26 February 2020

What it is really like to be a (female) engineer.

When I say “engineer”, what do you think?

You probably have a very clear picture of what an engineer is really like, and what it is they really do. Let me take a guess: A male in a checked shirt, stuck behind his desk, day in, day out. He is a stickler for rules, and he spends his time solving complex mathematical puzzles.

Well, that’s where you’re wrong.

With this article I would like to cut through your stereotypes and share from my personal experiences what it is really like to be an engineer.

Instead of having a rigid position description, I am grateful to have the freedom to make the job my own. Within my role I always try to take a proactive approach by looking for problems to solve and anticipating pain points, starting every project by asking: “What are the customer’s needs and wants? How can I serve them? How can I shape the communities around me with my engineering work?” I talk to the account managers and the technical support guys. I identify customers who have faced failures and major shutdowns. I use my knowledge to come up with new ideas. And together with the rest of the team, we make an impact.

Probably contrary to your belief, I rarely sit behind my desk and interact with the same group of people every day. A lot of my work involves reviewing designs that the product engineers have created, strategizing with account managers, and planning how to sell solutions with my peers. Hence, empathy and the skill to communicate effectively is essential to my role. I truly enjoy being part of this interdisciplinary group. It offers me this amazing chance to see how others are working, and how they’re approaching different challenges.

You might think an engineer works very locally. However, a great part of my job is that I get to explore the world. If it wasn’t for my job, I wouldn’t have been to Oman, visited factories in the US or explored small sites and cities in Germany. Travelling is amazing, but what I enjoy even more is meeting new people. While I spent a week in Pakistan with owners of the site, they invited me to their houses, introduced me to their families. It makes you realize that we all have something in common: We want to create a future for our children and make the world a better place. It sounds a bit corny, but it is true. My work as an engineer has a real impact and that tangibility is one of my favorite aspects of it. Every day, I’m fixing technical issues that affect people’s lives and the planet. I measure my success with the lives I have touched.

I am beyond grateful for the opportunities I was given as well as the ones I worked hard for. I have to admit though, it hasn’t always been easy, as a woman, in this business. If I could give any advice to young females approaching their careers it would be those two:

1. Never take no for an answer

I was the only girl out of 138 guys in my major, and one of the five girls studying mechanical engineering. You had to gain respect. It was not given to you.

At the beginning, people say: “You can’t, you don’t, you shouldn’t.” But once you show them that you can, they respect you even more.

2. Try to be humble instead of showing off

In University I would always raise my hand and try to answer questions to show them that I knew. But then I got very valuable advice from my professor. He quoted the spiritual leader Sri Chinmoy:

“A tree when it has no fruit to offer, remains erect. But when the tree is laden with fruit, it bends down. If you are all pride and ego, then nobody will be able to get anything worthwhile from you. When you have genuine humility, it’s a sign that you have something to offer to mankind.”

That short passage really changed my perception and stayed with me throughout my professional life. People always say:

“You didn’t say much. You listened to us and then gave us solutions. You always ask questions instead of trying to show that you know.”

I still owe that to the feedback from my professor.

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