March 28, 2021
Engineer Leslie Zinger Blazes a Path for Other Women to Follow
March is Women’s History Month, a time to celebrate women’s contributions to history, culture and society and reflect on women’s contributions to Trane Technologies. In this interview, Leslie Zinger shares how she joined our Residential HVAC and Supply business more than 20 years ago as the only woman engineer on her team – and how things have changed.
Leslie Zinger is a senior product engineer in Trane Technologies’ Residential HVAC and Supply business, and she says she was born to be an engineer. She remembers a childhood spent taking things apart and putting them back together again, like the old-fashioned alarm clock with the bells on top. (She also remembers the spring that launched itself dangerously close to her eye!)
Leslie’s father was an engineer, but like many fiercely independent daughters, she didn’t plan to follow in his footsteps. Instead, she took piano lessons, joined the school choir and landed scholarships to study music education in college. She wanted to become an opera singer and actress and perform on Broadway. But she wasn’t quite ready to commit to that life.
“I found myself taking physics classes for fun, and tutoring other students in calculus,” Leslie said. “And that isn’t typical for a music major. So I decided to switch from music to math, and finally conceded that the engineering department is where I belonged. Once I found engineering, I found home.”
Not the only musician engineer
Leslie isn’t the only musician engineer in our ranks. Kay Hatlestad, senior acoustic engineer in Trane Technologies’ Commercial HVAC business, is a lifelong musician who also comes from a family of engineers.
“It’s not as uncommon as you’d think,” Leslie said, “for an engineer to be musical. Many of my peers know how to play an instrument. Music and math go together, although I don’t know how to count and I’m not good at sight-reading sheet music!”
Get to Know Leslie
Leslie joined Trane Technologies’ Residential HVAC and Supply business right out of college. She’s spent the past 20 years growing her career with us and blazing a path for other women engineers to follow.
Q: Aside from discovering your love for math and science, why did you finally decide to make the switch from music to engineering?
A: I realized that I wasn’t necessarily going to make it as an opera singer, and I felt like I would be signing myself up to be dependent on someone else for the rest of my life. It’s hard to earn enough money as a performer to make ends meet, and it was concerning to me. Also, when I was in my physics classes and surrounded by students who wanted to be engineers, I really fit in with that crowd. It was cool to be smart in that group of people, and I really enjoyed that. I wasn’t a cool kid growing up, but I was cool for an engineer. I discovered ‘cool’ is just being who you are – and for me, that is an engineer.
Q: What products do you help develop at Trane Technologies?
A: Currently I’m designing residential cased coils and air handler coils, which are manufactured in Trenton, New Jersey, and Vidalia, Georgia.
Q: What engineering project are you most excited about right now?
A: I’m part of a team working to reduce the complexity in our coil designs. In the past, we’d come up with a rather complicated design, resulting in many different coil models that went in our furnaces and air handlers. This project will simplify the design and reduce the number of unique coils we need to produce, which will allow us to increase capacity in our manufacturing facilities.
We decided to tackle this project after chasing down a quality issue in one of our plants. When we dug into it and saw the number of coil models we were producing, we asked ourselves, Why does it have to be so complicated? The answer: It doesn’t! And I’m excited to make coils easier for our manufacturing teams to produce.
Q: Have you seen any changes in how women are represented in the HVAC industry or the field of engineering?
A: When I was a new hire more than 20 years ago, I was the only woman engineer in the building. I remember walking into my first town hall meeting with 100 other engineers and technical people in the room – and I was the only woman in a technical role. I was not expecting that.
I also remember bringing my husband to a company party and finding myself gravitating toward my colleagues’ wives. It was hard to network with a group of men.
Today we’ve almost achieved gender parity on my team. There are at least 30 other women engineers in my building and we have our own network. I’m no longer seen as a woman first, but as an engineer first.
Q: What strengths do women bring to the table?
A: I believe women are naturally cooperative and not as competitive as men. Collaboration seems to come more easily, and we can work the problem together rather than worry about protecting an idea so someone else doesn’t steal it. I also think women are more willing to admit to a mistake so we can fix it before it becomes a bigger problem. Us women have a lot to offer!
Q: What advice would you offer to women entering technical roles or industries?
A: Ask questions. Ask for help. Allow your curiosity the freedom to explore. If you wonder why something works a certain way, go ahead and figure it out.
A hard lesson for me was to learn how to accept criticism on a project and not take it personally. Engineers like to find failure modes and they want to fix things whether they actually need to be fixed or not. The criticism isn’t about you; it’s about coming up with the best design.
Q: Tell us something about yourself that might surprise us.
A: I am obsessed with kickboxing right now! A colleague introduced me to kickboxing when I was feeling out of shape and wanted to do better. It’s been so much fun! And I lost 60 pounds. It’s very fun to punch things – I highly recommend it.
More about Leslie:
Where did you grow up? My family moved around a lot – Nebraska, Illinois, Oklahoma and Texas – but I call my hometown Dumas, Texas.
Where do you call home now? Bullard, Texas
Hobbies: Kickboxing, console video gaming
Best advice you ever received: “It’s OK to be a girl.” It gave me permission to enjoy figuring out how things work and the technical details, but also enjoy wearing cute shoes or something feminine instead of conforming to khakis and a polo shirt (the standard uniform of an engineer – ha!). In essence, this advice told me to be true to myself instead of trying to fit some preconceived mold.
Would like to invent: Teleportation! No more time or energy resources spent traveling to destinations – you could be where you want to be instantaneously.
Favorite place to be when you’re not at work: With my daughters – I enjoy spending as much time with them as possible. They make everything more fun.
Super hero you would like to be: Captain Marvel! I love how she giggled with delight when she discovered what she could do with her powers.
Least favorite chore: Cleaning bathrooms
Favorite musical group: They Might Be Giants. I think they are brilliant song writers. They can write about sad or dark things, but still be peppy and hopeful.
If you could High Five anyone, living or dead, who would it be? Definitely my mom. She was (and still is) my hero – I wish I could talk to her again.