‘I want to bring the perception of an engineer into the modern era’

12 Apr 2019

Orla Murphy, Jaguar Land Rover. Image: Engineers Ireland

Engineering ‘superhero’ Orla Murphy is on a mission to tell the world how rewarding it is to have an engineering mindset you can match with any other interest.

As a day job, Orla Murphy is an engineering quality transformation manager at Jaguar Land Rover. She’s also a superhero, as far as Engineers Ireland is concerned.

Murphy is one of Engineers Ireland’s Engineering Superhero Ambassadors, announced ahead of the annual Engineers Week celebration of the sector. Along with Mayo GAA player and chartered engineer Tom Parsons, she was no doubt selected because of her prior reputation as a STEM ambassador.

Murphy was named the IET Young Woman Engineer of the Year in 2015 and one of the Royal Academy of Engineering Trust’s Young Engineers of the Year in 2016. The following year, she was listed among the Top 50 Women in Engineering by the Women’s Engineering Society.

‘My engineering degree was one-third physics, one-third maths and one-third music’

“I am hugely passionate about engineering and about changing the perceptions of what an engineer is,” she told Siliconrepublic.com. “At school, I didn’t know what an engineer was, and that isn’t a surprise. Even now if you google an ‘engineer’, you get an array of men in yellow hard hats looking at plans.

“I want to help bring the perception of an engineer into the modern era and show everyone in Ireland, not only young students, that engineers come in many forms; they work on cutting-edge technology and deliver exciting products to the world.”

Making ends meet

Murphy grew up on a farm in Cork. “I was strong in maths and science subjects at school, and I also had a creative side and really loved music,” she said.

When it came to choosing a career, she was “very torn” between science and arts, “the two ends of the spectrum”, but it was her experience at the annual BT Young Scientist competition while in secondary school that helped guide her.

“That really encouraged me down the science and engineering road as I had such a good experience of completing a project, from problem to solution, while still at school,” she recalled.

After secondary school, Murphy went on to a degree in electronics with music at the University of Glasgow, continuing to walk the line between the arts and science.

“The engineering degree was one-third physics, one-third maths and one-third music. I had not planned on moving abroad to study, and I didn’t really know still what an engineer was, but I thought the course looked like a perfect fit and meant I didn’t need to narrow down to one-half of my interests. So I took a chance and said I would try it, and I have never looked back,” she said.

Sound effects

Murphy graduated with an MEng in 2013. Having joined Jaguar Land Rover as a sponsored student in the audio team the year before, she returned as a graduate, bringing her specific mix of expertise in maths, physics and music to the field of acoustics.

“In my audio roles at Jaguar Land Rover I worked on developing sound systems, working with speakers, microphones and amplifiers, and calibrating them to create surround-sound music and other sound features in the vehicle,” she explained.

Murphy then moved on from acoustics and audio calibration and started working in manufacturing on “squeak and rattle” problem-solving, which she also enjoyed. Eventually, she was problem-solving full-time with the company’s electrical quality team, investigating issues reported by customers, working to find the root cause, then establishing a fix. Last year, she became engineering quality transformation manager.

“I work on a variety of projects, but recently I am looking at how we learn lessons in the business and make sure we don’t have any problem repeated. It’s a really interesting role and I love thinking about how we can improve our processes in the business so we design and build cars with as few problems as possible.”

Lifelong learning

Murphy believes engineering is a malleable career choice for those who want to blend different interests and skillsets. “Engineers are problem-solvers. They look at a problem and design and create a solution to that problem. That means engineers can work in almost any field, and there are so many types of engineers,” she said, before rattling off examples.

“If you are interested in engineering and medicine, you could become a biomedical engineer and design blood sensors for people with diabetes. If you are interested in engineering and extreme sports, you could design parachutes. Engineering can be combined with any other interest. To be an engineer is a broad skillset you can apply to many companies and products, and it is a really transferable career and skillset.”

‘Engineering is a mindset that will be with you for life’

As is evident in the way she speaks of her chosen field of work and her superhero status, Murphy is a true engineering advocate. She has also been an active and vocal advocate for the broader STEM sector and for women in engineering during her time at Jaguar Land Rover.

“I have always liked speaking about my career and passion for engineering, and that has led to many external recognitions and opportunities,” said Murphy, admitting that one accolade does stand out above the rest: the IET’s 2015 Young Woman Engineer of the Year award.

This award meant a one-year ambassadorship for women in engineering during which she was run off her feet speaking at conferences, judging national competitions, delivering keynotes and writing articles. “It was a really fantastic opportunity and really broadened my experience of public speaking,” she said.

Ultimately, Murphy wants to spread the word of engineering as a dynamic, adaptable skillset for a fun and rewarding career.

“It is a mindset that will be with you for life,” she said. “With engineering, you can change industry or change role every few years even if you don’t move company, because you adapt and move on to new projects, you keep up with the newest inventions and technology.”

Indeed, Murphy said she has enjoyed every day working in engineering, though it’s not widely depicted as an attractive field of work. “People don’t realise how fun being an engineer really is. This could be because doctors have Grey’s Anatomy, lawyers have Suits – we need a dramatic series to showcase the excitement and opportunities in engineering!”

Elaine Burke is the editor of Silicon Republic