The ballerina who became an engineer
Since the beginning of my education, I had an interest in math, physics, and chemistry. Yet at that same time, I was already in love with classical ballet having taken classes from the age of three.
When I was young, my time was split between my love for STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) and dance classes. In high school, I was invited to participate in a special program to prepare students to join the Technologic Institute of Aeronautics (ITA) in Brazil – one of the most respected universities in my country. I didn´t apply to ITA in the end, but the preparation program solidified many of my STEM skills in the extra classes I took before rushing to the ballet school right after.
Why am I drawing my love of ballet and engineering together, you may ask? I want to show that being an engineer doesn´t exclude the passions you have, even if they seem completely unrelated. For years, I was unsure about how I would manage a career in STEM alongside my unrelenting classical ballet practice. Even though I was uncertain on how I would handle everything I wanted to do, I applied to study a degree in chemical engineering knowing that it was not going to be an easy ride. Despite what most people imagined, I completed all my studies and dance remained a big part of my life during college.
The reason I initially chose chemical engineering was because it encompassed a wide variety of sectors and types of work, and I wanted to explore all options. It was fun to correlate what I learned in class and labs to areas of my daily life, including dance. With time, I found I could bring logic and a different view into my dance classes, but I also used the collaboration and team effort skills that I learned in ballet to my college activities. During university, these two seemingly unrelated parts of my life started to complement each other nicely, and this still lasts many years later in my professional career.
In my first job, I worked as a process engineer in a large EPC (Engineering, Procurement, and Construction) company and was part of a strong team of women engineers. I was lucky that the manager of the process engineering department was also a woman, so I was inspired by great female leaders from the very beginning. I also understood that there were no limitations for me as a woman, which was invaluable. After spending my first few professional years working on big projects for refineries, I joined AVEVA in 2004 to work as a technical support engineer for process simulation. I then moved to the technical sales consultant and sales account manager roles, until I reached my current position in marketing. In every position I’ve held, my engineering background has been crucial in accomplishing my objectives – both professionally and personally. After almost 20 years later, I can testify how engineering is a career that allows you to develop different talents in a wide variety of areas.
Today, one of the things I enjoy the most in industry marketing is the fact that I can constantly access new and innovative technologies. I am able to learn and follow the latest technology trends that seek to improve both life and work. As a mother to a six years old daughter, I also try to bring a part of my work to her world in a fun way. I’ll never forget giving her immersive virtual reality glasses for the first time! At home, I always instil in her that there´s no such concept as a “girl’s thing” or a “boy’s thing”, and that she can do whatever she likes. I believe it´s important to help young girls in adopting the right mindset, so they know there are no boundaries to what women can do.
The key piece of advice I wish to give to women in engineering is to explore all your skills and bring them to the engineering environment, whatever they may be. I’ve found that doing so has helped me to be far more creative in my professional work.
Also, allow yourself to take risks. With creativity and a little bit of risk, everything is possible!
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Fernanda Martins is the Global Marketing Manager for the Oil & Gas Downstream and Chemicals industries at AVEVA, holding a B.Sc. in Chemical Engineering from the Universidade de São Paulo. In her almost 20 years experience, she has helped companies to adopt and explore a variety of transformational technologies in areas like process engineering, optimization, workforce empowerment and enhanced operations and maintenance.