OnQ Blog

How I Became a Techie: Kathy Herring Hayashi

Nov 3, 2016

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“When you find that passion, it’s no longer work. It’s what drives you. What motivates you.” — Kathy Herring Hayashi

How did I become a techie? It all started with my dad, who was in the Air Force. When we were stationed in Nebraska, he would always find time in the evening to do word scramble puzzles with me, which later led to us doing cryptograms and other ciphers. He taught me to look several moves ahead, which helped me win my junior high checker championship.

We moved around a lot when I was a kid, but he never stopped inspiring me to explore tech, introducing me to Heathkits and technologies like the new $80 calculators — a big deal at the time, especially on an Air Force salary. Later, my dad had an Apple II, which I used for kinetic art programming and to make modifications to the Lemonade Stand game. My passion for technology started by looking over his shoulder and asking countless questions.

My upbringing helped me to excel at math in high school and become the valedictorian of my class. My father had retired from the Air Force by the time I went to UCSD’s Revelle College, where I was one of those geeks who loved calculus differentials. It was all logic and substitutions, which fit me just fine. Eventually, I took an Intro to Computer Science class. I liked the class so much, I ended up becoming the class’s tutor, often showing up in the roller skates I used to get around campus.

After two years in college, I had to pick a major. When they asked me which classes I enjoyed the most, I said, “Well, I really like making flowers in EECS 61.” I was using Turtle graphics and Pascal to draw a line, arcs, and circles, which make the cutest looking flower. The counselors immediately signed me up for a CompSci major.

Straight out of college, I worked on a project to put an entire mainframe on a chip. We knew it was big and ambitious, but the most important thing was that no one ever told us that it couldn’t be done. We followed Moore’s Law, which told us it could and should be done. We always believe that it can be done, but when you’re in the industry, sometimes you’re so immersed you don’t realize the impact the technology you're making will have.

Now, I’ve been in the semiconductor industry for over 35 years. I’m one of those women in tech. I’ve worked with computers and semiconductor workflows my entire career. I’ve done everything from creating custom HDLs to developing structure parsers using AI rules driven techniques to writing internet-based applications that focus on optimizing yield to working on multi-level routing algorithms for PC Boards. Being integral to advancing technology continues to drive me.

My father passed away one week before my first daughter was born, but his influence lives on in my passion for technology, the business ethic to work hard, and my drive to always do my best. My commitment to the industry honors his memory, and fulfills my beloved mother’s specific request to pass this legacy of lifelong learning on to my daughters, helping both in college and in careers that will inspire them too.  

Here in San Diego, I’m very involved in IEEE and the IEEE Women in Engineering (WIE) Affinity Group, whose goals are to inspire, engage, and promote women in technology. We want women to reaffirm or rediscover the passion that got them into technology in the first place. When you find that passion, it’s no longer work. It’s what drives you. What motivates you.

Kathy Herring Hayashi has been involved in semiconductor software her entire career and currently works at Qualcomm Inc., analyzing and optimizing semiconductor workflows in large-scale compute environments. A former Director at Syntricity, Inc, she also teaches at the Computer Science and Information Technology Department of Palomar College in San Marcos, California. Kathy founded and currently chairs the San Diego IEEE Women in Engineering (WIE) Affinity Group and was the recipient of the IEEE 2016 Southwest Area award for Outstanding Individual–Outstanding Leadership and Professional Service.

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