Tuesday, 25 April 2017

Good engineers are simply curious!

'What do you want to be when you grow up?' This can be, perhaps, the most limiting question you can ask a child.

Why? According to the World Economic Forum, 65% of children entering primary school education today will be in jobs that don't even exist yet! The rate of development in the fields of Engineering, Computer Sciences and Information Systems at the moment is amazing – even where I'm from in Cork, the city is changing all around me. The single largest research building in the European Union was opened just a few months back in University College Cork and it is dedicated purely to the computational and mathematical sciences.

The future work life of our current Ladybirds, Brownies and Guides is largely unwritten and, as Leaders and Senior Branchers, we can all do our bit in our own little way as volunteers to help them be ready for it. Looking back on how Guiding started up in the first place – with the intention of giving girls practical and outdoor skills and confidence to contribute their all to society, it does seem a bit absurd to be talking about technology but the closer you look, the more relevant it seems.

When I was in primary school, I was absolutely convinced I wanted to be a teacher and nothing else! All the other kids around me had similarly simple dreams, of being a nurse or a vet or a famous actress. I'm even struggling to think of more of the options we chose because they were pretty limited. That was fine for a bunch of primary school students filling in a bunch of questionnaires but the pattern continued into secondary school and, more troublingly, as the CAO application deadline approached. During one particular Irish class every student either wanted to be a nurse or a teacher – and when my turn came round to speak up as a hopeful Energy Engineering applicant, there was a bit of a silence – I mean, Engineering? What's that?

I will always stand firm in the belief that 'you can't be what you can't see' and the field of technology suffers hugely from this inconvenient truth. As a child I wanted to be a primary school teacher because day-in-day-out I headed into school and saw the teacher leading the class and doing a great job. I looked up to her and, at that age, I had a small understanding of what the job entailed. I can assure you I have no childhood memories of coloring in a picture of an engineer, but I was always taught how to spell 'nurse'.

Currently, the proportion of jobs in telecommunications, scientific research and development and computer programming that are held by women stands at less than 30%.  Ironically, the courses that are the foundations for these have some of the most attainable CAO points (Engineering in CIT was 410 in 2015) while primary school teaching and medicine continues to be unreasonably high. To further add insult to injury, these jobs are amongst the best paid in the country. Soon the gender pay gap, in Ireland anyway, will not be stemming from society’s bias against women, but more so from women's uncertainty and lack of confidence in pursuing tech and engineering careers.

Even as a college student, I am noticing the great benefits of following the path of an Engineer – faculty loans are offered to Engineering undergrads at a lower interest rate, I am in receipt of an industry scholarship from Intel to help with college fees, and there are plenty of summer internships to go around for everyone. These little things make such a huge difference, and would not be accessible to people outside of the STEM fields.

What can we do to help solve this problem? Exposure! Has your unit ever visited an observatory? Would your unit like to call to a meeting of Coder-dojo? Would you like to do a show-and-tell session on the Guide or Brownies’ favourite invention? Could you get speakers in for your Senior Branchers?
I find these days I'm defining the Engineering mindset as, thinking about a more efficient way to get jobs done. That's the job description in general really. Engineers learn about how things work and how to make everything run better – they solve problems. We frame engineers, computer scientists and IT leaders as nerds, or people who just love maths but trust me, there are plenty of engineering students, even in UCC, who struggle with maths just as much as anyone else – most mathematical problems can be solved with a computer anyway! 

In reality, good Engineers are simply curious, like to complain about how things are run, and like to provide their own remedies for a particular problem - and I don’t know about you, but I sometimes find Guides to be particularly good Engineers at meetings!


In conclusion, I would like to mention why I chose Energy Engineering as my specified discipline. I never had any experience programming, didn't do Engineering for my Leaving Cert, and did not study Applied Maths either. I simply asked myself the question – What's the biggest issue facing our generation, and how can I help be a part of the solution? (I would recommend this as a solid starting point for anyone struggling with their career choice at the moment). I realised that reducing energy consumption and aiming for more sustainable and green production for our ever-growing needs seemed like a good cause, so here I am, learning all about it. 

~ Vera O'Riordan, McEgan Senior Branch, Macroom

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