Bronwyn grew up in Illawarra, which was a very heavy industrial area with steelworks and mining. Engineering was just always around. She knew she didn’t want a traditional woman’s career and from the urging of a friend, who consequently is now her husband, she took on engineering.
And when she looks back to her childhood of playing with Lego and Meccano and project managing her poor family, she is reassured that she made the right decision.
Bronwyn spoke to us about the importance of engineers staying relevant to ensure they are always working for the best of society.
I think one of the really important things for engineers is staying relevant
Extra discussions during the episode
Future: It’s an exciting time to be an engineer!
Everything about the future and even our most, exotic notions of what the future might look like is all about engineering
Advice: Have hobbies as they make you a better, more rounded engineer
Any engineer out there who’s starting on their career, look way more broadly than engineering, get excited by everything in the world
Dr Bronwyn Evans has been recognised as one of Australia’s 100 most influential engineers and recognised within the 100 Women of Influence. She studied electrical engineering at the University of Wollongong, also getting her doctorate there.
She is the CEO of Engineers Australia, the Chair of Building 4.0 CRC, a Director of the Australia-Japan Foundation and was recently the CEO of Standards Australia and Vice President (Finance) of the International Standards Organisation (ISO).
With over 35 years’ experience in various engineering roles, our guest has held roles at Cochlear and GE Healthcare. She is an Honorary Fellow of University of Wollongong and Engineers Australia and a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering.
This is a “close” copy of the words that were spoken during the Podcast, Season 4 Episode 1
It is not 100% accurate.
The guest was Bronwyn Evans
[00:00:00] Bronwyn: [00:00:00] Now I know a bit more about engineering. I realized it was something that just gave me a lot of fun and I enjoyed.
[00:00:06]Mel Dom: [00:00:06] the hope is that with all the lockdown, and apparently Lego sales are up 92% so maybe there could be a whole batch of engineers coming out through the Corona virus pandemic.
[00:00:16] Bronwyn: [00:00:16] I hope so.
[00:00:18] Mel Dom: [00:00:18] Yeah. And did you have engineers around you that you were conscious of
[00:00:24] Bronwyn: [00:00:24] no, my parents were less skilled at probably 14. There were seven kids. We all knew we’d go to university. My older brother, as it happened, did civil engineering, but I didn’t know what that was. He played cricket and football. In my mind, that was my big brother. I didn’t particularly know about engineering, but, , you know, the steelworks was there and we went as 10 year olds to do , a visit to the open half furnace.
[00:00:50] It was the most exciting thing in the Illawarra. So.
[00:00:54] Mel Dom: [00:00:54] Wow. Cause you’re a University of Wollongong alum
[00:00:57] Bronwyn: [00:00:57] That’s right. I did my degree at Wollongong.
[00:01:00] Mel Dom: [00:01:00] I was at UTS, but we always affectionately knew it as BHP university and I think a few people sort of ended up in University of Wollongong
[00:01:08] they sort of moved down to do there training and then all of a sudden they kind of end up in Wollongong University. So it was always such a strong university for engineering. They had that practical background
[00:01:19] Bronwyn: [00:01:19] yeah. It very much started as when it was a university college of New South Wales Uni. It was all about the engineering. In fact, building one is the engineering building at Wollongong, so it’s a lovely connection.
[00:01:33] Mel Dom: [00:01:33] And so you studied at Uni of Wollongong and you come out as an engineer. What was the first project that you worked on?
[00:01:41] Bronwyn: [00:01:41] So I started work with electricity commission. And again, being a kid from a large family, when they offer you a cadetship, you take it. And so , I got a cadetship with the electricity commission for third and fourth year. And I think the first project that really comes to mind was , the construction of a transmission line between Nowra and Ulladulla and the wonderful regional engineer there who gave me that project. I was about 25. I actually didn’t have a driver’s license. I cycled everywhere. So suddenly I had to learn to drive, get down, from Wollongong to Nowra , supervise a construction of a
transmission line and all of the land holder negotiations I’d trail along behind and we got easements in properties and it was just such a wonderful opportunity.
[00:02:34] I must say now I realize, but we were going into beautiful Bush land to the west of Nowra, down through the state forest, and I saw platapus and I saw Warratah’s in the wild. So it was a fun couple of years doing that project. I have to say
[00:02:51] Mel Dom: [00:02:51] Oh my God. Did you feel that you were prepared for it or was it a little bit daunting and out of your depth for such a big project?
[00:03:01] Bronwyn: [00:03:01] I had some wonderful mentors. So in truth, while I very grandly say I supervise the construction of a transmission line, I was working under the wonderful, direction of a senior engineer, Max Edwards, and he had fantastic processes. This was way before we had computers. We would have , handwritten memos.
[00:03:23] He had a whole system of filing of when to bring things back up again. So I learned a lot, but , if you like, they took a chance on me and let me be the one who was going into the field. And working with the surveyors and the construction crews and going on site. So , it’s funny, as a 26 year old, quite frankly, you think you’re bullet proof and that’s just what you do.
[00:03:45] Sooo, you sort of take it in your stride and get on with it.
[00:03:50]Mel Dom: [00:03:50] you’ve had an amazing career.
[00:03:51] You’ve worked with some amazing companies. Is there a job that stands out for you or a project that stands out for you in that time?
[00:03:58] Bronwyn: [00:03:58] It’s interesting. Each time I’d have a job, I think I have the best job in the world and they just continued to be that way. So I worked for GE healthcare for around eight years, and towards the end of my career with GE, I lived in Singapore for two years and ran a business up there. I was the Asia service manager for the ultrasound business.
[00:04:20] And I had general managers in every country around Asia, and it was running a PNL and, and really managing the whole business. And it was a heap of fun. I mean, I loved being in Singapore. It was such a great location. And you’re about. Six hours up to Tokyo or across to India, or down to Australia, eight hours.
[00:04:41] So it’s very much the center of the world. And at the time, my husband was still in Australia, so the opportunity to come back to Australia was quite appealing after two years. And I had the chance then to work at cochlear, and again, there’s was around about an eight year period. And, and I used to say, I think after the CEO, I’ve got the best job at cochlear.
[00:05:01] I was , the senior vice president of quality, clinical and regulatory. And again, it was just such a wonderful opportunity, yes. To see the whole manufacturing process, to see just the technology and how it interfaced with the human body, but then to see the impact it had on the children or the families or the adults who had the device talk to the surgeon.
[00:05:26] So it was such a privileged opportunity , to be in a medical device company that was just amazing. Everything from the way the supply chain was managed to the way the product was manufactured and the whole improvement in processes there. Getting the quality management system working and then talking to surgeons doing the device failure analysis.
[00:05:48] So it was such a heap of fun, and then the opportunity came at the end of that to head up Standards Australia. And again. I would say to people, Oh, now I think I’ve got the best job in the world. When I was the CEO at Standards Australia, and I was part of the President’s Committee at ISO, the International Standards Organization.
[00:06:11] So just meeting with peers across the world and understanding how Australia is such an important player in that global rule space system. And now I think I’ve got the best job in the world as well. So look, as an engineer, I think it is one of those luxury professions, if you like, you can get immersed in so many different areas and really have wonderfully satisfying careers.
[00:06:37]Mel Dom: [00:06:37] And it seems to be one of those careers where you can take it where you want it to go as well. I’ve found that even just with speaking with engineers, every always seems to have a story you about how they ended up in somewhere, completely different to where they thought they were going to start out.
[00:06:53]So you’re now working for Engineers Australia.
[00:06:56] Bronwyn: [00:06:56] Yes, I’m the CEO at Engineers Australia. I’ve, I think it’s just ticked over seven months. And I realize again, what a privilege it is to be in an organization that is the peak body for engineers. I mean, when you sort of have a passion for engineering and then to have that opportunity to lead the peak body for engineers, you go to use someone else’s line.
[00:07:22] How good is that? It really is pretty amazing, but just if I reflect back on my career, I think it’s a bit of a random walk. If something interesting popped up, I’d think, Oh, that doesn’t sound too bad. Yeah, let me give that a try. I used to admire people who had a very deliberate career path. And that was never me.
[00:07:41] There was so much that you could do as an engineer. It’s like things that pop up and I think, yeah, I want to do that, or I want to try something else, or let me explore. So that constant curiosity I have found has been just making engineering or a wonderful career for me.
I think one of the really important things for engineers is staying relevant and staying relevant, both as a profession to the broader community, society, technology. But as an individual engineer, you do your degree, but that’s really only the start of being able to stay relevant. And I mentioned earlier being curious, if there’s one quality you can have as being a successful career. It’s that curiosity about new technology, curiosity about why things work, how it fits together, curiosity about how the economy works and what does that mean for industry. So how do you use your degree as a platform for lifelong learning? Not as an ends to a mean, but really as the start of that journey, because the technology around us is going to change no matter what we thought the world
was going to look like 10 years ago, it would not be what it is now. There might be inklings of it, but when I started my degree, I was using Fortran doing Fortran 77 punch cards, and I remember sitting in front of my first computer terminal and the thought of putting a computer way more powerful than anything that I had access to in your back pocket, AKA your phone now, was so absurd. Dick Tracy would talk to his watch and that was a cartoon that you were looked at on the Saturday papers. So just how quickly the whole world changes as an engineer. I think that’s what you need to be able to do. Just keep reading, exploring, learning, so that whatever happens in your sector, in the community, you can be part of solving it.
[00:09:50] And I think that means things like helping society. I mean, right now we’re in the middle of almost an unprecedented circumstance with the COVID 19 pandemic, the impact on the economy, but is there a role for engineers to be part of that whole conversation that how we respond now and how we respond in the future?
[00:10:14] Absolutely. But not if we think of ourselves in a very siloed environment, but only if we think of ourselves as being part of a broader group that can solve interesting problems no matter where they occur.
[00:10:29]Mel Dom: [00:10:29] Do you find that becoming Charted actually also helps encourage that, continual learning because it brings it to the forefront that you really do need to go out there and speak to people and, go to the lectures and research more. is it something that’s bringing engineers more back to that learning realm?
[00:10:48] Bronwyn: [00:10:48] I think that’s a really good point. What we’ve seen with charter, and I know I remember speaking to a couple of people who’d been through the whole Chartered process. They used it to benchmark their own skills and understanding, and then say, what are the areas that I need to keep building on to be able to attain that level.
[00:11:07] So they used it both as a benchmarking tool and then as a way to continue to build on their skills and experiences and knowledge to be able to reach that level. And I think one of the roles for Engineers Australia is to be able to really emphasize to employers and to the broader community that Charted is a mark of excellence on that journey as an engineer and for the individual, it gives you a roadmap for how you keep building those skills.
[00:11:38] So I think it is an important part of what we can do to support engineers, but also to help society know what good looks like.
[00:11:47] Mel Dom: [00:11:47] I find that it’s really fascinating because I still remember my mentality of going through high school and then university going, all right, I’m done. What a relief. I don’t have to study ever again. I just need to get a job and I’m set for life. And is this something new? This whole you need to keep studying?
[00:12:06] Bronwyn: [00:12:06] I don’t think it’s new, I think it’s framing something that’s always been there. For me a degree or any qualification. It’s about learning to learn. It isn’t the learning, although you learn some really cool stuff, but what you do is you learn the ability to continue to learn, to research, to be inspired by something that catches your imagination and then go and explore it some more.
[00:12:34] So I think there’s just a little more emphasis and way more access to information. Again, going back to my early careers, you would go to the library and you would pull out indexes. It would weigh you down. It didn’t need to do weight training because you pile them up on your desk and then try and find useful and relevant information.
[00:12:54] You’ve got so much better access to all the world’s information right now. So I think when you’ve got that ability and curiosity, it’s so much easier to be part of both understanding and building knowledge.
[00:13:11] Mel Dom: [00:13:11] I think that’s where the evolution is that I’m saying so from when I was at uni versus now, is that too improve your career. You had to go to the library or do some sort of formalized course . But as you said, it’s just so readily available to get your extra knowledge up. there’s online tutorials, there’s webinars there’s conferences. It’s so many now that it has actually evolved, that you can continue your education while you’re in the workforce . So maybe that’s what I’m seeing is in the olden days, Oh my God, I can’t believe I said that about myself, but even like 10 years ago, we wouldn’t have had that availability to that knowledge hub, whereas now it’s just so readily available and promoted out there in further society . is there solutions to encouraging people to continue their , education in this manner?
[00:14:05] Bronwyn: [00:14:05] Yeah. Certainly the Engineers Australia, we’ve now understood and again, taking a lot of our continuing professional development out of a physical environment to online. To making it exactly available to people. And I think a really important element of doing that well is to know who your audience is and speak to the audience and not so much just the topic that you may have a deep knowledge in.
[00:14:30] So understand who are you talking to? How are you talking to them? What language are you using? Because for all of those things we’ve just talked about, with access to so much information, people need to curate what they’re getting. And so if you’re able to have a way of bringing information that talks to people because you understand the audience, you’ll be way more effective.
[00:14:55] And I think it Engineers Australia with our amazing events team who are looking at that, we’ve got that opportunity to bring our stuff online. And podcasts are wonderful. I love podcasts. I have all sorts of weird and wonderful things that I listen to whenever I have the opportunity, whether it’s going for a walk or catching a train.
[00:15:17] Not that I do that much. Even going shopping, I love listening to podcasts and really having my intellectual really stimulated all the time.
[00:15:27]Mel Dom: [00:15:27] it’s moved now into the informal learning space where you pick up that information. You don’t need to go to the library and study something. You can listen to a podcast that will educate you in some way as well. I’m having a real epiphany about this whole education and how it’s a continuing thing. I’ve always known that I should do it. I had a friend that was a firefighter and all right through her career, she was constantly re-skilling and upgrading her skills and moving along, and I was just floating along, having fun
in my career and I’m seeing that that was a very professional way of doing things, and I’m loving that this is really coming along for engineers as well.
[00:16:05] It is. And because I achieved my Chartered status last year,
[00:16:10] Mel Dom: [00:16:10] thank you very much. , and it was a wonderful experience. It really was a wonderful experience because it highlighted a couple things for me, and one was you never really stop and take a look back at the career you’ve had and how much you’ve achieved until you stop and look at it. And then it also makes you think about the projects that you worked on and helped me sort of realize the ones that have been so enjoyable, which is then in turn led me to spend more time looking into those projects, researching about those topics or those issues, or those certain elements in regards to engineering. So it, it almost acts as a platform for you to then go, Oh, excellent. Okay, I’m going to use this to delve deeper into these areas.
[00:16:50]plus it encourages you to learn it kind of gives you that a little bit of a push where you’d normally go, Oh, I’m too busy. I don’t have time to actually have to stop and say, no, I need to make time for myself to actually do this.
[00:17:03] Bronwyn: [00:17:03] I think one of the best investments you can ever make is in yourself and your own career and the Charted process is one of those easy ones because it consolidates your own thinking. It actually validates that actually you do know stuff and you have done really good projects.
[00:17:20] So I think that is a nice thing about the whole Charted process.
[00:17:25] Mel Dom: [00:17:25] I was just wondering if everyone going to be going down that path ? Is there an engineer out there that’s are, don’t worry about it. I, I can just do what I’ve been doing and I don’t need to worry about reeducating. Could there be an engineer out there thinking like that or should every engineer, that calls themselves an engineer, be moving on that pathway.
[00:17:44] Bronwyn: [00:17:44] It’s hard to have a very blanket statement. I think more of the younger engineers just want to be part of changing the world no matter where it is, and they’re really keen and hungry to continue to learn from each other, from other people, from their experiences on the job. So the engineers that I meet they all want to be doing something that’s having meaning and it doesn’t matter what area of engineering you’re working in, you have that opportunity. and as the world changes, even if you’re not consciously saying, I’m going to go and learn something new this week, this month, this year, de facto, that’s what you’re doing. So if we can, even as Engineers Australia, help them just change the language, that they’re building skills all the time and they’re learning . I think it’s just a matter of the environment we live in.
[00:18:37] Mel Dom: [00:18:37] Yeah. And maybe that’s what engineers are going to be, that continual education of themselves. That’s what the future is. Well, so speaking of the future. What are your thoughts on the future of engineering?
[00:18:48] Bronwyn: [00:18:48] Well, I can’t understand why there’s anyone who isn’t going to want to be an engineer because almost everything that’s sort of exciting in the world about what might change, what might be, it sort of comes back to engineering. You look at some of the articles in the paper that talk about, well, what will we do with renewable energy versus coal versus gas?
[00:19:10] We think there’s actually a really interesting engineering problem to solve there. Systems stability, power quality, voltage levels. you don’t need to get to that level of technology, but you start to think about what consumers want. And a lot of it’s about engineering. You think about what will we do if we had a fuel crisis?
[00:19:30] Well, people are going to start demanding electric cars. And wow, there’s some interesting engineering problems there for intelligent infrastructure, for a road system that can allow cars to travel, for a 5G network, that’s got the latency that allows, you know, 10 million devices or 10 billion devices on it.
[00:19:49] So everything about the future and even our most, exotic notions of what the future might look like is all about engineering. So I think for me, it’s the best career to be thinking about because I can’t predict what on Earth you’ll need to do to be an engineer. I just know it’s going to be exciting and interesting.
[00:20:09] And you’re going to have that opportunity to keep learning new things in integrating information. look, I think the future, it’s probably for me, the number one career that’s going to be in demand the most in the future.
[00:20:23]Mel Dom: [00:20:23] it’s a career that keeps reinventing itself as well. So even when we create the technology that you would normally say, well, you’ve just done yourself out of a job, it just gives us the opportunity to go find and you , path to forge. So it’s definitely a career that’s always going to be well recommended and well-regarded and very practical. Yeah.
[00:20:45]what would you say to people that have already started on that engineering journey but are in the early days?
[00:20:50] Bronwyn: [00:20:50] Well done for making the right decision in the first place. you know, get out and have a look around, go and ask people things. learn something new or, or even learn something completely unrelated to engineering and then start to make the linkages later on. I certainly know there were times when I would be a little bit disappointed at the communication skills of engineers, and I think if you could just read some good literature.
[00:21:16] Because if you know what good writing looks like, you may be able to write well yourself. And it’s just a really different way of thinking. So for any engineer out there who’s starting on their career, look way more broadly than engineering, get excited by everything in the world, whether it’s music or literature or opera or art or, or motor cars or airplanes or whatever it is, but find, you know, just find things that are really interesting.
[00:21:44] Mel Dom: [00:21:45] Yeah. I like that a well rounded engineer has hobbies. When you said cars, that’s Dom’s hobby, you know, he watches all these kinds of things. Man. Yeah, I have a bit of a junkie in that respect.
[00:21:59]I think that makes you a more rounded engineer as well. The fact that he has those extra components to himself.
[00:22:04] Just to finish up , is there a piece of engineering that impresses you?
[00:22:09] Bronwyn: [00:22:09] There are so many pieces of engineering the impress me. The, I was just going through them. Look, the Sydney Harbor bridge, what a beautiful piece of, or utilitarian engineering, the cochlear implant. You start to see all the parts. You know why it works. Just the, the shell that we use to put the electronics in the whole way you needed to do the Silicon coding and the pressure testing.
[00:22:34] Any airplane, they are just such amazing pieces of engineering. And I did actually have written down a beautifully designed car. I’ve been to some of the car factories in Munich. I went to the BMW museum and you go in there and they’re just such beautiful pieces of elegant engineering. And you wonder about how everything fits together.
[00:22:58] And, I think I need to come back in many other lives, but to be able to design a car and to be able to pull those pieces together and the aerodynamics and then make them something so ascetically beautiful. just want to pleasure to be able to do that. I think engineering is so cool because of the complexity and the simplicity , there’s lots.
[00:23:20] Mel Dom: [00:23:20] Yeah. It’s definitely where engineering meets art as well. particularly with bridges and planes and automobiles and all that they originally set out by engineers to create something obviously for a function, but they just ended up creating something that’s so beautiful.
[00:23:36] It’s like a piece of art. Honestly. It’s, they’re like creating the impossible. Yeah. How can you build a bridge that big or how can you make people hear with this little device, and I still don’t understand how planes stay up. Like I know I’ve read the books. I still don’t understand. I always love this last question to end up on, who’s an engineer that you admire.
[00:24:00]Bronwyn: [00:24:00] I think Professor Mary O’Kane. she’s was until recently, the New South Wales Chief Scientist and Engineer, and for me, Mary is such a wonderful example of an engineer who has just led a whole, I think she was almost 10 years in that role.
[00:24:20] Fantastic opportunity to have an engineering leader making such a big impact. So my number one, of many, would be Mary O’Kane. She is now of the New South Wales Planning Commission and she’s heading up the inquiry into the Bush fires in New South Wales. You need to meet Mary.
[00:24:45] Mel Dom: [00:24:45] Excellent. I think this could be someone
[00:24:48] Bronwyn: [00:24:48] Yeah. An engineering hero.
[00:24:51] Mel Dom: [00:24:51] definitely. I will thank you so much for joining us today. Thank you so much. It was wonderful.
[00:24:58] Bronwyn: [00:24:58] Yeah. Okay. It’s such a wonderful topic to talk about and it’s been a real pleasure. It’s certainly has.
[00:25:06] Mel Dom: [00:25:06] And thank you very much for tuning into another episode of Engineering Heroes. If you want to know more about our podcast or the episode you just heard, visit our website, www.engineeringheroes.com.au The best way for you to show your support for our show is to tell people either in person or write a review.
[00:25:23] Just spread the word seriously. It is that easy. We look forward to you and your friends joining us next week when we bring you another interview with one of our engineering champions.