As an engineer who developed her talents on a naval vessel, working on a major city’s transport network took some adjustment for Sandra Lingbawan CPEng.
Having trained as an engineer at the University of New South Wales, Lingbawan returned to Australia after an eight-year stint in the Philippines Navy to oversee a number of projects for Sydney Trains, including delivering a life-extension program for the XPT service.
“When you’re on the ship, it’s like a small city — you have your own power plant, you make your own water, you cook your food there,” she tells create.
“The Navy is very hierarchical, whereas Sydney Trains is more flat in its organisational structure. So there’s also a difference in how you approach people and how you get things done.”
But the work of a naval systems engineer requires managing finely tuned and complex systems, and that experience was something Lingbawan found useful in her civilian work.
“In terms of the skills, there are a lot of transferable skills — not just technical, but also dealing with stakeholders and being collaborative in order to do the job well,” she says.
“Rail systems are very complex as well, and for my part, I’m only involved with rolling stock systems, and that’s quite complex. There are a lot of cogs moving for the trains to roll and to be in service.”
Her work on the XPT service is an example.
“The challenge is sometimes operation … trumps maintenance,” Lingbawan says.
“The challenge in managing the project is trying to line up everything so that the car is able to be repaired or maintained during the time that it’s been programmed to go into life extension.”
It was one of Lingbawan’s managers who encouraged her to apply to become a Chartered engineer, and she says Sydney Trains was supportive of the process.
“It does add to your professional self-esteem, knowing that you have that qualification,” she says.
“It aids you in maintaining a self-discipline of ensuring that your professional development is continuous. Otherwise, I think, for myself, if I didn’t have it, I may not be that disciplined in keeping up to date with current engineering developments — whether in my field, or other fields.”
But she believes that, as much as maintaining those professional skills is important, there is more to being a successful engineer.
“You’re not isolated — you have to deal with logistics people, you have to deal with admin, you have to deal with people that are non-technical,” she says.
“You don’t only hone your technical skills, but you make sure to learn about your interpersonal skills as well.”