Fiona studied Electrical and Electronics engineering at Moi University in Eldoret, she currently works at Kenya Power. Being a fan of life and a creative at heart Fiona loves cooking, reading books, watching movies and knitting which she recently turned into a money making venture (check out her Instagram page here: https://www.instagram.com/fifisknitnknot?r=nametag ) Off work, she does voluntary mentorship and is currently doing so under Good Kenyan Foundation. She is a chairlady for a Women’s group that she started with a couple of friends for investment and welfare.
Q:Can you share a little bit about what it is that you do and what a typical day for you is like?
A: I am a System control Engineer in a section called National Control Centre in Kenya Power where we oversee the country’s power system network specifically the transmission network what we call the National Grid. The grid is composed of all the high voltage power lines, substations and power stations. My Job involves ensuring the network is healthy by maintaining system voltages and frequency within certain acceptable limits. We also facilitate outages that are planned or otherwise which are a part of maintenance for the grid and dispatch generation based on country’s demand at any particular time.
A typical day for me starts at 5:00AM in the morning. I always start with a morning workout routine, followed by 2 hours of me time where I read books, watch documentaries or listen to podcasts. Of course me time is determined with whether I am working in the morning or not. At my work station we work in shifts so sometimes I don’t go to work early morning. After me time, I usually settle down and work on my knitting projects based on my clients’ orders. Evenings are for family and planning for the next day. My day usually ends between 9:30pm and 10:00pm.
Q: Did you always know that working in engineering was what you wanted to do? How did you decide to go into Electrical (insert your genre) engineering? (What inspired you?)
A: Yes, I am very curious by nature and growing up I was always fascinated by electronics. I would from time to time fix items around the house or take them apart. Above all I loved physics so I knew that Electrical engineering was the field for me. I also loved reading stories about early scientists and the amazing discoveries they made in the field of science, those stories inspired me.
Q: I don’t think it’s any secret that many women in STEM have felt their gender has affected the way that they are perceived and/or treated. Have you ever been in a situation like that? How did you handle it?
A: My former workplace was a telecommunications company and we worked on mobile network upgrade projects for a mobile company that involved accessing customer sites. On one such occasion, we visited a site in a building in Nairobi CBD. Sites in CBD required special access and we had to present a letter from the customer to building management stating the reason for our visit. The gentleman we were told to see was an older man who obviously was not accustomed to seeing ladies do such work. I was accompanied by a younger lady engineer who at the time was on internship. Upon introducing ourselves the gentleman went ahead and asked us and I quote, “So you are technicians? And you say you want to access the mobile booster in our building?” I was about to correct him but my colleague went right ahead and said, “No sir, we are ENGINEERS and we are here to carry out some work as stated on the letter.” The gentleman was shocked and just laughed it off. I always remember that moment because it makes me proud of who I am and my career choice regardless of what other people think.
Q: What is your take on the number of women in engineering? Why do you think that’s the case? What do your think can be done to change that?
A: I think there are not enough women in Engineering and this can be attributed to upbringing and certain thought processes or need I say old way of thinking. The lady under my mentorship wanted to study engineering but she said she knows nothing about the field and the information she has from her mother is that it is hard to get employment with an engineering degree. This however, is further from the truth. The idea that one has to be employed is archaic and we need to change our young sisters’ mentalities by showing them that there is not only more than enough opportunities for employment but also opportunities to be creative inventors and for self-employment.
One way we can help change this is by encouraging Lady Engineers out there to engage young ladies especially those in high school or who just finished high school and help them understand what engineering is all about. Pick a forum and use it to encourage young girls to pursue engineering. Invite young girls to engineering field workplaces and take them through what you do. It all starts with encouraging that one lady you know. Mentorship can also help.
Q: How would you explain your Engineering field to young girls?
A: Energy is everywhere and we need it in everyday life. We need it to cook, to see in the dark and also to do work among other things. Energy can be converted from one form to another. In Power systems, we ensure that energy generated by converting kinetic or thermal energy to mechanical and eventually electrical is delivered to the end user through a series of interconnected power line network called the grid.
Q: What message would you give to young girls to inspire them to pursue Engineering?
A: Engineering is a versatile field with countless applications and opportunities out here. Every young girl out there should not hide their inner curious self, instead they should approach their career choices with open mindedness that can allow them to see opportunities even when everyone around them see none. I encourage them to keep that childish curiosity in them burning especially when choosing careers and not to be worried if it turns out they are outliers. As a woman in an engineering field I can say with absolute certainty that we are used to being outliers and it is a good thing to stand out especially if you do your work with unrivalled passion.