Engineering leader and role model Cecelia Smith ignites a spark in tomorrow’s female engineers

Cecelia Smith thrives on the words “it can’t be done.” In our ongoing series, ‘One to Watch,’ we profile TIers who are making a difference through innovation or citizenship.

Since college, Cecelia Smith has been passionate about mentoring girls who love science.

“I love to see sparks of curiosity,” she said of her involvement in STEM education.  

Curiosity and a tendency to tinker with electronics early in life led Cecelia to her current role as vice president and general manager, leading a fast-growing business and global team of engineers developing, supporting and marketing one of our company's major power management product areas. She previously managed a key portion of our company's automotive product portfolio and continues to be a major advocate for automotive technology.

But while growing up in Paramount, Calif., she didn’t know a career in engineering was a possibility.

“When I was young, all I knew about engineers was that they drove trains,” she said.  “Engineering is not a topic that people in the neighborhoods where I grew up talk about. But there were some teachers in my life who made a difference. Without them, I wouldn’t be where I am today.”

Passion for problem-solving

Cecelia’s high school chemistry teacher was the first to open her eyes about the possibilities of a STEM career, sharing material on engineering coursework at California State University, where she later earned her bachelor’s degree.

Then, during an electronics lab course at the university, a professor noticed how much she enjoyed solving problems, working with test equipment and learning about circuit equations. He suggested that she explore a major in electrical engineering.

“That mentor gave information and direction to somebody who had passion and potential, but didn’t know where to place it,” she said. “He saw somebody who would make an electrical engineer.”

That pivotal moment set Cecelia’s course for a career doing what she loves: working with people to find solutions for tough problems and using creativity and vision to transform the impossible into the possible.

She joined our company in 1996 as a systems engineer and has held several positions developing strategies and product roadmaps and managing worldwide teams and customer relationships. She has been involved with the market creation and product development of several innovative technologies, including FireWire, digital amplifiers and digital audio processors.

“I thrive on the words ‘it can’t be done.’ This drives me to solve the unsolvable,” she said.

Her success is also driven by her composure, ability to listen and strong business acumen.

“She has a calm and sometimes-gentle exterior,” said Ellen Barker, our company’s chief information officer. “But she is an execution machine who drives for results and elevates her teams in the process.”

She builds strong relationships with customers while driving ownership and accountability throughout her organization, said Kyle Flessner, vice president in our manufacturing organization.

“Cecelia sets high expectations, executes through a strongly engaged team and collaborates effectively with other organizations,” he said.

Shifting mindsets

The qualities that make Cecelia a strong leader are helping build up a new generation of innovators and leaders at our company and in the technology industry. As chair of the TI Diversity Network’s global Women’s Initiative (WIN), she hopes to engage all TIers in a discussion about how to leverage individual differences to drive and fuel innovation.

“My biggest belief as a TIer is that different perspectives develop and strengthen good ideas into great ideas,” she said. “WIN brings women together from across the world and encourages them to fully participate and thrive in all areas of TI’s business, and that benefits both women and men and ultimately makes our company a great place to work for everyone.”

She helps elevate the voice of women TIers in a different way, said Fran Dillard, diversity and inclusion director. As one of our company’s senior leaders, Cecelia has an experience level that can shift mindsets.

“Cecelia has a unique understanding of opportunities where we can help women be better prepared for key technology roles and for leadership,” Fran said. “She knows what senior leaders are looking for, and she can bring that back to women in ways that maybe they haven’t heard before.”

Leading by example

Cecelia believes that showing girls what it looks like to be an engineer is the most powerful way to cultivate the next generation of female leaders.

In college, she mentored students one-on-one at nearby high schools and tutored them in math and science. Once she began her career, she shared her story to larger groups – ranging from middle school students to college-aged audiences – offering the advice she would give to her younger self.   

“One piece of advice I always give is that you’re in charge of your career, your continuous development and your life,” she said.

The challenge, she says, is finding the time to volunteer.

“The only way to tap into talents and passions is to be a role model,” she said. “We need to show the next generation that there are people like themselves who are working in the field – and to show them that engineering is changing the world.”