Case study

Electronic design engineer — Naomi Ruth Meakin

Naomi studied for a Masters in Electronic Engineering at the University of Warwick. Discover how she got her job as an electronic design engineer

Engineering is a typically male-dominated industry. Why did you decide on this career?

I was always a very tactile learner and spent a lot of my childhood playing with toys that involve being torn apart and put back together, and solving puzzles and riddles. While at school my favourite subject was applied maths and physics and I really liked bridges so thought I would go to university to become a civil engineer, as I hadn't had much exposure of any other stream.

While at university I found my interest in electronics. I hadn't considered the gender imbalance when I applied to university and when I was there about 30% of my fellows were female so I hadn't truly comprehended how bad diversity was in the sector until I was working.

How did you get your job?

When I was in my final year of university I submitted my CV onto a job search website and was quickly contacted by a number of recruiters. From the offers I received I decided to accept my current position, as I primarily believed the role would be sufficiently varied for me to get a breadth of experience in many different aspects of electronics, which is far broader than I had any comprehension of while at university. I also genuinely enjoyed the interview. The questions were interesting and both interviewers were kind and patient.

Why are more female engineers needed?

There is a need for more engineers regardless of their gender. There is a higher focus on female engineers though because there is currently so few, which means there is a large untapped pool of talent who aren't choosing engineering due to preconceived notions, societal pressures or even just lack of visibility of the career.

Workplaces want to be as diverse as possible in order to have a collection of people raised in different environments who can then contribute their own original point of view to a problem or project.

What’s a typical day like as an electronics design engineer?

This varies on the type of project I am working on. I spend an hour in the morning catching up with all of the other engineers in the projects I am involved in, we discuss our progress, anything blocking our progress and future work. My day will generally be split into theoretical or admin work in the morning, then practical work in the afternoon.

If I am working on firmware then the morning's work could be tracking down the source of bugs, adding new lines to our files and building then debugging my work.

If I am doing hardware I could be researching circuit theory, designing a prototype board, selecting components and submitting the design to be manufactured. As for the practical work, I will be updating my firmware onto a product in the lab and running it through tests and generally fiddling with it to make sure that it works as intended.

Describe your job in five words/a sentence.

  • challenging
  • problem-solving
  • team working
  • varied
  • frustrating.

What part of your job gives you the most satisfaction?

I would say it is that 'eureka' moment you get when struggling with a problem. In engineering you're provided with an issue that you need to solve in a viable manner. About 60% of your time will be spent trying to solve that issue and the moment that you finally find a solution is incredibly satisfying. There is always the possibility that your idea won't work at first but that is just another opportunity to experience that satisfaction. There is no better indication of growth than succeeding at something that you have failed at previously.

What are the challenges?

It can be incredibly frustrating when you are unable to reach a solution, or you can't work out why your idea doesn't work. Also there are quite a lot of regulations around engineering that you need to account for and work with.

In what way is your degree relevant?

The world of electronics is incredibly broad and you never really know what you may be working on. When you are confronted with something new you have the theory you learned at university to fall back on or to give you a good starting block with which to search for information.

Engineering degree courses also teach skills, which are necessary to a career in the field such as report writing, using specific software and the type of thought process one should use when approaching a new problem.

While you can become an engineer through doing an apprenticeship, at some point the company will probably sponsor you to get a degree. In any case you need a Masters in engineering if you want to qualify for Chartership, which gives you more opportunities.

How did you get involved with the Women’s Engineering Society (WES)?

I got involved with WES because the company I am working for became a sponsor and they gave us membership.

At my current place of work there are 60 engineers and only two others are female and they are both my age and in a similar position. So it is very gratifying to see examples of women in engineering be successful, passionate and happy in their careers when one isn't able to look around and see an example of that.

What are your career ambitions?

I would like to become a senior engineer working in digital or network communications.

If there were an extra hour in the working day how would you use it?

If I had finished my allocated work for the day then I would probably used that for learning and career development. While my current place of work has given me plenty of experience in many different aspects of electronics there is still much I am ignorant of. So I would probably sign onto more online courses and webinars.

What advice can you give to other aspiring female electronic engineers?

Keep an open mind and try everything you can. I went into my degree with preconceived notions of what I would enjoy and what I would be good at and I was almost always wrong. If you don't like something you are doing note it down and move onto something different. It can be easier to pinpoint your desired career by removing what you don't want to do than having a concrete idea right from the start. The shortage of engineers, rapid technical development and breadth of careers means you will be able to find a job that encapsulates what you like.

Also don't let anyone tell you that you only got your job because you are female. When you gain a position it will be through your own merits, achievements and hard work. Someone implying that your only contribution is your gender and the demographic box you tick is demeaning, objectifying and insensitive.

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