This week in our Engineers in the Wild series, we’re excited to feature an engineer from one of our Oakland-based neighbors, Kaiser Permanente! With almost 10 million health plan members, Kaiser provides care for people all over the country – and behind the scenes, that takes a lot of engineering magic. Meet Amruta Oak, Executive Director of the Test Management Office, Health Plan IT at Kaiser.
What’s your title?
Executive Director, Test Management Office, Health Plan IT
In your own words, what do you do?
I manage large complex projects – focusing on Testing – this involves overseeing, reporting, managing problems, challenges and issues. I work across several teams and negotiate and brainstorm options to resolve several problems. I manage large teams that work to develop new functions and ensure that when something is made available to customers and members, they have a great experience interacting with Kaiser Permanente.
Why do you love working at Kaiser?
I truly believe in the mission and vision of Kaiser to provide high quality, affordable healthcare to improve the health and well-being of the communities we serve and enjoy being a part of the exciting initiatives that Kaiser is leading, to change the future of healthcare in the US. I also like the people I work with – who take pride in the work they do, and always do their best. Kaiser provides me many creative opportunities. It is a large organization focused on making our communities better – and I want to be a part of this journey.
What toys did you like most as a child?
I loved playing with anything that required assembling / disassembling – radios, small gadgets.
What did you want to be when you were little?
I wanted to be a space scientist (someone who helped astronauts go to space).
How did you discover engineering?
I grew up in a small TATA Steel town in India. I enjoyed “fixing things” and “repairing stuff” with my dad. My parents always allowed me to do this and encouraged me to push the limits of “what girls could do.” They encouraged my technical bend and interests, and found ways to keep and grow my interest in technology, for which I was very fortunate. As I grew older, I thought of my desire to be a “space scientist” and my enjoyment at being able to fix things indicated I would like the field of Engineering.
If you were telling a classroom of elementary school students about a really creative and challenging project that you did, what would you say?
I once worked in a large factory that had lots of conveyor belts and machines that were operated by a giant computer – that computer was in a big room with lots of colorful wires running everywhere. My job was to come in every morning and check some readings on this giant computer and go through a few pages of instructions to make sure everything was set correctly to continue the day’s work. It was a very cold room and I often shivered while I completed this morning work for 2 hours daily. One time the whole conveyor belt system stopped in the middle of the day – and a special engineer had to be called to help. It was going to take this specialist 2 hours to come to our factory – during that time I had to read up some books and manuals that had pages and pages of reasons the belts would stop and what to try to fix the problem. My boss allowed me to make some changes that I thought will fix the problem. I was very excited to get this huge opportunity and be given this responsibility and it was like music to hear the belts start humming again. But my joy was short-lived since after 15 minutes they started running so fast that all the parts started breaking so we had to shut down the machines quickly. I was terrified, but did not give up and read more and learnt so much. When the specialist showed up, he was really happy to hear what we tried already and were able to explain what happened. It saved him a lot of time and he also explained how he looked at some other things we had missed, and taught us what to do in the future. I realized from this experience that even if you do something wrong, it is important to not give up, and continue to learn and not be afraid. Also very important to have a good teacher.
What do you like to do for fun that your co-workers would be surprised by?
I love planning travel and going on trips. I like to read and learn about new places, different cultures and interesting things about places. I am even doing research and making suggestions to close friends or relatives who are going on trips. I enjoy being able to share what I loved if I have visited. I am trying to visit a new country every year and am fascinated about how helpful, kind and hospitable people are even in places where we cannot speak their language. There are so many wonderful things to see all over the world and I want to experience as much as I can.
Engineers in the Wild is a series of interviews with real-life engineers. Click here to read more!