When someone asks you to picture an engineer, who pops into your head? For some, it’s a malleable form that could be anyone. For most, though, it’s something very specific: a white male.
Last summer, Isis Anchalee started the globally trending #iLookLikeAnEngineer movement, inspired by backlash she received when her employer used her in an ad promoting the company and highlighting her role as a platform engineer.
Anchalee now strives to demonstrate that ability is not limited by appearance – something she will be addressing when she speaks at Inspirefest later this year.
The #iLookLikeAnEngineer movement has inspired others who don’t fit the abovementioned stereotypical view of engineering to talk about their stories.
Here, Sylvia Lu, an engineer at internet of things (IoT) technologies company U-blox, talks about her experience in the sector, and what advice she has for others interested in becoming engineers.
What made you want to get into engineering?
I was inspired by my parents, who are both engineers. From them, I learned that a career in engineering could offer a path of great opportunity that leads people across the world.
This turned out to be true for me. After graduating from the University of Bristol with an MSc in communication systems and signal processing, I got my first job in Cambridge, UK, and became a physical layer engineer, contributing to the development of a wireless system.
I’m now involved in enabling low-cost and extended-coverage wireless technologies for the internet of things (IoT), which I believe will ultimately change the way we communicate with devices like wearables, smart metres, smart homes, etc.
It is indeed very exciting to be able to contribute to the good of society and the world. And I know, being an engineer, I can!
Are people surprised when you tell them what you do for a living?
Quite often, actually.
I see it as a good opportunity to start a conversation as, most of the time, people are genuinely interested in what you do.
How does it feel to be working in an industry where you’re in the minority?
Thankfully, I never felt like a minority in my company or in the industry. In fact, I quite enjoy working with a diverse group of smart engineers, as there is always so much I can learn from each individual.
What needs to happen to make engineering more attractive to a broader variety of people?
With the help of role models and mentors, workshops need to be held to broaden people’s perspectives of engineering, showing that it’s not about getting your hands dirty fixing things, but about developing and enhancing a variety of skills.
Those skills can include – but are not limited to – innovation, creativity, negotiation, logical thinking, decision making and, of course, business skills.
I believe that’s true especially in the IoT field, which brings together many vertical industries – smart cities, the automotive sector, utilities – and will help to attract a broader variety of people. Competition or projects in these areas will help to accelerate it, hopefully.
What advice would you give to others who don’t fit the engineer stereotype, but want to pursue engineering as a career?
Follow your heart and go for it!
It’s nothing to be scared of – it’s a path that many people have pursued and enjoyed, and I know that it can bring fulfilment, confidence and success along the way.
Be an engineer, for the good of society and the world.
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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. Book your tickets now.