Jane (Jenny) Donaldson started Annapolis Micro Systems, Inc. in 1982 with Bob Donaldson and Lawrence Marshall, Jr., serving as the company’s first president. Annapolis performed custom engineering: software for ground stations for Comsat, point-of-sale terminals for Schlumberger, medical instruments, contract assembly for IBM, and ASIC design for Atmel, in addition to touch technology work with IBM fellow Evon Greanias. In 1994, Jenny guided the company’s transition from custom engineering to FPGA-based products. She has a BA in Philosophy and a minor in English from the University of Washington and took Computer Science classes in the late 1970s at the University of Maryland.
What are the biggest challenges you face on the job every day as a woman in high tech?
DONALDSON: Oddly enough, I have never found any challenges caused by just being a woman. My main challenges are as a businessperson in the high-tech community: Pick the right product and develop and implement a tight plan for getting it developed, marketed, manufactured, and sold under budget and within a reasonable timeframe. Keep the customers happy. Keep the cash flowing in and out.
How do you overcome those challenges?
DONALDSON: I think hard all the time, work hard all the time, and constantly review everything and try to do better at everything. I work with the staff, particularly senior management, to help them do the same thing.
What or who is your inspiration?
DONALDSON: My parents, Ben and Jane Van Zwalenburg, taught me by example that:
1. Every human being has a unique and intrinsic value;
2. Work has an inherent worth and we should do every task to the best of our ability;
3. I could and should use my talents to do something significant, to be a useful member of society.
My husband, Bob Donaldson, has stood by me and worked with me through every challenge life has offered us.
Our mentor, Evon Greanias, IBM fellow, taught us that in technology, if you are not pushing the envelope then you are wasting everyone’s time and money, and that doing your absolute best is not good enough. It must work and must be on time.
How can more women be prepared to enter traditionally male fields such as engineering?
DONALDSON: My advice for others, both male and female:
1. Figure out your strengths, and play to them.
2. Be brave. You need to make mistakes in order to learn. If you never make mistakes, then you are not pushing yourself hard enough.
3. Challenge yourself. Often and always. You will be surprised to see what you can accomplish.
How do you recognize when a new technology or application is one your company should invest/innovate in, versus a technology that will experience fast burnout?
DONALDSON: We look for a need that is not being filled, something that we believe customers have the money for and will pay for, if it were available. We review the latest available technology and put that together with our technical abilities. If we think we can advance the state of the art, provide a good resolution to the need, and do it within the budget customers have for this problem and within the timeframe that this need will exist, then we go for it.
In the next 5 to 10 years, which technologies will present the most viable development opportunities for your organization and for the embedded industry?
DONALDSON: We have been using FPGAs for processing since 1992. Today we are designing our 14th modular family of FPGA processing boards. Our new line of products, the latest FPGA technologies – combined with the connectivity and speed possible with OpenVPX architectures – and high-performance A/D and D/A will meet the current and near-term needs of our customers in fields like radar, signal processing, SIGINT, ELINT, and communications. I foresee at least another four or five years of technology improvements in FPGAs, A/D, D/A, and SSDs – the fields we currently care most about. Ten years is too far out for me to predict.