If you spent any time on the internet last summer, you probably spotted the viral trend #iLookLikeAnEngineer.
When Inspirefest 2016 speaker Isis Anchalee received backlash after her company used her in promotional marketing – the majority of commenters thought that, as she is a pretty woman, she couldn’t possibly be an engineer – she created trending hashtag #iLookLikeAnEngineer, which celebrates and supports diversity within engineering.
Ramona Marfievici, a computer engineer at Nimbus Research Centre, was drawn into the engineering world by her love of physics and maths. She tells us what she thinks needs to be done to make the engineering world more inclusive, and offers advice for those thinking of embarking on a career in engineering.
What made you want to get into engineering?
I was not the kind of kid taking apart everything in their house and trying to figure out how it works, however, my family is filled with engineers and I grew up surrounded by the ideals of pursuing science and engineering as a creative and stimulating way to have a positive impact on the world.
Also, while in school, I discovered that I had a natural liking for physics and maths, and I honed my skills and preparation further during my formative years, in high school. As time progressed, my future academic path became clearer to me, and I decided to study computer engineering. It amazed me how we can use computing to solve real-world problems!
Are people surprised when you tell them what you do for a living?
Some of the people are surprised to hear that computer engineering is not a ‘boring office job behind a computer’, but exciting and cutting edge. Others are surprised at how many real-world problems we have to work on in this field and how computing is the engine driving innovation in almost every field of humanity.
How does it feel to be working in an industry where you’re in the minority?
For the last 20 years, I studied and worked in environments where I was always in the minority: as a female student and then a teaching assistant in computer engineering; as a Romanian pursuing a PhD in information and communication technology at the University of Trento, Italy; as an engineer working in a multi-disciplinary team; as a female engineer running experiments in harsh environments, like outdoors in winter.
Thankfully I have never felt like or been treated like a minority, and for this I acknowledge my colleagues, students, professors, adviser and teammates.
What needs to happen to make engineering more attractive to a broader variety of people?
We, as engineers, need to open the doors of our labs to people and allow them to explore!
Engineering has a great flexibility – there are opportunities for those who love tinkering and getting their hands dirty, and for those who like keeping them clean.
Moreover, we have to showcase that modern engineering is multi-disciplinary and that there’s the opportunity to work with many different people from all different backgrounds, both from engineering disciplines and from other subject areas.
Finally, we have to show people that engineering is fun, as you can develop new products, broaden the vision of society and underline the positive impact engineering has on nearly all aspects of the modern world.
What advice would you give to others who don’t fit the engineer stereotype, but want to pursue engineering as a career?
If you are talented in engineering, then go for it – pursue your passions and what challenges you. That will keep you going when the going gets tough. Don’t ever let anyone stop you from pursuing your dream and it will pay off. Be confident and keep trying.
Yes, engineering can be an extremely challenging field to pursue, and there are going to be bumps along the way during the learning process, but trust yourself. Every engineer started off in exactly the same position you are in. Just continue to be curious!
Updated at 10.25am, 2 March 2016 to include some background on #iLookLikeAnEngineer.
Looking for tech jobs in Ireland? Check out our Featured Employers section for information on companies hiring right now.
Inspirefest is Silicon Republic’s international event connecting sci-tech professionals passionate about the future of STEM. Join us again from 30 June to 2 July 2016 for fresh perspectives on leadership, innovation and diversity. Get your Early Bird tickets now.