Taniza Haq isn’t one of those engineers who dreamed of building robots and designing motors from childhood, but she’s happy that life drew her toward that career path. Taniza was born and raised in St. Louis to parents who immigrated from Bangladesh. She says they harbored the American dream that many immigrants hold: seeing their children become doctors. However, as is often the case with well-intentioned parental hopes, neither Taniza nor her two siblings were interested in charting that particular course.
Taniza’s passion lay not with science, but with math. “I just kind of fell into engineering because I enjoy math. I like to think that I have a natural talent for engineering as well. Of course, I had to develop the other skills that are needed, but my love for math was definitely what drove that development. I was lucky in that regard, because I wasn’t one of those college students who switched majors a few times. I studied Mechanical Engineering all throughout my four years. It just stuck with me and I’ve been enjoying it ever since.”
She studied Mechanical Engineering through a joint engineering program from the University of Missouri at St. Louis (UMSL) and Washington University (Wash U). Her first two years were geared toward general education requirements at UMSL, with her second two years being dedicated to core engineering classes on the Wash U campus. Taniza really appreciated the chance to study at Wash U for the same price as studying at UMSL.
A co-op position leads to a full-time career
It was during this joint program that she received the chance to become a co-op at Nidec Motor Corporation (NMC). “UMSL’s only five minutes away from our St. Louis office. One of Nidec’s HR representatives came to my school and wanted to meet with some of the students. My advisor asked me to meet with her and another student, and it was through that connection that I was later able to get a co-op position.”
After a successful interview process, Taniza began her internship at NMC’s sound lab. “One of the great things about the UMSL-Wash U program is that your classes are typically in the evening, so we had the opportunity to work in the daytime, either part-time or full-time. It’s a great system, but also a lot of work. I really enjoyed the work I did as a co-op and the autonomy I had.” She later moved to the Motion group and ultimately obtained a full-time position as an Application Engineer for that group.
Taniza knew early on that she wanted to transition to full-time work with NMC. “We do really cool stuff here. I mean who can say they get to work on robotics for big companies that everyone’s heard of? We are an R&D group, and that’s something that’s really fascinating to me; working with innovative technologies. Some motors have been manufactured for such a long time that there are only limited improvements to be made. You’re maybe pushing pennies out of the cost. Whereas with the types of motors I work with, it definitely feels more cutting-edge and for lack of a better word, cooler. It’s a lot of work and at times long hours, but it’s just really cool to work on this stuff.”
The challenge of being female in a male-dominated field
As many female engineers know, it can sometimes seem challenging to work in a male-dominated field. Taniza feels that NMC does a good job of making its engineers feel valued and empowered, regardless of gender. “Working at Nidec as a female engineer, I feel very valued as an individual, and I think that’s a big blessing. With my team, they all treat me with respect and take my ideas as what they are instead of looking at my gender. I’ve felt very valued throughout the company, not just in my division. I worked in the sound lab as an intern, and we had different people come in and out, and I never felt devalued or anything like that. So, I think that’s one big bonus working here.”
Taniza shared that there’s a group of women in technical positions at NMC who get together once a month to have lunch and connect. She finds that ability to get the perspective of other women in the same industry, especially female engineers with more experience, a great opportunity.
Another big advantage to working at NMC is the chance to receive both formal and informal mentorship. “Not only is there the official executive mentorship program available, but more experienced engineers often act as mentors for newer engineers. At Nidec, no matter who you talk to or how busy they are, they’re willing to give you their time to answer questions, to work with you, to teach you. That’s what I really value. I see this often in my group; a lot of the full-time engineers would just take their time to help me. They would be patient with me, so that’s what I would also consider mentorship. Someone who’s just willing to take the time to help you learn and grow.”
That collaboration carries over from mentorship of newer engineers into working together as a team to solve problems. Although each engineer gets a lot of autonomy for their own projects, there are often issues arising that require teamwork to solve. “We all have a common goal, which is to make each motor or component do its job, do it well and do it cheaply. Recently, I needed to help an individual working on a totally different application than mine; his was an issue with an encoder system, part of his motor, and even though I’m not officially part of his team, I stopped working on my project that day to help him figure out the problem. It’s all about having the same goal, which is to be a successful group – whatever it takes.”
Taniza’s funniest story while working at NMC is that she had a framed photo of herself that traveled around the desks of her manager and coworkers, nestled among her colleagues’ family photos until they noticed. Sometimes they never did – someone else would have to point it out. “It’s just a small harmless prank that I think is funny. I started off by putting it on my boss’s shelf. He was in a meeting one day leaning back and he saw it and started cracking up.” She said that sometimes new people were confused at first but now everyone’s in on the joke that’s reminiscent of a traveling gnome.
Taniza revealed that fondness for work-appropriate humor at one of the company Halloween costume contests, dressing up as a waving inflatable tube person like those often featured outside car dealerships. It was a lot of fun, especially since she didn’t have to show her face in the costume, which made it less intimidating to walk around the office while dressed up. Her enthusiastic flailing to simulate wind blowing helped her win second place in the contest.
Solving a problem -- pleasing a customer
One of Taniza's favorite projects while at NMC came after a quality issue arose where some of the motors weren’t functioning well because wires were literally getting crossed. The problem persisted, with failures being reported week after week, until Taniza and a colleague designed a small clip that helped fix the issue. “That’s the best feeling, when you see a problem and solve it and then the customer is pleased. And taking it full circle, I was later at the customer’s facility and opened up one of the motors, and my clip was there. I thought that was really cool. It’s a truly rewarding thing to feel like your work had an impact.”
That goes back to the collaboration that Taniza feels NMC does such a great job of promoting among its personnel. “I feel like the people are what make the company. I recommend that anyone coming to work here connect with as many people as possible during their time at Nidec. There are so many different personalities but everyone is just so willing to give their time. You are bound to learn something if you are willing to connect and listen.”