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Celebrating Canadian women in engineering and manufacturing [Part 1]

Story by Karen Majerly on December 5, 2017

Mechanical design skills + love of motorsports = a race car engineer driven to succeed

We often use our blog to celebrate the successes of our customers – both companies and individuals. This post is the first in a series that will recognize some of the women we know in design, engineering, tech, and manufacturing.

As part of Javelin’s 20th anniversary celebrations this year, we asked the Javelin team to nominate some fantastic females who are models of success in their fields. We hoped to come up with 20, to stick with our theme – we ended up naming quite a few more.

But why? Why the focus on females?

Despite some gains in recent years, women still remain under-represented in engineering and manufacturing. According to Engineers Canada, women account for only 12.8% of practising professional engineers in Canada. Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters reports that women account for 47.5 per cent of our national labour force but only 28 per cent of the manufacturing workforce.

Javelin, with the support of Dassault Systèmes SOLIDWORKS; Oakville, Ontario law firm O’Connor MacLeod Hanna LLP; and Needham Promotions of Aurora, Ontario; will be sharing stories to highlight the career opportunities, exciting work, and extraordinary personalities of a few of the women in our customer base.

Jessica Soodeen

Jessica Soodeen

The subject of our story today is Jessica Soodeen of Calgary, Alberta. Jessica can take a motorcycle apart, run the pit as a race car engineer, advise on 3D printing technologies, and apply Lean Six Sigma tools to global engineering projects.

And that, as they say, is all before lunch.

Jessica works at Honeywell in a global group dedicated to lean methods, reliability, and simulation. Her consulting role takes her from reviewing parts and products, to assessing technical engineering risk, to developing test strategies for reliability. We know her because she is Honeywell’s go-to expert on prototyping and 3D printing.

As a young teenager, Jessica says she was “a math geek” and loved all the sciences. Since the beginning of her career as a mechanical designer, her work has been interesting and rewarding – designing and testing everything from wireless modems to equipment mounted on land mine detection vehicles.

On the weekends, Jessica was either riding or racing motorcycles or up to her elbows in grease, sometimes working on bikes in her living room. She was combining her engineering skills with her hobby, and it was the sign of a wild career change to come. By the end of 2007, after working for 10 years as a mechanical designer, Jessica moved to Euskadi in northern Spain to get a Master’s of Technical Specialization in Motor Racing Competition.

“My design experience was an obvious asset,” she says. “I also spent five years racing bikes, turning wrenches, and volunteering in the racing world to prepare for my new adventure. It’s showing up with hands-on experience, not just letters behind your name, that can get you chosen.”

It’s good advice, and Jessica has plenty to share. I talked to her about what she’s learned that would benefit the next generation of women designers and engineers coming up behind her:

Jessica Soodeen with Canadian Olympian Liz Gleadle

Jessica Soodeen with Canadian Olympian Liz Gleadle

 

Make a name for yourself

Jessica was the first woman hired for the intern position she held. Five years later, she was hired back at that same company because she always got the job done. “Be the best, for yourself and for the benefit of the whole team. And speak up. Women think differently. It’s an advantage, having different voices on design teams.”

Take the help that is offered to you

After being laid off from a telecom company, Jessica made use of a free service that company offered to her, which helped her set up her own business. “It was an emotional blow, being laid off. It was a huge confidence boost, setting up my consulting company and getting myself out of a stressful situation.”

Ask questions

When Jessica encountered a difficult co-worker, she didn’t get angry or take it personally, she showed what she knew and spent time learning what she didn’t. “I looked at past designs to see how things were done. I walked the manufacturing floor. I spent weeks in the mold reparation department. And I kept asking questions. I am still always asking questions! I recognize where I am deficient and I step up my game.”

Go for what you love

Jessica advises young people to take tests in both aptitude and interest. “Maybe you’re not good at something yet, but you really love it. Go for that.”

Don’t stifle your creative side

Jessica remembers when a high school friend in her drama club was shocked to learn that she was also in math club. “If you love painting or drawing, do that, too. Cover those other facets of yourself.”

Be open to the possibilities

Navigating traditionally male-dominated fields like manufacturing is one thing, but breaking into motorsports was on a whole other level. “I knew only three other women like me in motorsports,” Jessica says. “I never thought I’d be in Europe, supervising mechanics, on a team that spoke seven different languages. You never know where you might end up.”

With Honeywell, Jessica travels North America and the world. Her favourite part of the job is being able to drive results.

“I get to see designs, analyze stats, give my opinion, and use my experience to help teams solve problems. I get to see the big picture, start to finish. And it’s different every day.”

She points out that young people usually have an outdated view of what workplaces look like in engineering, manufacturing, and even racing. “They wear white lab coats in the race car team’s shop. You could eat off the floor!”

And she says overall, we have to change perception. It’s why she does talks in schools.

Daltec Pits

Daltec Pits

“We have to show girls how all these cool jobs are based on what they’re learning in school – subjects like geometry and physics. And that they shouldn’t be influenced or discouraged by stereotypes. Careers based on math are exciting and fulfilling.”

If you’d like to contact Jessica, email her at jessicasoodeen@hotmail.com.

Javelin would like to take this opportunity to thank our sponsors for supporting us in this campaign, as well as acknowledge Paige Leedale for her help with coordinating these amazing stories.

 

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