Now a Project Engineer at Air Liquide – a world leader in gases, technologies and services for industry and health – Veena Kadiyapu discusses what it takes to be a successful project engineer, how to influence others and why always being open to learning is her secret career weapon.
Finding her calling
With a Masters in Aerodynamics and Aerostructures, Veena began her career as a noise and performance engineer in the aerospace sector before moving into product engineering, designing and managing different automotive parts. This was her first taste of the management side of engineering and she fell in love with it.
“My interest suddenly moved from technical engineering to project engineering. I discovered that while I like being involved in the technical aspects of a product, I wanted to understand the complete picture,” she says.
“I like that in project engineering you get a helicopter view. You need to have a good understanding of each stage in the project and how the technicalities work. And I enjoy being the sole person responsible for that project.”
Able to combine her technical knowledge with her strong organizational skills, Veena had found her calling.
“I love that no two days are the same in project engineering. I work on about four to five products at a time, all at different stages [Veena’s current projects include developing liquid nitrogen brake discs and liquid carbon dioxide product for a bakery]. You have to quickly process things and prioritize; it’s what makes it very interesting.”
Being open to learning
After deciding she wanted to transition from technical engineering to project engineering five years ago, Veena turned to her senior leaders and peers to plug missing gaps in her knowledge and experience.
“I observed my senior leaders and colleagues, and picked up their knowledge and skills and put that into practice.”
For those looking to make a career change, she suggests learning from whatever source you can, whether that’s people, podcasts or books. Always being open to learning, no matter how much experience you have has been her motto.
Tips to solve problems and influence people
As a project engineer there are a lot of moving parts. You’re responsible for everything from getting the requirements from the customer and keeping the project on schedule and budget, to communicating with stakeholders, documentation and supervising the technicalities of the project.
A big part of Veena’s job is to solve problems, which often has her relying on others for information. “For various reasons, people can be really stubborn in providing information and solutions.”
She has three strategies to help you find and receive information and answers you need, because this is a requirement in most jobs at some point:
“One of my tricks is to use the Socratic approach to questioning. By asking ‘why’ six times with different lines of questioning you can quickly get to the core answer.”
Understand the person’s motivations
“Sometimes it’s about putting the person’s needs first, so I might help them with something and trade that for the answers I require.”
“Believing in yourself is really important and don’t take things personally. Sometimes when the other person doesn’t react the way you expect, we tend to just get bogged down and we shouldn’t. Be confident and just keep chasing the person or solution.”
Thriving as a woman in engineering
One of the reasons Veena was attracted to joining Air Liquide in early 2019 was their commitment to supporting women. This is particularly important to her, given she works in the nontraditional sector of engineering.
“Although I’m the only female project engineer on the team, I’m treated equally and my colleagues are really respectful. If you’re doing a good job, male or female, you’re recognized.”
She’s also grateful for the learning opportunities at Air Liquide, both formal and informal.
“There’s a lot of really experienced people in this company. They know a lot about the industry and are willing to share that knowledge with you or provide advice if you require. The learning opportunities are there – you just need to take them,” she says.
Air Liquide even has its own corporate university, so “there’s career development for everyone who’s keen to learn and improve”. Veena is hoping to complete a project management course in the near future.
The art of prioritizing
The ability to organize your workload and prioritize effectively is a crucial skill in being a successful project engineer, something Veena has learnt to do over the years.
“There are always so many projects on the go and things on your mind. You might be looking at an email for one project, receive a call for another project and then have a meeting in 10 minutes for a different project. You need to be able to quickly switch between them.”
Veena’s tip is to map out the next day’s work and priorities before you leave the office. “That way you can go home and switch off, because you’ve got a plan for how you’re going to tackle the next day, and in the morning you can come in and just get on with it.”
With a three-year-old son, creating structure between work and home helps Veena balance her responsibilities.
“When I get to work, work is all I focus on. I don’t have my personal phone on me – I give 100%. Then on the flip-side, when I get home, I don’t think about work, it’s family-time. I’ve slowly learnt that this is what works for me.”