This week’s spotlight interview is with Fiona Downie, Technical Field Advisor for Controls at FieldCore. Thank you to Fiona for such an honest and motivational story. Showing that taking advantage of all kinds of influences outside of traditional education can spark that early interest and idea of a career in a STEM industry and how important raising awareness of these possibilities is, to encourage everyone, not only females, to consider engineering as an exciting future career. “At the end of the day you can’t be what you don’t know about or can’t see in everyday life.”
What is your current job role?
My role is a Technical Field Advisor for Controls, I work for FieldCore, a GE company. I work on Heavy Duty Gas Turbines and either we are completing maintenance work on the machine or upgrading a certain aspect of the machine sometimes even both at the same time! My role is about making sure that the instruments that collect the data from how the machine is running are installed and functioning correctly and that the controls system (a big computer and it’s programme basically) is using this data to run the machine correctly, efficiently and safely. I primarily cover the European region but sometimes I get the opportunity to venture out of the region into other parts of the world.
How did you get into your field of work? Did you follow a specific study path / apprenticeship route / training scheme? Or maybe it wasn’t planned?
I was awarded a Power Academy Scholarship from the IET during University that peaked my interest into the power sector and the challenges that the sector faces in the current climate. That it is a fast moving sector at the moment that has big challenges for becoming greener and more efficient in the way it serves its customers all the while maintaining the stability of the grid that has improved greatly, I can’t even remember the last time I suffered a power cut.
I tried many different roles within my graduate scheme. It was a great way to see where I most enjoyed applying the skills I learnt at university into the company. I was very lucky to be mentored by some great Field Engineers including another trailblazing women that showed me the skill and enjoyment from applying knowledge from paper to physical equipment.
How long has this training taken?
I completed a university degree for 5 years and then a graduate scheme program for 2 years. For my current role I am still training in different specialties, every day I learn something new.
What or who inspired you to want to work in engineering?
I really struggled to work out what I wished to do when in high school, I had considered both Architecture and Chemical Engineering during my final years. But I think it was a STEM outreach program called Scottish Space School that finally introduced me into the what all the different types of STEM jobs there were out there, the applications for each and the confidence to know that I could make a difference. At the end of the day you can’t be what you don’t know about or can’t see in everyday life.
It wasn’t the NASA Astronauts that inspired me but the behind the scenes Engineers’ that delivered inspiring speeches about following your passion and finding a team that you can contribute all your passion into to helping reach a successful goal. I don’t necessary strive to be the front person of the team but I do drive to be the best team player and leader I can be amongst the most successful team out there delivering services to the power industry.
Tell me about the most exciting parts of your role?
In my job every day is different. I work in a very dynamic industry, each project, site, customer is different. Every day I have an opportunity to meet people that I can learn from. Also having unexpected challenges that may occur during a project execution allow me to gain new experience how to deal with some issues and problems in the future. This really helps me to grow in my career. You have to be able to put all the skills, knowledge and experience you have together to obtain the right solution, all the time while insuring the safety of everyone and the somewhat expensive machines and equipment involved. Being able to solve or helping contribute to solving those problems really gives you a sense of pride for the success.
Another aspect that I love about being a field engineer is the opportunity I have to travel. Normally I cover Europe and have had the chance to visit many different countries try their local foods and also see some of countries beautiful locations usually off the tourist maps. I am constantly working in a multinational team which is just amazing to learn about different cultures. This diversity and life experiences make being a great team-working member a priority so that we all can utilize the diversity of the team to its greatest effect.
Any thoughts on how to encourage more women into the Engineering Sector?
This is the big question really… I think exposure to the applications of STEM subjects in school to job’s really helps to convert that what can sometimes be dry subject matters in school into the reality of applications of jobs. I think the outreach programs and extracurricular activities really help build awareness and passion. Well I know that certainly worked for me but everyone is different.
I also think for companies it’s great way of giving back to communities and making sure there is a good diversity stream of people knocking on their doors for jobs in the future. Those educational fun moments can really help shape young people’s lives of any gender or background ignite the next generation of the workforce into passionate caring leaders this world requires.
Best piece of advice for young women / girls who would like to explore engineering as a career opportunity?
Follow your passion as well as finding that thing that your skills are suited towards. Once you have that it is true that most days will not feel like actual work you will be contributing to a cause that you believe in. Things don’t always work out the way you imagined they would but with self-belief and determination to work towards your passion it can really take you places.
There are so many opportunities out there in engineering that you will never get bored, you just find different ways to apply your knowledge to the variety of applications and causes out there. Find the one that makes you want to stand up and be proud you were a part of and made a difference to, because you can and will.