Ed. note: This post is part of the Spotlight on Commerce series highlighting the contributions of current and past members of the Department of Commerce during Women's History Month.
Guest blog by Pam Isom, Director of the Office of Application Engineering and Development, U.S. Patent and Trademark Office
As Director of the Office of Application Engineering and Development (AED), I oversee all aspects of next-generation systems engineering, development and implementation at the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). I am also responsible for hiring, budget formulation, planning and execution, and laying a foundation for the retirement of legacy systems.
My office is large and our initiatives are complex. As a result, we have frequent working sessions (standups are not uncommon) where we break problems into manageable components, brainstorm ideas and address. I value my team. Together we are building systems that protect the nation’s intellectual property (IP) through the consistent application of DevOps, user-centered design, and advanced agile principles. We have fun, succeed, make mistakes, learn, and get better.
I joined the USPTO in 2015 with over 25 years of IT experience, and as an industry veteran I recall the process of evolving ideas into inventions, and then patents. This process was not easy – it required extensive dialogue, much patience, sometimes rejection and yes, determination. Anxiety would sometimes set in and I would wonder, “What do the reviewers think of my invention? I should have explained things better. Sigh...What now?” Fast forward to today, five patents later, and numerous publications including a book. I am delighted that these experiences contributed to my interest in serving as an employee and representative of the USPTO. Now I sit on the other side – one of the best choices of my career!
Women’s History Month is a great time to reflect on the influence of women around the globe. In college, I remember being the only African American woman in computer classes and early in my career, the only one in many job assignments. I wasn’t surprised since many of my peers chose alternate fields of study. I once asked a manager of an all-male computer programming team how she felt about being the minority. She expressed that she doesn’t dwell on it, that she focuses on the job at hand. That stuck with me. I decided that my circumstances were attributes of a trailblazer. So while it didn’t matter to me then that I was the minority, it’s nice to see more women in technology each day and I hope that I have, in some way, been of influence.
My role model is my mom. She taught me so much. She is the one that encouraged me to believe in myself and to value others. She lived “it will be alright in a minute.” As a young girl, growing up in Oklahoma, I was quite the curious one, inspired to study math, science and music. In the summer months, I eagerly attended youth programs so as not to become idle. I am also grateful for the support my husband, who is also my best friend, has provided me along the way and throughout my career.
I respect my leaders and admire the representation of women at the Department of Commerce (DOC) and the USPTO -- a diverse group with many talents -- and it is no surprise to find leaders in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) here. I was invited and remain a board member of the Network of Executive Women (NEW) affinity group since its inception in 2015, supporting the mission of inspiring women executives and promoting STEM. I was grateful yet humbled to serve as a panelist at the DOC’s Hidden Figures event this month, and also to be recognized in the Women of Innovation exhibit at the USPTO.
There are significant opportunities at the USPTO and in particular the Office of the Chief Information Officer and AED. To the rising and the more experienced women who may have faced some challenges and/or who may be tempted to second guess yourself, I have some advice for you that I apply to my own life. Purpose is important. Your purpose in life will open doors. When that happens, be ready and cross the threshold. Go Forward. Keep the passion. Obstacles may get in the way but not in your way.