July 07, 2023

A Conversation with Tapia 2023 Plenary Speaker: Tara Astigarraga

Tara Astigarraga

Tara Astigarraga


The CMD-IT/ACM Richard Tapia Celebration of Diversity in Computing Conference is a premier event that brings together a diverse community of over 2,000 undergraduate and graduate students, faculty, researchers, and professionals in the computing and tech fields. Taking place in Dallas, TX, from September 13 to 15, 2023, this year’s conference offers a rich program of stimulating panels, workshops, and networking opportunities focused on technical topics, professional development, broadening participation in computing and more. 

One of the keynote speakers at Tapia 2023 is Tara Astigarraga, a Distinguished Engineer and Master Inventor from IBM Systems Assurance. With an impressive portfolio of over 70 patents, Tara is known for her expertise in the areas of Enterprise Storage, Server and Networking Solutions, and Watson Research. Her work includes building cutting-edge Enterprise Hybrid Cloud and Blockchain Solutions for Technology Support Services at IBM. Beyond her contributions to the industry, Tara is also a dedicated mentor in the STEM K-12 space, fostering a passion for technology in the next generation. During the Friday evening Banquet, attendees will have the opportunity to hear from Tara as she shares insights and experiences related to her work in these critical areas.

Leading up to Tapia, we asked Tara what she hopes Tapia attendees take away from her presentation and to share details on her journey in tech. 

What is the biggest takeaway you hope Tapia attendees gain from your talk at Tapia 2023? The biggest takeaway I hope attendees gain from my talk at Tapia 2023 is the importance of embracing a continuous learning mindset and stepping outside of our comfort zones. The world of computing and technology is vast and constantly evolving, and to thrive in this field, we must be open to growth, willing to solve critical problems, and adaptable to change.

In our industry, it’s impossible for anyone to know everything. We have to continually push ourselves to stay informed about emerging innovations, understand how they impact our area of expertise, and guide their development. If we ever reach a point where we feel stable and complacent, we’re not doing our job properly. True growth and success come from constantly putting ourselves out there, learning, iterating, and embracing a little bit of discomfort.

Can you please share more about your passion for invention? My passion for invention stems from a genuine curiosity about how things work and a keen ear for problem statements that signal areas for potential innovation. Whenever I come across phrases like “It’s 2023, why do we still have to…” or “Why is… so hard, isn’t there any way to better…,” I make a note of those problem statements. I then dedicate time to pondering creative and innovative ways to solve the problems I’ve encountered. For me, innovation and invention serve as a creative challenge that allows me to think beyond the technical and business constraints that often confine us.

Interestingly, my passion for invention didn’t naturally develop during my upbringing, nor did I have prior experience in the industry. It was at IBM that I encountered a remarkable mentor who encouraged me to embrace innovation and approach things from a different perspective. This mentor pushed me to bring in problem statements and actively work on solving them.

This experience ignited a fire within me and made me start thinking about things in a completely different light. Initially, I had the misconception that innovation and patents were only within the reach of extraordinary individuals, reserved for those who could invent something as groundbreaking as the light bulb. However, working closely with my mentor, I realized that by exploring creative spaces and thinking in unconventional ways, I could come up with novel ideas and make significant contributions to the field.

In fact, I extend this approach to those I mentor as well. I encourage them to identify the challenging problems they are currently tackling and explore innovative and creative solutions. As part of my commitment to STEM and giving back, I have conducted sessions on patent innovation with groups like the American Indian Science and Engineering Society (AISES). In these sessions, aptly titled “Patent Innovation: It’s Easier Than You Think,” I aim to demonstrate that everyone encounters problem statements in their daily lives. If individuals are interested and willing, there are accessible ways to dive into these problems and unleash their own inventive potential.

Why is diverse representation in computing and tech important to you? Diverse representation in computing and tech is important to me due to the critical role technology plays in our society. As artificial intelligence and machine learning become increasingly integrated into our daily lives, it is crucial that the development and oversight of these technologies are carried out by individuals from diverse backgrounds. By having a range of perspectives at the table, we can address biases, decrease data biases, and ensure that the technology we rely on for vital decisions in various industries is fair and inclusive.

Without diverse representation, biases can easily creep into our work, leading to unintended consequences. We have already witnessed instances of facial recognition software being biased or automated systems disqualifying individuals based on their addresses. By having people from diverse backgrounds present during the creation of these technologies, we can raise important questions and ensure that these biases are addressed early in the process. Furthermore, diverse representation fosters the development of more representative base models and encourages problem-solving for a wider range of populations. 

Tara will speak during the banquet reception on Friday, September 15. Her talk will take place at 6:00 pm in the Texas Ballroom. View the full Tapia Conference schedule by clicking here. Register today for the Tapia Conference