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Women in Health and High Tech – Kasia Nowak: ‘It’s about making the right choices’

The health and high-tech industries are still seen as predominantly male, but at Novio Tech Campus, these women are paving the way for the future. Like Kasia Nowak, Technical Director at Nexperia, who is helping the company realize its ambitious plans.

Kasia started her academic education in Poland but moved to the Netherlands for her master’s degree. She received a scholarship and studied at Delft University. Fast forward 25 years and she is now technical director at Nexperia. “After doing a PhD, I started working in Eindhoven where I was in Philips’ Research department. Early on in my career, I got to choose between the ‘management’- or ‘technical’ track. I consciously chose the latter, which has always been my biggest passion.”

An ambitious architect
Nexperia is keen to become a big player in chip technology and aims to not only rise to the level of its competitors, but exceed it with new technologies. When Kasia joined, she was hesitant at first, but quickly understood that Nexperia and herself had similar ambitions. She took the challenge. “I didn’t want to work on ‘simple’ chip technology, but at Nexperia I get to work on innovative technologies. This is critical to differentiate from competitors. I also get to expand my expertise and shape the multidisciplinary teams that have to deliver the actual technology. Also, being involved in the complete product development cycle: from a concept, through its realization, to the final product, I face lots of challenges and a steep learning curve. It’s very exciting.”

Chips can have different implementations and applications. In the initial stages of her career, Kasia’s efforts were focused on boosting chip performance. “There are basically two types of hardware: Application-Specific Integrated Circuits (ASICs) and programmable processors. The former works best when it has to carry out specific tasks, the latter is more versatile. During my PhD, I worked on the embedded reconfigurable logic technology that combines the best of both worlds: flexibility of processors and performance of ASICs.”

After having worked as an IC architect for quite some time, Kasia now gets to do even more meaningful work as Technical Director. “One of my key challenges is to come up with innovative and at the same time cost-effective solutions. But it’s not just about the technical aspect anymore. I now have to use different skills to manage stakeholders’ expectations.”

Adding a sense of direction
The most important task that lies ahead, is giving direction to the technical choices made at Nexperia. “I basically receive product ideas from our product management department. I then judge them in terms of relevance and whether it’s realistic that we can turn the idea into actual technology.” This also means she has to work together with many people from different domains and across business groups within the organization. “Marketing, project leaders, designers. All of them have to come together to create something special. It’s up to me to fit the pieces together. Clear communication and making the right choices are equally critical.”

In the future, Kasia plans to make an even bigger impact at Nexperia. “Not only by sharing as much of my technical expertise as possible with our management but with new employees as well. I see a lot of junior engineers who come straight out of university and still have to adapt to working in our industry. I like helping them find their place.” She also hopes to inspire other women to pursue a career in health and high tech. She would like to be a role model for them. “Some women might think it’s too difficult, or that they need to choose soft-skill oriented careers. I believe it is just as fascinating to work in high tech, where your efforts can have an impact on every single person in the world. Nobody should be forced into a certain career, but I hope to show them how interesting my work is.”

Taking steps and inspiring other women
The Novio Tech Campus has also changed considerably since Kasia first arrived. “There is a bigger variety of companies here now. I think it’s great to be in the vicinity of all these interesting companies and I hope we can learn more and more from each other in the future.” For Kasia, the campus is the perfect place to work on new ideas. “During my lunch break, I like to go walking in the Goffert Park and it’s great to be close to a city centre like Nijmegen’s, but to still be able to enjoy all the green that surrounds us.”

After the breath of fresh air in the Goffert Park, Kasia returns to Nexperia to work on technology that has countless applications. “It ends up in phones, computers, but also in medical machines. It’s exciting and rewarding. We get a chance to contribute to the world and learn how it works.“

Kasia is positive about the chances for women in health and high tech. “Back when I first started working after my studies, I felt like I was pretty much the only woman in this field of work. When working in teams, it could sometimes feel intimidating to work with only men. But I knew there was no other way. Through dedication, commitment, hard work, and perseverance I have managed to push my career forward. But this was never the goal in itself for me. Everything you learn along the way is more important. It’s great to see that more and more women are finding their way into our industry too.”

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