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2012 Women to Watch: Donna Fagen

Mass High Tech
By Scott Pickering

Donna Fagen
Vice president and chief technology officer
Equilateral Technologies Inc.

On paper, Donna Fagen is the chief technology officer at Equilateral Technologies Inc. (ETI). In reality, she is also the chief financial officer, a marketing director, the primary liaison between the firm and their customers in the U.S. government, and the lead cheerleader for technical innovation at the 10-year-old company. She is also co-founder of the firm that is expanding the frontier for digital wireless technologies for voice and data. One of their products has been adopted for use in the U.S. Army’s Warfighter Information Network — the Army’s next-generation, on-the-move, high-speed, high-capacity backbone communications network. Fagen holds six patents in wireless communications technology, has 20 years of experience in the field and earned a doctorate in electrical engineering. While she wears many hats at ETI, they all fall under one umbrella — business leader.

Education: BS, Electrical Engineering, McGill University; MS, Electrical Engineering, Boston University, PhD, Electrical Engineering, University of Massachusetts at Lowell.

Career reflection: “I love going to work every day. This is more than I had hoped for. This is more than I had expected. When I was growing up, girls didn’t do stuff like this – getting Ph.D.s, working in technology, starting their own companies.”

On lifelong learning: “I’m a very avid reader, and I do believe that one of the ways to succeed is to recognize what you do not know and try to fill that knowledge gap. Read a lot, attend conferences, attend seminars, plus learn along the way from all the professionals you interact with, like lawyers and accountants.”

Her path to technology: “I was always interested in how things worked. I liked taking things apart and putting them back together Even when I was quite young, I always tried to fix things. When I first started in engineering, there were very few women, but this is what I loved.”

On hard work: “I managed to complete my Ph.D. while doing a start-up. That was not easy. It took a lot of persistence. But it was something I really wanted to do, and the technology I developed for my thesis is actually being used in our business.”

On role models: “There are role models all over, at all levels. You can learn a lot by watching them, both the positives and negatives. Whatever job a person has, if they do it well, and take pride in their work, I really admire that. I remember watching a maintenance person installing a white board. I watched him meticulously installing it with a level. His other workers just wanted to get the job done and get out of there, but he took his time and did it well.”

Best advice she’s been given: “A lion doesn’t have to roar. That’s not a quote from me, it’s something I read. I have seen some very effective people who always remain courteous, calm and professional, and I thought they were far more effective than the other types.”

Advice to a high school girl: “Don’t limit yourself. Don’t say no to yourself — there will be enough people later who will do that. Don’t avoid math and sciences. I think women are more reluctant to go into math and sciences ... they’re more susceptible to the fear of failure. Don’t be. If you fail, learn why you failed and correct it.”
Pablo Vicharelli, co-founder of Equilateral Technologies Inc.

“At ETI she is constantly encouraging teammates to continue training on state-of-the-art technologies. She genuinely cares about every team member, is always encouraging, and is quick to give credit and recognize others’ accomplishments, helping them grow in their own right. She has fostered an inclusive and harmonious atmosphere at ETI, which allows people to comfortably take technical risks and expand their reach.”

View a slideshow of the 2012 Women to Watch honorees.