Engineering her future career in tech
It's hard to be what you can't see. So when student Manjusha Pinni looked for a woman in STEMM to model her career on, she found much more than she expected.
Manjusha Pinni is the first to admit she jumped in the deep end. Walking through Thales’ security checks and into the unassuming reception area for the first time was an intimidating experience.
“I felt like I didn’t belong,” recalls Manjusha. “But I wanted to make a good impression; I was still an undergraduate and I was like: ‘I do not deserve to be here’.”
Through the next doorway, and into the bowels of one of the world’s largest aerospace, transport and defence companies, the software engineering student began mingling with senior staff. It was a move that changed her life.
Just nine months later, Manjusha has gone from wearing a visitor pass to being a member of a team that builds cutting-edge virtual reality (VR) and 3D simulations to help train pilots in the Australian Defence Force.
Manjusha works on building the simulation environments, the world that a training simulation takes place in – say for example, a virtual version of a real airfield. First, she manually animates parts of the environment like trees, surrounding buildings and signalling (some simulations have even had the odd kangaroo!), then she uses software and coding to automate the process.
It’s a role that combines creative animation and problem solving, a career path Manjusha never even dreamed existed.
Manjusha smiles, “With simulations and VR, everything is so visual. I get this really big kick out of seeing how it actually looks and works. It's very practical and you know your work is kind of important.
“It's also shifted my degree. Now that I've realised I want to pursue VR simulations, I've looked at electives around games development or IT, and I’m trying to find one in a specific programming language that will help with my work.”
Women in Engineering and Information Technology
For Manjusha, she might never have found this path had she not applied for the Lucy Mentoring program, run by UTS’s Women in Engineering and Information Technology. With technology and engineering fields still largely dominated by men, the program aims to set up female students for a successful career by connecting them with a professional mentor working in their field.
Despite her initial fears, when Manjusha was matched with Eva Wong, Head of Bids and Programs (Avionics) at Thales, she began to see that her inexperience was not a barrier.
Eva and Thales really opened up the doors for me. I can see there’s nothing stopping me from being successful. Even as an undergraduate, even as a minority, I can still do something and stand equal to other people.
Student and Lucy Mentoring program participant
“I realised it wasn't a matter of my current skill level, but a matter of how hard working or how willing to learn you were,” enthuses Manjusha. “The mentoring program was generally for you to be you and to grow up in your field, and that was it.
“And it really made a difference that Eva was at a high position as a woman herself. For me to be able to look up to that and go: ‘Well, if she can do it, I'm pretty sure I can push through as well’, that was really inspiring.”
This is exactly the kind of impact Eva hoped to make when she joined the Lucy Mentoring program three years ago. “I wanted to be able to support female engineers within the industry, and hopefully provide advice and insights that would help them in their career progression,” she explains.
Eva also finds mentoring is an opportunity to look for future talent – which in this case she found. Thanks to Eva’s encouragement, guidance and coaching, in early 2019 Manjusha landed a competitive scholarship to intern in Thales’ Avionics Business Unit.
Manjusha, too, is pleased with her progress in that time. “I'm more comfortable now. When we're talking about automations I can make my own suggestions, use initiative and say we can also do it this way or that way.” And when asked if she’d like to keep working there, her gasped “I’d love to” speaks for itself!
After her experience as a mentee, Manjusha hopes one day to mentor others. She’s informally taken up the role already, encouraging her friends to apply for the Lucy Mentoring Program and coaching them through the application process.
And how does Manjusha feel about diving into a software engineering career now?
“It is quite a male-dominated field, even with my degree most people are males. But Eva and Thales really opened up the doors for me. I can see there’s nothing stopping me from being successful. Even as an undergraduate, even as a minority, I can still do something and stand equal to other people.”
Manjusha Pinni is a Bachelor of Engineering in Information Communication Technology – Software Engineering (Honours) student at UTS, and participated in the Lucy Mentoring Program in 2018.
Eva Wong is Head of Bids and Programs (Avionics) at Thales Australia, and has volunteered as a mentor for the Lucy Mentoring Program since 2016.