Barbara McIntyre Discusses Her Engineering Career for INWED 2023

My name is Barbara McIntyre, I’m the engineering and operations director at Caley Ocean Systems.

Could you tell us a bit about your job and the key skills required to do it?

My role here at Caley is to lead the team of engineers, project managers, quality professionals, document controllers and production people. So it’s a broad range of teams that I’m leading. I am responsible for the overall delivery of the project on time, on budget and to the right quality. That means I get to see lots of different things. I get to work with the engineers. I get to see the production team. I get to understand how the plans are built.

I get to work with supply chain to see what suppliers are doing and how they are working towards supporting our goals. I get to see lots of different kinds of products, we’ve got launch and recovery systems, we have davits, we have products to support nuclear power stations. So a huge broad range of different types of products, different kinds of people, different kinds of team, all under my responsibility.

I ended up doing this because I have an engineering degree from Glasgow University and Glasgow School of Art, and I worked in a number of design and engineering roles before moving into engineering management and supporting the delivery of product projects through different organizations. I love seeing products being built and tested.

I’ve always been an engineer and I very much enjoy the problem solving part of engineering and developing the designs, but what really gets me out of bed in the morning, what makes me enjoy my job is seeing all come together in the shop floor, seeing the parts being assembled by skilled technicians, seeing the finished products being tested and eventually put into service. That’s what makes it all worthwhile.

What are the different routes into engineering?

There are so many different routes into engineering and I enjoyed the route that I took, which was to leave school and go to university and I did a five year master’s, in that master’s course, I was predominantly based at Glasgow University, but I also went to the Glasgow School of Arts to design. That’s not the only route, I’ve worked with and people who have very, very different backgrounds who are all essential people to have in the team those people, lots and lots of people I’ve worked with have a trade and apprentice backgrounds and have worked their way through that way.

I’ve worked with other people who have come in to engineering and design through other routes, like having a maths degree or a physics degree. I think what’s fundamental is you have to enjoy the technical challenge. You have to do be able to think logically. You have to like seeing things put together, seeing problems solved, really, engineering is about solving problems.

So a capacity to solve problems and an enjoyment of solving difficult problems are the most essential parts to that. But really, people should need to take the route the best suits them and they’re going to enjoy because you work for a long time. So, making sure that you enjoy the path that you’re on is fundamental.

Have you ever experienced challenges in your job? If so, how did you overcome them?

Working in engineering, it’s all about challenges. If it was easy, it wouldn’t be engineering, the whole point of what we do is to invent things that didn’t previously exist or to solve problems that customer has. So every day is really about facing challenges and solving problems. You know, occasionally there are things where there are challenges with making sure you’ve got the right people involved in the job, making sure your people are taken care of and are happy. There can be challenges where, for example, the war in Ukraine brought challenges for supply chain. You know that there are challenges that you can’t foresee that are impacted by the global situation.

COVID was a particular set of challenges for us. You know, the company I was working for at the time had to had to essentially shut down and stop doing the production work because we couldn’t ensure people were kept safe. So there’s all kinds of challenges that come from outside, which have to just be dealt with and managed. But at its heart, being an engineer is about identifying challenges and providing solutions to them, so that’s what’s actually fun about it and that’s why we’re all engineers.

Who is your engineering inspiration and why?

My engineering hero is a woman called Emily Roebling. She was instrumental in the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge. So the story of Emily is that it was her husband who should have been building the bridge, but he was injured as part of that works. And she took on the delivery of the project.

She taught herself maths. She was leading teams. She was leading construction teams and contractors to try and deliver this and salvage the company for her family. And this was happening, you know, I mean, she died in the early 1900s, so this was happening sort of Victorian era. So for a women to be doing that and to be stepping up to that in that time period would have been incredible.

So I think of her often having just sort of having led, I imagine, you know, I imagined a life of money and leisure, stepping in to this to help and to solve the problems and to deliver the project eventually and that can’t of been what she imagined as a child or what she imagined growing up. But she did it and she’s well remembered for doing it. And I think that must’ve been quite an incredible thing for her to have done.

Which project that you have worked on are you most proud of?

I’m always most proud of the current project that I’m working on and that’s always the one that consumes me, it’s the one that I dream about, it’s the one that I think of. Right now I’ve got quite a few different projects on my list, and every single one of them is has something to excite me about it. I’m particularly proud, yesterday we had a major milestone in handling a piece of plant that we have been designing a building for a considerable length of time.

And it is wonderful when you when you reach these major milestones and you can celebrate with the team and recognize just how much work everyone has done to get it to a significant point. So for me, it’s always a current project. It’s the thing that gets me excited. The thing I’m most proud of.

What piece of advice would you give to young women and girls embarking on a career in engineering?

It’s been critical for me to build strong networks, so, there aren’t a lot of women in engineering. There aren’t enough of us. And what I found when I left university was I got quite lonely that, you know, I was, you know, young and joining engineering companies where everyone was older than me, everyone was male. And it does get a bit lonely. And what I did is I joined local networks, I joined the Women’s Engineering Society and I joined the iMechE panel. And through both of those organizations, I met peers and I built a support network. And that I think is invaluable because you meet other people who are on the same journey as you. You need to be able to see examples of how your life might be in 10, 15, 20 years.

And for me, as a young women starting out, I found it incredibly useful to be able to talk to women that were ten years further down the line than me, understand how they faced their own challenges, understand how they dealt with situations because, you know, women won’t always be able to react in the same way as men to things. You know, there are different standards of behaviour expected, which is not right, but it’s a truism and being able to talk to other women and sort of brainstorm things I found really useful. I’ve also made some really, really good friends doing that are people that that I met through these networks 20 years ago with that I would still count as being close friends and close advisors.

And so for me, build a network, you know, talk to people and ask for help, you know, there’s been many times in my career that I’ve been able to approach a mentor or manager and say, you know, I’m interested in this particular thing. I’ve got a real passion for it. Can you help me find a way to do that? And being able to recognize and articulate what you want and what you need is my best advice. And so, you know, build the network, know what you want, ask for help. For me, that’s critical to success and it’s critical to making sure you build a career that you want to enjoy.


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