Internet of Things: A Primer

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Stock photo of two asian businesswoman in a meeting at a coffee place looking things up a cellphone laughing and smiling.

As you begin to stir, your sleep monitor tells your phone that this is the ideal time for you to wake. The alarm rings. You walk into the kitchen and ask your smart home device to turn the lights on and start the coffee. When you take the last of the cream, your smart refrigerator adds cream to your shopping list.

These conveniences are made possible by the Internet of Things, and they’re just the beginning. The Internet of Things is accelerating, driving tech jobs — and revolutionizing the world.

“For women in tech, now is a perfect time to explore opportunities in this wide-ranging field.

So, let’s dive into exactly what the Internet of Things is and how it’s changing the world.

What Is the Internet of Things?

The Internet of Things (IoT) describes the billions of devices around the world that are connected to the internet — devices that can capture data, analyze it and then perform an action based on that analysis. These new “smart” devices are replacing many of the items we use every day and making our lives easier.

For example, smart home devices allow you to see who’s ringing the doorbell (and make sure your door is locked) from your phone. Wearable baby monitors track your little one’s heart rate and breathing and alert you if a change is detected. And air-quality monitors keep tabs on indoor pollution as they keep your air fresh and the temperature and humidity in check. Activity trackers, smart scales, Amazon Alexa and Google Home devices, internet-connected lightbulbs and outlets, and more are all part of the Internet of Things.

Companies aren’t just using IoT devices to satisfy consumers’ needs. They’re also using them to do things like detect manufacturing inefficiencies, conduct quality control and monitor product performance.

Utility companies are getting in on the IoT game, too, installing smart meters on homes rather than having employees manually check each customer’s water usage. Even local and federal governments are putting IoT to good use. In 2017, Las Vegas announced plans to become a smart city by installing tens of thousands of data sensors to help with traffic, crowd control, waste management, lighting, security and more.

Thanks to the sensors and a corresponding app, users can plan a trip to the park by checking the air temperature on the playground, determining the fastest route to get there and even how many parking spaces are available. Some cities are touting apps that use GPS capabilities to see where you’ve parked and automatically charge you, eliminating the need for traditional metered parking.

What Is the Future of IoT?

Nothing is out of the realm of possibility — think dog collars, water bottles and even toilets. In addition to developing new products, we’ll also have opportunities to improve the devices we already have.

Challenges we can work to address include compatibility — there are no universal standards for IoT devices, making it difficult for some to talk to one another — and security. These areas are great opportunities for women in tech to make a difference.

How Can You Learn More About IoT and Get Involved?

“Investment in the Internet of Things is expected to continue to grow. And you know what that means: more IoT jobs!

Part of that growth may stem from companies that don’t consider themselves “tech companies.” Those companies may need to think differently.

“Before joining Amazon, I was consulting with a big beauty company and helping their executives realize that they needed to move from just producing beauty products, to beauty services and devices that would help improve women’s lives,” says Joanna Peña-Bickley, head of research and Design for Alexa devices at Amazon (and inaugural guest of The Girls in Tech Podcast). “And so, so much of that conversation was, ‘Oh my gosh, all of a sudden we’re going to be a device manufacturer, and we’re going to have to get into the business of software and services.’ And the answer was, ‘Yes, if you want to continue to serve your population in a way that expands your product base past where it is today.’”

If you’re interested in working on IoT products, Peña-Bickley suggests taking a deep dive into the subject to better position yourself for a job in the industry. She recommends starting by reading a few books, such as The Internet of Things by Samuel Greengard.

“One of my favorite books around this to really understand is Jeremy Rifkin’s The Third Industrial Revolution,” she says. “It’s probably one of the best books on how the Internet of Things is essentially reshaping everything as we know it.”

Where Can You Get Hands-On IoT Experience?

Nothing is better than real-life experience, and our Girls in Tech’s Virtual Hackathons are designed to provide you with hands-on tech experience. These events are two-week sprints that invite people with a variety of skill sets to work together online and use technology to solve real-world problems. And IoT solutions are often in the mix.

For example, in 2020, the winning group developed an IoT biosensor system that lets health care staff get accurate real-time, high-temperature alerts without wasting PPE during the COVID-19 pandemic. How’s that for a resume-builder!?

As the Internet of Things continues to impact the world, one thing is clear: Your creativity, insights and skills are needed!


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