• 17 June 2019

The constant learning curve

My parents inspired me the most as a child because they wanted me to have the best education. My dad studied engineering but couldn’t take it any further, so he always encouraged and advised me with furthering my education to get into the industry.

I was always intrigued to find how water was sourced – where the water from the tap came from. I first became interested in engineering at school. I wanted to know more about building services and how it all worked. I was good at Maths, it was my strongest subject, and the further I progressed in higher education, the more I realised I wanted to pursue a career that would let me apply my mathematical skills.

I began studying at the University of Technology in Poznan, Poland, in 2001 and completed a few engineering exams which showed me that Environmental Engineering was a strong point. I think I was enjoying it the most because I was so interested to learn how it all worked and that really helped in developing my career. After five years, I gained my Masters and worked for six months before deciding to pursue a new job in England. It was hard to start with, mostly because I had to learn the language; but also because I didn’t realise what I knew as an ‘Environmental Engineer’ in Poland, is actually called a ‘Public Health Engineer’ in Britain, so I couldn’t find a job because I was looking for the wrong thing.

I’ve found that engineering in the UK is a male dominated industry, which is very different to what I had experienced when studying. Also, British Standards vary, so while five years studying in Poland was useful, I had to take a bit more time to revise my skills for the new challenge of working in another language. For that reason, becoming a Chartered Engineer is one of my proudest moments as it shows my skills are transferrable.

Having worked in the UK for 12 years now, I like the variety each day brings within my role. One day I can be on site where we are refurbishing a Victorian manor house in the countryside, and the next day I’m in Central London working on a corporate commercial building for an international client. I prefer working with older buildings because they offer many challenges where some are listed or protected and therefore have limitations to what can be done in terms of the building services design. It really pushes me to come up with a solution and is rewarding to see a successful outcome.

More or less, my career in engineering has been what I expected it to be. It’s a constant learning curve, which I like because it’s very challenging at times. If you enjoy what you’re doing, then it gives you the strength to overcome the difficulties faced. I’ve found that people who aren’t in the industry don’t really know what public health engineering is, so I tend to say I work on the water and drainage services in buildings to simplify it. Within the industry there’s a misconception that it’s easier than mechanical and electrical engineering, which I don’t think is true, particularly for complex buildings.

World-wide initiatives like International Women in Engineering Day are great because they allow younger women to start taking notice and realise they can be engineers too. I’m not a believer in putting people into boxes when it comes to what they should do. There’s a 50/50 split of men and women in engineering in Poland compared to some other countries where it’s rare for a woman to be an Engineer. I think it’s a case of asking their career advisors exactly what they need to do, and perhaps more can be done to promote engineering in schools.

Magdalena Figan


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