Q and A with Tara Astigarraga, IBM Master Inventor is recipient of AISES Technical Excellence Award

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Earlier this month the American Indian Science and Engineering Society (AISES) announced the recipients of the 2016 AISES Professional of the Year Awards. Among those being honored was IBM Master Inventor Tara Astigarraga who received the Technical Excellence award for her contributions to science, engineering and technology.

Tara Astigarraga

Tara Astigarraga, IBM Master Inventor & Senior Software Engineer

As an enrolled member of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, Tara began her career at IBM in 2001 when she was part of an internship program dedicated to diversity recruitment. Blending her career and heritage, Tara continues to be a dedicated and passionate champion for Native Americans and women pursuing STEM disciplines. Guided by the large digital divide that still exists in most Native communities, Tara’s ultimate goal is to provide the same opportunities she has had to future generations and to prove that career and traditional values can co-exist. We asked her about her research, aspirations and recent award.

What is your area of research?

Tara Astigarraga: I am working to design and implement one of the first enterprise Blockchain Hyperledger solutions as part of a joint-project across IBM Research and IBM’s Global Technology Services Multi-Vendor Support Services. The goal of this Blockchain implementation is to provide a trusted and transparent shared ledger to allow expedited resolving of billing disputes based on evidence within the Blockchain. This process essentially gives a bank and a vendor and a seller, for example, a way to see the path of the goods and services they exchange.

I am the focal point for the Blockchain UI, data flows, and Blockchain billing service. In addition, our team works in a full stack development model, which means we work with all members collaborating on developing and innovating the Blockchain solution, including contributions to APIs, data models, chaincode and solution deployments.

When did you join IBM, and why?

TA: I joined IBM Systems Group as a co-op in 2001 during my senior year at the University of Arizona, and hired on full-time at IBM Tucson after graduation. I had a great co-op experience and when I joined IBM I was excited about the opportunities at such a large company. I really wanted to grow my skills and make a difference.

In my 15 years at IBM I have worked in Systems Group, our Corporate offices, and now IBM Research. Across all these different roles and divisions the consistent theme is that I am always surrounded by caring and highly competent peers.

Why does your research matter?

TA: Blockchain is a technology that transforms transaction processing, and establishes trust, accountability and transparency, while streamlining business processes. Blockchain has the potential to vastly reduce the cost and complexity of cross-enterprise business processes, like moving goods all over the world.

IBM has emerged as a leader in Blockchain technologies. And within IBM Research we are working to deliver enterprise Blockchain solutions that solve fundamental design and scale questions that emerge. Blockchain is exploding in the industry right now and the world is starting to imagine all the ways that Blockchain can revolutionize transaction processing. It is really an exciting space to be working in. Imagine, with Blockchain, even the average person will be able to do things like purchase a vehicle faster and simpler, while medical professionals can more easily track pharmaceuticals and drugs.

What lasting impact would you like to leave behind with your research?

TA: I would like to be remembered as someone who was able to bridge the worlds of business and technology and help to provide new and innovative solutions that transform and streamline the way we do business.

Innovation is the key. I try to always look at ideas from different perspectives and to avoid developing technology for the sake of technology, but instead start with fundamental business problems and find the best ways to solve them. In my career I have worked in Systems, Storage, Networking and now Blockchain. The technologies will always change but the ability to adapt and solve problems is a skill that can easily translate.

What does it mean to receive the AISES Technical Excellence Award?

TA: It was an amazing honor to receive the AISES Technical Excellence Award and be recognized not only for the work I have done with IBM but also for the work I have done mentoring and giving back to Native communities. AISES has always been a special organization to me as they supported and guided me early in my career and provide a unique perspective on how to bridge traditional knowledge and engineering.

In 2007 I received the AISES Most Promising Engineer Award, so now almost 10 years later receiving the Technical Excellence award provides a sense of accomplishment, but also a renewed energy to continue pushing forward in my career and to strive to continually increase the representation of Natives in STEM career.

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