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Women in tech: 4 engineers offer advice to the next generation (Part 1)

International Women in Engineering Day takes place on June 23 so we wanted to mark the occasion with an inspiring chat to seven of the women who make Sonalake what it is. 

We asked them about their motivations, their experiences and the advice they’d offer someone considering a career in engineering. This week’s post will feature our chat with the first four women but remember to keep an eye out for part two, which will be published next week. 

Here’s what they had to say. 

 

Agnieszka Chmiel, Software Engineer

What inspired you to become a software engineer?

Photo of Agnieszka Chmiel

I had no idea that girls couldn’t be engineers. I just became one, because no one told me I couldn’t.

My mother is a mathematician. She used to work with those big computers that took up a whole room and used punched cards. We still have decorative stars for Christmas that are made from punched tape.

From childhood, I had contact with computers and it was natural – my first one was a ZX Spectrum, then a PC with an amber screen. I remember modifying Digger game levels in hexadecimal editor when I was in primary school. I did it at home – there were no computers at school then. It was fun.

What’s the most satisfying thing about being an engineer?

The most satisfying thing is the feeling you get when you did a good job, you solved puzzles that were extremely hard, or when it worked but others have no idea how you achieved it. Like magic!

What skills do you need to be a good engineer?

For me, the most important skill is the ability to connect the dots. Thinking in a logical way, you know? Causes and effects. You also need to have a kind of curiosity to drill deeper and learn more. And of course confidence, or at least a kind of obliviousness so you don’t care what others think or say, unless they say you are good!

What advice would you give someone who’s looking to get into engineering?

My daughter is now delighted with Scratch. She’s good at it. She doesn’t have TikTok, Instagram or Facebook, but she has an account on Scratch and is an active part of its community. It’s her own initiative – I’m proud of her.

My advice? If you like it, keep going.

 

Caitriona O’Dwyer, Principal Engineer

What inspired you to become a software engineer?

I loved maths. I enjoyed science. It was an obvious choice based on the subjects I loved. 

I would say to anyone – do your passion. Don’t go into something because you think it pays well. Do your passion because that’s what you’re going to end up doing all day every workday. So it’s important to enjoy it. That’s why I went into engineering.

I was lucky. At the time I was trying to choose a career, engineering universities were trying to encourage more women into engineering. Nothing’s changed. I was toying with whether to choose computer science or engineering but I’m glad engineering won the day. 

What is the most satisfying thing about being an engineer?

Fixing problems. That’s it. It’s simple. Coming up with how you fix it and then fixing it. 

I think the rewarding bit is thinking ‘Yes, I sorted something out. I’ve done something that’s improved something for someone.’

What skills do you need to be a good engineer?

The first skill is problem solving. The second one is good communication. The third one is common sense. It doesn’t require brilliant maths. You need to be good at maths but that’s not the most important skill.

What advice would you give someone who’s looking to get into engineering?

Do it if you love coming up with ideas on how to fix and improve things. A lot of what I do is just bringing people along in the conversation as well. It’s not rocket science. It’s just simple, basic skills but being good at them.

Why wouldn’t you do engineering? If you’re good at maths and good at science and like problem solving, why wouldn’t you? I grew up with the mantra that you’re as good as anyone else and it’s your talents not your gender that matters. 

Are women in engineering different to men? No, we’re all the same. You’re as good as any man. If you think you can do it, go do it. Don’t let anything stop you. 

 

Martyna Zarzycka, Software Engineer

What inspired you to become a software engineer?

Photo of Martyna ZarzyckaTo be honest, I never considered a career in software engineering but I came into contact with computer science early in my childhood. My family is involved in computer science and I think that it is in my blood.

My sister encouraged me to start studying computer science and in the beginning, I didn’t know anything about programming. In my second year at university, I realised I really enjoyed it. I became fascinated with the whole concept of it – all the phases of product development, testing and the whole architecture. 

During the second year of my studies, I started my first job. I realised then that this was what I wanted to do. 

What’s the most satisfying thing about being an engineer?

The best thing is that every day is a challenge and you have a different problem to solve. I think it’s great that you have to learn something new every day. Each work day is different because programming is constantly evolving. 

Each development cycle ends with a new building block which is later on connected to the end of the architecture. It is really satisfying when you can see every step of this process and know that you are taking part in a building such a huge architecture. 

What skills do you need to be a good engineer?

You have to be open-minded and keen on learning other approaches. You have to adapt to the project, the team and the changes in the code approaches. When you are a software engineer, you have to learn to overcome your imposter syndrome, especially for women! Self-awareness is very important. 

 

Cathy Swanton, Software Engineer

What inspired you to become a software engineer?

Image of Cathy SwantonI think I fell into it more than having a set plan. Back in school, I had always loved maths and science subjects but I was never really sure what I wanted to do. Reading through the prospectus, engineering aligned to my skills and strengths. 

I remember that the prospectus really sold it to me. They had lots of different streams in engineering and detailed real-world problems that engineers were solving. At the time, it all seemed really tangible. Getting that problem solved or creating a certain product seemed really interesting. 

What’s the most satisfying thing about being an engineer?

For me, it’s seeing the client using the end product that we have developed for them. Getting feedback from the client about the time it’s saving them and how it’s making their job easier and removing some pain points for them is really satisfying. 

What skills do you need to be a good engineer?

Being an analytical thinker, being able to solve problems, being able to identify a problem and go through it step by step to analyse what needs to be done to reach the solution. Being a strong problem solver and analytical thinker. 

I think it’s quite important to be a keen learner. Engineering is obviously an ever-evolving field. There are always new technologies to learn and new skills to develop. You don’t just finish university and you’re done. You have to be willing to keep on top of things. 

What advice would you give someone who’s looking to get into engineering?

Make sure that your skills and strengths are aligned to being an engineer and you enjoy problem solving. Engineering can be quite challenging or frustrating at times. It’s good to enjoy those challenges, enjoy fixing things and be OK with not always knowing what you’re doing. 

Something that’s often overlooked is soft skills. There are probably a lot of stereotypes about engineers but it’s very helpful if you’re able to communicate, to explain the problem you’re facing or explain the solution. It’s quite important. 

With engineering, there are always so many different roads you can go down. You’re always going to be sought after and easy to employ. Things are always changing so you’re never going to get bored. There are lots of roles you can go into if you do get bored. It’s a good career. 

Supporting the next generation 

We believe in giving everyone access to education and technology and we actively support the work of Kinia. This non-profit organisation works with young people from less advantaged background and offers them access to digital tools, training and development opportunities. 

Interested in a career in engineering?

If you’re interested in a career as an engineer or currently looking for work in this area, we’re always looking for emerging talent. Check out our careers page to find out more about our current vacancies and what we have to offer.