Celebrating Women in STEM: Tara Astigarraga

Madalyn Weston

The International Business Machines Corporation (IBM) has been a leader in technology since 1911. It developed its first computer with Harvard University in 1944, the first commercial hard disk drive in 1956, and the IBM Personal Computer 5150 in 1981. In 1997, the IBM Deep Blue beat reigning Chess World Champion Garry Kasparov, the first time in history a computer took down a world champ. But today, IBM is known for more than just computers. It’s a team of inventors and innovators working to change the world every day. One woman in STEM helping this change is IBM Master Inventor Tara Astigarraga.

Astigarraga is an Arizona native. A member of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, she grew up with the Choctaw values of faith, family and culture. Her family also believed in the power of education. Astigarraga pursued her education at the University of Arizona, where she finished a dual degree in Spanish linguistics and communications in 2001.

In her final year of undergrad, Astigarraga faced an unexpected opportunity: IBM was looking for diverse new hires through the Project View initiative. Though she didn’t have an Engineering background and didn’t even know anyone who did, Astigarraga accepted an internship with IBM in Tucson. She fell in love with engineering on the job. After graduation, she joined the company full-time as a Webpage and Database Developer. She would later return to school for her master’s in computer information systems.

Astigarraga has worked in multiple positions with IBM for the last 18 years. In 2006, she became a test engineer for the Storage Area Networks (SAN) team. She specialized in testing Fibre Channel environments, including ethernet, and was promoted to Senior SAN Test Architect in 2012. In 2014, she spent a little over a year on the Corporate Technology Evaluation team, before joining the Blockchain team. She is responsible for designing and implementing the Enterprise Blockchain Solutions for Technology Support Services. Astigarraga first became a master inventor in 2011, with renewals in 2015 and 2017. In addition to being the top inventors at the company, master inventors are also recognized for mentoring others and giving back to the IBM community.

In her career so far, Astigarraga has filed over 70 patents and has multiple publications. She also won almost a dozen awards for her work, dating back more than a decade. In 2007, she was named Most Promising Engineer/Scientist by the American Indian Science and Engineering Society (AISES). AISES also awarded her in 2016 with the Technical Excellence Awards. In 2017, she was named one of Rochester Business Journal’s “Forty Under 40.” Last year, she was named the Distinguished Inventor of the Year by the Rochester IP and Law Association.

Today, Astigarraga continues to work at IBM in Rochester, New York, as a senior technical staff member for Blockchain and Hybrid Cloud Solutions. She also strives to give opportunities to rural and Native American communities. She works with children as young as five to develop engineering skills. Her advice for young women interested in STEM, given in an alumni interview for the University of Arizona, is, “Find a good mentor. Find someone that you click with, that understands where you’re trying to go and can help you get there. And then, just keep learning.”

Are you interested in empowering women in the STEM fields? The Women in Science (Wi-Sci) group wants you! Email President Emily Larner ([email protected]) for more information.

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