When Sonia Waharte was a kid growing up in Marseille, her family got a computer and she began trying to program a graphic of a helicopter.
"Nobody but me could tell that it was a helicopter - it was totally ugly! - but I was so happy to see it on the screen."
After completing her undergraduate degree and earning two master's degrees in France (one in Computer Science and another in Computer Engineering), Waharte worked for a year at Hewlett-Packard France, and decided to come to an English-speaking country in order to become fluent in the "language of research" for her doctorate. She was intrigued by Canada, and drawn by Waterloo's reputation.
At first, language was more of a barrier than she expected. "I thought I knew enough English, but in fact it was terrible when I first arrived. By the time I understood what someone was saying, and wanted to say something, it took me forever. That was the hardest part."
Eventually, communicating came naturally. Waharte studied routing optimization in wireless communication networks with supervisor Raouf Boutaba. The wireless environment imposes numerous constraints, and optimal management involves allocating frequencies efficiently to minimize interference and packet loss. Within this challenging area, Waharte developed and tested novel algorithms to allocate wireless network traffic in order to support more users, and to improve user experience. Waharte's impressive publications list includes a Best Paper award for her work on a cell-based protocol in energy-constrained wireless networks.
In addition to her many academic honours, Waharte was awarded a Distinguished Teaching Assistantship Award in 2004.
Teaching is such a valuable experience. I've found the best way to realize what you actually know is by teaching it. It's very rewarding when you succeed in making students understand a concept and they get really curious and involved.
An enthusiastic skier, snowboarder, and outdoorswoman, Waharte was active in the International Students' Association. She helped organize many outings - snowboarding at Chicopee, trips to Niagara Falls, and international movie nights.
For her, it's not a big deal to be a woman in this male-dominated field.
Of course, some people might treat you differently because you're a woman, but I do think society is changing and it really doesn't matter much. Sometimes, in fact, people treat you nicer because there are so few women in computer science.