It is my intention to interview some of our favourite female engineers and share their stories. But first, like many a STEM before me, I thought I’d make myself the guinea pig and I’d try out my questions to interview myself. So here goes:
Where do you work and what do you do there?
I am a railway signalling engineer at Aurizon, based in their Eagle Street HQ in Brisbane. In very basic terms, I deal with the traffic lights for trains. I used to spend my time doing detailed circuit and data designs but now I mostly write specifications for signalling subsystems, which is a bit like writing really detailed shopping lists for cool new stuff, which I love.
What is your favourite thing about your job?
I love being able to provide train/yard operators with solutions that they didn’t even think were possible. I especially like the freedom that signallling engineers have to provide somewhat bespoke schemes to balance functionality while minimizing feature-overkill.
What did you study at uni and where?
I have a Bachelor of Engineering, Majoring in Computer Systems, with First Class Honours from James Cook University in Townsville.
What is your biggest regret?
I regret that it took me so long to realize that I had skewed my priorities to one extreme at the expense of other areas of my life. I wish that I had sought balance (and assistance to attain balance) sooner.
Who has inspired you?
My 90 year-old grandmother, the most resilient person I know, is a great inspiration to me.
I see her as the perfect balance between ambitious and caring, hard and soft, critique and enabler, no-nonsense and open to whimsy. Grandma raised two strong daughters while managing Woolworth’s fruit department, opening regional branches (I can attest that the Mount Isa fruit and veg section is still going well) and striking fear into the hearts of juniors that dared to step out of line. But during her semi-retirement Grandma let toddler-Yvette boss her around, playing ridiculous games for hours and hours, and caving in to her requests for her favourite dishes. She creates beautiful things, which are the envy of all the ladies at CWA, and really, I can’t find superlatives to describe her generosity both of spirit and food related. She knows exactly when someone needs some soup, a nursery rhyme and some vics, or when they need a stern motivational speech to get back on track. I hope that I can be a fraction of the woman she is.
What decisions have led you to where you are?
Career wise, at particular points in my life, I’ve made decisions based on this same statement: I don’t want to sit back in the dark and have things happen to me. This is why I became an engineer rather than a software programmer, why I pursued management rather than technical specialty and why I get involved to change things I don’t like rather than let them slide.
What was the greatest moment in your professional life?
I’ve been lucky enough to have received some professional awards which would be obvious highlights. But one of the moments that stood out was when we were in a meeting with our major client, the network asset owner, and, after my supervisor had explained some options to him, the asset owner turned to me and asked me, “Yvette, if this was your network, what would you do?” This was a great moment for me, because I was recognized for my expertise to the point where he trusted my technical opinion and knew I would give him the honest answer, leading to the best outcome. Basically, it confirmed that I was going in the direction I was meaning to, espousing the values that I felt were important.
What is your favourite thing about yourself?
I like my ability to think differently and surprise people. I also love my hair!
What advice would you give your 16 year old self?
- Confidence is more important than appearance (but despite that, you’re not actually fat anyway)
- You can get away with applying the 80/20 rule
- Be your authentic self as much as you can
Where is your favourite place in the world?
Outside – Lake Tekapo, NZ
Inside – Florence, Italy
What is the hardest decision you have ever had to make?
The decision to stop caring, to stop pursing a friendship because it was one sided. This sounds like it would be reasonably easy decision to make but it isn’t when the main way you make yourself happy is by making other people happy.
Why do you need feminism?
Because I have a really hard time accepting a world that isn’t just. Note that just is different to equal. Treating someone differently because of the pre-conceived prejudices you have about how a person with a particular genetic structure will behave/perform/interact is a ridiculous, flawed strategy, which doesn’t benefit anyone, and, at the risk of sounding hysterical, is limiting the advancement of humankind.
What is at the top of your bucket list?
Launch a blog for women in engineering…. haha
Actually, I’ve got a trip planned next year to see the northern lights in Iceland to satisfy that desire.
What are the most effective items in your Eden Jar?
Drawing and yoga – the cheapest and most effective “chill pills” for me.
Where are you going from here?
I want to pursue engineering management. I’m still very much in love with signalling so I think it will be a little while before I can be completely devoid of a technical background.