Women in Engineering
In recognition of National Women in Engineering day on 23 June, we spoke to Sham Musthapha, BDUK Systems Engineering Manager, Fleet, Hampshire about how she started her career in engineering and some of the most interesting and memorable parts of her job. Sham is responsible for providing systems engineering support to Boeing Defence UK programmes such as the Ministry of Defence's Chinook fleet and the SCIS programme.
A career in engineering is undoubtedly built from a passion felt for the all-important science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) subjects at a young age. Unsurprisingly, Sham’s favourite subjects at school were maths and science. Following an early interest in working for NASA and a fascination with space versus the attraction of a career in medicine, a route into engineering won out in the end – a decision she attributes to “big action films with cool technology, fast car chases and things that went ‘bang’!”
Sham studied Engineering at Cambridge University and upon graduation started work as an engineer at DSTL, part of the Ministry of Defence, working on a range of unique projects including stealth techniques for weapons, target engagement modelling and land and naval Weapon Systems. The variety and experience of different technology areas, such as sensors, radar, propulsion systems and warhead technology, made the work there particularly interesting. This proved to be the first step in a career focused on some of the most exciting and ground-breaking aspects of defence engineering.
One aspect of choosing a career in engineering that often comes under criticism is the lack of relevant role models, particularly for women and those from ethnic minority backgrounds. Sham admits that she never really had a single role model but admires the greats that made an impact on engineering and the sciences – all the way from Leonardo Da Vinci (a great example, she says, of the pairing of art and science), to Sir Frank Whittle, Brunel and Marie Curie. People who really had the vision to think the unthinkable and turn it into a reality that resulted in a huge step forward.
When asked about the best part of her job, it’s easy to assume that the exciting, world-class technology would be the obvious answer. However, for Sham what makes her job worthwhile are the people she works with, not just on a day-to-day basis but across the world, and the variety of work within Boeing. The company’s capabilities, from the International Space Station to the Apache, appear on the TV so often that she admits it’s hard not to think, “Wow – I work for a company that does all that!”
Sham is currently managing a team of extremely talented and hard-working individuals supporting most of the programmes across BDUK (aircraft support, training and BIS) and business development (campaigns, bids and proposals). She also works across the company to deliver engineering best practice, processes and initiatives tailored to the needs of the UK. She runs a number of engineering courses within BDUK to help upskill the workforce and improve the quality of engineering.
Alongside her day-to-day work, Sham is the Boeing Executive Focal for Southampton University and contributes towards STEM outreach to universities and schools. She works closely with her counterparts at BDA and this year has been asked to be one of the instructors on the Systems Engineering Leadership Programme in Australia – an experience she’s looking forward to.
Thinking about the next generation of students keen to start a career in engineering, Sham strongly encourages those starting out to take any opportunities that arise, explaining that “even if you’re not sure that you’re going to enjoy doing something you should give it a go – if you don’t try, how will you know?” She adds that, “you equally shouldn’t stick to doing something unenjoyable for a long time – it’s important to enjoy what you do in order to do it really well.” Finally – she encourages people to treat others how they would want to be treated, explaining that “being kind and civil costs nothing but it can actually ‘buy’ a lot.” With such a varied and interesting career it seems that Sham’s advice is worth sticking to. In terms of Sham’s future here at Boeing, the opportunities are endless.