Danelle Cline, Software Engineer with Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute

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  • Name Danelle Cline

  • Education M.S. in Computer Engineering, B.S. in Electrical Engineering
  • Target Audience Elementary School

Are you avoiding software engineering because you don't want to sit in an office all day? Danelle Cline, Software Engineer for the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute, enjoys a very different kind of office. Whether out to sea to support her projects or sitting in a meeting room overlooking the ocean, her daily environment is far from boring. Read on to find out why Danelle Cline loves her cool job!

What is your job?

imageI work closely with scientists from different disciplines to design and build software to help them better understand the ocean. I've worked on software that helps with video data analysis. I've helped build instruments they use to measure the characteristics of the water. One of the more interesting projects I have worked on is building software that mimics the human vision system. It uses what we use to look at a scene with our eyes when analyzing underwater video. In research and development (R&D), project requirements are always different and change all the time.

Why did you choose this career?

Originally, I wasn't a software engineer. My early career was spent as an electrical engineer at NASA. I switched to software development after completing my master's degree in computer engineering. However, I chose engineering, in general, at an early age. I helped my dad use tools and take things apart. I really wasn't afraid of understanding how things worked. I was always very curious and in high school I took electronics classes to learn how to build circuits. My switch from electrical engineering to software engineering was more of an organic thing - it just happened. A big difference between electrical engineering and software engineering is that electrical engineering is confined to the laws of physics and software engineering is not. Software engineering is much more creative and there are often 10 or more ways to approach a problem. It also is a broader applicability. For example, some of my work in my master's study was analyzing images, which was really interesting to me.

What does an average workday look like for you?

imageI don't sit at my desk all day like a lot of engineers do. I do spend time working from my computer and in meetings, but I also get to go to sea to make sure ocean-going projects I've completed work properly. When we go to sea, anything can happen and equipment can break. We joke that if you don't want your things to break, don't put them in the ocean! But it's a lot of fun.

One of the coolest things about my job at MBARI is collaboration. I will sometimes sit with two scientists, three engineers, and a technician and we'll have in-depth discussions about ways to bridge the gap between science and engineering. That is the most fun aspect of the job for me - to be able to have peer-to-peer discussions that are very creative and mentally stimulating.

What do you like best about your job?

There's a lot of serendipity, and you don't always know how things are going to go. I like that I don't always know that what I'm building is going to work, and when it does, it is hugely gratifying. What I like is the challenge - the challenge of doing something new.

Have you always liked science, engineering and math?

I've always loved science and engineering, but I did not like math. I had horrible math instruction in high school and I ended up going to the community college to take my math classes. That was a turning point for me. Suddenly, I had great instruction and I realized that I wasn't stupid - it was just being taught to me poorly. I ended up loving math after that and did extremely well. I even became a math tutor in college. Disliking subjects you think you should like shouldn't be a deterrent. There are always solutions to those challenges.

What was the biggest challenge you faced in your journey to working as a software engineer?

I think overcoming my math hurdle was the biggest challenge. Once I did that, a whole new world opened up to me. I also think being a woman posed a challenge. I was really fortunate to have wonderful mentors along the way who helped guide me forward. In high school I had a wonderful mentor in my electronics class who encouraged me to continue on, even though I was the only girl in the class. Being a woman was certainly a hard thing because, at the time, it wasn't a cool career for a woman to pursue.

Was there a person who inspired or convinced you to get involved in your field? Who was he/she and how did he/she do it?

My parents were probably my first mentors. My dad never shied away from teaching me how to work with his tools and my parents bought me kits that showed me how things work. In high school, I was also inspired by my electronics teacher. He was always encouraging me to move forward and go on to college. I had a lot of encouragement along the way. I think it was critical for me to have these mentors because they helped rid me of any doubts in my ability to become an engineer.

My grandmother was also a role model. She was an electronics technician for Boeing and was in charge of running one of their huge computer labs. Like many women, she started working in this profession during World War II, when women had to build airplanes while men were off to war. She started as a machinist, became a master machinist, and then she bridged the gap between being a machinist and working with electronics. Eventually, she was in charge of her own computer lab in her own building. She was really a spectacular person. I'm sure she had many stories of overcoming the challenges of being a woman in that time and in that profession. Because of her, I never felt that I couldn't pursue this line of work. Now, I love my job! I've been here for 15 years and it is still always new and interesting.

Do you have any suggestions for how kids in elementary school can get practical experience in your field?

I actually don't like to encourage kids to use computers, but Lego makes something called a Mind Storm kit. These kits provide an opportunity to build a robot out of Legos and to use a computer to program them to move. There are also robotics clubs or math clubs that you could join in school or community.

Are there exciting things happening in your field that could involve children who will enter the field in 5-15 years?

imageI think the social networking atmosphere could really change the landscape of my field and what we can do in a very collaborative way. There are big changes in the realm of environmental studies that are creating increased efforts to collect a massive quantity of data. Currently, we don't have the ability to deal with all of this data, so there will be many job opportunities for people who can create software tools for data analysis.

Do you have any closing remarks?

Follow your dreams! Don't be afraid to make your own career path or even your own field. The future is going to present many great opportunities to create new and innovative job fields, so think and dream big!

Software Specs


  • Software engineers in the U.S. makes an average of $73,000 per year.
  • The job outlook for software developers between 2010 and 2020 shows a 30% increase in demand. This job field is growing much faster than the national average.
  • In addition to deep-sea research, software engineers work in a variety of fields. From the medical field to aviation, there are many opportunities available!




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