Dr Liane Margaret Smith FREng is the Vice President, Digital Solutions at Wood Group
“I love the teamwork of design engineering.”
How would you describe your current role to someone who knows nothing about engineering?
I am the managing director of a global oil industry services company, specialising in managing the integrity of oil and gas wells. We have software products that apply analytical methods to real-time data gathered from the wells to predict the risk of developing problems. The aim is to proactively alleviate those problems in order to avoid leakage of fluids, or a catastrophic well blowout. We are also world leaders in corrosion evaluation and life prediction of wells and other oil industry facilities.
Why did you choose to go into engineering?
As a teenager, I enjoyed chemistry in particular and wanted to work in industry as a chemical engineer just because the scale of the plants around my home in Manchester amazed me. I had a strong curiosity to know how major refineries and chemical plants worked and how they could control flowing fluid chemical reactions. At university I developed a strong interest in crystalline materials and shifted to materials engineering, a specialism I really enjoyed and which offered a variety of career options.
What do you like most about being an engineer?
I love the teamwork of design engineering; being one person with particular skills and knowledge contributing to a team that can design major facilities together. You get to know what contribution the different engineering skills will contribute and you know that everyone’s job counts and all are appreciated. I also enjoy working with my team to come up with solutions to clients’ problems; smart answers that address their concerns and give them confidence.
Tell us about an achievement that you are most proud of.
In 2012 we won the Queen’s Award for Enterprise for Innovation, which was a wonderful testament to our work leading the field in well integrity management systems and to our export success. It was a fantastic achievement and the reception at Buckingham Palace was a real highlight in my career.
How do you think gender parity in engineering can be achieved?
It was my teacher, who had worked in industry, who told me about engineering. Without her I would have had no idea, and I suspect that may still be true today – teachers have a lot of influence on girls’ career options. Engineering is such a rewarding job with great variety and flexibility around the contracting structure, making career breaks manageable. Most women enjoy the constructive team effort and the sense of doing something really ‘useful’.
How has being a woman in engineering changed since you started working in the engineering sector?
In my career, I’ve been the only woman on the platform in the North Sea, on a pipe-laying spread supervising welding work and out in the desert in the UAE investigating well problems. Frankly, I never noticed; I was just one of a great team doing a great job. That experience would be rare today – women are still a minority but no longer a ‘rare breed’. Nowadays we’re far more likely to have female clients and I have more female employees and colleagues.
What would you say to someone considering a career in engineering?
You will enjoy it and will truly make a difference to the lives of people around you. You will save lives, improve living standards, positively impact the quality of life and leave your mark on society. What more can I say?!