Shena

Program Lead - Space Systems Engineering
Space and Engineering

Watch Shena’s  video

What are some of the coolest things you like about working in your industry?   

Being part of creating solutions to interesting problems – everything relies on space. Whether it is mobile phones, cable TV, weather forecasting, humanitarian and disaster relief, navigation (the list goes on), they depend on services offered from satellites in space. Plus, there is exploration – Australia is going to be part of the mission to Mars. And I get to support projects from Space Force to the Space Agency to local and international companies to develop solutions for these challenging projects.

How did you get started in your career pathway and what helped you along your career journey?

My career journey was not quite an accident, but it was not exactly a hard-fought path either. Because my major was Mechanical Engineering with a minor in Aerospace, I was well situated to enter the workforce as a Space Engineer, especially starting as I did: as a Quality Engineer in mechanical and electromechanical manufacturing, assembly, and test. But I did not set out to start in Space. I actually did not know what I wanted to do when I graduated, so I attended several career and networking events at my university with an open mind, talking with the company representatives to learn about their companies and handing out my CV. I was lucky enough to get a call back and successfully went through the interview process to be hired. But oddly enough, it was not my grades or my coursework that was the primary topic of discussion in my interview, but my time working at Disneyland and even McDonalds. Because as much as TV and movies like to portray engineering otherwise, engineering is a “team sport”! In fact, sociability is one of the 5 values at my current company because being able to effectively talk to your customers, understand their needs, and communicate those back are key to the success of any project. So, the ability to communicate well and demonstrating that through previous experience was a key to landing the job that got ‘my foot in the door.

What do you enjoy most about the work you do?

I enjoy feeling like I am personally helping develop Australia’s sovereign space capabilities, and I get to do it working with really cool people on really cool projects.

In school what subjects did you enjoy most or were good at?

One of the things I think helps me with Systems Engineering in particular is that I like a lot of different things and have many interests. In school, I did theatre and journalism, but I also liked maths, chemistry and biology. In fact, one of the reasons I chose engineering is because it is a bit of a mix between creative things and science-y things (like me).

What successful strategies have you used that have helped you transition to working in a non-traditional industry?

It is always good to establish a network of people (of any gender) who you can rely on. In University, I made friends with a few of my classmates, and we studied together and helped each other. When study got tough, I knew I was not the only one struggling and we all celebrated together when we learned something new. Also, having determination is crucial – a few of my female friends in engineering thought about switching at some point, but we were determined and made it through. Once you graduate, it is easy to get ‘imposter syndrome’ and feel like you are not qualified but having faith that everyone else at your level is in the same boat (and again, this is where having a network helps because you can compare notes and know you are not alone).

What or who has influenced your career pathway?

My Mom, though she never went to university, was always a woman who figured out a way to make it work. As a single mum, when something went wrong or broke, her first task was to try to fix it. I think that set the foundation for me to realise that with a bit of creativity and determination, most problems can be tackled and overcome. When I learned I could use those creativity and problem-solving skills and get paid for it, it seemed a natural choice.

What did you want to be or do when you left school?

I had no idea what I wanted to do out of school – I just wanted to work on cool and challenging problems, and you cannot get cooler or challenging than working on space projects. I was lucky enough to start in Space as a Quality Engineer, but I have also worked on Project Management and now Systems Engineering (which is more focused on the big picture and having everything come together in a balanced way to get an optimum solution).

Are you able to provide information about your qualifications, this helps others seeking information about careers in your industry.

Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering with a specialisation (minor) in Aerospace Engineering. Certified Quality Technician and Engineer (American Society of Quality). Certificate in Project Management (University certificate program).

What advice would you give to others (girls/women) about following careers in non-traditional industries?

I highly recommend creating a network (of any gender) of people in your industry, even better if it includes other women in your industry. When you have other people, you can talk to and rely on, you will not feel isolated, and you learn that you are not alone. It can be frustrating to be the only female in a room of 25, but that does not mean you do not belong there. Also, while you can always dial up or dial back some of your traits to suit a given situation, it is important to stay authentic to yourself and not try to fit into a square you think is what is needed or expected. Lastly, not every place is created equal so if the company or organisation you first join does not fit, try another (and your network should help you understand this too).

And lastly, we’d love if you could share how, you are making your own mark?

This year I was a finalist for Space Female Lead of the Year in the Australian Space Awards.

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