Think engineering is just for men? Think again. We talk to three female engineers who secured their dream jobs with luxury automotive, motorsport and technology brand, McLaren.
Sinead Cook, Associate Data Scientist, McLaren Applied Technologies
My role: Data-driven modelling in healthcare, public transport and automotive industries.
Before she went to university to study engineering, Sinead Cook didn’t know anything about computer programming, data or coding. “I thought it was just for gamers!” she says. “I wasn’t aware that it can be applied in every industry. Then I saw various professors involved in programming research, which is when I got interested.”
At McLaren Applied Technologies, Sinead is part of a team that offers data-driven and modelling solutions to clients in the motorsport, automotive, public transport and health arenas in order to deliver quantifiable performance advantage. “At the moment I’m creating machine-learning algorithms for a healthcare project,” she says.
“The great thing about my job is that I get to work with cutting-edge technology in a space that moves very quickly.”
There’s now a huge demand for data scientists and software engineers in every sector, says Sinead, so a key challenge for educators is getting children into programming at a young age. “Women and people from BME [black and minority ethnic] backgrounds are super under-represented in data science and software engineering,” she says. “Teaching kids early is the way to interest them in a fascinating, fast-moving career.” Sinead, however, only started programming two years ago. “You can teach yourself how to code online, so nobody should be thinking ‘it’s too late for me’,” Sinead says. “At McLaren, there are projects relating to wearables, retail, sports performance, entertainment, transport – the applications of machine learning are incredibly wide-ranging, so it’s important for this diversity to be reflected in the workforce.”
Rebecca Wilson, Aerodynamicist, McLaren Racing
My role: Working to make cars go faster
Working as an engineer on McLaren’s Formula 1 racing cars isn’t just a job for Rebecca Wilson. It’s a way of life. “Formula 1 is so exciting,” she says. “You can’t sit idle for a minute because there’s always a new challenge to solve to make the car go faster — and I find that really thrilling.”
She also loves the rapid pace of her work. For example, one week she might be thinking up a design improvement that could significantly impact a car’s performance; the next she’ll be in the wind tunnel, testing the concept before it is released to the track. “I also love that we’re a team, and everyone contributes,” she says. “That’s very rewarding.”
At school, Rebecca was arguably better at English and History; but she enjoyed the challenge of STEM subjects. And anyway, she knew she needed them going forward because working on Formula 1 cars had always been her dream job. She took a degree in aero-mechanical engineering at university and elected to take a year out of her studies to work in industry to gain as much experience as possible under her belt. “I wanted to be the best candidate I could,” she says. “Fundamentally, I wanted a job I enjoyed, which is what I ended up with. I’m very glad I chose a career in STEM — and I love coming to work every day.”
Alex Trebilco, Project Engineer, McLaren Automotive
My role: Sportscars and supercar design
Alex Trebilco was told at her all-girls school that she wasn’t clever enough to be an engineer. How wrong can a teacher be? She now designs road cars for a living at McLaren Automotive. “Design technology was my favourite subject at school”, she says. “I loved the variation between practical and theoretical work”, but the focus at my school seemed to be on law and business, so finding a way into STEM wasn’t easy. Luckily my technology teacher used to be an engineer and pointed me in that direction.”
Trebilco went on to study a degree in Mechanical Engineering with Composites, and she employs the skills she learnt at university every day. “The latest car I’ve been working on was heavily carbon-focused, so I’ve been using knowledge I gained during its design,” she says.
In her job, working hours can be long, particularly when new cars are being put through their paces on the test track. But that’s OK, says Trebilco.
“I never wanted to be in an office, nine-to-five. Instead, I get to travel around the world with my job.”
Working in automotive doesn’t give immediate results. “A design project can last for two to three years,” she says. “So you have to be patient before you see any results. But when a car rolls off the end of the production line and you get direct feedback come in from customers and the media, it’s a proud moment.”
Alex has recently begun work on McLaren Automotive’s motorsport programme which sees the company design, develop and build race versions of its road cars for customer teams to race in championships such as British GT.