It’s Kolcraft Thursday and today we get to have a behind the scenes chat with Traci Barron, Senior Project Engineer. For the past 14 years Traci has engineered everything from pharmaceutical delivery devices to strollers. We were able to catch up with her & get a glimpse of her world.
You don’t always see women in this role as an engineer. How did you pick this as your career path?
As most kids do, I struggled with choosing a college major and career. I was good at math and science, so many people suggested engineering. At Purdue University, the first year of coursework in engineering exposes you to all the different types of engineering. I ended up choosing Mechanical Engineering as a major because it seemed like the career choices for that degree were very broad—and I still was not sure what exactly I wanted to do! It was not until I took a couple of Product Design and Mechanism Design courses in my junior and senior years that I really felt I had a definitive career direction in Product Design. I like to think of myself as a creative person—and I am interested in design and aesthetics as well as engineering, so it seemed to be a perfect match for me.
What exactly goes into engineering a product? Where do you even start?
Every product starts with an idea—some of those ideas are new to the world, while others are just variations of products that already exist. The average person does not look at a product and think, “That is great engineering.” They might think, “That product has a great design.” I think design and engineering are so closely intertwined that it is difficult to talk about one without the other. In ideal product development, engineers and industrial designers work together to ensure that a product meets all functional requirements and is aesthetically pleasing. Engineers and designers collaborate on how the product functions, how the product will be assembled, and how it is adjusted (i.e. height adjustable products and reclines). Engineers are responsible for making sure a product can withstand weight and forces that will be put on a product through any and all foreseeable use. Engineers also develop tests to provide confidence that products are safe for any foreseeable use. Engineers have to ensure parts are made out of the correct materials and that the components will always assemble even considering typical manufacturing variation.
You just had baby #2. Can you tell us some of the challenges & benefits of being a mom who works outside the home?
The biggest challenge is that there is never enough time in the day. No matter what I do, I have to work through some level of guilt about not having more time to spend with my kids. When I am not at work, the kids get near 100% of my attention while they are awake. As you might imagine, that does not leave much “Mom time” or “Mom and Dad time”—especially when you also factor in upkeep of a house with a 3 yr old, a 6 mo old, and a dog living there! It is a constant struggle to find balance. For me I know it is the right choice—it is something every mom has to evaluate for themselves. I get great fulfillment out of both of my jobs (Mom and engineer), and I cannot imagine my life without one of them. I also like the idea that I am teaching my daughter that a woman can have a career—just like Daddy.
Has working at Kolcraft informed how you look at baby gear for your own family?
Definitely. Part of my job is to stay on top of new product ideas and categories. I have a much higher consideration for the value of baby gear products—every purchase becomes an evaluation of product cost vs. features that are useful to me.
And how has being a mom affected being an engineer?
In a way, I never stop working. Every day life caring for my kids—and watching other people care for their kids—highlights so many challenges. My mind is always taking note of those challenges and thinking of ways to make life easier on caregivers. I also have a lot more personal experience to draw upon when I am considering how babies/toddlers might behave in a product—or how older siblings interact with a baby/toddler in a product. This really helps when I am considering the safety aspects and foreseeable use of the products I help to develop.
Traci at a glance:
Favorite part about being a mom?
The smiles on my kids’ faces when they see me, the hugs and the “I love you Mom’s”. I cannot get enough of that.
Favorite time of day?
Morning. The kids are always so happy in the morning—and any frustration from the day before has subsided over night.
Favorite Kolcraft product?
The Jeep Liberty Stroller
Best “sanity” break to recharge your mom battery
A glass of wine (or two) after the kids are asleep
Thanks for taking time out of your busy day to talk with us Traci.
If you have a burning question for our “engineering mom,” feel free to leave it in the comment section!