22 Jun 2020
Monday 23rd June 2020 is International Women in Engineering Day. To celebrate, we want you to hear from two key members of our engineering team, Sharon Huo and Anna-Maarja Anibire, about their journeys into engineering.
Sharon X Huo – Design Engineer
At school, I always knew that I wanted to be a design engineer working in industry, as I was good at maths, physics, and enjoyed problem-solving. Despite this, I still hesitated before I decided on my university subject due to a lack of support from families and friends. They didn’t understand why I wanted to become an engineer as a woman.
Because of this, although I went to university for an engineering course (Refrigeration and Cryogenics), I was not confident working as an engineer in the real engineering world. Instead, I chose to work as a university lecturer after I got my master’s degree in Refrigeration Principal and Equipment. However, after three years, I realised that being a university lecturer was not something I was really interested in. I felt very unconformable talking to students about something I had hardly experienced first-hand, so I wanted to work in an industry where I would have the opportunity to see, touch, and even design engineering equipment.
I jumped into the refrigeration industry after I graduated from London South Bank University as a Doctor of Philosophy on Thermodynamics and Heat Transfer. Since then, I have really enjoyed using my knowledge on design, problem diagnosis, analysis and solving, and have never regretted my decision to be an engineer.
Before joining Space Engineering as a technical development engineer, I worked as a project engineer, a technical design engineer and an engineering manager at various refrigeration focused businesses. I joined Space Engineering in April 2016. Unlike the previous companies I worked in, Space has given me more opportunities and encouragement working on things I am good at, which makes the job more enjoyable.
In the past two decades, I have seen a clear change in people’s ideas of women in engineering. I can still remember the surprise and doubt on people’s faces when I introduced myself to them as an engineer, and it sometimes made me feel sorry for myself. However, in recent years, I have seen more and more respect and support from other people and “well done” as a response. I am now proud to be an engineer more than ever.
I just want to say to those young women who really enjoy engineering as a subject – go for it. Don’t give up on your dreams because of what others say. Change people’s ideas of women in engineering with your talent, dedication and good performance.
Anna-Maarja – Technical Development Engineer
Having graduated high-school with a very strong emphasis on foreign languages, engineering wasn’t the obvious next step at all. When applying for colleges in Estonia, I was accepted on an Engineering Materials and Marketing course. What pulled me in was marketing, but practical welding, metal-smithing workshops along with technical drawing and mechanics classes made me fall in love with the clear logic and simplicity of engineering. From there on, it was clear that engineering is my thing, so finding the time and motivation to get through BSc and MSc, all while working full-time, was never really a problem.
I started working for Space just over two years ago, before that working for an Estonian company, planning and executing projects in Scandinavia, Eastern Europe and Russia. Space is a very pleasant working environment and I truly appreciate the positive, friendly atmosphere here. A lot of my work has been in developing new and improved products, which has been a real pleasure. It is extremely rewarding to see almost immediate results. I am hoping to play a strong part in helping the company evolve its manufacturing and automation of processes.
Becoming and working as an engineer has brought many challenges every step of the way. Most of the challenges form the main part of the occupation, but some unfortunately still relate to being a female in a male-dominated industry. Engineering challenges are fascinating and are followed by a true sense of accomplishment once solved, but sexual prejudice is something that leaves you confused and completely powerless. Equalised maternity and paternity leave would alleviate these issues, as well as more women at all management levels, not based on their gender but based on their skills and wealth of experience.
I urge all fathers and brothers to take your daughters or sisters along to the garage and teach them to use some basic tools. Ask them to help you with simple tasks. Even if they choose not to become engineers they will gain confidence in tackling practical problems and you will have some great conversations whilst working together. For those in the workplace, working with female colleagues, especially younger women, understand that it can be very intimidating to work amongst just men who, to begin with, can scrutinise most of your decisions. Please be fair and professional.