National Engineers Week takes place this year from February 27th until March 5th. The week-long festival of nationwide events, of which Intel is a proud supporter, celebrates the world of engineering. 63% of all Intel employees are engineers and to coincide with Engineers Week, Intel Ireland will share our #HowIBecameanEngineer series. The series shares an insight into the many different and diverse pathways that can lead to a career in engineering. Next up in the series is Tricia Cahill, a Software Engineer in the Network Processing Group in Intel Shannon, who shares an insight into how she became an engineer.
Can you share a brief description of what your job at Intel involves?
I am currently focused on cloud native technologies, working to extend and build Kubernetes. Key skills include distributed systems, containers, Go development and automation.
Can you share some details about your academic studies?
I went to an all-girls convent secondary school, where the only technical subject was technology (woodwork). I did this subject for the junior cycle, but there was no option to continue with it, in the senior cycle. So, at that time doing engineering just never seemed like an option.
In 2000, after my Leaving Cert, I enrolled in Dundalk Institute of Technology (DKIT) to study Business Studies. After a year I realised that wasn’t the course for me, so I left.
Then in 2013, I decided to do a Springboard course in Computer and Electronic Engineering in Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology (GMIT). As part of these courses you do a work placement module, this was the major selling point of the course as I wanted a change in direction from my previous experiences and hoped, by doing this work placement I would acquire a job when it was completed.
After only a few weeks I realised that I really enjoyed the course. So, from then on I knew I was going to apply to return as a full-time mature student doing what was then known as the Computer and Electronic Engineering Level 7 course, with the option of an additional two years for the Level 8.
During my time in the Springboard course, the work placement module was made optional for me, so when the college approached me and ask would I be involved in running classes for primary school children teaching them “Scratch” programming, I agreed nervously. Since that experience, I have jumped at any chance I get to educate children (primary or secondary students) about STEM, and how it’s for everyone not just for “boys”.
After finishing my Cert, I went on to get my bachelor’s degree and then completed the extra two years and got my honour’s degree in the rebranded course Software and Electronic Engineering. Whilst getting my degree, I completed an evening course and was awarded a diploma in Quality Management.
Did you have a practical work experience that led you to Intel?
Having completed my level 7 degree, I was awarded the “Intel Ireland Women in Technology Award” due to my grades. Also, as part of our Level 8 degree we had to do an eight-month work placement. I applied and was offered a placement with Intel Shannon the same day that I was notified about winning the award – best day ever.
My work placement was from January to August. I worked on the Silicon RTL team and I absolutely loved it. From the minute I set foot on site till the day I left (which isn’t entirely true, I was able to do my Final Year Project in partnership with Intel) it was the best experiences anyone could have had. One memory that will always stand out, I was at my desk and a senior engineer walked past on his way for a cup of tea, he stopped and turned back to me and said “you’re new, come and join us for tea”. To me that made me feel so included, and I never felt any different throughout my entire internship.
After returning to college I was offered a full-time job on completion of my degree, and if I remember correctly, I cried with happiness.
Did you undertake part time work that influenced your career path?
I grew up working in the service industry my whole life. My goal was to open my own pub before I was thirty. I achieved this goal but after a few years I made the hardest decision that the business just wasn’t feasible anymore and we had to close. I was heartbroken, it was my dream, but I will never regret giving it a go.
I always had a brain for numbers and logic. A lot of people might not remember VCRs, but from a young age if the tape got stuck, I had no problem taking the machine apart to free up the tape, or I was the person summoned to program all its different functionalities.
After my business closed, I knew I wanted move away from the service industry completely. Hence the transition into engineering!
Is there anything else unique about your pathway that you would like to share?
One of the hardest obstacles I had to face returning to college was that I had two small children. It meant that I hadn’t a wage coming into the house for six years, the struggle with childcare and the time needed to give for study as well as making sure the children didn’t lose out.
The college was so supportive, if I needed to move group or couldn’t attend a lecture/lab with genuine reason they understood and never held it against me. The no money, what you don’t have you don’t miss, but we were never short of anything. The childcare, I am blessed to have amazing family and friend that supported me throughout the whole journey, and without them it never would have been possible.
Can you tell us some more about your role as a software engineer?
As a software engineer no two days are the same. We work in R&D, which means that we are researching and developing new technologies and systems. It involves continuous learning. Any training or materials needed to fulfil our roles are always provided, you feel as if the company isn’t just investing in the product but also in you.
The flexibility Intel has given me was so appreciated. Just before I started back full time, my son broke his leg badly playing sports. He was to have more operations and to undergo intense physio treatment. During my first introduction to my new manager, I explained the situation and that I may need to work from home or take a few hours here and there for appointments. He told me that life happens, and we just must adapt to the situation, whatever I needed to do was fine and not to worry about anything.
Since starting in Intel, I have been privileged to represent Intel in going to schools (primary and secondary) and talking about engineering to the students. I tried to educate them on the different fields of engineering and that it was open to everyone. Also, I had the chance to go back to GMIT “remotely” for careers week and explain what my current role is, my duties as a software engineer and answer any questions they had.
For anyone thinking of changing path, my advice is just to do it. One of my proudest moments was having my children at my graduation while I asked to be the student representee. It shows them that anything is possible, no matter of your age, sex, etc. Also, it’s ok to try different paths and if they don’t work out it’s ok to change. Just because one job failed, it doesn’t make you a failure, it makes you stronger and a little wiser.
My path to engineering was a long one, winding one, sometimes rough one, but I got there in the end.
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