“I’m Chiara, I have a master’s degree in Computer Engineering. At ALTEN I am involved in software development for SCADA applications for traffic management and diagnostics of electrical equipment in metro systems or railway lines.”
Question: What specifically is the project you are working on and what role do you play in it?
Answer: Starting as a recent graduate of Computer Engineering, ALTEN hired me. I first started a research in the PLC (Programmable Logic Controller) laboratory. At the end of this phase, I also started the SCADA path. Besides, I was still following the development carried out in the laboratory.
My current project consists of full development of the application for the management of railway traffic, where some lines among those connect to Paris. The development is articulated on all fronts, therefore both front ends, through the implementation of new functionalities on the Human-Machine Interface (HMI), and back end, through the construction of the logic that must belong to the server part of the application. If necessary, the configurations of the whole project are touched and deepened. The application will provide the customer with all the functionalities normally used in the usual railway environment. Adding some new proposals and specific requests. Examples of these functionalities are the monitoring of train movements or the tracking of delays. Besides, the possibility to control hardware components and special tools to provide information to the public.
Currently, my role in the team, although it started as a figure purely connected to the client part, has proved to act in a transversal way on the whole development process, to allow me to operate in several points of the application and the product supplied.
Q: How is the team you work with and what do you like best about the activity you do?
A: The team I work on now consists of many subgroups, as some projects share characteristics with others. There are also other groups across multiple projects that deal with, for example, HMI or the server development part. Quantifying the number of people is difficult because the team is very dynamic and information is shared among people, which is why you can’t always define the boundary of action of some colleagues rather than others. Initially, I worked on the client-side, but a decrease in needs led me to help on the server-side, which in turn allows me to interact with intermediate mechanisms and communication protocols. In other words, you never get bored.
The best part of what I do is to interact with my team. If there are times when activities are pressing, difficult and confusing, you can always find a way to share experiences with others and find a solution that is also the best possible. Sharing (information, experiences, knowledge…) is, in my opinion, an essential part of the work, not only in terms of functionality but also in terms of personal well-being in the workplace.
Q: Was your interest in Computer Engineering a vocation?
A: In my family, my two older brothers studied engineering, so when I had to choose, my destiny seemed already written. But my desire to stand out combined with my inclination to understand the essence of things, pushed me towards an engineering faculty different from that of my brothers, computer engineering. Since I was a child, I have always found it very amusing to disassemble and reassemble my desktop PC, study the pieces and understand the connections. I saw the whole world of computer science as a continuous logic quiz, which I loved deeply, so I tried that way and… I was right!
Q: How do you remember your college years?
A: The word that I think best describes my university period is “hectic”. I remember moments of pure madness trying to close all the exams in time. However, at the same time, I remember those years in the best way. I realize, looking back, that I have grown a lot during my university years. I have grown as a person and regarding the method of dealing with problems: the computer engineering degree has given me a methodological and very specific approach to deal with difficulties. Always keeping in mind, the right balance between fun and study, I think I was able to achieve almost all my goals concerning the University, I have few resentments and many happy memories, this is an important index. That’s why I don’t feel “nostalgic” or “regretful” of anything.
I think it’s funny that I became passionate about computer engineering because I loved science subjects and to “build things”. Nevertheless, during my studies, I discovered an interest in the world of automation that went far beyond pure computer science. During my university stage, I discovered techniques and knowledge. Also, practices concerning industrial automation, for which I understood that I wanted to aim at that kind of development. What’s the fun part? Just starting from firm beliefs and then discovering that our world is an “alternative path” that one would never have thought to take.
Q: Do you think that the engineer is still a figure/carrier mainly associated with men, or have you noticed a change in this trend?
A: Unfortunately, I think there is still a tendency to think of the Engineer as a purely male figure. Fortunately, I notice that when a female figure is presented as an Engineer, the surprise is limited. This is an indication that it is becoming an increasingly common practice to deal with female engineers. I also note with pleasure this trend in the teams I see at work, where the percentage of women is much higher than just a few years ago.
Q: Have you encountered any difficulties or obstacles because of being a female engineer?
A: I wouldn’t say I’ve encountered any obstacles in my career, not even in university. However, I did perceive a difference in the treatment by superiors or professors. Although at times, this difference consists of being more tolerant towards female engineers (that would seem to be good, right?) at other times, some seem more sceptical. But this is only an initial discomfort. In almost all cases, I start talking and the interlocutor understands that I had nothing to envy to a male colleague.
As a woman, I perceive that our role is going in the right direction: to EQUAL, in every way, a man. I fight every day to show that there are no reasons why the two genres should differ in any way. Therefore, I hope that there is neither the predisposition nor the need to separate the two figures in any way. An “Engineer” goes to identify a type of competence that that person has, not any gender.
Q: What do you think is the value that ALTEN brings to your project?
A: The value of ALTEN is reflected in the consultants working on individual projects. My colleagues’ effort and mine weighs on the project and its completion. From another point of view, it is always us who add value to ALTEN family. We bring in knowledge, new techniques, methodologies to share and to apply to other projects. This is the strength of such a heterogeneous company: it opens non-trivial points of view and correlations that initially do not interact, it allows a 360-degree growth, as well as the possibility of knowing different points of view and integrating them with one’s own. The people of ALTEN adds its value to the company.
Q: Why should a woman choose to work at ALTEN?
A: During my work, I have not seen any discrepancies that have ever made me think that ALTEN favours a particular gender. A female Engineer should choose to work at ALTEN because of the work environment in the company. Here, there is always someone willing to help, to teach or to set you on the right path. From my own experience, I can say that I am very satisfied with my development in the company. I realise that I can manage situations better than before, as well as reactions, discussions and comparisons with others to get the most of them. I still have a lot to learn, of course. However, I don’t think I can learn without the help of someone with more experience than me.
Thank you, Chiara, for telling us your story and encourage future women Engineers-generations. Read more stories like hers, on our section of Women at ALTEN.