Alma Juarez-Dominguez still recalls her first mathematical "aha!" moment. As a five year-old playing with blocks, she realized that you could have all the blocks, or no blocks, or many blocks - she had discovered set theory.
Although in Mexico women are often discouraged from entering fields like math, by the time Juarez-Dominguez reached university, computer science was in her sights.
Computer science and math are tools that we can use to solve other problems. I saw that computer science would give me the strongest background to solve problems in different fields.
She completed her undergraduate degree at the University of Puebla, in Mexico, and then got her master's in computer science at the University of Waterloo. She completed her PhD under the supervision of Professor Nancy Day, holding both an NSERC Industrial Postgraduate Scholarship and a prestigious Cheriton Scholarship, awarded to the School's top talents.
Juarez-Dominguez loves the dynamism of Waterloo's program.
We interact with great researchers on site plus the ones invited for special seminars. They enrich our education and vision.
Her supervisor has also been a formative influence. "She doesn't only guide me academically. She has been a great role model, as a teacher, researcher and person."
In her doctoral research, Juarez-Dominguez applied formal methods to the development of theories and formal analysis techniques for distributed and embedded systems. Working with scientists at GM, she detected feature interactions among embedded systems in cars. Features such as Collision Warning are frequently developed in isolation; when they are put together in the final vehicle design, unforeseen interactions can occur, making cars unsafe. Her goal was to develop new tools that engineers can use to test the correctness of new features early in the design process.
She acknowledges that it can sometimes be tough to be a woman in a largely male field but she found that WICS offers key support.
It allowed us to meet other female students and to interact with female faculty, so we felt integrated and can share experiences that help us academically and personally. To help this initiative, I give talks and participate in events that guide and encourage female undergraduate students.
Are there advantages to being a woman in computer science? Juarez-Dominguez thinks women can be more lateral and intuitive problem solvers, key assets when broaching problems requiring creative solutions. And she is thrilled with the incredible opportunities for women entering computer science.
It's such a big field; there are applications in biology, in finance, many different options. What I say to any young woman is to take advantage of the ability you have, regardless of gender!