How I Discovered IEEE While Stuck on a Bus in Rush-Hour Traffic

A casual conversation with two volunteers led to my involvement in the organization

3 min read
Photo of Kathy Herring Hayashi
Photo: Kathy Herring Hayashi

THE INSTITUTE “Is this seat taken?” I was boarding a bus at the San Jose Convention Center, in California, shuttling to a networking event in San Francisco in 2015. My seatmate introduced himself as Tom Coughlin, the director of IEEE Region 6. Across the aisle from me, Kathleen Kramer extended a hand; she was Region 6 director-elect‑the “next Tom,” as she explained to me. Little did I know how the next two hours, spent in terrible rush-hour traffic with two dedicated IEEE volunteers, would change the next couple of years for me and alter my outlook on my career.

I’m from San Diego and had decided to take a vacation day to attend the 2015 IEEE Women in Engineering International Leadership Conference. As a longtime tech industry professional, working for a wonderful company and having one of the best managers I’ve ever known, I wanted to make a difference inspiring other women in STEM careers. My time on the bus with Tom and Kathleen presented some opportunities I was looking for.


During the bus ride, Tom had mentioned the IEEE Milestone program, which recognizes outstanding technical developments around the world. Code-division multiple access (CDMA) technology is important to my hometown, which had not received much recognition for its technology accomplishments. I began working with several organizations and eventually I submitted a proposal for a CDMA IEEE Milestone plaque in San Diego. On 7 November 2017 IEEE dedicated a Milestone in San Diego. It recognizes Qualcomm’s achievements in wireless technology.

Moreover, Kathleen had encouraged me to organize a WIE affinity group for San Diego—an idea that became a reality just shortly after. For our first major event, we hosted a luncheon at the IEEE Globecom conference, focused on innovation in communications. We also hosted an IEEE Women in Tech San Diego Summit, bringing together technologists from the area to highlight local talent and innovation, and promote the San Diego region as a robust tech hub.

While traveling to India on business, I reached out to the IEEE network, which quickly connected me to esteemed professors at the University Visvesvaraya College of Engineering, in Bangalore. As a guest speaker there, I presented the highlights of my lifelong work on semiconductors. The ensuing discussion, with professors and students, shifted to broader questions about technology trends and opportunities. I left with a fresh perspective and an expanded network of enthusiastic engineers.

 As a senior member of IEEE, I’ve begun to publish articles in my area of expertise and regularly speak at conferences including the IEEE Technology Time Machine and the 2017 IEEE WIE ILC conference.


Since joining IEEE, I have received recognition for my professional contributions as well as gained the ability to recognize others by nominating them for awards and leadership positions. The honors are great, but the people I’ve met through volunteer activities are the most lasting reward.

With my involvement in the organization, the difference between a job and a career became clearer. Being a member reinvigorated my passion for technology, which motivated me to enter the field in the first place. Being able to network, organize, and participate in activities at a global level—activities that can be life-changing to other engineers—and recognizing and engaging others, is inherent in the fast-paced, multifaceted, and technology-rich world that is IEEE.

Although not everyone will get the chance to talk to Tom and Kathleen for hours in traffic, I encourage others to learn what IEEE is all about by looking for events happening in your region. Joining IEEE can change the way you view your career.

Kathy Herring Hayashi is the vice chair of this year’s IEEE Women in Engineering International Leadership Conference (WIE ILC). She is a senior staff engineer focusing on semiconductor workflow optimizations in global compute environments at Qualcomm, based in San Diego.

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