Technology changes aside, consumer electronics (CE) is still very traditional. For decades, the industry’s labor pool has been predominantly made up of men.
Even today, given the ever-diversifying national work force, which includes an increasing number of women working full time, the CE industry remains decidedly male.
Every once in a while, however, someone comes along to break down those traditional boundaries. In the world of consumer electronics, and specifically custom installation, that someone is Kirsten Bouteiller of Durham, Conn.-based Hometronics Lifestyles.
Bouteiller is not only a woman working in custom installation — she’s a woman in custom installation working in the trenches. After coming into the industry with technical training as an electrician, Bouteiller is augmenting her skills to follow a career path that she hopes eventually leads to ownership of her own installation company.
Equal Opportunity Employer
Bouteiller’s story, which still has many chapters to write, wouldn’t be possible if her employer Jim Sweeney, owner, Hometronics Lifestyles, hadn’t given her a chance to tackle those traditional labor roles.
Sweeney admits that she found him more than he found her when it comes to how their paths crossed.
“Kirsten got laid off from her job working for an electrical contractor,” he recalls. “She was given our number from the state [Connecticut] labor department.”
Sweeney says Bouteiller’s electrical background as well as her good-natured personality and simple presence as a female give her some advantages over her male counterparts, particularly when dealing with the main points of customer contact during a project.
According to Sweeney, Bouteiller helps to provide a certain comfort level for clients during days on a jobsite.
“Clients like her a lot,” says Sweeney. “Clients are more relaxed with a female technician, because we deal with more wives than husbands.”
Bouteiller immediately dispelled any notion that a female could not handle the same tasks as any male in the installation industry, Sweeney recalls, when she went to Hometronics for an interview.
He had asked her to bring in her tools, and to his surprise — plus a very positive impression made — she showed up with more tools than any male employee he’s ever encountered.
“She came in for her second interview [and] had more tools than any guy I ever hired,” notes Sweeney. “You can always tell how serious someone is about their job by the money they invest in their tools and education. I was also concerned about her ability to handle the heavy lifting because she is only 5-feet tall so I had her move ladders, TVs and A/V receivers around our warehouse. The only issue we had is with the older plasma set we installed 15 to 20 years ago, and the new 85-inch TVs.”
Aside from the physical aspects that go with the job, Bouteiller has stood out as an exemplary technician in other ways, according to Sweeney. Some of the traits include her dedication and attention to detail. Sweeney adds that she never calls in sick, and she picks up on things quickly.
Sweeney admits that over the years he’s often questioned the value of sending his staff to training sessions; they don’t always return with notes to share and he has caught them falling asleep during these classes. With Bouteiller, he sees her taking meticulous notes, and says those habits have carried over to how she works.
“It was like pulling teeth when you would have [employees] write a report or share what they learned,” remarks Sweeney. “She pays attention to details and is concerned about how things look. When it comes to the rack work and organization skills she outperforms [everyone]. She is now at the point where we can send her out service work and she is able to figure things out just like any new tech. She [also] gets the dirty jobs going into attics and crawl spaces, and [she] gets sent to get the ‘skyhook’ and other things that don’t exist.”
Home Automation Has Major Appeal
Bouteiller’s career in electronics almost didn’t happen. She remembers that when she decided to attend a technical school, electrical wasn’t a top choice of concentration. After taking electrical in her freshman year as part of a process to sample several trades, she realized that she enjoyed the field.
Bouteiller has taken a particular interest in the home automation category as she has migrated into consumer electronics and custom installation, and says learning about home control is an exciting part of her career path.
“The number one thing that attracted me into the electronics industry was home automation,” she says. “I had so much interest in learning how to be able to control all the smart homes and how to get those smart homes up and running, now that I am learning and experiencing all of the things that attracted me to the electronics industry I know this is the right career for me.”
Elaborating on her move from the electrical industry to custom electronics market, Bouteiller says the major difference between the two fields is that in the electrical market there is more “bull work.” She says that industry focuses more on physical strength, whereas the custom electronics channel incorporates more cognitive skills that include programming.
If custom integrators are hoping to find more model technicians such as Bouteiller, they can take some encouragement from what she says of her experiences so far. Bouteiller says the male segment of the custom electronics industry overall has been much more accepting of her than what she found to be an intimidating crowd in the electrical trade.
Plotting her career path, Bouteiller says the long-term goal is to own her own business. Between now and when she realizes her dream, Bouteiller will continue to lay down a solid foundation to support her eventual goals.
“Other than knowing how to program, I need to learn project management, design and engineering, and most important — customer relations,” she says. “I feel customer relations is the number one thing I need to know to own my own company, because in order to get business I need to be able to communicate and build a bond with a stranger [that will] soon become a client.”
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