GE's Christine Furstoss: Materials Engineer. 3D Innovator. Relentless Learner.

Christine Furstoss, global technology director at GE, talked to TechRepublic about continually learning from her job, self-reflection, and pushing the boundaries of her industry.

Christine Furstoss, global technology director for GE, examines a 3D printed part in the additive manufacturing lab.
Image: Christine Furstoss

One of the most inspiring things about Christine Furstoss is how aware she is -- of how quickly our world is changing, of how rapidly the tech industry is moving, and of how important it is to continually learn and evolve, no matter how experienced we become.

Furstoss celebrated her 25th anniversary with General Electric on April 10. It's an impressive amount of time for anyone to stay at one company these days, and very rare. Furstoss is a materials engineer by training, with both a bachelor's and master's degree in the field. Materials engineering, she said, is an area of the industry people don't often hear much about.

"I studied a whole gamut to learn how do you design [materials], and how do you make them. I've always had that desire ever since my days in be an explorer of systems," she said.

Furstoss started in the power and water division at GE 25 years ago, working on making new materials for power generating equipment. Most of her time working in this division was spent on the factory floor, visiting companies and understanding how to make a better product. She ended up spending 11 years in the power and water division in a number of different roles, so that she could "stretch herself" and learn more about the GE products and company culture.

She eventually moved to the global research department, working with metals, ceramics, and other materials in various fields such as aviation, healthcare, and lighting, before she was asked to lead the technology and engineering teams for the water side of the business.

Then, three years ago, Furstoss began her position as global technology director for manufacturing and materials technologies, working with leaders in the industry and focusing on new materials to use, specifically additive manufacturing (or 3D printing).

"The industry has changed, the players changed, and with tech development, we've always been able to continue to stretch how our company thinks about products and service offerings through engineering and technology views," she said.

Furstoss has stayed with GE all these years because of her determination to learn and explore new systems. She moved around quite a bit within the company, but she said she never focused on what the next job would be. She tried to stay present and happy with each one, enriching herself through the different tasks and skills in the position.

"We all grow and change every day, and I am faced with the fact that I've [been here for] 25 years and a whole new generation of the workforce is coming in, and they are very different than me," she said. "And I want to make sure that I connect with them."

To make sure she does, Furstoss takes a few moments to herself after every meeting, presentation, or interview. She likes to spend a lot of time looking inward, asking questions like "Was I effective?" or "Did people understand what I said?" She wants to constantly improve herself, especially because in the technology industry, there is always something new brewing.

Another way Furstoss puts her work in perspective is through a hobby she has that not many people know about: bass fishing. Her parents owned a lobstering business in New England when she was young, so she is most comfortable on the water. The crack of dawn or the fall of dusk are her favorite times to soak in the tranquility of the sport.

All this self-reflection ties back to becoming a stronger technology leader. Furstoss loves her work. She is a huge proponent of additive manufacturing, and GE is a global leader in the industry, so growing that part of the company is very important to her. Furstoss also often works with young girls and other children to help them gain interest in STEM fields, specifically engineering, by exposing them to museums or tours of the GE offices.

"It's a very small way to show them what we do and take some of the mystery out of it," she said.

It's important to her philosophy as an engineer because she was one of only three women in her graduating class at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. She never felt as though she was treated differently, but she did not have a lot of role models, and she wants to showcase the women who are succeeding in their fields today.

Furstoss wants to be remembered as a champion for innovation. But she didn't mean by simply adopting new technology -- she meant giving people the support to try, fail, and try again. To do something different than ever before, with GE and otherwise.

"I want people to say, 'Christine was someone who supported trying what's new and was willing to push those boundaries.'"

In her own words...

What do you look for in people you are hiring?

"A good foundation, I don't need experts. That's unrealistic, a little too narrow, so I like good foundations in science and engineering. I can teach them the rest. I have a 16-year-old son and I just tell him to be good in science and math. Also, passion. People who are excited to learn every day, have a lot of different types of experiences. The world is moving have to try new things quickly."

What is your favorite project you've ever worked on?

"I love the things we are doing now in the energy storage business. We sell batteries in conjunction with wind power to power remote villages in remote countries and cell towers on top of mountains. It's driving new needs in the industry, and a lot of materials tech we didn't invent but we've perfected it. It brings together a marriage of new designs with new manufacturing, and that's an area I'm pretty passionate about."

What do you do to unplug?

"I purposely don't live right where I work, and I don't work from home too often. I like to say work is work and home is home."

What do you like to do outside of work?

"I like to go out in nature [when we travel], or go to New York City. It's a quick drive from here, so sometimes we go to dinner. I am also a fanatic Boston Red Sox fan. A great day is a Red Sox game. My family could be considered kind of cultish."

What do you like to cook?

"I'm absolutely amazed at watching the Food Network. I'm not the best cook, so that's my dream one day. I love Chopped and Cutthroat Kitchen... it seems somewhat attainable."

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