by Nicola O'Byrne

What compelled you to become an engineer?


From an early age I had a strong interest in science and understanding how things worked. A love of technical challenges (mathematics, physics etc.) combined with a strong desire to interact with people and solve complex problems led me to choose engineering as a career. I was lucky in that at the age of 15 I already had a preference for electronics within the sciences, and attending an Introduction to University

course at the University of Limerick that summer confirmed that it was going to be the right choice for me. I wanted to make a difference in the world by helping to advance technology, whether it was affecting the everyday experience of people or something more dramatic like helping NASA or CERN (both of whom have used ADI precision data converters).   

How would you encourage young women to follow their passion for engineering?

I would urge them to try to understand the scope of roles available across engineering beyond the stereotype often portrayed at universities or in the press. Some may be put off by the idea of a male-dominated environment. I would encourage young women to talk to experienced women engineers to understand the positive side of the gender balance as it stands today.

How do you see the engineering landscape evolving over the next few years?

I believe we are going to see more women in engineering and women playing a larger role.  I have already noticed that there seem to be more women in engineering in China than in other regions, at least within my field of interest, which is motor and power control. My role involves meeting ADI customers regularly, and women seem to be more evident in China and increasingly have positions of higher authority. As China becomes more prevalent globally I think this will potentially have a positive effect on the engineering culture globally.


Over the last few years customer expectations around whole product service have been steadily increasing. This demands that we think more broadly about customer needs and pain points, and many women tend to have inherent natural empathy skills and an ability to develop less obvious creative solutions or approaches when needed. I am also hopeful that we will see more women in leadership positions as the work life balance becomes more manageable in today’s society. 

What are the most important skills or personality traits that you think women should possess when working in the engineering field?

No different to men, first and foremost, technical ability is essential in order to contribute in engineering. Communication and leadership skills combined with traits such as assertiveness and resilience are very useful in what can be a challenging environment for some women, especially when starting out. Active listening and empathy also go a long way in order to put yourself into your customer’s shoes, whether it is an internal or external customer. A variety of other skills are important, the extent of which depend on the nature of the particular role within engineering. For me, as an applications engineer, I believe multitasking is critical and the ability to quickly reprioritize in the face of change. While self-belief, conviction and resilience are all excellent traits to possess as a woman in engineering, being open minded and accepting others’ views, indeed learning from them, is of course essential.  

Anonymous
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  • Congratulations on a successful career. Here in the States, the biggest hurdle I see that women in STEM careers have to overcome is perception and access to resources. STEM education at the primary, middle school, and high school levels is marginal at best. As you say, you got into engineering (as did I) at an early age. Unfortunately, the public school system has not kept up with the changes demanded in these fields. Let's hope that changes soon.