Being the most prolific woman inventor in IBM history is something former Carnegie Mellon University basketball standout and current software engineer Lisa Seacat DeLuca is very proud of. However, she has set her goals even higher. “There is no limit. The most prolific male inventor has twice as many as I do,” she said. “I would like to be the most prolific, rather than the most prolific woman, inventor.”
For Seacat DeLuca, being creative started early in her life. “When I was growing up in Montana, there wasn’t a lot to do,” she recalled. “My brother, sister, and I were playing make-believe and I did plays with my stuffed animals. I was always using the creative part of my brain.”
She knew she wanted to go out of state for college and to play basketball or volleyball. It took one visit to Carnegie Mellon for her to know it was the place for her. “When I visited and talked to the basketball coach (Gerri Seidl), I felt at home immediately,” she remarked.
The Carnegie Mellon computer science program is regularly recognized as one of the best in the U.S. and Seacat DeLuca appreciated that her path was not similar to most other students in the program. “I had no coding experience before Carnegie Mellon,” she commented. “I think I had such different experiences growing up that were not the norm so I had a different perspective and approached problems differently.”
She credits the traits she possessed from being a student-athlete for choosing such a difficult major. “My competitive nature made me choose computer science. I heard it was harder to move from IT (information technology) to computer science than the other way around,” she stated. “I taught myself HTML and IT when I was in high school. It was in my mind to say, ‘I will not give up. I am determined to succeed.’”
After playing only basketball in her first year, Seacat DeLuca added to the challenge of being at one of the top academic schools by playing volleyball as well the following year. “Coach Seidl didn’t like it very much,” she laughed. “But I was in shape and the jump training from volleyball helped my basketball jump shot. I would be running back and forth, going to both practices when they weren’t at the same time.”
"The fact that she also played volleyball was a great example of her overall athleticism," Seidl remarked.
She recorded 320 kills that season for the Tartans’ volleyball team, helping lead them to the Eastern Collegiate Athletic Conference (ECAC) Championship title. On the first day of volleyball practice in her junior season, she did a jump serve, but was reprimanded for doing so. “I only wanted to play volleyball if it was fun and this wasn’t fun so I went back to just playing basketball.”
She led the Tartans in scoring in her junior and senior seasons, garnering honorable mention All-Association honors both times (2003-04 and 2004-05). Seacat DeLuca also led the squad in rebounds and assists in her senior campaign.
"Lisa was an excellent scorer, not just a shooter," Seidl recalled. "She had great height on her jump shot, really getting off the ground. She has a very high basketball IQ."
“I looked at athletics as necessary for me to stay sane,” she said. “I was at a school where academics is so important and I was not going to play professional basketball or volleyball. It was about friendships and a chance to have a break away from class. I really loved playing and am glad I did.”
"On top of all her ability, she was an excellent student and very coachable," Seidl said. "She has always been a very nice person with a high character, and so determined."
Attending school and playing sports in season, Seacat DeLuca was setting her career path in motion in the summers. She began interning with software engineering positions, first in Montana, then in Rochester, Minnesota and Raleigh, North Carolina.
In the summer between her junior and senior year, Seacat DeLuca was accepted into IBM’s “Extreme Blue” program in Raleigh, an intense, fast-paced, 12-week global internship. The program allows top business and technical students to design, architect, develop, and test an innovative product based on the elements of world-class talent, technology, and business innovation.
She accepted a position with IBM before her senior year and took a position in Austin, Texas , while her boyfriend Steve, a geneticist who played football at Carnegie Mellon, lived in D.C. She earned her master’s degree from University of Texas-Austin. The couple decided to move together to San Francisco, where Seacat DeLuca continued to work at IBM. After her husband earned his PhD, the couple moved to Baltimore, where they now reside with two sets of twins, four children under the age of four.
One of her challenges now is balancing work and family life. “I am still working that part out,” she admitted. “The boys (the older twins) are in school now.” She has the privilege of working at home, while continuing her work and filing patents.
Seacat DeLuca has filed more than 500 patents, about half of which have been granted. She says she learned the process from others and her favorite patent is one she wrote and filed herself outside of IBM in which someone could attend a sporting event with a valid ticket for multiple seats. “It is a chance to have a different experience from the people to the perspective,” she stated. “The fan could pay proportionally for how long they were there. The patent made it all the way through the USPTO (United States Patent and Trademark Office) process and I did every part of it.”
She has also written two children’s books. The first, A Robot Story, teaches children how to count to 10 in binary. Her second book, The Internet of Mysterious Things, is due for release in May (https://internetofmysteriousthings.com).
Being highlighted as a “woman inventor” is nothing new for Seacat DeLuca, working in a field dominated by men. “Working from home, I don’t notice the predominance of men in the field as much, but it is brought to my attention quite a bit,” she said. “I realized I can do anything a man can do. As a parent, I want to make sure my girls have the same toys and similar opportunities as my boys. It is about exposure to technology so if they have the passion, they can pursue it and I will support them however I can."