First-Hand:IEEE Award Recipient Series:Mary Ellen Randall
IEEE Award Recipient Series: Q&As with Icons of Engineering and Technology: 2020 IEEE Haraden Pratt Award Recipient
Mary Ellen Randall
What Award did you receive from IEEE?
Haraden Pratt Award
Place of Birth
Where did you grow up
upstate New York
Family Background: Parents and their education level & Siblings and their education/profession
I am the oldest of 4 children so have 2 brothers and 1 sister. I was blessed with a loving, large extended family.
What did you want to do when you grew up?
I did not have a well-drawn out plan. I just knew I liked computers and learned all I could about them. Then I took every software course available at my university and got a Bachelor’s Degree in Mathematics. Computer Science was not an option for me at that time.
What was your upbringing like? Did you have a large family?
With 2 brothers and 1 sister, my Mom and Dad, Grandparents Aunt, Uncle and Cousin, we traveled together, sang always, played guitar, golfed and enjoyed swimming.
Did you have any hobbies (eg. Some people talk about learning trade skills from a family member.)
Singing was a family favorite past time. My Mother taught us to harmonize. We learned all the old songs of my parents’ generation. My Dad loved golf so he taught us all to golf at an early age. My siblings and I all played guitar. We had a band along with my parents. We would play and sing for service clubs, senior citizen events and other social events. I also enjoyed crafts from a young age especially knitting and crocheting. Later I learned that painting was something I enjoyed.
Did you partake in after school activities? Did you play sports?
National Honor Society, Key Club, Mathletes (the only female on the team), Student Council Vice President, Cheerleading. I also swam competitively. Butterfly was my favored stroke.
Did you have a part-time job (after school, summer)? What was your most surprising job assignment?
When working in a car dealership during college, the state-of-the-art for submitting credit requests to the bank was via a teletype machine. I figured out how to control the machine to customize "thank you" letters to car buyers by putting pauses in the code on the paper tape.
Did you take vacations and/or go on day trips?Favorite holiday/family gathering?
My family was always together celebrating someone or something. My family, grandparents, aunt, uncle, cousins, went to South Carolina nearly every spring to get a break from the cold. We would go to the beach, golf, play our guitars and sing, joke, and just have a grand time together.
EDUCATION: Favorite subject in school (K-12, university). Why?
Mathematics. It was really fun to solve problems. In 8th grade my Math teacher called me out into the hall. I thought I was in trouble, but I had no idea why. We were computing surface areas and volumes of complex polygons. That was great fun! My teacher told me that I should consider becoming a math teacher and that I was very good at it.
Did you have a least favorite subject in school (K-12, university. Why?
History and English. I preferred the problem solving of Math and Science.
Why did you select the university (universities) you attended? What was your major and why did you select it?
I grew up next door to Binghamton University and it was a top notch school. First, I studied Mathematics and completed my Bachelor’s Degree in 3 years, all while also working part time. Then went back for a Master of Science - Computer Science a few years later.
Employment and career: First job - Current position - Favorite job
My first programming job was at Singer-Link developing aircraft Flight Simulators. Then I joined IBM and developed many commercial product (hardware, software, services). Today, I enjoy the entrepreneurial world.
Has your career turned out as you expected?
Not at all. My Dad, a banker, told me when I was younger that my field would dramatically change over time. I remember thinking, "how does he know that? This is not his field," but he was absolutely right. There were many turns along the way requiring constant change. That is what was so exciting about it.
Has IEEE played a role in your career? How? What does IEEE mean to you?
My company was developing software for physicians. We were well along in the development when it occurred to me it might be considered a medical device by the US Food and Drug Administration. Realizing I had an IEEE Colleague at the FDA, I called her up. She confirmed that it was. She pointed me to key documents in the FDA site. After carefully studying them, we completed the development, followed the required clearance process for the product, became an FDA establishment and even passed the audit! The next day the Business Journal had an article that said, if you want to get a product through the FDA, hire a consultant and expect to pay a lot of money. My partner came to show me the article saying, "Good thing we didn't know that. We just did it!"
You have been awarded one of IEEE's highest-level awards. What does this award mean to you?
It was a great surprise to receive the Award and it is a great honor. Many thanks go to my husband and family, who support me in all my wild schemes. I am very proud of you. My parents brought me up in an environment where we were expected to "just do your best." That was a powerful message. This award also belongs to the many, many people who support and volunteer for the MOVE program and assist people after natural disasters.
What other associations have helped you in your career?
Business & Professional Women of Raleigh, North Carolina Executive Roundtable (NCER), and the Center for Entrepreneurial Development.
Career Advice: What advice would you give to young professionals entering your field today?
Always keep learning. Advances happen very quickly and it is exciting to stay in the forefront.
Reflection: What would you have done differently or tell your younger self now?
Always follow your passion.
Was there a project that you were so passionate about that you continued to pursue it even though there may have been doubts about its success?
MOVE was that project for me. It is important to engage our members in a meaningful way. MOVE was the opportunity to do that. MOVE was unlike anything IEEE had done before. There were many obstacles along the way: developing partnerships, defining a program with manageable risks, developing the vehicle and the mission, funding, to name a few. Tremendous support grew through the IEEE Community of volunteers and staff. This groundswell was the wave that pushed the program from a nice idea to reality.
What career achievement are you most proud of?
What I am most proud of is my family. My husband is such a kind man. He is also a brilliant engineer! My sons are both very dedicated and loving fathers to their children. One is an Engineering Manager at a great fast growing company. My other son is a delightful, caring, and creative contributor to the transportation industry. They, and their children light up my life!
Personal Life: What do you do for fun? Hobbies?
Autonomous vehicles, robots, other tech related projects and we also play golf.
What personal achievement are you most proud of?
We (my family) all contributed to an autonomous Lotus Elise for the DARPA Urban Challenge. My husband led the team. Even my nephew and brother contributed, along with about 50 other folks. It was a really fun project. It was my first time doing the marketing work and it was really exciting to see press releases I developed translated into other languages and carried around the world. Plus it was a very fulfilling project to see that car on so may magazines, newspapers, on Discovery Channel, etc. Great fun!
Do you have a favorite food? Or a family recipe that may have been passed down?
Our family recipe is my mother's coffee cake. We make it every year for every holiday all across our extended family.
Do you have a favorite genre of music? or a favorite song? Or do you play an instrument?
I like Country Music. It tells a story and I can understand the words. As a youth, I played a lot of guitar.
Do you have a prize possession? If so, please explain.
Pictures of loved ones.
What are three things people may not know about you?
I played golf in a men's golf league. I did not realize it was a men's league because it was made up of all the folks I worked with. When the league secretary asked me to play the first time, I was thrilled - never passed up a golf game. Found out later that no one else knew a female was going to play with them and they were afraid I would slow down play. That didn't happen.
Who was your mentor? (eg. family member or professor)
Many people helped me along the way. My husband always helped me keep things in perspective. My parents taught me many life lessons.
What is one thing you cannot live without in your work space?
Anything else you would like to share about yourself?
I love the quote by Maya Angelou, Poet and Author, "I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel." That's what MOVE is all about: helping people after a disaster strikes, providing comfort and connection, and nudging them towards recovery.