We asked some of our female engineers about their careers and what advice they'd give to young women and girls hoping to pursue careers in STEM. Hear from Shakira Callendar, Anne Jenkins, Sarah Pearce, Rida Zainab, Debi Coote and Sarah Jennings.
What inspired you to pursue a career in engineering/STEM?
- My Dad (who was in IT) plus some great teachers over the years. We always had computers at home (the first was a ZX Spectrum – showing my age there!) which may be common now but wasn’t back in the day and my Dad encouraged me to teach myself how to program it.
- I was always interested in Maths/Physics at school and my Dad was a civil engineer so it seemed the natural path to take
- I’ve always had a fascination with tech and loved to build things from a really young age. I grew up in a bilingual house which I believe has helped shape my ability to learn programming.
- I missed out on computing in school but always had an interest in it and did programming at home on my Sinclair spectrum, yes I am that old. I then had the opportunity to go to college as a mature student at 20.
- I have always been interested in space since I was a child. Between looking at the constellations in the night sky and impatiently waiting for rocket launches, I thought why not try to work on the coolest technology that literally takes you out of this world – so here I am today!
What does a typical day in your role involve?
I’m not sure there’s such a thing as a typical day! Work is very varied for me – I meet new potential technology partners to evaluate their products and understand how we might be able to apply them to the challenges our clients face. Where there’s a gap in the market I devise new products and work with developers to prototype them – sometimes even getting hands on myself. I demonstrate these products and services to potential clients and help them work out how the technology can deliver real business benefit to them.
3rd line BAU support of Unix Servers for multiple clients across all hardware platforms and flavours of Unix. Troubleshooting faults, writing technical documentation and working proactively to prevent issues occurring.
Providing 3rd line support to a diverse set of Unix Servers. Implementing changes, troubleshooting complex faults and problems as well as working on automation scripting for service improvement.
Solving issues, spreadsheets stats checking vulnerabilities, planning work for the rest of the team.
A typical day in my role is usually spent working on Design and Development of spacecraft flight software. Currently I am working on ESA’s ExoMars rover and SMILE (satellite aiming to build a more complete understanding of the Sun-Earth connection).
What excites you most about your job?
I really enjoy finding new ways to combine different technologies to deliver something which is more than the sum of its parts. Conversational AI is a great example here as it’s an interesting tool in its own right but the usefulness of automating a conversation is considerably increased if you can then get it to perform functionality in response to that conversation – e.g. do calculations, validate information, make updates to other systems.
I love a challenge and it’s extremely satisfying to get to the bottom of an issue which has had you scratching your head. With the type of clients we support it’s good to know that our hard work makes a difference
I really enjoy the problem solve aspect that it brings and with such a diverse set of clients you never know how that next challenge will present itself. I work with a fantastic team of people both locally and globally and have been part of CGI’s digital transformation team for a little over a year. I love the exposure that brings to so many new and emerging partners, technologies and solutions then delivering the best of that to our clients. It’s super rewarding!
Learning new technology.
The most exciting thing about my job is that I get to work on the projects that are exploring the other worlds far far away! I am a strong advocate for making humans an interplanetary species and the work I am doing is slowly paving the way for it.
Does being a woman present any additional challenges in your role?
- When I was much younger and working as a software developer for a former employer I do remember a senior manager telling me that all the best developers were men. Thankfully that’s not an attitude I’ve encountered since, but there is often a lack of senior female representation in many IT organisations. One of the good things about CGI is I can look upwards and see inspiration in Tara McGeehan and Julie Godin to show there’s no limit to what a woman here can achieve.
- Sometimes I'm not always taken seriously with regard to my technical knowledge, although this is improving.
- Things have definitely improved over the 25 years I’ve worked in the industry! In the past, childcare commitments were assumed to be the responsibility of the mum and that presented a challenge in an all-male environment with little flexibility or understanding. Nowadays employers recognise that this is the responsibility of both parents and are more flexible all round which takes the pressure off us mums.
- Not at all in this role I’m pleased to report however like so many with school aged children, childcare issues have caused problems in the past. Things are improving for working parents but I feel there is still work to do in this area across the board.
Do you have any advice for girls and young women hoping to pursue a career in Engineering/STEM?
Try different things and find what you love. We all spend so much time at work so it’s important to enjoy it. Not only will you be happier if you’re having fun (and technology can be a lot of fun) but you’ll also do your best work and shine even brighter. Plus there are always so many new ideas, so much to learn so you can never be bored!
Go for it and don’t be discouraged! Men & women bring different strengths to the profession and companies benefit from having a good mix of both genders in their employees
Have faith in yourself, your abilities and experiences and never be afraid to voice up and push those boundaries - women from history that dared to do this changed the world for the better in so many ways.
- While women still don't have full equality in the industry, there is definitely more scope for women in STEM
- One main piece of advice I have is that try not to fall in the trap of impostor syndrome. I have been suffering from it for a long time and it has held me back from achieving my goals on multiple occasions. So just recognise that it’s your mind playing tricks on you and that you should definitely go for that cool job or that intensive uni degree! The other thing I’d like to say is that your career is very rarely a linear path so don’t be put off if you have to move up and down a bit – it’s normal!