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Peggy Otsubo

Peggy Otsubo

Senior Technical Staff at Northrop Grumman (Retired)

By David Zierler, Director of the Caltech Heritage Project
October 6, 2022

DAVID ZIERLER: This is David Zierler, Director of the Caltech Heritage Project. It is Thursday, October 6th, 2022. I am delighted to be here with Dr. Peggy Otsubo. Peggy, it's so nice to be with you. Thank you so much for joining me today.

PEGGY OTSUBO: Thanks for having me, David.

ZIERLER: Peggy, to start, would you please tell me your most recent title and affiliation, professionally?

OTSUBO: Let's see. I think I was Senior Technical Staff at Northrop Grumman, formerly TRW. It's kind of a vague title, but I was on senior staff to the program manager. Prior to that, I was a Program Manager of a little bit smaller program, and I also worked in business development. I had the same title for those different roles.

ZIERLER: We'll work through all of your education, your graduate focus on computer engineering. Was your role at Northrup Grumman more of a technical level, or was it more on the administrative side?

OTSUBO: I would consider myself a technical manager at the end. I started out programming when I first hired in. Then the way it works at a lot of companies, certainly aerospace companies, as you want to move up the ladder, it is managerial. I started getting more and more managerial tasks, starting with smaller group work packages, smaller projects, up to a bigger job, which was program manager, and then moved into business development. Business development was a lot of getting connections with the government, in particular, because those were our customers, and technical in that we needed to provide them answers to some of their questions. It kind of bridged the customer relationship with technical.

ZIERLER: Peggy, on the technical side, in terms of both your education and your academic interests, were you most focused on the hardware or software side of computer science?

OTSUBO: Software, completely software.

ZIERLER: What kinds of programs did you work on? What kinds of innovations were you a part of?

OTSUBO: The last ones were big satellite programs, software for the satellites. I worked on the GPS OCX procurement, which is the ground station for GPS. We had a procurement or a capture, so we built software to demonstrate our capabilities for the GPS ground stations. I also was a program manager of a program that developed image processing software for NIMA (National Imagery and Mapping Agency). But the imaging side of the government has hundreds and millions of images. We developed what was called the NIMA library, and we helped process those images, and store them. I ran a couple smaller programs, which were kind of niche technical. We actually developed hardware that was called the Fast Data Finder that did text search. I didn't do the hardware part of that, but I did the simulation and the software around that. I think that's one of the couple patents I got. We helped the government do text search. Now, we have Google, but we didn't have Google—

ZIERLER: Right. [laugh]

OTSUBO: —in the '80s. That's when we developed that. There was another program where we did something similar where we did searches of multifield text. That was called the Multifield Identification Chip, MIC. Lots of other smaller software roles where I was part of either research and development, small projects, or part of a bigger group. I worked in fluid mechanics as a programmer. I worked a little bit on I think some of the old—gosh, I can't remember—weapons systems that were in development when I was right out of college.

ZIERLER: Peggy, without going into any sensitive details, was any of your work classified, the things you were doing for the government?

OTSUBO: Yes, almost all of it was.

ZIERLER: Almost all of it was? OK. Interesting. That means, clearly, you needed a clearance in your job?


ZIERLER: Did you ever go to Washington? Did you ever see, sort of front row, what was happening on the policy side of things?

OTSUBO: Not to Washington for the policies, but that's where a lot of our customers were. We would go there to install systems, to see if they were working, to help the customers learn how to use their system, go visit to figure out what the customer needed, so do polling and investigation and talking to customers. When I was in the business acquisition role, I did attend meetings with government customers; not really policy meetings; more forums or talking. It was a little bit of pitch on our end. "Here are some of the capabilities we have." They would listen to it, and decide whether or not that was something they were interested in. If not, maybe they had some other contacts, so we would meet with those contacts to try to sell the government on some of our capabilities; not usually products but more capabilities based on things we'd done in the past.

ZIERLER: Peggy, in retirement, do you keep up with the literature at all? Are you sort of following developments, or you're enjoying a clean break?

OTSUBO: A clean break?

ZIERLER: Yeah. [laugh]

OTSUBO: A lot of my friends fail retirement, and they go back, and they're consulting. I've done nothing since retirement.

ZIERLER: No consulting?

OTSUBO: No, none at all.

ZIERLER: What have you been doing instead? What's been important to you?

OTSUBO: I had kids very late in life. When I retired, my son was still in high school. I had an opportunity to spend a fair amount of time with his activities in high school, which I thought was a gift. He was in the marching band. I was able to do a lot of volunteer activities, which allowed me to see him and his friends without hovering. He allowed that because we were helping his band. That was great. I got to do a lot of work the first few years after I retired with his marching band. Then I got a chance to see him in college as he went on to do musical theater and improv, even though he was a math major. It was fun to kind of travel up to Santa Barbara and see him. I also continued to do some work with the band. I'm doing some volunteer work with the Kitten Rescue, which is an organization here in LA that needs organizational work. Interestingly enough, I'm not doing anything technical, but it is all very administrative, logistical.

ZIERLER: It's in your wheelhouse?

OTSUBO: It kind of is. Not what I would've thought would be in my wheelhouse, but I like it. I feel like I can help.

ZIERLER: Peggy, as you mentioned, having kids later in life, was part of that about career decisions, and you needing to prove yourself before you got to a point where you felt ready to have kids? Was that part of the equation?

OTSUBO: I think so. A lot of it was I didn't feel like I could juggle both when I was younger. I felt like when I was coming up, there were a lot of maybe not direct—I was in a very male-dominated industry. Aerospace is basically all male -- unwritten rules that if you're a mom, you don't get to do certain things, so there was that. I wasn't sure I could juggle both. Then, as I got older, I figured I could—and I think I was right. When you're older, you're able to say, OK, those things aren't that important. Let those things slide. These are more important, and be able to do both. I was, let's see, 39 and 43 when I had kids, which is really quite old.

ZIERLER: In between supervisors or managers or the company itself, were you at least pleasantly surprised? Were they supportive when you decided to start a family?

OTSUBO: Yes, I was. I had a couple of female managers. They grew up kind of in the same era, so they would give me hints like you don't say, "I need to go take care of my kids." You say, "I have some other work-related thing I have to go do." There was a lot of working around so that you don't have to tell your male bosses that you can't do something because of your family life. I always took that to heart. I did not say I couldn't do something because my kids were too young or they were in school or any of that. I never said that. That was ingrained in me. You just don't. You will be left out of opportunities if you go down that path.

ZIERLER: Peggy, I wonder if you've talked to any women who are now in their late 20s and 30s, just to get a sense of how much things have changed or, perhaps, not?

OTSUBO: Yes. I believe it has changed a lot. My daughter is 29, and she also graduated from Caltech. It's a different feeling on campus. When I was there, people would stare at you just because they didn't see very many females on campus. Now, there's 40% females, so it's not an oddity. All the house leadership seems to be women, which was not all the case when I was there. I don't even think she realizes though that it could be different. She graduated, and went to one company, so she only knows that one company. It is very supportive of women and mental health and taking time for yourself, which was not the environment I grew up in. I don't think she even realizes how much better it is for her.

ZIERLER: Those are hard-won things to take for granted, right?

OTSUBO: Yeah, and I'm actually really glad that it is something that she's not saying, "I need to fight." But it is better now.

ZIERLER: Peggy, what about your connections to Caltech? In retirement, did you have more bandwidth to be an involved alum?

OTSUBO: That's a good question. I know you're going to start with high school. But I was a very good student in high school, without studying at all. I went to Caltech, and it was a huge culture shock, and I did not do well. I wasn't driven to do anything. I was more driven to accomplish. I got to Caltech, and the accomplishing was very hard. I was not prepared. I had gone to an inner city high school. I wasn't prepared. My parents hadn't gone to college, so they didn't know what it was about. I had and I still have mixed feelings, but I had really negative feelings about Caltech, and had no desire to even step foot on campus. It was a lot of unpleasant memories, especially going past the physics-math building, where I was a math major. No, I didn't do much with Caltech, except for the fact that at TRW, my boss's boss or it might be my boss's boss's boss sent emails out to us, and said, "Hey, you're a Caltech grad. You should donate to Caltech," which I don't know that they can do that now. But I did feel some pressure to support Caltech monetarily because somebody in my reporting chain knew that I went to Caltech, and was watching that I supported it or not. Recently, I've been doing a little bit more, just because I'm friends with Susan, and she is so active, so a little bit more. But I still had—I don't know if negative feelings are quite it. I didn't particularly encourage my daughter to go there. She had other options. I left the decision up to her, but it's not necessarily what I would've chosen for her. I'm not a real active alum. I don't know if it'll get better.

ZIERLER: Well, let's put this story in perspective. First, to go back before your Caltech years, where did you grow up?

OTSUBO: South Central LA. It's a very rough neighborhood, even now. When my parents moved in, it was not bad. Susan and I went to junior high school together; a very rough neighborhood. Fights in the yard, school yard every day. We went to Dorsey High School, which is an inner-city high school. It was very rough: shootings, stabbings, locked gates to get in and out. But it was 90% Black and 10% Japanese American. The 10% Japanese American were in all the academic classes. I had the same friends in all the chemistry, physics, math, everything. The culture there was education is your way out. You need to study and get good grades. The peer pressure was everybody needs to do well. The teachers loved having us. They worked hard to help us. I think I might've shared with you that our physics teacher in our senior year, Mr. Tan, actually came to my house, and talked to my parents about some of the college options. My parents did not go to college. My dad graduated high school; my mom did not.

ZIERLER: Are your parents from Los Angeles?

OTSUBO: They were both born in LA, they both went back to Japan for some period of time, and came back. They grew up poor. My dad went to high school and became a gardener, because that's pretty much all he could do after the war. My mom never worked. She stayed at home. They didn't know what college was about. They didn't know anything about any of the colleges. Even through high school, they didn't really know what we were learning or what we were doing.

ZIERLER: What was the racial makeup of your neighborhood in high school?

OTSUBO: It was mostly Black. Like I said, 90% of the high school was Black; 10% Japanese American. Very few Hispanics. I can't remember a single Hispanic. Very few Caucasians. Very few even Chinese. A couple of Chinese. Mostly Japanese American. It's a little pocket of LA that has—

ZIERLER: Do you have a sense, historically, of why there was this Japanese pocket in this area?

OTSUBO: Japanese American moved to what they called the Crenshaw area. There were a lot of Japanese Americans that made their home there. There were Japanese businesses, Japanese groceries, furniture stores, kind of a little infrastructure there, which is probably why my parents—and I never asked them -- but I'm guessing they were able to buy houses in that area; that there were places they wouldn't have been welcome or allowed to buy. It got to be that in the Crenshaw area, there's a huge number of Japanese Americans there. A lot of them ended up leaving. There were pockets in Gardena for a while. Now, they're kind of spread out. But it was known as a Japanese American community there.

ZIERLER: Now, growing up, did you always gravitate more to the math and science side of education?


ZIERLER: With your school, with all of the problems, the violence that you noted, was there opportunity to get a good education?

OTSUBO: I will say that there was a lot of peer pressure to do well. The teachers tried hard to teach the upper 10% of the kids that we all grew up together with. When I look at the difference of the education my kids got and what I got, it's night and day. My daughter, in particular, we sent her to a private school for a number of reasons, and her education in high school was phenomenal. She was allowed to take any kind of course she wanted, really. She took calculus as a tenth grader, and then took multivariable calculus and linear algebra in high school, whereas we didn't have that. I took one AP class; she took 10. No, I do not think the education was good. I'm not sure why it is that we had three girls going to Caltech from high school, but it's a lot harder to get into colleges now. There's no question about that.

ZIERLER: Now, when it was time for you to start thinking about college, did you know that Caltech had gone coed only a year before? How did you come to learn this?

OTSUBO: It's funny. I don't remember a lot of the details. I do remember wondering, "Am I going to go to college?" A lot of my friends were going to either UCLA or USC. Those were the choices. UCLA was a lot easier to get in then than it is now. I would say, of my friends, 30% of them went to UCLA. That was what my parents had in mind, that I should go to UCLA or USC. You'd live at home. You'd commute into college. You don't live on campus. It was our physics teacher, Mr. Tan, who helped me decide I could apply to more schools than just UCLA and USC. I did apply to those two schools. But he took us on field trips, and we went to visit Caltech and Harvey Mudd, which is one of the Claremont Colleges. We never went to visit Stanford, but I did apply to Stanford as well. I don't know if being a woman entered in my decision at all. I will share an anecdote about Harvey Mudd. I was really surprised to hear my physics teacher went to talk to them, and they told him, "We don't usually like to admit minority women because they don't fit in. But Peggy has a lot of extracurriculars, so maybe she'll be OK." That was pretty blatant discrimination, when I think back on it. They were pretty much saying, "We don't want to admit minorities, and here's our justification for it." I did get into Harvey Mudd. But when I visited Caltech, we talked to a student who said he spent his first year at Harvey Mudd, and everybody there didn't get into Caltech, and so they were all like, "Oh, my gosh, I wish I could get into Caltech but I didn't." I was thinking, "Well, if I got into Caltech and Harvey Mudd, maybe I should choose Caltech." I basically chose it because it was the harder school to get into; not much more research or thought than that. When I see how much research the kids now do—or maybe it's where in a different area, demographics—my daughter visited, I don't know, 20 colleges, did research about all of them, spent overnight at several of them before she made her decision. We just didn't do that then. No, being a woman didn't even occur to me as an issue.

ZIERLER: The idea that you would be going into barely chartered water, that didn't register at all?

OTSUBO: It didn't affect my decision at all.

ZIERLER: Peggy, what about just the numbers, how difficult it is to get into Caltech? Did anyone give you encouragement that you had the grades and the talent that you would be a plausible applicant?

OTSUBO: Mr. Tan. I honestly think he got Susan and me and Betty into Caltech. He went to Caltech. He talked to them. He talked to us. He talked to my parents, who had no idea what the different schools were because they hadn't gone to college or done this before. I'm the older of the two siblings in my family, so they hadn't done this before. I think without Mr. Tan, I would be at UCLA.

ZIERLER: Do you remember what it was like when you got the acceptance letter from Caltech, and what your reaction was?

OTSUBO: No, I don't remember that. I only applied to five, which is not many now. But I got into everywhere, and I do remember wondering what I should do. It was hard to decide. I did not want to go to USC. I just applied because that's what you did. But the others were hard. Stanford and Caltech were different, but Caltech was the hardest one to get into. Stanford was easier to get into when I was in high school. Again, is that a good reason? I don't know.

ZIERLER: Why, ultimately, did you choose Caltech?

OTSUBO: Because it was the hardest school to get into, and I got into it.

ZIERLER: That's it?

OTSUBO: I thought I should go there.

ZIERLER: You were looking for a challenge? You didn't know what the challenge would be?

OTSUBO: Yes, that's probably a good way to put it. I was used to being able to meet the challenges, so I thought I'd be able to do it.

ZIERLER: Peggy, coming from South Central LA, in what ways did Pasadena feel like a different world?

OTSUBO: Well, Caltech is very small, like you're in a little bubble. When I was there, you were in the little bubble of your house, even. It wasn't even Pasadena or Caltech; it was Page House for me. The thing that I missed the most was having girlfriends. I had a sister, and we were really close. I had a set of girlfriends. We had grown up together. Not having a set of girlfriends at Caltech was hard for me. Not only academic but culturally, it was so different, and I was surprised. I didn't know. I'd grown up in one place. I didn't know what it would be like. I don't know. I can't put my finger on why, but it was definitely a culture shock. It was more of an academic shock to me too. I never studied in high school. I never cracked a book; never opened a book. I remember a chemistry exam where the teacher said, "You can take notes. You can bring in an index card of notes." I'm like, "OK, maybe I should write some notes down," and opening the chemistry book for the first time the night before the exam. I'm like, "Well, if I write it down, what good is that? I can remember it, so what good is it writing it?" I remember distinctly that all my friends had been studying, they'd been opening books, and I never had to do that. It was a huge disadvantage because I could not do that at Caltech. I did not know how to study, did not know how to learn, did not know what to do.

ZIERLER: This was a humbling experience for you?

OTSUBO: Absolutely, humbling, demoralizing, really hard to get my mind around, OK, now what?

ZIERLER: Peggy, being part of that second class of undergraduate women at Caltech, did you have the sense that the accommodations for women did not feel so brand new, that things were sort of settled at that point, and it was normalized for women to be on campus, or did it still feel improvised, to some degree?

OTSUBO: The first year, they only let women into, I think, two of the seven student houses, But, in my year, I was the first class of women into Page House. Like I said, that was my world. I didn't visit any other places, any other houses. Page was not ready for women. That's cultural; not necessarily anything the administration could do. I do think that there were upper class counselors. There was like a married couple that lived in the house. They weren't ready either. They didn't know what to do. It's usually a grad student and his wife, so the wife had no understanding of what women at Caltech have to go through because she wasn't a Caltech student; just the husband was. He was kind of more in the, you know, this is what Caltech men are like. Then here's six of us showing up in this house of 60, and there was nobody. I think the administration tried, but there wasn't really anyone to help us maneuver what to do. I did eventually end up talking with, I think, somebody in some of the Lloyd House, who was telling me, "This is the support that we give the people in Lloyd, the women in Lloyd. These are some of the issues that are occurring." I felt like that wasn't happening in Page just due to the personality of the people involved. I didn't think they were ready. I don't know what they could've done to get ready. I think there was a lot done to make the men feel more comfortable, but—I don't know—it's a long time ago. Maybe there was more, and I didn't see it.

ZIERLER: Peggy, as you emphasized, the house system was really the starting point for the social setting at Caltech. What were some of the benefits and drawbacks to the centrality of the house system in that regard?

OTSUBO: I actually think that's one of the good things about Caltech. That's what I told my daughter is that it gave you a home. There were a lot of people—I don't know if I'd put myself in that boat—but there were a lot of people who had no friends in high school. They came to Caltech, and found other people like them. The house was where they were able to foster those friendships, and do more together. We ate dinner every day, and I actually thought that was great because if somebody didn't show up, we would send somebody to them. "Hey, where's Joey today? He didn't come to dinner, because that was unusual." I felt like that was a great support system. I don't know if it's as strong now. My daughter didn't seem to feel that for her house affiliations. But I really, really loved that. It's like a family. Even though it was an odd set of people, and very different background of people, they were all taking care of each other. I really, really liked that. I liked the fact that when I was there, I thought we had a lot of autonomy. The houses could make the rules, and the administration trusted the students to do what they thought was best. I actually felt that we were empowered as students to run our house. A lot of other parts of the undergrad experience were dictated by the undergrads. I thought people took that responsibility very seriously, and they did a good job of making sure that it was the right thing. I feel like I made a difference, that I could make a difference. Let's see, what else about houses? The bad things were that it was one house versus another. Susan was in Fleming. It would've been nice to go see her once in a while, although she was in a different major, different study. She had different friends. But we did go visit once in a while, but not as much as maybe they do now, which I think is a good thing. My daughter's experience is that you can be a social member of another house as well as live in. There's not the animosity that there was when I was there.

ZIERLER: Peggy, what about on the academic side? What was the game plan for you? What kinds of things did you want to pursue, at least when you first arrived on campus?

OTSUBO: I didn't have a clear view of what I wanted to do. I didn't really know what opportunities were available because I came from South Central LA. I didn't see engineers or computer scientists. I saw teachers, so I wanted to be a teacher or a librarian. I didn't want to be a doctor. I didn't like the biological sciences. But I didn't know what was available. I think that's a lot of what I struggled with is I started out in engineering. The first time I was able to try computer programming, I was in the seventh or eighth grade, and it was an after-school class that they give to inner city kids who don't have opportunities, and I loved it. Really easy. I understood it. It made sense. I thought, "Oh, I'll go into engineering at Caltech." I chose that as a major as a freshman, and had an advisor who I think was trying to give me his advice. He said, "It's the rare woman who succeeds in the sciences," kind of implying to me, "You're not one of those women." I was young. I'm looking around at how hard academically it was for me, and thinking, "He's right. I don't belong here." Actually, I felt that from the start. They made a mistake. I shouldn't have been admitted. But he kind of reinforced that. I transferred out of engineering into math. I eventually went on to computer engineering, so I probably would've benefited from staying in engineering, but I wasn't sure enough of myself to tell him, "No, I can do this, and maybe I'm not going to be the best, but I can still make it through." Because I didn't have a clear goal, I couldn't say to him, "No, I want to get there, and this is my path to get there." It was more, "I kind of like computers but if you don't think I'll be good at it, OK." The reason I went to math was we all had to take three years of math anyway, and it looked like the easiest way to get out; have the fewest number of units to graduate.

ZIERLER: Now, this discouragement from this one faculty member, Peggy, what do you think about the idea that there might've been multiple layers to this; not just that you were a woman, but you were a non-white woman? Was that sort of a double whammy, to some degree?

OTSUBO: It could've been. The guy who gave me that advice was Hispanic. I was later telling Susan this story, and she thought maybe there was some racial overtones to that as well. That to the macho Hispanic, you're not the picture of a successful person in science. He actually pointed to a couple. You're right. He pointed to a couple of woman, white woman, who were successful. "They can do it." But I just took that to mean I couldn't. Again, that's partially on me for accepting it. Just because he said it, it doesn't mean I needed to take it to heart.

ZIERLER: Peggy, why not dig in, and prove him and everyone else wrong, and stay in engineering?

OTSUBO: I didn't. I think if I had a goal, like, "I want to go there. This is going to take me there," it would have been easier to kind of buck him. But my goal kind of at that point was to graduate Caltech.

ZIERLER: Path of least resistance?


ZIERLER: What did you do? How did you pivot from engineering? What else did you consider?

OTSUBO: I just went to math. Everybody who goes to Caltech likes math. Math is where I went. Again, the fewest number of units to graduate. We all have to take two years of calculus, and a third year anyway. I thought that I can make it through, maybe. I wasn't sure I could graduate in math, but that seemed like an easier option.

ZIERLER: Was there intelligence shared among the women about professors who you would consider to be allies, who were supportive of the women on campus?

OTSUBO: Maybe. I wasn't aware of that. Going to lunch with these other Caltech women these past few years, it seems like they were able to point to several professors, mostly in biology, who were very supportive of them, and helped them, and they helped each other. But I didn't have that. Again, I think part of it was I was in the first class into Page House. There were only six of us. It was hard to even get to know the other six women because they were all stretched so thin with all the guys like hovering around them. I had one roommate I was pretty good friends with, but she was a chemistry transfer student, so she was a junior. Maybe that's one of the things I missed: talking to other women about what are your issues? "What are your problems? Here's what I feel. How can you get through that?" I felt like I didn't have any of that, at least not for the first year—maybe first year or two. Then we got more women, and it got —I don't know—a better environment, maybe.

ZIERLER: Peggy, more broadly, in the early 1970s, obviously, Caltech was not like Berkeley or Columbia. But was there any political activity on campus as it related to civil rights or women's rights or the Vietnam War? Anything like that?

OTSUBO: I think there was a banner put on the library that was quickly torn off. I felt like it was more, "We are scientists. We are not politicians." That's kind of the atmosphere. "We don't do that kind of stuff." No, I didn't feel any of that when I was there. Maybe some others did. I didn't see that in my friends. I didn't feel that.

ZIERLER: Peggy, how did the transfer to math work out for you? Did you feel more comfortable in that environment?

OTSUBO: Yes. I don't know if it was because it was easier. My advisor was Apostol, who was just so supportive. I was still a scared kid, like, what am I doing here? I had to take classes from him, and he was always really, really nice and supportive, so I appreciated that. It was a lot easier in math.

ZIERLER: What did you do during the summers? Did you work on campus? Did you go back home?

OTSUBO: I went back home to save money, and I worked usually in secretarial jobs. That's the type of job I could get. I didn't even ask Caltech if they could find me a better job. Now that I see what my daughter's getting, she gets internships, she went to Japan for an internship, I'm like, "I wonder if they had that then?" I don't know. Maybe they did. But I needed money. My parents needed money. I went home, stayed at home, and worked as a switchboard operator, as a Dictaphone typist. That's what I did in the summers.

ZIERLER: In what ways did your focus on math help you narrow your interests for after Caltech?

OTSUBO: When I graduated, it was in '75. The aerospace industry was in a huge downturn. There were people who—I don't know—companies that had lost or laid off 40% of their workforce.

ZIERLER: This must be a post-Vietnam development?

OTSUBO: Yeah, there was a huge downturn in the aerospace business then, so it was hard to get a job. I graduated, and I think I eventually got a job after six months. Again, a math degree, not really marketable skills, so I just got whatever job came by. I happened to get a job in San Diego at an aerospace company. It's sheer luck that I ended up there because they gave me a job. Interestingly, most of the people there did not know Caltech. They had heard of MIT but they thought Caltech was like a Polytech or like a trade tech. They just didn't know. It was kind of shocking to me. You would think with a technical workforce that they would know but they didn't. I got hired to do programming, which I had never done. They took a chance, and I learned it on the job. They don't do that now.

ZIERLER: What aspects of becoming such obviously a quick study do you translate back to your education at Caltech?

OTSUBO: There were a couple of incidences I remember. One is questioning. Computer programming is really just learning a language, so you can learn that on your own. But I think what Caltech teaches you is more problem-solving. I remember really vividly my boss had an algorithm for adjusting for the curvature of the Earth. I remember looking at it, going, "I don't think that's right." I went home, and I did it three different ways, and came up with a different answer. I was still young, scared, the type who doesn't raise her hand. I went to him, and I said, "I think it should be this instead of this." It was interesting because he went back to his notes, grabbed his notes, "Oh, OK, that makes sense." He should have sat down with me, really, and gone over the reasoning behind why I got from here to here, but he didn't. He went back to his way of writing it out. I remember thinking I was questioning that because that's how I was taught is that it's not just follow the rules. My coworkers were mortified that I went to him because he was known to be kind of a hardline, "No, you do it my way," kind of guy. They were mortified. "What are you doing? No, you should not question him." But I did because of my background of, "This is a problem. We need to solve it the right way." I think that was useful.

I think other times, the belief that I can make a difference, that I am empowered to make a difference comes up here and there, where I felt like I can do that. I can help in that way. I can make a difference if I go that way instead of just following the rules. I felt like Caltech is very much not a rule-following, do things in this way without thinking. That's not the Caltech student. That's not what I learned there, which I very much value.

ZIERLER: Now, your interest in math, were they always more on the applied side, thinking in terms of what you went on to do, or were you involved at all in pure math?

OTSUBO: I was in the pure math major and took mostly pure math classes. I never really liked them. I liked the application more. I started first in San Diego at General Dynamics, electronics division, but moved to TRW, and they had great work-study, educational support programs. I remember just gradually moving to applied math. I got a master's in applied math while I was working, and that was at UCLA. But it was much more interesting to me because it was applied. Then, as I was doing more work at work, I got involved in this one special technology, which we got a patent for. I'm like, "I think that computer science would be an interesting place for me to go." I went from applied math to computer science. I did not have any of the background classes. I eventually got into the UC Santa Barbara computer engineering department, and took all the undergrad classes. I actually really, really liked them. I like computer science and engineering much more than math. It's like I should've been there to start out with. Math was hard for me. Pure math was really hard for me.

ZIERLER: Peggy, what was the work culture like at General Dynamics. You said before it was male dominated, but was it OK? Did you feel included at work?

OTSUBO: I worked at General Dynamics for a couple of years. It's down in San Diego. I actually told my daughter that sometimes—let's see. I had a female boss later, who told me that she chose a geographic area to work in that was so expensive to live in that the wives had to work. San Diego does not qualify, so there were a lot of men there who had stay-at-home wives, and they didn't think of women as needing to be in the workforce or that they wanted in the workforce. It was better when I came up to LA, and I started working for TRW. LA is more expensive, so there were a lot more women who were working, and a lot more husbands who had working wives who needed to be working so they could afford their house that they wanted to buy. I thought, actually, it was amazingly astute of her as a new college grad to have figured that out. At General Dynamics, I do remember going into meetings, and they would always ask me to get coffee, and take notes. I got better at not knowing how to make coffee, not getting their early enough that they wanted me to take notes. That happened probably for a long period of my career, but it was worse in San Diego, I think, than it was in Redondo Beach here in TRW.

ZIERLER: Peggy, when you first got exposed to some of the software programming, did this seem like you had found your vocation, the thing that you really were good at, and wanted to learn more about?

OTSUBO: Yeah, I loved it.

ZIERLER: What about? Was it the logic, the challenge? Why did you like it so much?

OTSUBO: I like creating something—it's like building something. I was able to build something, and then see it work. That was very satisfying. I did decide later that I'm a little bigger picture than someone who only wants to code all the time. They would be like heads down and only want to code. I wasn't sure that was me. Later, I decided that I liked managing the software. I felt like I can make a bigger difference by managing software engineers; that I could kind of understand their problem. But I'm not building the software; I'm building a team that's going to do the software. I actually really liked managing, software managing.

ZIERLER: What were some of the key things that General Dynamics built, and for what kinds of clients?

OTSUBO: I was only in General Dynamics for two years. They did a position location system. It was software that was using really radar from various locations to determine where some of their assets were. But I was only there for two years. Then I was at Aerojet for a year, and then in a really bad car accident. I was off a year after the car accident, and ended up at TRW, and did lots of different things at TRW. I helped the fluid mechanics department do a lot of analysis of their signal processing. I worked on a Fast Data Finder which was a hardware system to do text search. I worked on the procurement of the ground system for GPS satellites. It's varied. People say, "Oh, my gosh, you were at one company for 35 years." It was never the same. It's not 35 years of the same job or the same project or even the same area. It gave me the flexibility to move around if I didn't like or a project was ending or I knew people with other opportunities. I could just move to other parts of the company.

ZIERLER: Tell me about the decision—

OTSUBO: I will say there was—

ZIERLER: No, go ahead.

OTSUBO: I was going to say there was a least one opportunity, maybe two, where I was—there was one opportunity where I was hired sight unseen just because I was a Caltech grad. The guy basically said, "I heard you went to Caltech. You want to come work for me?" It did open doors. It did make a difference at TRW Northrop Grumman. Very heavily recruited. They went to Caltech, and got undergrads, and they knew Caltech undergrads. It was a little more comfortable an environment than being down in San Diego.

ZIERLER: Tell me about the decision to transfer to Aerojet only two years later.

OTSUBO: I'm pretty sure it was because my boyfriend had moved to Caltech, so I decided to go to Aerojet. I was only there—I'm going to say—six months, and then we were in a car accident. He was a Caltech undergrad, he was a Caltech graduate student when we were in a car accident, and he was killed. That was pretty traumatic. I spent a year off of work because I had a whole bunch of injuries myself. Then my sister and I decided to get a place near the beach, so [laugh] we moved to Manhattan Beach.

ZIERLER: Was this similar kind of work? Were you moving into a new field, to some degree?

OTSUBO: No, they were all aerospace companies. Different software, maybe, but the culture was the same; the customers the same. It's the government customer. Aerojet's a little bit smaller company. But, again, there I think I got the job because either my boss or my boss's boss was a Caltech grad, so he hired Caltech undergrads in particular. He actually told us that he liked undergrads from Caltech because he thought they knew how to solve problems as well as most grad students. He was a Caltech grad himself, so I'm sure he was biased. But I got the job there, I think, because I had gone to Caltech.

ZIERLER: At least initially, was this a lateral move, or did you already see a promotion prospect?

OTSUBO: It was lateral. It was lateral going to TRW as well. When I hired into General Dynamics, my first job out of college, I didn't have the experience or really the right degree. It was in math; not computer science or engineering. I hired in at a really low salary. I had friends. We're all like, "How much you make? How much you make?" I'm like, "They're making twice as much as I am." But, by the end of two years, I was there for two years, I think I got 15–20% raises every year because I was so underpaid to start out with. [laugh] I don't know that I was looking for promotions, but that's an interesting thought. I never really, especially in the early years, I was more interested in doing interesting work.

ZIERLER: Do you think being a woman sort of held you back, you yourself, that you were not thinking along those lines?

OTSUBO: It could be, yeah, could be. I definitely think that there was some ambivalence on my part to push to get more recognition, more money. Really, why was I underpaid to start out with? It's because I didn't lobby for more money when I got the job. I was happy to get the job, and that's kind of traditionally how I've been. I think that could be the fact that I'm a woman; it could be my background. My dad was like, "Girls don't do that. You don't make waves." I don't know. I see some of the other women who were more successful, and they don't have the same ambivalence. I think the girls now are better. They are more comfortable standing up for themselves.

ZIERLER: When did you start thinking about grad school, both in terms of it being an intellectual pursuit and in ways that it could advance your career that otherwise might not be possible?

OTSUBO: That's an interesting thought. One of the first things I did when I came to TRW is I worked for the fluid mechanics department. It was a tiny department of 20, and 18 of them had PhDs. They were all super smart, supportive of education, and I remember thinking, "I could do that." A lot of them were math majors—PhDs in math. I think I've always had—I don't when—I had the feeling that I would go back for more education, and TRW helped that. They paid for a work-study program where I worked 30 hours a week, and took a full load at UCLA. They paid for all that. Then, also, they had this great program—what was it called?—the TRW PhD Fellowship or something, where they paid for your tuition, they gave you a $20,000—which was a lot then—$20,000 stipend, paid for your books, and then you could also work during school breaks. I remember thinking, "That would be a good way to do it." Did I think it would help my career? I'm not sure. I think I remember people saying a master's is the sweet point for getting more money because PhDs take too long. You're going to lose all that financial compensation, you know, for all those years you're not working. I think it was just a personal goal. I just wanted it. I'm not sure I'd recommend it, because it's a lot of years out of the workforce.

ZIERLER: Did you think about opportunities where your employer might support going to graduate school because it would be a good business decision for them?

OTSUBO: That's what I think TRW did. They paid for it, really, $20,000 to not do anything. I didn't have to become a TA or RA at grad school. I didn't have to work while I was there. I just went to school. Then, in the summers, I worked at TRW, which was a more lucrative job than working at a school. I think TRW did support it.

ZIERLER: Now, just so I understand the sequencing, did Aerojet get bought by Northrop Grumman?

OTSUBO: No. When I graduated, I went down to San Diego and worked at General Dynamics. After two years, I went to Aerospace, worked there for a little while. I was in a car accident in July, and off of work for a year. I just didn't go back to Aerospace because I was injured. Really, I was in the hospital for three months. They end up terminating you after six, which is completely reasonable. But I was off of work for a year. Then I needed to look for a job, and I looked for a job in Manhattan Beach, on the beach, because that seemed like a nice area to live. [laugh]

ZIERLER: That's how the opportunity at Northrop Grumman started?

OTSUBO: Northrop Grumman bought TRW.


OTSUBO: Yes. I was at TRW for many, many years, and it was a little bit of a hostile takeover. If you talk to people who had been at TRW, they still say, "I'm from TRW," as opposed to Northrop Grumman.

ZIERLER: Now, the master's at UCLA, as you were saying, did you think at a certain point that that might be your terminal degree, that that's what you needed, and it was only later that you realized that you should go for the PhD?

OTSUBO: I, again, was not as career focused as that. I just wanted a master's, and I liked the math program at UCLA. I enjoyed it. I thought that would be a good thing to do. Again, it wasn't as focused as I needed a master's for, because a lot of my friends did not have master's. They were working as programmers. Especially if you're a programmer, you don't need a master's. You're fine. Some of them don't even have a bachelor's, but most had a bachelor's, and that was enough to be a programmer. To move up the management chain, you don't even need more education, but you need the experience at work. There's various areas that you should be working in, and then you move up the chain at work. But it's not dependent on your education level, so the education doesn't help you move up, I guess, is the way I perceived it. Even at the later higher levels, it's not education there that separates people. I didn't go back to school to advance my career. I went back because I just had these internal goals. I don't know.

ZIERLER: You enjoyed it? It was a fun intellectual experience?

OTSUBO: It was something I wanted to do. I wanted to have that. Again, I can't tell you what caused me to go there or why I wanted to. It was a personal goal, and I realized it wasn't going to necessarily help career-wise or personal-wise. I just had that in mind.

ZIERLER: Now, if only by accident, since that's not how you were oriented, did it turn out to be useful for your career?

OTSUBO: Every now and then, it helps to have a doctor in front of your name, but I didn't use it very much. I didn't use it at work. I don't know that it was that helpful. Again, I don't know. I don't think so. [laugh]

ZIERLER: What was some of the key work you did at TRW before it was taken over by Northrop?

OTSUBO: A lot of the fun things I did were research and development, little projects. Let's see if I can talk about any of them. They were little technical things. One of them led to the Fast Data Finder where we came up with algorithms to maybe build something in a chip that would search text faster, different disc mechanisms for storing the data so that we could do it faster. A lot of the programming I did was in support of other people. There would be projects where there would be lots of different things going on, and I would help do one area. But it was fun to just create the software. Some of them were so big, the projects were so big that you don't even know what the whole thing is doing. You just know that your part is we're going to build the software that's going to click open these kinds of applications. You don't know what the big picture is sometimes because these programs have about 1,000 people working it. The big picture is really hard to figure out, which is part of the reason why I didn't always like being a programmer because you didn't get the big picture. You don't know what you're building. You don't know what the customer wants out of it. You just know this is your assignment. I did a little bit. I think as I got older and more comfortable, I moved a little bit further away from the building, and a little bit more towards understanding what the customer wanted.

ZIERLER: Now, where in this development for your own career, where does Northrop's purchase of TRW play in?

OTSUBO: That's a good question. I was at TRW from '78, and I think the purchase was probably 1990, so quite a few years at TRW. The difference in culture is TRW was more of a one-of-a-kind, where the first time we're building this software; first time we're helping the customer build something they've never done before. It was new, different. Usually, it's hard for them. They couldn't find people who could figure out a solution. The TRW culture was, let's think out-of-the-box. Let's do it a little differently. When Northrop Grumman bought TRW, they took their airplane-building mentality, which is assembly line. Why isn't software just a plug you put in? Maybe a lot of companies, a lot of software companies might be doing it that way now, but that wasn't how we were when we first started. It was we not just built the software but we came up with algorithms. How do you solve this problem; not just write the code for it? But here's what a user needs. How do we get there? What kinds of systems should we build for them? Sometimes, the users wouldn't know because they don't know what is capable, what software can do. I enjoyed that part of it, trying to figure out what the customers need, which ended up being what I did a lot in business development. I kind of transitioned to that.

ZIERLER: Peggy, do you have a clear sense when in your career you felt like you were on a trajectory toward leadership when you took on more responsibilities in the company?

OTSUBO: I think I liked working the small research and development programs. They were more technical than a lot of the other software things. The smaller the project, the more you see the big picture. I liked that part. I remember thinking, "I could run one of these." That's kind of how I got to be more into the managerial chain. You run a couple small IRADs. You ran a project that the IRAD turns into. You get a little more experience. I got lucky because somebody said, "Hey, there's this project that I want you to run." It was 17 or 20 people, as opposed to the 10 or 12 I'd be running. That grew to 70, 65 people. I feel like there's so much luck involved. It wasn't planned.

ZIERLER: Did you enjoy doing things that were more on the business development side? Was that a skill set that you enjoyed developing?

OTSUBO: I did not want to go there. I was told that you need that experience. I kind of went there, kicking and screaming. I do think it was really valuable. It was very interesting to me to know what the customers were like; to know how we got the programs that people work on. It means somebody went to the customer, and pitched them ideas, and got to develop relationships. It's not quite, I would say, completely in my wheelhouse. I loved managing the programs more. I loved building. I loved building a team. I loved getting the team moving to the right direction. How do you solve problems? I remember telling somebody that's maybe not the typical Techer.

ZIERLER: [laugh] Peggy, as you explained, going for the master's in applied mathematics at UCLA, that was more of an intellectual pursuit for you; not so career focused. What about when it was time to think about PhD programs? Ultimately, your degree was in electrical and computer engineering. Were you thinking more about applying this for your career? In other words, was the PhD in some ways more career-focused for you?

OTSUBO: I don't think it was. I just wanted a PhD.

ZIERLER: Then why not go forward in math, which is what your previous degree is? Why electrical and computing engineering?

OTSUBO: I like computer engineering. It could've been computer science. At Santa Barbara, there's a computer science department that's separate from the computer engineering. I could've gone either way. I actually wanted to leverage some of the work that I'd done in building a special purpose processor for text search, and I thought that could leveraged to a PhD somewhere. It didn't quite work that way. The other thing [laugh] that I tried to do is get a research and development program at TRW to work on while I got my PhD in the same area. I tried that a couple times. The timeline's a little different. An R&D program at work is really one to two years to try to take it to market. A PhD program is a longer timeline, and the company usually didn't have the patience to fund a research and development for too many more years.

ZIERLER: I wonder if going for a PhD in engineering in some ways closed the circle for you back at Caltech when you left engineering.

OTSUBO: Yeah, without thinking about it. Now, I look back, and go, "That's where I should've been to start out with, and I had to go all the way around for decades to figure that out."

ZIERLER: Now, going to UCSB, what did that mean, just in terms of commuting? Did you take a leave from work? How did that happen?

OTSUBO: Yeah. The way the PhD program worked is you were not allowed to work more than 8 hours a week. At that point, I had a condo in Torrance, but I rented a room up in Santa Barbara. Every week, I would drive to Santa Barbara, take my classes Monday through Thursday, come back on Friday, and work one day. It worked for me. I'm not sure I would recommend it. I actually really liked UC Santa Barbara. I thought it was collegial. People worked together. There wasn't backstabbing like there sometimes is at UCLA. It felt a little more like Caltech where I felt like all the undergrads were together, and I felt that at Santa Barbara more than UCLA. You could find pockets anywhere, but the general atmosphere at UC Santa Barbara was very collegial. I enjoyed that.

ZIERLER: Tell me about developing your dissertation topic.

OTSUBO: Honestly, I really, really wanted it to work so that I could work at TRW and get paid for and R&D project that would go into a research topic. I found several professors who were OK with that. I just could never get it to work, so I gave up. Again, it was how can I get my degree without this taking forever? That took a couple years. It took me probably two years longer to get my PhD because I kept trying to make that happen. I ended up in software reliability, which was interesting to me. It was a software project. I was really familiar with how software projects run. I got to work with a great group of people. I enjoyed the project-oriented aspect—we had a bunch of teams, and we would run metrics on different teams to see who would develop the best software reliability model. It was fascinating to see who did better and who did worse. Some of the more experienced people did horribly, and some of the new, never-programmed-before people were great. That was really interesting to see. When I got my PhD, I tried to come back, and work in software reliability at TRW, but my work was a little too theoretical for applications to real projects. Even the people who did work in software reliability, they were like, "No, we have our own way of doing it." I never used it. I tried. It's OK, because I didn't go for furthering my career, per se.

ZIERLER: Peggy, it's a different time in your life. It's a different time in America. It's a different institution. What was your sense of women at UCSB? Was it sort of more normalized at that point? Were women pursuing these fields?

OTSUBO: I thought it was fascinating that there weren't more women. When I got to UC Santa Barbara, that was probably 1990 or so. There were women in the computer science programs and computer science classes. But all the engineering classes were still—the hardware engineering classes, which you were required to take, especially since I was in computer engineering—were all male. I was shocked at that. I thought that they should've made more progress by then. I didn't feel that there was any negative feeling towards women. It's just there weren't that many. I felt like I could be successful there. I felt like I was successful there. There weren't any artificial boundaries for that.

ZIERLER: Peggy, with the PhD, did you ever think about pursuing a different track, going into academia, for example?

OTSUBO: A little bit. I liked my job. I've always liked where I was working. I also felt—maybe this is not typical—but I felt obligated to pay back TRW for the investment they made in me. Many years of the stipend, and continued work, I just felt obligated. I know a lot of people take the money and run, but I just didn't feel that was the right thing to do.

ZIERLER: When you got back to TRW, or when you returned on a full-time basis, did have the doctor in front of your name, even if you didn't make a big deal of it, did that make a difference to others?

OTSUBO: I don't think so. I don't know. I can't tell. I did use it a couple times.

ZIERLER: [laugh]

OTSUBO: It made no sense to me. Maybe it's not so much how they treated me or what it meant, but I think there was a little bit of self-confidence that they don't have anything on me. I have a PhD,.

ZIERLER: What about for promotion prospects? Do you think it opened any doors for you?

OTSUBO: No, I really don't. I think promotions are mostly managerial. The promotions are based on managerial experience? The PhD is kind of on the opposite end. They always talk about having a technical track and a managerial track, but it was never real, as far as I could see.

ZIERLER: What did the end of the Cold War mean for TRW? What kind of contracts were lost or changed as a result?

OTSUBO: I think there's a little bit of a pivot in terms of what the government needed, but the classified programs were still needed. Even if it's not Russia, per se, there's still lots of other adversaries that need to be monitored. A lot of the classified systems I worked on were still absolutely needed.

ZIERLER: Tell me how things changed when Northrop Grumman came into the picture.

OTSUBO: And took over TRW?


OTSUBO: I think there was less opportunity to do research and development. There was less latitude on doing things that weren't by the book. I remember times when—and maybe this is government oversight as well. I remember times when I worked 60–80-hour weeks for months, and then the boss would say, "OK, thank you very much, you're done. Take a week off." But you can't do that now. It needs to be very regimented. I think that's a loss. You kind of want workers to do what needs to be done when you need them to do it, as opposed to when the government, you know, exactly 40 hours a week. We used to go and have activities together. I remember when we were doing the Fast Data Finder text search algorithm, we took breaks together. We went bowling in the middle of the day. You can't do that now. I feel bad for the young kids who don't get a chance to. That's what made it fun, for me, is you had fun with your coworkers. You enjoyed your work. You worked really hard, but you got a chance to also play. It's not like that anymore.

ZIERLER: Peggy, tell me about some of the innovations that were so societally relevant or so valuable that you were inspired to patent them?

OTSUBO: Say that again. Why did we get a patent?

ZIERLER: It's a very special thing to create something that needs a patent because it's so inherently valuable. What were some of those innovations that led to those patents?

OTSUBO: Why did they? I'm not exactly sure why they decided to patent it. Again, I wasn't the one who worked to get the patent, but it was my boss, and he wanted to patent this algorithm, a special purpose processor for text search. We built hardware that did it, as well as software around it. It's interesting to me. That was back in mid-80s, and the customer was still using it, I'm saying, maybe 5–7 years ago, which is kind of amazing, considering Google's replaced all the text search now. There was no Google in 1980 when we did this. He saw a business case for it, and pushed the company to patent it. There's not a lot of things that a company is willing to patent because it's a lot of time, energy, money to patent it, and for very little reward because you're working for the government. A patent doesn't keep out competitors, per se. But the guy I worked for was able to take that technology, and he created a company in Pasadena called Paracel that actually used the same technology for the genome project, where they're trying to not just identify text but identify genes, so genes and not words but the gene sequence. He was able to make a fair amount of money off the patent. When you work for a company, it's not my patent, so I get nothing from it. But it was fun. I absolutely loved working on that.

ZIERLER: Peggy, what did you learn about yourself when you started to manage significant numbers of people in terms of your leadership skills, in terms of your ability to delegate, in terms of things that you needed to do yourself?

OTSUBO: I learned that I really liked having a team. I like the idea of finding a team that would round out the strengths I bring, but I have glaring weaknesses, so I need to have a team that has all the skills around me. The one project that I really enjoyed, we actually went through like the Myers-Briggs, or we did another psychologically testing kind of thing, where we wanted to see what everybody brought to the table, and made sure that we, as a group, covered it all. I love having a team, but I'm not touchy-feely. I'm not the, "Oh, so-and-so's not feeling well." I needed somebody on my team who could do that. I like the bigger picture better than the details, so I decided I don't need to do all the detailed spreadsheets. Let me get somebody who loves that. I had a friend who's super good at that, and loves it, and so I asked her to do the detailed spreadsheets. What else? There's other weaknesses I think all people have. For me, the key was to get a team that could do things. I'm not good at doing things that are due every Monday and Friday. So, I figured out how to delegate whatever I knew was like a weekly report or a weekly status or monthly charts. I would have a team to help me do that because I'm not good at responding to mundane things every three days. I think that it was great because you got to learn more about yourself. I liked having a team where everybody felt successful. Somebody else loved making sure everybody was being taken care of, and I didn't love that part of it.

ZIERLER: As you moved up in the ranks, did you perceive a glass ceiling, that there was only so high you could go, or was that really not an issue?

OTSUBO: I thought about that. I know that there were women higher. The ceilings seemed to be getting higher. I think maybe it's me, but I felt like I also didn't push to go as high as maybe some of my other peers did, and I could see how they did it. They pushed really hard. They worked really hard to make sure their bosses were happy with them, and that's one thing I just wasn't good at. I came to accept that. That's OK. That's me. I'm not going to do that. I'm not going to be good at that. I'm not going to work hard enough to be making sure that all my bosses all know where I'm going, and so I've got to be happy with where I am.

ZIERLER: I wonder if the timing of that realization influenced when you thought it was the right time to have a family.

OTSUBO: Maybe, yeah, it might have.

ZIERLER: Now, as you mentioned, in San Diego, I was chuckling before because no one had really heard of Caltech. I assume at TRW, and then later Northrop, Caltech loomed pretty large.

OTSUBO: Yes. TRW had a lot of Caltech grads, a lot of people who knew and recruited from Caltech. There's no question about it. Very, very different than General Dynamics down in San Diego. I don't know if it's always like that.

ZIERLER: Was there an alumni connection? Were there people that encouraged you to become more involved in Caltech or to donate when you could?

OTSUBO: Yeah, at TRW, definitely my boss's boss's boss, I remember, asking me, "Oh, I heard you're a Caltech grad. Maybe you should consider donating." I remember thinking, "I'm not sure who this guy is. How does he know me?" [laugh]

ZIERLER: [laugh]

OTSUBO: But they were keeping track. I don't know if they do that now. I was thinking that. I don't know. Maybe they're not allowed to.

ZIERLER: What were the circumstances when you started a family? Did you take a leave? Did you resign and then reapply? How did that work?

OTSUBO: No. When I got pregnant, I was running a small project. There were about eight of us. TRW was really good. My boss was really good about letting me go out on maternity leave. I think I took a couple months, and came back. But it was a small project, so I just had somebody on the project to take over for a couple months. TRW then had an on-site day care, so I put my daughter in what they called The Launching Pad. I thought that there was a fair amount of support for that that was pretty seamless.

ZIERLER: Did you ever think about leaving the workforce to be a full-time mom, or was the goal always to get back when the time was right?

OTSUBO: After I gave birth, my daughter was colicky and very hard.

ZIERLER: [laugh]

OTSUBO: But she was hard as a baby. I remember thinking, "Oh, I'll see. I'll stay out a month, and I'll see. Maybe I'll just want to come back half-time." I came back half-time for like 10 hours a week one week, and I said, "This is a lot easier than being at home. [laugh] I think I want to come back full-time." Work was a lot easier for me than being at home with her. It sounds horrible to say but that was kind of the way it was for me, and so I was happy to come back. That's what made the decision for me. I was thinking that I might be part-time for a while but no. [laugh]

ZIERLER: What was your career trajectory like after you came back?

OTSUBO: It was good. I had a very supportive female boss. She gave me opportunities. She was a mom herself. I remember there was actually a time when I would work all day, come home, get the kids dinner, put them to bed, and then I would go back to work because I live only a mile away, and work on a proposal from like 9:00 to midnight, and come home, and do this again, I appreciated having the flexibility to allow me to go home, and then come back. I could put in the hours. It was flexible, so I could do it the way I needed.

ZIERLER: Peggy, ultimately, when did you start thinking about retiring?

OTSUBO: I retired when I was 60, actually 59 and 11/12. I had always been really happy where I was working. I did not like my last job. It just wasn't a good fit between me and my manager. A nice lady. I just didn't feel valued by her. My husband, who also worked at TRW Northrop Grumman, wanted to retire. He hated his job. He wanted to retire, so we went to a financial planner, and I thought we were going to find out when can he retire, and how many more years do I need to work. We went to two planners, and they said, "Well, you can retire now if you want to. You have enough money based on your projected expenses going forward, as long as you're not extravagant." We don't travel, we don't have huge expenses, so I thought, "Huh, why should I stay working if I don't need to?" If I had been at any other job until that one, I probably would've stayed because I really enjoyed what I was doing, but I just didn't enjoy this last one. It kind of pushed me over the edge.

ZIERLER: Pushed you over the edge to retire; not to think about a lateral move?

OTSUBO: Yes, that's right.

ZIERLER: How come? Why not the lateral move?

OTSUBO: That's a good question. I don't know. I remember thinking, "If I don't need to work, why would I continue?" Actually, the question to me was, would I keep working if I didn't need the money? The answer kind of was, no, there are other things I could do with my life if I didn't need to work for money, and that's when I decided then maybe I shouldn't be working if there's other things that I want to do. Like I said, my son was in high school. I enjoyed spending more time with his activities. I didn't think of changing jobs. It was more can I retire or not, and the answer was yes.

ZIERLER: Financially, clearly, you were secure enough that was not a concern?

OTSUBO: TRW, again, and Northrup Grumman had a great pension and a lump sum retirement plan. Without that, there's no way we could've retired, but it's a great plan. I don't know how anybody retires these days without it.

ZIERLER: Now, at the beginning of our talk, you said you didn't even give a thought to consulting. Was that true, really, the day after you retired? It was a clean break right from the beginning?

OTSUBO: I actually think it was. I went from working long hours. I'd always felt obligated to spend more than the 40-hour week, so I always worked maybe 50- to 60-hour weeks. I remember thinking, "What am I going to do with that time? Would that feel like a gap?" It turns out, right after I retired, there was this huge need in the marching band, and I went from working 60 hours at a week to working 60-hour weeks [laugh] for the marching band. I didn't feel that immediate need to fill up those hours since I was working from 8:30 in the morning till midnight on marching band things that they needed done. It probably got me over the gap of, oh, now what? It took me through that, because I have friends who are failing retirement, and thinking of going back.

ZIERLER: What was your reaction when your daughter decided that she wanted to go to Caltech?

OTSUBO: I'm not sure. She's a different person than I am, so I have to let her make her own decision. It's interesting because she applied to a lot of the same schools, or she was at least interested in a lot of the same schools. She got in early to MIT and Caltech, and I thought MIT was her dream school, or MIT was her school that she wanted to go to since ninth or tenth grade. She also got into Princeton and Stanford. Princeton has a great math program, which is what she wanted to do. She had a boyfriend, though, at Caltech. She, I think, was trying really hard not to let that sway her. I don't know if it did or not. Of the four schools, I'm not sure. I don't think Princeton or Stanford were as good a fit for her. I also got into Stanford. I was telling somebody that that might've been a better fit for me because I'm not as narrowly focused on just tech. That's evidenced by that fact that I like management. I like business development. I'm not strictly technical. I took PE classes [laugh] while I was at Caltech. Every quarter, I took PE. I might've been happier at Stanford, but I know she wouldn't have been happy. MIT or Caltech would've been best. worked really hard in high school, and I felt that she deserved to choose where she wants to go. I had hoped that Caltech would provide the support of the daily dinners, and I don't know that they do as good a job of that anymore in the houses. But I think she's happy that she graduated from there.

ZIERLER: I wonder, looking from afar, how different her experiences were from yours.

OTSUBO: She came from a different background, so she thinks the teaching at Caltech is not good at all. She went to a private, very academically oriented, very good girls' high school in LA. I love this high school. They had a lot of emphasis on good teaching. They taught the girls to advocate for themselves. For example, she would advocate if she thought, "I made an arithmetic mistake on a physics problem," she would go to the teacher, and say, "I just made this mistake." He would say, "Oh, OK, yeah, you understood the whole concept. I'll give you"—not 100% credit, but he would give some credit. I was sharing this story at our last Caltech Women's luncheon that for the physics placement exam—there was an exam for placing out of Physics 1 in ABC -- she took the exam, she made an arithmetic error, and was expecting them to adjust the test score. She took it to them, and said, "Hey, I made an arithmetic error. Everything else is fine. I just made this error." They said, "Well, you made the error. Oh, well, you got the wrong answer. Sorry, you'll have to repeat physics." She thought, "This isn't teaching you to understand the concepts." She also felt that, amongst a lot of the professors that she had, she thought the teaching was so much better at her high school. That's not the experience I had because I didn't come from a high school with excellent teachers. None of my teachers would've ever changed a grade because you went and complained. That would never have happened.

ZIERLER: Peggy, to bring your story right up to the present, how do you keep busy these days?

OTSUBO: I'm trying to get in a little bit better shape, not having a lot of success there, and spending a lot of time scheduling spay/neuter surgeries for Kitten Rescue, so not a real—I don't know—high level of volunteer, but I like it. A lot of lunches. I go out to lunches with the Caltech women. A bunch of people from work get together once a week for lunch. I have friends from my kids, their parents, so we go out to lunch. I get a chance to chat about a lot of different things with a lot of different groups.

ZIERLER: Peggy, now that we've worked right up to the present, for the last part of our talk, I'll ask a retrospective question, and then one looking to the future. For better and worse, what has stayed with you from your Caltech experience in your approach to the work, in your approach to collaborating with other people? What have been some of the hallmarks of the Caltech education that have been so important to you?

OTSUBO: The things I really liked, and I think that they've stayed, one is working together. I see some of my friends from other schools, UCLA in particular. We would hire UCLA grads who would redo everything because, to them, it would be cheating to use someone else's work. They wouldn't necessarily want to work with anyone else because, to them, when they grew up in school, that would be cheating. Whereas at Caltech, we were always working together. We could not get through, I mean, there were a few who could. But, in general, you couldn't get through all the classwork without some working together. I like that working together aspect. I think it helps you in your jobs, in life. There's no reason why you need to do it all alone against other people. I really like that about Caltech.

I thought it was very inclusive. It's a funny thing to say, since I came from such a racially different mix, but the inclusiveness occurred, I think, with a lot of people who were ostracized when they were in high school or before. They were maybe what we would call on the spectrum now. They didn't have friends. But they got to Caltech, and they were accepted, and they were accepted amongst the houses. They found friends. Somebody was once telling me that they thought I was really tolerant because of my Caltech background, and I love that. I think that's great, and I would like to see more institutions that do that. The other thing I really liked—I think I said it before—is that I feel like I can say, "Why do we do thinks differently? Why don't we do this?" I started questioning, like I told you, my first job out of college, like, "Why is this algorithm this way?" I think I was taught you're supposed to do that. You're supposed to think for yourself, as opposed to somebody telling you what you're supposed to do or how you're supposed to think. I think that's Caltech. That's certainly not how I grew up. That's not certainly how high school was. I attribute that to Caltech, both in making me—kind of questioning isn't quite right but thinking; thinking about things. Then, also, there's the part of not only thinking about it but feeling like I can and should question, or that I'm empowered to make a change. Again, I think that, to me, that's what Caltech provided. That being said, I'm not sure it was the perfect school for me.

ZIERLER: Although you have nothing to compare it to, you can only wonder?

OTSUBO: That's right. I can only wonder.

ZIERLER: Finally, Peggy, looking to the future, in reflecting on your own experiences, in seeing what your daughter's experiences were, and just generally being in the Caltech community, lunching with your fellow classmates, where do you see opportunity for further progress at Caltech? In all of the discussions, in enhancing diversity and inclusivity, what are the ways that even today, circa 2022, there's more work to be done?

OTSUBO: It's hard for me to say completely because I'm not plugged in enough to what the school is and isn't doing. I would like to say that, even though it's a small school, I loved the house structure. It provided a home, a safety net, a social structure. I guess schools do it that are bigger by having kids who maybe join a club or find their own peers amongst the big school. But I really, really like the house structure, and I've heard rumors of the administration not valuing it as much as I think we, as undergrads, valued it. I can see why, when you allow a house to self-govern and make their own decisions, sometimes—they're kids—they're not going to make the right decisions, and maybe that in this environment of parents suing, maybe that's not acceptable. But I would like to see as much of that as the administration can support. Let the kids make their own decisions. Let them make mistakes. Maybe work with them as they're trying things that don't seem quite right, to let them know what some of the ramifications are, as opposed to just saying, "No, we're in charge."

ZIERLER: Because if they can't do this in college, when will they be able to do it?

OTSUBO: Yeah, and it takes away from some of the things that I was able to feel like I can make a difference. I'm empowered. I should speak up. I think that's what you want in an electorate. We want everyone in our country to say, "Wait a minute. Let's think about that. Is that the right thing to do?" That's what colleges should be encouraging. Anyway, that's my thought on it.

ZIERLER: Peggy, this has been a wonderful conversation. I'm so glad we were able to do this, and capture your perspective. I'd like to thank you so much.

OTSUBO: Thank you.