Diversity/Careers in Engineering & Information Technology



December 2010/January 2011

Diversity/Careers December 2010/January 2011 Issue

Women of color in defense
Pharma & biotech
Systems engineers
LGBT in tech
NJIT honors Renard
Grace Hopper

Gov't agencies
Skire Corp
News & Views
Regional roundup
Supplier diversity

Diversity in action
News & Views

GE Healthcare

Supplier Diversity
On the rise

With Skire, Massy Mehdipour aims high in construction software

Her goal is to get her product and company in front of every firm and government agency that relates to facilities management or construction. And she's well on the way

Growing up in an Iranian village, Massy Mehdipour knew she was different from the other girls. "I've had a desire for math and science since I've known myself," she says. She loved the subjects and excelled in them.

There wasn't much scope for a techie woman at home, so at the age of eighteen Mehdipour left Iran for McGill University (Montreal, Canada), where she studied EE. She earned her bachelors in 1972. Then she went to work for Bechtel in Alberta, Canada and San Francisco, CA, and eventually began her own high-tech company, Skire, Inc (Menlo Park, CA).

It's Skire for multi-tenant cloud-computing software
Skire develops construction-business software that helps companies manage costs, schedules and everyday activities on building projects or in facilities management. "It's multi-tenant cloud-computing software," Mehdipour explains. "Everybody uses the same code base." And because the applications are in the cloud, users have immediate access to the software, including all the regular upgrades provided by Skire.

Mehdipour's goal, she says, is to "own the construction software market," and to get her company and product in front of every company and government agency that manages the construction and operations of their facilities: just about all of them, she notes with a smile.

Skire, founded in 2000, is well on its way to meeting Mehdipour's goals. The software is used by Fortune 500 companies, federal, state and local government agencies and major airports across the country. But she's very clear that this is just the beginning. "I want to dominate," she says, quite seriously. "If there are fifty utilities, I want to be working with all fifty."

Technology kept calling
"During my years at Bechtel, where we were designing and building plants and facilities worldwide, I was always looking at how we could automate every aspect of the work so we could deliver information to construction and facilities folks faster," she explains.

Mehdipour left Bechtel to found her first company, Quasar Services, which provided construction and facilities management to industry-leading firms. But technology continued to call. Eventually she folded Quasar into Skire.

"My excitement, as always, comes from delivering information fast to folks in construction, so everybody has the information at the same time," she says. "My vision was always of lower cost, minimized risk and reduced time to do things, and now I've realized that vision!"

Facing down challenges
Mehdipour is a very successful woman in three fields that are not especially woman-friendly: construction, engineering and IT. "Add to that, starting your own company is a male-dominated thing to do," she says. "These are big challenges, and I like tackling them."

She's used to being the lone woman among men. She was often the only woman in her courses at McGill. She was one of the first women to rise through the ranks at Bechtel, first in Alberta, Canada and then in San Francisco, CA. And that led to some very interesting experiences.

"Once they saw what I could do, Bechtel gave me a lot of freedom to grow," she says. Early in her career the chance came up to work on a large construction project in Alberta. "I knew the only way to advance in my construction career was to have good hands-on experience in the field, so I convinced Bechtel to send me to the project."

Not only was she the only woman on the site, she was the boss. "The most difficult thing was that people wouldn't accept my signature to approve a design. They would take it to the male engineers on the site and ask them to sign off, and the engineers would say, 'No, we can't, go to the boss,'" she recalls with a laugh.

In her career, Mehdipour really had no female role models or mentors. "There's an established network for male CEOs and male engineers, and they tap into it. But women don't have that. It encouraged me to create that environment for females coming after me."

Making her mark
There were also sex-biased challenges on the financial side of starting and running a business. "We have very few financial instruments available to us as females. We have to prove from the beginning that our business idea is profitable and will grow, and that we're self-sufficient financially."

Mehdipour has made her mark in male-dominated industries and earned the respect of her male peers. "No one can argue with success," she says. "No one is going to willingly open any doors for you as you start out, but once you succeed they respect you a lot more."

While she's passionate about the difficulty of breaking the glass ceiling as a woman, Mehdipour doesn't think her Iranian heritage has been a factor in the challenges she's faced. "If you see it, it becomes an obstacle, but if you don't see it you just go through it.

"I've always had that ability to block out anything negative that worked against what I wanted to accomplish," she adds with a smile.

DuPont believes in her
Jocelyn Scott, chief engineer and VP at DuPont Engineering, Facilities and Real Estate (Wilmington, DE), is a definite Mehdipour convert. The two women met in the course of conversations about a possible contract opportunity.

"I was struck by what a dynamic person she is and the whole range of strengths she brings to her career," Scott says. "I think she's an incredible woman, and both her energy and her story are inspiring."

New technology, new products
In technology, new ideas and new products are always being pioneered. Mehdipour's goal for Skire is to be a dominating player and influence the people her company serves. "You first want to get some people to adopt what you are doing," she explains. "Then you go for mass adoption and the opportunity to dominate the space!"

Skire, with 145 employees, hosts its software applications, and all its clients use the same code base. "We do this so that whenever we innovate, all our customers have immediate benefits," Mehdipour says.

As she works to grow the company, Mehdipour spends a lot of time traveling to meet with potential clients. In fact, she's a licensed pilot and often flies herself to her destinations.

Her hopes and dreams? She wants to take Skire public soon, and she hopes other women will look to her as a role model. Her best advice? "Have confidence in yourself and ignore the obstacles. They'll only slow you down."


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