Our reliance on computers means the fact of cyber crime is more of a question of “when” not “if”.
Renee Wootton spoke to Engineering Heroes about how society is now facing cyber attacks on a daily basis and how it is of vital importance that cyber engineers are involved in the development and upgrade of computer systems.
cyber-attacks and scams, that’s the kind of thing that we face on a day-to-day basis
Renee’s engineering journey commenced when she was about 15. She joined a program called Air Force Cadets to try something new and to make new friends. Little did she know the effect this single program would have in shaping her future…
My passion was aircraft
Extra discussions during the episode
Future: There will always be progress
the future is an exciting one, but a challenging one.
Advice: Engineering is a skill to help you build a career
doing an engineering degree builds your resilience quite significantly
I’ve always admired big machinery, loud engines, and complex systems.
an American businesswoman and engineer, and she’s also the president and chief operating officer of Space X
Dominic De Gioia is the Director of a multi-discipline engineering firm, EWFW Consulting. He is a mechanical engineer with specialist experience in hydraulic engineering.
Melanie De Gioia is the Podcast Producer for Engineers Australia and the Director of Ramaley Media.
Together, Mel & Dom launched Engineering Heroes in 2018
This is a “close” copy of the words that were spoken during the Podcast, Season 5 Episode 8
It is not 100% accurate.
The guest was Renee Wootton
Renee: [00:00:00] And through that program, I learnt all about how to pull aircraft apart and put them back together using power tools and maintenance manuals in a hangar.
[00:00:10]yeah, so when I was really young, I took an interest quite early on and kind of figured out what my passion was really early on. My passion was aircraft.
[00:00:23]Dom: [00:00:23] How did you find out about the course? Was it something that just sort of came up on the radar or someone had recommended it to you?
[00:00:28] Renee: [00:00:28] Or so the program, air force cadets. My family found it actually in the newspaper and they’re like, Oh, would you be interested in pursuing something like this? And I was like, yeah, why not? Like I was always very open-minded very early on. So yeah, it didn’t hesitate at all. And I’m very happy that I didn’t, because it’s led to a very exciting and broad career in aviation and yeah, I’ve never looked back.
[00:00:52] So it’s
[00:00:53] Mel: [00:00:53] air force cadets. Is that a little bit like the army cadets? And so it is it’s the military. Junior arms, so
[00:01:01] Renee: [00:01:01] to speak. Yeah, correct. So it’s kind of like pipelining talent, I suppose, for the military early on. And I’d had no real exposure to the military before getting involved in that program. It was life-changing in that, the program, when I found out about it, it led to more and more opportunities once I got involved. So, I started out just doing kind of the general two day a week attendance. And then I found out about the Bathurst flying opportunity in gliders. Uh, and then from there I learned about TAFE courses that they offered throughout our breaks during our HSC.
[00:01:34] And so, I decided to put my hand up to get involved in that opportunity. So that’s what took me down to Padstow TAFE in Sydney. At the time I was living up in the mid North coast of new South Wales and I got to come down every school holidays and tinker with aircraft and use power tools and learn all of this theory about aircraft as well.
[00:01:54] Mel: [00:01:54] But you didn’t, you didn’t end up going through the air force. though did you?
[00:01:58] Renee: [00:01:58] I did not. No,
[00:01:59] Mel: [00:01:59] So you ended up at uni of new South and you studied aerospace. So you continued your love there. What do you do when you first actually came out as an engineer? What was the first project that you worked on?
[00:02:11] Renee: [00:02:11] So I was fortunate enough to pick up an internship with QANTAS once I was in my first year. Yeah, it was fantastic. My first year at uni. I got to work on engineering projects very early on. I think I was about 17 years old when I first started with QANTAS. So. I had the opportunity to work on a project, to identify engineering driven delays for an A380 aircraft.
[00:02:36] So what that was about was understanding how the maintenance schedule and the flying schedule paired up nicely. Like
[00:02:44] Mel: [00:02:44] straight out of uni?
[00:02:45] Renee: [00:02:45] No, not even straight out of uni. This is like my first project whilst I was still in uni. I had the opportunity to look into all of the factors and inputs that kind of drive our maintenance schedule.
[00:02:56]So we have categories of maintenance that take place on aircraft, everything from what they call line maintenance. So it might be an, a turnaround. They might fix a light globe or fix a broken seat or something like that. And then all the way through to what they call a D check, which is like heavy maintenance.
[00:03:12] So they strip the absolute insides of the aircraft completely out. They might upgrade the seating, they might change the configuration internally of the aircraft. So they might add in extra business seats or change the galleys. so yeah, I had the opportunity to kind of learn about all of these different inputs and what was leading to engineering driven delays on the line for our business.
[00:03:30]I got to explore…
[00:03:31] Mel: [00:03:31] Did you make any big changes and things like that.
[00:03:33] Renee: [00:03:33] Yeah, I did. So, I was able to identify that, based on the path that the aircraft was flying, it was, actually flying through a lot of storms based on certain seasons and days. And uh, so the aircraft would land with more lightning strikes, and that would cause damage and then further maintenance to occur on the ground.
[00:03:51]And then the aircraft routes was another big player. So understanding that when the aircraft flew from Melbourne to Dallas, it required a security check on the ground, which nobody took into consideration before the aircraft flew to the US. And then understanding cultural issues on the ground with the people.
[00:04:08]So kind of all of these different inputs and for me at that stage of my career, it was so interesting. And I learnt obviously a lot about how businesses run and how to run a successful maintenance business as well. So,
[00:04:20] Dom: [00:04:20] did you stay with QANTAS all the way through your university degree?
[00:04:24] Renee: [00:04:24] Yeah, I did.
[00:04:24] I did. I interned with them for four years and then I left engineering after that time and went onto the QANTAS graduate program and got general aviation experience and have since come back into engineering after that.
[00:04:40]Dom: [00:04:40] So where are you working now?
[00:04:42]Renee: [00:04:42] I’m currently working for CAE Australia. So it’s a Canadian business, but we upgrade and build simulators for the Australian military in the Australian defense and security sector.
[00:04:54]so I’m currently working on two different platforms at the moment., One’s the C130J, I’m not sure if you’re familiar with it, but it’s a cargo aircraft. Maybe it’s cargo and people all around Australia and globally, and then the KC 30, which is a multi-tanker aircraft. So it refuels jets in flight.
[00:05:13] So it’s pretty exciting platforms. Yeah. So
[00:05:15] Mel: [00:05:15] you’re actually, you’re, you’re now building the simulators. Is that
[00:05:19] Renee: [00:05:19] okay? Upgrading at the moment? Yeah. Yeah. We apply software and hardware modifications to the simulators as they stand today. When you
[00:05:28] Mel: [00:05:28] first said that you were, I thought you’d said that you were actually making the simulators and I’m like, ah, I’ll you doing?
[00:05:33] Like, augmented reality sort of stuff. Is that kind of where you’re moving?
[00:05:38] Renee: [00:05:38] Yeah, definitely. Yeah. It’s definitely part of the business. It’s not what I do specifically, but our business definitely has that sort of area as well.
[00:05:45]Dom: [00:05:45] Do you get to too much flying now yourself? Are you still flying?
[00:05:49]Renee: [00:05:49] Uh, so flying is a bit on and off.
[00:05:51] I only just finished my flying studies in October last year. So I was flying full on for a couple of years. And then after I graduated, I’ve now been flying just for leisure and keeping up my skills. So every couple of months I get out there.
[00:06:06] I suppose the general public, so they face cyber crime on a daily basis.
[00:06:18]And that’s driven predominantly based on our Alliance and pervasive use of computers on a daily basis. So most of us can’t really imagine our lives without them.
[00:06:29]Mel: [00:06:29] I like how you said that we faced cyber on a day to day basis. And I would, I have to admit, I do not think about it on a day-to-day basis.
[00:06:37] Renee: [00:06:37] Yeah, absolutely. And a lot of people don’t. And that’s where cybersecurity and the challenge for engineers really lies. So, for the general public it is just our phones and you know cyber attacks and scams, that’s the kind of thing that we face on a day-to-day basis. but then in business we face many more challenges.
[00:06:57] So we have obviously standard procedures to follow to avoid cyber attacks or cyber issues within the business itself. So just having personal security and security of your laptops and information. And also keeping in mind that some of the systems we’re working on are actually secure and secret platforms as well.
[00:07:18]We have a lot of standard procedures in the business where we can only transfer data via certain platforms internally that are secure and what they call hardened.
[00:07:27] Mel: [00:07:27] I haven’t actually heard that term hardening.
[00:07:30] Renee: [00:07:30] Yeah. So within our business, we have to improve people’s awareness of cyber attacks. So for every person in our organization, we have standard procedures to follow. But then also in computing, we have a process called hardening, which is usually a process of securing a system by reducing its surface of vulnerability.
[00:07:49] So we work with really complex systems, which are simulators. When it’s a larger system that performs more functions, it’s a lot harder to Protect and to secure. So in principle, a single function system is more secure than a multi-purpose one. And a simulator has anywhere between one computer and I would say hundreds of computers depending on the complexity of the system. So that’s a major challenge for our engineers.
[00:08:19]Mel: [00:08:19] So you’re inferring here that your flight simulators are exposed to being hacked
[00:08:25] Renee: [00:08:25] and yes, absolutely. Yep. Like every other computer in the world. Yeah. I
[00:08:29] Dom: [00:08:29] suppose they get difficult as well.
[00:08:30] Cause as you upgrade, obviously you inadvertently need to change all of the coding and the scripts. So is it a case of you need to work your way through each piece of line of code that you’re not opening up a portal that could potentially do damage in the future?.
[00:08:45]Renee: [00:08:45] Absolutely. And that’s why cyber engineers are so critical to our business.
[00:08:49] So when we have these upgrades take place, obviously there’s lines of code that change or there’s computer systems that change. So these people have to be integrated into our project, upgrade from the beginning to make sure that as we are making those changes we are closing you know, firewalls and enabling security to be thought about in every phase of the project and every step of that software development.
[00:09:13] Dom: [00:09:13] Because isit also a big issue.
[00:09:15]Not only from a computer perspective, but also just the personnel too. Cause I know with a lot of issues with cybersecurity, it can usually start from something as innocuous, as things that have been left on desks or pieces of information, which then just sort of. Gives them the opportunity to get the in and kind of getting behind the firewalls and it kept going from there.
[00:09:36] Renee: [00:09:36] Yeah, absolutely. So, um, we have standard processes within our business where, you know, if you’re walking away from your table, obviously you have to lock your screen. And we have people that are kind of circulating In the actual office to make sure that that’s actually taking place. But then that extends as far as having the right clearances to work on the project as well.
[00:09:56]There’s a lot of strict Australian government requirements to meet, to be even able to work on the system itself. and then on top of that, we have a cybersecurity team that kind of walks through as we apply these upgrades, to make sure that we are hardening it and following these standard operating procedures through every phase.
[00:10:17]Mel: [00:10:17] So this cyber security and some of the practices that you’re talking about, this hardening that just a really cool term I’ve actually have not heard before, but, I imagine that that is actually across all industries. As well.
[00:10:32] Renee: [00:10:32] Absolutely. Yep.
[00:10:33] And the point of it is to identify threats and vulnerabilities in the systems and software. Right. So you know, they’re applying their skills to develop and implement high tech solutions, to defend against hacking, malware, ransomware, insider threats and all types of cyber crimes. So , absolutely any cloud like business or business that runs through servers, computers and online, must harden their systems, before they go public and before they can have people enter them and, and use them.
[00:11:04] Dom: [00:11:04] Does that also give you traceability sort of in reverse where if something does go wrong, you can almost, you know, almost like a QA procedure, find the point where someone has infiltrated or someone is.
[00:11:17] Whether or not, it may be someone that’s trying to write a malicious piece of code.
[00:11:20] Renee: [00:11:20] I don’t necessarily know. And that’s why it’s so paramount that you have that hardening from day one. Because as I mentioned before, the complexity of the systems are so many different doors that they could enter to apply that security hack or insert that malware.
[00:11:35] So. Ensuring that your code is hardened and every possible option is explored as you’re upgrading that system is ultimately the most important thing.
[00:11:47]Dom: [00:11:47] So what’s the role of the engineer in regards to providing solutions for these issues?
[00:11:53]Renee: [00:11:53] So engineers. So they’re both cyber security engineers or information security engineers. So, their job primarily is to identify threats and vulnerabilities in the systems and software. So looking for those Gates of entrance and applying new upgrades that come through and making sure that they’re locking through high-tech solutions.
[00:12:14]So it’s an ongoing and iterative process. Computers and processes become obsolete very quickly within Security cyber, security platforms. it’s definitely a case of as new upgrades and changes to platforms such as windows or Linux come through , we’re making sure that we’re exploring where that software spans to and keeping that system from being attacked and being vulnerable.
[00:12:41] Mel: [00:12:41] you’re an you’ve studied as an aerospace engineer. Is this something that you are working on? Is, was, are you saying a cyber engineer is a specialist field?
[00:12:51] Renee: [00:12:51] Uh, a cyber engineer is a specialist field. So this is not something that I work on in my job, but it’s a very big challenge within our business to make sure that, that cyber security considerations are implemented from the beginning of our upgrade.
[00:13:05] And so for me, it’s something that I have to work very closely with cybersecurity engineers.
[00:13:10] Dom: [00:13:10] Yeah, it’s a really interesting point because even just thinking about it now, from, from the building perspective, everything’s going digital. So buildings are being run now online and controlled online.
[00:13:22] But if you take it all the way back to even, even the design and documentation is all done as part of modeling systems, which they’re now utilizing that where all of the ordering and all the coding and everything’s done through that. So I suppose it’s, it’s paramount to get it right now, because otherwise in the future it could leave some fairly serious vulnerabilities in relation to security and access and just even operation and maintenance on buildings and things like that.
[00:13:49] Renee: [00:13:49] So, yeah, absolutely. And that’s the thing, like there is breaches constantly and IP being stolen probably on a daily basis. So it’s something that’s at the forefront of everyone’s mind. That’s building these businesses that are computer based and cloud based.
[00:14:07] Mel: [00:14:07] And, but even as Dom was saying, it’s like just the design component when he was talking to set. I was actually,
[00:14:14] Dom: [00:14:14] I was actually thinking,
[00:14:16] Mel: [00:14:16] I was thinking of the creation of the death star. Okay. Star Wars, Creation of the Death Star. I saw that online. And then somebody from the rebellion has actually snuck that , you know, that.
[00:14:29] Destruction tunnel so that they can hit that. And so, you know, what’s to stop that from a real life application, cure you’re not building a Death Star, but you might be building something and someone sneaks in, they change a design that could undermine the foundation or something like that. And bada-bing bada- boom.
[00:14:46] Then you’ve got a fault that
[00:14:48] Dom: [00:14:48] trillions of dollars of Death Star,
[00:14:51] Mel: [00:14:51] this has blown up, but
[00:14:53] Renee: [00:14:53] I don’t know why that absolutely. And that’s the thing like you know, there’s just been so many big data breaches over the years. My space, Adobe, eBay, LinkedIn, almost every day now as well. Yep. And that’s the thing it’s, it’s absolutely an iterative process.
[00:15:10] It’s something that With the obsolescence of computers and the development of new platforms and computers, it’s something that’s always changing. There’s always new Gates and new entry points and, you know, people are getting smarter and faster because of that development in technologies.
[00:15:28]Mel: [00:15:28] So what are your thoughts on the future for engineers in this space?
[00:15:31]Renee: [00:15:31] I suppose one of the biggest challenges that businesses face and as I just mentioned, there’s breaches, almost on a daily basis. So, the future is an exciting one, but a challenging one.
[00:15:43] And, I think there’s always progress and Changes and engineering solutions that come out of failures and, and fault. And that’s generally how we learn as engineers. As I mentioned, exciting, but very challenging.
[00:15:59] I like that. Yeah. The advancements that happen from the failures, like what does it WD40 is WD test number 40 and things like that.
[00:16:07] That takes iterations and goes, and yeah. You get there in the end or the
[00:16:11] Dom: [00:16:11] team don’t learn from your successes, you learn from your failures, it’s really a case of sort of working it out.
[00:16:18] But what would you say to people just starting out in engineering?
[00:16:22]Renee: [00:16:22] I would say, it’s one of the most incredible industries in the world.
[00:16:26] And irrespective of whether you plan to be an engineer your whole life, I think the skills and the methodologies and the ability to solve complex problems is built and developed through an engineering degree. And I think you can carry that methodology and that skillset with you forever, no matter where you go and what industry you break into. I think the stats are, the majority of CEOs are actually from an engineering background, so.
[00:16:55]These people have studied engineering and then progress through multiple different industries. But the basis of having an engineering degree and then having that ability to break big problems down into smaller achievable steps is just so important. And it’s something that I’ve definitely taken with me throughout my career.
[00:17:16] And I think what’s made me so successful is having the ability to not be overwhelmed by all of these massive challenges we face as engineers, using this Process of, of hypothesizing of trying to break down those problems and solve them with the right resources, with the right people.
[00:17:34]Dom: [00:17:34] Yeah, it’s definitely a different way of thinking. I think engineers, it’s almost as though you’re trained to think in a certain way. Although, I think most people who are drawn to engineering think in a different way to other professions. But it it’s amazing how it just forms that basis for the ability to sort of go across such a range of different industries and a range of different markets with so much ease.
[00:17:55] Renee: [00:17:55] Absolutely. And on top of that, I think doing an engineering degree builds your resilience quite significantly as well. I don’t know about your experience doing your engineering studies, but I found it very overwhelming at times.
[00:18:08] I felt, uh, that it was out obtainable at times. But working through those challenges and overcoming those problems has made me one of the most resilient people That I think I could ever be in that I’ve faced so many challenges in my degree that I learnt how to focus my attention, focus my emotions, and not be overwhelmed.
[00:18:34] Dom: [00:18:34] I know exactly what I might’ve. I studied engineering with. We still joke. I’m still waiting for a phone call from UTS to go, Oh, Mr. De Gioia We’re really sorry. You actually haven’t finished a degree yet.
[00:18:47] You were born with all this stuff, but there’s just so much. And I think that’s probably a lot of it as well. If you can get through an engineering degree, I just feel like you can cope with any, any project.
[00:18:57] Renee: [00:18:57] Uh, there’s a podcast I’m listening to at the moment called range, and it’s a bit of a comparison between Tiger Woods and Roger Federer, and it’s, it goes into specializing early on in your life and Keeping broad and not specializing until much later in your life and the perceived benefits and the scientific benefits of, of doing that.
[00:19:16] And I think, absolutely that in engineering, you’re swapping and changing and you’re moving across so many different areas and specificities that it’s, it’s so hard, initially, but you learn such a good grounding for how to manage multiple stakeholders to. To present, to work with people in teams, and then shift your ability to go in depth on some subjects and then go high level and broad on others.
[00:19:42]You really stretch your skills and your abilities early on. And I think that pays dividends entering your career. Hmm. Yeah, definitely.
[00:19:50]Mel: [00:19:50] What’s a piece of engineering that has impressed you,
[00:19:53] Renee: [00:19:53] uh, space shuttles.
[00:19:58] Mel: [00:19:58] They have like airplanes on crack.
[00:19:59] Renee: [00:19:59] So yes, they are, absolutely. So for me I think I’ve always admired big machinery, loud engines, and complex systems. And it absolutely fascinates me to sit back and watch dragon X, takeoff, and NASA successfully launch all of these space shuttles has just been, such an impressive feat of human engineering. And to see how human factors plays into the design of, of space shuttles, but then also, you know, environmental impacts and the ability to deal with gravity and then zero gravity and extreme temperatures , both hot and cold.
[00:20:39] And then to see how you bring electrical mechanical, aerodynamics all of these different systems together to produce something that is actually workable it’s absolutely amazing to me. So for me, that’s kind of the pinnacle of engineering and something that I aspire to work on one day.
[00:21:02] Yeah. That
[00:21:02] Dom: [00:21:02] always fascinates me. You’re not even just. The shuttles, but then it’s all the infrastructure that’s associated with it
[00:21:12] Mel: [00:21:12] to get another you’ve. So one problem, then you’ve got to keep solving another problem and another problem and it’s just everything around it. And just the, the things that come out of just.
[00:21:22] One idea to get into the outer space is just created this entire collection of other engineering feats that you need to just to solve that one. Yeah,
[00:21:33] Renee: [00:21:33] absolutely. Yeah. And again, trial and error, right. You know we’ve reached the point that we are now where we can even explore the idea of civil flight in space, as a result of many trial and error, experiments and failures.
[00:21:46] So, um, yeah, for me, it’s just, it’s kind of what got me into aviation. The idea of learning about how things work and how a space shuttle flies and how it converts from a crew quarters and the actual launch system itself to connecting to the international space station.
[00:22:05] There’s just so much at play and it just blows my mind. So, for me, it’s something that really drives me and inspires me. So.
[00:22:12]Dom: [00:22:12] Gotcha. And just to finish up, do you have an engineer that you admire?
[00:22:15]Renee: [00:22:15] I do. Her name is Gwen Shotwell. She’s an American businesswoman and engineer, and she’s also the president and chief operating officer of space X.
[00:22:26] Um, so I’m sure we’ve all heard of space X, the American space transportation company. Yep. So in her role, she’s responsible for day-to-day operations and company growth. And I think. She has spanned so many forms of not only business, but understanding complexity, technical systems.
[00:22:46]She kind of touches on all facets that build a business up. For me, that’s really inspiring and something that I aspire to one day because I really love. Business and strategy and bringing people together and working with teams. But I also love the technical side of the business and, making sure we’re achieving budgets and those sorts of things.
[00:23:06] So for me the fact that she’s Elon Musk right-hand woman but then on top of that and an engineer and a very successful chief operating officer is incredible.
[00:23:17] Mel: [00:23:17] Oh, well, uh, I’m, hoping one day we’ll can say, Oh, we, knew Renee when
[00:23:22] Renee: [00:23:22] back
[00:23:23] Mel: [00:23:23] in the days, I will. Thank you so much for joining us today.
[00:23:27] Dom: [00:23:27] Yeah, it was great speaking with you.
[00:23:28] Renee: [00:23:28] Thank you for having me guys. It’s been an absolute pleasure.
And thank you for listening to another great episode of engineering heroes. As we present the new dawn of engineering challenges for engineers Australia. You can view our show notes or learn more about our podcast by visiting our website, www.engineeringheroes.com.au.
If you enjoyed today’s show, all we ask you to do is go and tell someone seriously, it’s that easy either in person or write a review, just get the word out, that’s how you can support engineers everywhere.
We look forward to you joining us next week when we bring you in another interview with one of our engineering champions.