Job Title: Mechanical Engineer
Company: Ford Motor Company
Pronouns: She / Her / Hers / Herself
Quiz Results: Innovating, Communicating, Advocating
I started my studies at Monash in 2009. I did a double degree with mechanical engineering and arts, majoring in criminology and philosophy. It was obvious that I would always pursue engineering, but I just thought the arts units were so interesting. My background in criminology and philosophy really helped me develop my critical thinking skills and gave me a different way of approaching the world. Being a young woman in the male dominated field of engineering has helped me to navigate and learn interpersonal skills needed to empathise with others and their different experiences.
I didn't always find STEM units at University easy. I had peers and close friends doing my course that I would study with; we all helped each other in almost every subject by forming study groups, collaborating in group projects and meeting for study sessions at the library. I also under-loaded if I found the subjects too difficult. Under-loading extended my degree by six months but it was totally worth it because it just took the stress off for those difficult subjects. I took six months off during my degree to do some travel, with no regrets. I spent four months backpacking around Southeast Asia on my own. Finishing uni was probably one of my biggest achievements. It was a gritty, hard slog to get through. I'd probably say that it was the hardest thing I've done.
After graduating, I got a grad position at Ford Motor Company, where I was given opportunities to work in three roles in three years. I worked in body exterior engineering, testing engineering and the design studio. Aside from Engineering, I also spent some time in a STEM outreach role, working on projects with teams and students across Asia Pacific. I then spent three years working in driver assistance technologies, testing iterations of automatic emergency braking. My new role now is less physical, I look at the integration of aftermarket accessories into current vehicles. In this role, we are looking at how Ford enthusiasts use their cars and how we can help meet their needs.
I think of myself as very creative. There's this argument between whether we should use the acronym STEM or STEAM, by adding arts and creativity. I think it's obvious that scientists and engineers are very creative people. In my work life, I find that manifests in me wanting to challenge assumptions, continuously improve the way that things are done. It can be confrontational to others, if someone's been doing something the same way for a long period of time, but it's also true that companies will want to find new and improved ways of doing things, to be creative and solve problems. Then in my personal life, I'm a hundred percent creative in the traditional sense. I love art and craft, painting, sewing, fashion design, all that stuff. I have even been selling some clothes online that I've made from upcycling old materials.
I was lucky to escape Melbourne for a couple of weeks this year. I went to Cairns to do my open water dive certification. I would put that down as one of my best personal achievements, because I had to push through so many personal barriers to get through it. I was so scared and anxious, but the relief I felt at the end was worth it. I'd love to one day dive with the Humpback Whales and Orcas in the northern hemisphere or go to Lady Elliot Island in Queensland and dive with the manta rays along the reef.
In 2015, I started in a graduate position at Ford Motor Company, where I was rotated through three roles in three years. My first role was doing body exterior engineering. This was working on exterior plastic moulded parts, like wheel arch liners, flares, roof rails. I then moved into a testing engineering role at the proving grounds. We looked at noise, vibration, and harshness engineering for climate control systems. My last role in the grad program was in the design studio, working on the interface between designers and engineers. We did some feasibility studies, it was a lot of CAD design.
I then went out of engineering for a little bit, I chose a role in STEM outreach. I worked with a lot of schools and developed backend tracking systems and budgets for global Asia Pacific STEM programs with Ford.
The last three years I've been in driver assistance technologies, which is another test engineering development role. I've worked on vehicle features like autonomous emergency braking and new equipment for testing those features (according to regulatory standards like euro NCAP or ANCAP, vehicle safety basically). So, there are Ford teams in Europe and America. The core engineers there do all the development work. Then in Australia, we apply these features to our programs. We are the voice of the customer for the Ranger and Everest products. We take all the features, test them and do subjective evaluations. We make sure that they perform as customers expect in our regions. My specific role was within autonomous emergency braking and specifically new iterations of that feature. This involves quite complicated intersection and collision scenarios between two vehicles or between the vehicle and pedestrian, bike or motorbike.
A few months ago, I moved into a new role working on the integration of aftermarket accessories into current vehicles. This is about studying our enthusiast customers, who might go overlanding or take their car off-road. Thinking about, how do they use their car? What do they modify? How can we make that easier? Basically, once the customer has already purchased the car, what other needs can we meet?.
The new job is different, because my role previously was mostly physical testing. I was at most of the time, driving cars and working with robots. Now I'm working from home about 70% of the time, still able to go on-site, but with more flexibility in how I work. I'm doing different things every day as opposed to working on one big, long project. Now there's a lot more instant gratification. You can do a quick task and get a quick win. There's also a bit more project management involved, which is a whole new skill that I wasn't using previously.
Testing driver assistance technologies, such as automatic emergency braking (AEB), is complicated. There are two cars involved. One that is under test, one that is a dummy car-i.e. a piece of equipment that just looks like a car but is made completely of foam pieces. If you hit the dummy car, it will come apart into like 50 pieces of foam that you then have to pick up and re-assemble. We rarely ever hit it though!
You need to install quite a lot of equipment into the vehicle that's under test, including GPS units to measure accurate positional and speed measurements. They can recognize up to 0.01km per hour and are within about 5cm accuracy in terms of positional control. The test vehicles are controlled by robots that do the steering, braking and acceleration. The robot is basically an actuator that activates pedals, it's installed on the steering wheel. There is also a driver in the car to hold down a trigger, which can be let go if anything during the test doesn't go to plan, allowing the driver to then take back full control of the vehicle.
The dummy car is fully autonomous and fully robotically controlled. Both cars are synchronized together to come to a collision at a specific point in time on the track. That precise collision scenario is what's tested in the safety regulation bodies like ANCAP and euro NCAP. All those procedures are all publicly available online. Basically, the aim of this is that you want to make sure the technology is really accurate to those test procedures, to make sure that the vehicle systems respond.
AEB is a fantastic technology and is incredibly useful for situations where the driver misjudges traffic movement. For example, one of the first iterations was for low speed, rear end collisions in heavy traffic. It doesn't even matter if you're experienced or not, it's often just a momentary lapse in concentration. AEB can stop you having just an inconvenient, low-speed prang of your car. Now, the feature is much more complex and covers a vast array of different scenarios. If you're going to buy a car, try and get one with Autonomous Emergency Braking (sometimes called different names by different manufacturers), it's probably one of the better features that's going to stop you having accidents.
What was the motivation behind studying criminology and philosophy on top of engineering?
I just thought it was interesting. Criminology dealt with a lot of social issues, I got to learn a lot about how society operates and what causes the different biases that we have. The arts degree really helped me develop my critical thinking skills. Philosophy was another way of thinking, a different way of approaching the world. I chose subjects that really interested me because I knew that engineering would be hard. I knew from the start that it was going to be a real challenge for me. Which it was, the whole time! I'm not sure that I would have finished my engineering degree if I hadn't done arts as well. I needed that balance of the arts degree (critical thinking, writing, and a bit of freedom with no black and white), with that of the engineering degree (often hard and fast rules, black and white, right, or wrong).
Do you find yourself using those skills in your work as an engineer?
It's probably helped me more so as a woman in engineering. Being able to navigate the different skills that you need as a bit of an outsider. To understand the different experiences of others and how to empathize with others. When you study criminology, you study criminals, victims, all different types of people. You look at how they are interpreted by the media and by the public. I think that gives you a different level of empathy, which just makes it easier to deal with people who are very different to you. That was the case for me, as a young, inexperienced woman in a male dominated workplace.
In terms of philosophy. Topics like data analytics, automation, even just the way products are designed, they're engineered from a certain perspective, and those perspectives all have bias. To have that ability to look at the process critically, and identify that the design doesn't consider this group of people is very important. Our customers are a very diverse set of people, which is not necessarily reflected in the workplace.
There was an article that came out when I first started at Ford. It was about how liberal arts degrees were the future because they taught you about the fabric of society. It underpins how you approach problems and how you approach people, that's such a big part of engineering. It's not just about being good at maths.