What's your name and job title? What did you study? When did you graduate?
My name is Bertha Wai and I am a graduate with Downer Rail. I studied chemical engineering and arts at the University of Sydney and graduated in 2016.
Where did you grow up? Can you tell us about your schooling, education, experience abroad and so forth?
I was born in Hong Kong and moved to Sydney when I was two – so I was raised as a coffee-drinking Sydney-sider.
Throughout high school, I found that my strengths were in the STEM subjects but I also enjoyed languages and creative pursuits. As a result, I chose to do a combined degree in chemical engineering and arts at The University of Sydney. My arts major was in linguistics which is the study of language relating to its structure, meaning and use, and I also took subjects in specific languages including German and classical Hebrew. Outside of study, I was involved in various university societies, the audio/visual team at church and started taking dance classes at a studio near university.
As part of my studies, I completed a six week internship in the water industry in 2015 which provided me with the opportunity to complete my honours thesis with the company.
How did you get to your current job position? For how long have you had it?
In my final year at university, I applied to a few companies from different industries as I wasn’t set on going into a specific industry at the time, knowing that the role of a chemical engineer was shifting away from more ‘traditional’ roles in fields such as oil and mining. Later that year, I responded to an expression of interest from Downer not expecting to hear back – but I got a call back to progress with my application.
I’ve been working at Downer for nine months and it has been a good mix of theoretical and practical work. My first rotation was predetermined and allows me to gain an understanding of the business. As the graduate program is flexible, I did have input into subsequent rotations. I spent my first six months working at the service delivery centre in Cardiff, NSW where major maintenance works for trains is undertaken. Through discussion and guidance from my rotation managers, my second and current rotation is with the Innovation team where I split my time between the North Ryde office and the Auburn depot.
What does your employer do?
Downer is a company that delivers engineering and infrastructure services across various markets including transport, telecommunications, utilities, mining, energy & industrial services, and rail. I am currently working under Downer Rail which provides expertise in the design, build and maintenance of passenger trains.
What are your areas of responsibility?
In my first rotation I was working on the Waratah Bogie Overhaul project. My role involved understanding the project from a process flow perspective, and identifying and investigating possible improvement. I also spent time on the workshop floor building my knowledge and experience about train maintenance by working with the technicians.
In my current rotation, I am working on developing a predictive maintenance tool to gain insight into the condition of the train and when it needs to return to the depot for maintenance. My responsibility is to liaise with the engineers at Auburn Maintenance Centre to determine the requirements for the tool and then create communication material for the project.
Can you describe a typical work day?
My work involves gathering and documenting information on what data is useful in determining the condition of the train, how that translates into the predictive maintenance platform and how the platform will be used in operations. I spend most of my week at the depot with the engineers, documenting the requirements and attending regular meetings with stakeholders.
Suppose a student was considering your career. What would you advise them to study? Are there any soft skills it would beneficial for them to develop? Should they pursue any sort of work experience?
To some extent, what you study at university doesn’t have to restrict you to a particular career. Having an engineering background has definitely provided a good foundation in terms of analytical and critical thinking as well as IT skills. As a chemical engineering graduate, I never would have expected I would be working in the rail industry which is quite far from what I studied at university. The value in the university experience is learning how to learn and figuring out what your strengths are. The roles that I have been in haven’t been highly technical but I rely on my problem-solving skills and ability to use relevant software to process information.
Soft skills are essential to any professional role – in particular the ability to articulate concepts to different audiences and being an active listener which enables you to build relationships and relay information.
Although not essential, any work experience that you are able to get is a good learning opportunity, especially for developing your soft skills and gaining exposure to different work environments so you can figure out what type of work you want to do in your career. Coming into the industry with no prior knowledge in rail meant that I have been primarily learning on the job and listening to people who have vast experience and knowledge, and are generally open to share that.
What sort of person succeeds in your career?
Someone who is able to pick up concepts quickly and is open to learning new things as well as having good interpersonal skills.
What do you love the most about your job? Which kind of task do you enjoy the most?
The best part about my job is being able to see both the business side and spend time at the depot with the actual product (the trains). I think being able to work on a project where you can see where your piece of work fits into bringing an idea one step closer to a tangible result, shows you that the work is meaningful. In my current role, this is about the application of technology to the rail industry that drives change to processes to improve the way we do work, which is an intersection of my interests.
Being part of a Graduate Program which is flexible and centred around each individual allows the graduate to determine their own learning outcomes and drive their career path, whilst being provided with development, coaching and support.
What’s the biggest limitation of your job?
One of the most challenging things about doing project-based work is that you are often given a big task with a high level of ambiguity. In industry, there is no set answer like at university. Although this can be quite challenging, it has allowed me to approach problems from a different perspective and the people I work with have been supportive and put their faith in my ability.
Do you bear a lot of responsibility?
In the project team I am currently in, I’ve had the opportunity to run meetings, be involved in the design process of the platform and work closely with the software development team. This has a reasonably high level of responsibility given that the team is very small and the level of dependency between tasks is high.
Do you have to work on weekends? Is your job physically demanding?
I haven’t had to work weekends but there have been a few times when I’ve worked later on weekdays. I prefer to start early and finish early, and the flexibility in my work hours in the roles that I’ve been in has allowed me to do this without impeding on work-life balance. I guess something that can be demanding is travel, especially at short notice. Depending on your role you may be required to travel often which can be quite draining.
What would your career be if you weren’t doing what you’re doing now?
If I wasn’t doing my current job, I think I would want to be involved in some sort of process optimisation project in another industry. I think working in the rail industry presents an opportunity to find process improvement and leverage technology to have a positive impact on people’s day-to-day work, within the business and to the customer.
Which three pieces of advice would you give to a current university student?