Breaking barriers and forging paths: a technical support engineer at Siemens shares insights

Posted on 23 Jun 2023 by The Manufacturer

In this article, we speak to Olivia Kelly, technical support engineer at Siemens about her experiences this International Women in Engineering Day.

Can you give a brief overview of your role and how you first got into the sector?

Olivia Kelly, Technical Support Engineer at Siemens

“I am a technical support engineer at Siemens. Based in Manchester, I provide post-sales support for our factory-automation products, specialising in issues involving visualisation software and the internet of things. I do a lot of work with Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) and Human-Machine Interface (HMI) systems.

“I’ve just finished my second four-year apprenticeship is digital technology and solutions. My first was in electrical engineering and I got a full-time job at the end of that, doing system tests on an Intelligent Operator Panel (IOP) product which was very software based, and that’s what got me interested in switching from electrical to digital.”

What is your favourite thing about your role?

“It’s definitely the variety it offers. My job is about solving problems, and the problems tend to be totally different every time. I’ll pick up one case and it will involve scripting a process, the next will be a communications issue between Programmable Logic Controllers (PLCs) – getting to grips with a totally new challenge every time really appeals to me.

“Also, we’re normally dealing with customers that urgently need to find a solution and helping them do that is extremely satisfying.”

Why do you think days like International Women in Engineering day are still so important?

“The visibility it gives to women working in the industry is very important. As a young person, it’s all well and good to hear engineers talk about how great a career in the industry is, but when you can relate to them on a personal level it’s much more powerful.

“I’ve got very clear memories from my childhood of seeing women in engineering and it grabs your interest much more compared with the usual ‘guy in a boiler suit’ image that dominated for so long.

“It has only got more important given how the nature of a job in the industry has changed in the past two decades. Industry 4.0 means an engineer is just as likely to be crunching data as they are interacting with a panel of physical controls, and that means jobs have got less physical and dirty. Not that women can’t do those things every bit as well as men, but the role typically involves less of it than it used to. Also, on the occasions when we do need to put the boiler suits on, the advent of predictive maintenance means we normally know exactly what needs to be fixed and how, so the job is done much faster.”

How are things progressing when it comes to attracting more women into engineering and manufacturing?

“I can only really speak for my own team here, but working in technical support, we’re the people that other engineers tend to come to when they have particularly tricky problems, and it’s noticeable that there are more women in this department now than there ever have been before.

What more needs to be done?

“We know that education for young people is vital in making changes, but I think there’s also a job to do in educating the older generation of engineers in the industry. There’s an out-dated perception that women are there because of a tick-box diversity exercise, and that stereotype needs to go.

“We need to educate the older generation that women aren’t in the industry to satisfy a quota, but because they are highly capable, passionate engineers.

“Education is improvement but there’s always room to do better. At Siemens, we frequently go into schools to talk about how great engineering is, but it’s something that every business across the industry should be doing to help drive the next generation of skills.”

Have you got any advice you’d give to the younger generation looking to enter the industry?

“Take every opportunity with both hands and don’t feel anxious about whether you’ve chosen exactly the right path. I started out as an electrical engineer and changed my mind. Don’t worry that you’re going to pigeonhole yourself because each step will take you somewhere new and exciting.

“Also, there will always be other people along the way that can help steer you in the right direction. Finding a mentor is important and promoting that kind of mentorship is very important for businesses in the sector. It’s something that Siemens do very well in terms of providing opportunities to talk about career progression and that has been invaluable to me in getting to where I am today.”

To read more of our INWED 2023 coverage, check out our headline article here.