work. Do what you love!”
Florida Poly: What advice would you give young women considering a career in STEM?
Lisa: “Get an internship! Don’t worry about lack of experience. Invest in yourself and give yourself a chance to see if it’s something you enjoy doing before giving up. “
Click here to view a video about Lisa’s work.