For International Women’s Day, we talked to five women engineers working in the synthesizer industry about the challenges they face. For our fifth and final interview, we speak with Flavia Ferreira of Focusrite.
No matter which way you cut it, engineering is a male-dominated field. This also includes the musical instrument industry. On average, the percentage of women working in engineering fields is below 20%. While this amount has promisingly increased over time, it still remains low in comparison to men.
However, numbers don’t really tell stories, people do. What is it really like for women working in the hardware synthesizer industry, a traditionally male-dominated field? For this year’s International Women’s Day, we talked to five women who design and engineer synthesizers – both traditional and modular – to hear their stories.
For this, the final interview, we spoke to Flavia Ferreira. She’s a production engineer for Focusrite, Focusrite Pro, Novation and ADAM Audio.
The interview was edited for clarity and brevity.
Attack Magazine: What is it that you like about synthesizers?
Flavia Ferreira: Everything! All synths have their own unique character, no matter how expensive they are, from old Casio keyboards to the most expensive vintage synthesizer. There is an open world of sounds you can create that are not reproducible in nature. And vice versa, they also allow you to emulate sounds that already exist. I love FM synthesis, but there are all kinds of sound flavors for everyone.
How did you get started working with synthesizers?
Eight years ago I was going through a phase of trying to find my real vocation, so I learned how to make my own cables. Then, I found out about Befaco and the DIY community in Barcelona. I had no idea about electronics, so I took it as a challenge and started learning electronics on my own. A few months later, I joined Befaco in the production line.
What do you do at your job?
I am a production engineer for the Focusrite Group. I work with the engineering teams, developing new products. My main role is to support the engineering teams during the design phase and validate that the final design meets the criteria to go to mass production.
What is it you like about your job?
Just like synthesizers, I love my job. Manufacturing is like putting together all the pieces of a Lego kit. So much fun! Building instruments is my passion, but I also feel responsible for the environmental impact. Focusrite is heavily focused on sustainability – it was another important reason I applied for the job.
I would like to see more women on the engineering teams and to give more exposure to those that have been there for years.
Is there anything you don’t like?
Personally? No, I worked very hard to get here, and I am enjoying every bit (of it). I feel lucky to be able to work doing what I love. In general? I would like to see more women on the engineering teams and to give more exposure to those that have been there for years.
Would you say that the synthesizer industry is a generally accepting place for women?
Yes, I believe we have learned from past experiences. We know the struggles of many female pioneers and today the synth community is open to support and welcome anyone that wants to join. From day one, I have had a lot of support and have felt encouraged to keep learning.
Have you ever encountered chauvinism in your industry?
Yes, I have. I was with a friend once, and we met someone in the street. He talked to my friend – a male engineer – about synths and his studio for almost an hour, ignoring my existence. Then, he looked at me and said, “Dear, I’m sorry this conversation must be so boring for you.” My friend laughed and replied, “She is a bigger synth head than me.” In this situation, I experienced both the rude comment and the reaction of someone who supports equality. I believe it comes down to individuals, but overall our industry is working towards equality.
A lot of the women we’re talking to work in the modular synthesizer industry rather than the traditional synth one. Why do you think this is?
They are both made by people passionate about synths but I think the difference is that the modular synth industry is a community. Most Eurorack companies are open source. They do workshops and support each other a lot, either by promoting the brand or collaborating on projects. I think it’s easier to access if you want to learn about this industry. It’s a smaller community so the pace is also slower, allowing you to develop organically.
What was the attraction for you to modular synths?
First, I just wanted to build my own modular system and move away from traditional designs. I only knew how to solder, and the Befaco DIY kits were well-documented. So, it felt like building a Lego kit. Soon after I built my first Eurorack modules, I was hooked. I stopped making music and I changed my focus towards trying to learn electronics. The Befaco team was looking to expand, making it more equal. They liked my soldering skills, so I joined them along with another female colleague. I had the best learning experience there and received massive support from our production manager, Pascual. I sat next to him for so many hours, watching him troubleshoot modules. I (can) never thank him enough.
What advice would you give to young women who want to do what you do?
Just like manufacturing, learning is a process. It takes time, so stay focused on studying and researching to improve your knowledge. Work hard to achieve your goals. Working in engineering is the best choice I’ve ever made, and we can all do it.
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