Isabel Yang

Isabel Yang converts love of STEM to lead AE team

FORT COLLINS — Since she was a child, Isabel Yang of Greenwood Village was one of those girls who loved the STEM subjects before Science Technology Engineering and Math became a thing. But she also learned soft skills are just as important in her different roles from technologist to chief technology officer.

“That’s really important for technologists who eventually want to be leaders,” said Yang, senior vice president and chief technology officer for Advanced Energy Industries Inc. in Fort Collins, a role she took on in July 2018. “People don’t automatically follow you, even if you have the brightest ideas.”

Yang realized by second grade she was good in math and loved the subject.

“It just makes sense to me,” Yang said, adding that she also realized she loved physics and mechanical engineering, especially since her father was a mechanical engineer, and wanted a way to apply science to the real world.

Yang went through her schooling in the engineering field, earning a doctorate in electrical engineering in 1996 from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where she also received her bachelor and master of science degrees in engineering.

Initially, Yang worked for Motorola as a device engineer for two years before spending the majority of her career at IBM, where she worked in various roles for nearly 20 years. She started out as a device design lead and later became program director of strategic partnerships at the IBM Semiconductor Research Center — she worked in the center for more than seven years and was part of the microelectronics division.

During her time at IBM, Yang held other roles including her final position as vice president of research strategy for operations and partnerships in Yorktown Heights, New York. She led a team to innovate in various technologies in high-performance computing, artificial intelligence and health-care solutions. She also spent several years in IBM’s technology and intellectual property licensing department and has four patents in her name.

“There are different flavors of technology,” Yang said. “I’ve been anchored by technology and trying different things for the companies I’m working for. … All of the roles have one common thread that really utilizes critical thinking and analysis skills.”

Yang employs those skills and knowledge at AE, which provides power solutions in the semiconductor and industrial manufacturing industries. She oversees the company’s global technology vision and strategy, as well as its leading-edge technologies, particularly in state-of-the-art connectivity. She comes up with ways to improve business performance and optimize the company’s profitability.

“I basically leveraged all of my background and experience from IBM into this role,” Yang said, adding that she and her team are “always looking for innovation that helps build a business,” as well as “break into new markets.” “How do we protect innovation and make sure it matters to business and our customers?”

The innovative atmosphere at AE is comparable to working in a start-up environment, Yang said. She and her team combine their work in technology with business development and customer service to make sure their innovations effectively reach the marketplace. She protects those innovations through her management of the company’s intellectual property portfolio.

One innovation regards digital transformation in the company’s product lines, starting with the semiconductor industry, something the company hadn’t been doing, Yang said.

“Essentially we are transforming how we solve problems using Industrial IoT (Internet of Things),” Yang said.

IoT on the internet and in apps, where interconnected devices can be mined for data and used to create analytics, can be applied to the industrial space, Yang said. At AE, sensor data is collected, analytics applied and solutions developed through self-diagnosis and troubleshooting, she said. Potential failures can be predicted and preventive maintenance employed to help operations continue without a break in service, she said.

John M. Williams Jr. works with Yang in a number of capacities, including in Industrial IoT.

“She has very good vision and a very good strategic mind. She’s forward thinking but also has experience and the business acumen on how to get things to work, how to get systems in place to make that happen,” said Williams, vice president and general manager of Global Service, Advanced Material Processing & Photonics. “With a startup business like this, you need to have an entrepreneurial drive, which she does, and she has vast experience she can draw on.”

Yang is motivated and driven to win and has helped bring more organization to the company and a strategic approach to its intellectual property, plus she brings that needed female perspective, Williams said.

“In the fast-moving, rapidly changing world we live in with too much group think, you miss out on the next opportunity and lose to the competition. We need to have a unique perspective that crosses countries, cultures, gender and race,” Williams said. “Having unique perspectives, which comes from diversity of thought, which comes from diversity of backgrounds, is important.”

Yang noted several ways to address her work in a male-dominated field — for her graduation year at MIT, 39 percent of her peers were female. And at AE, most of her peers are male.

“What is it like? That’s a loaded question. It is not easy,” Yang said. “I feel like I sort of practiced a lot before I came to AE. I survived and thrived in a male-dominated environment.”

For women to get their voice heard, they have to be more assertive and even repetitive, Yang said. Yang, who offers mentoring for “up-and-coming” female engineers, finds that many don’t need the technical help but instead seek advice on how to effectively deal with their coworkers. One of the engineers she mentored said she has good ideas she wants to share but finds everyone talks over her.

“I said sometimes you have to — it’s not not-being-nice — you have to be assertive and put yourself out there,” Yang said, adding that it also helps to not worry about others’ perceptions, to be thicker-skinned and to try to avoid self-doubt. “I try to work within the company — this relates to being female in a male-dominated space — we need to create a culture where a diversity of ideas is accepted.”

The female voice and input is important from two perspectives, that of leadership and collaboration, Yang said.

In the area of collaboration, the female presence can alter the dynamics in the room to that of being more collaborative and open-minded, replacing “the tendency to show off and one-upmanship,” Yang said. In leadership, that presence can add a layer of empathy — leaders need to lead but also to get others to follow; they can do this by trying to understand individual motivations and realizing that not one person has all the answers, she said.

Yang likes sharing her love of technology as that empathetic leader who engages in an open communication style combined with a collaborative approach. She also likes working on leading-edge technologies that, at first, might make others feel uncomfortable or even fearful.

“What I really like about it is, when you create innovation and make it essential, you put to rest doubts and fears. You prove them wrong,” Yang said. “I like exploration, new technologies, engaging new customers and sharing the technologies and innovations with them.”

Click to read a One-On-One interview.

FORT COLLINS — Since she was a child, Isabel Yang of Greenwood Village was one of those girls who loved the STEM subjects before Science Technology Engineering and Math became a thing. But she also learned soft skills are just as important in her different roles from technologist to chief technology officer.

“That’s really important for technologists who eventually want to be leaders,” said Yang, senior vice president and chief technology officer for Advanced Energy Industries Inc. in Fort Collins, a role she took on in July 2018. “People don’t automatically follow you, even if you have the brightest ideas.”

Yang realized by second grade she was good in math and loved the subject.

“It just makes sense to me,” Yang said, adding that she also realized she loved physics and mechanical engineering, especially since her father was a mechanical engineer, and wanted a way to apply science to the real world.

Yang went through her schooling in the engineering field, earning a doctorate in electrical engineering in 1996 from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where she also received her bachelor and master of science degrees in engineering.

Initially, Yang worked for Motorola as a device engineer for two years before spending the majority of her career at IBM, where she worked in various roles for nearly 20 years. She started out as a device design lead and later became program director of strategic partnerships at the IBM Semiconductor Research Center…