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#STEMStories: Lungile, Advanced Lead Reliability Engineer, South Africa

Name: Lungile Hlatshwayo
Role/Occupation: Advanced Lead Reliability Engineer 
Country: South Africa

I recently interviewed Lungile Hlatshwayo, the Lead Engineer for Reliability. Hlatshwayo was the first African in her field to make it into the prestigious Edison Program, she remembers when she first found out, “ I was on a bus home when I found out and I just cried partially because I knew this would then open doors for other Africans. The second reason was that it was a step closer to being a beast of an engineer which is one of my life goals”.

And she is definitely a ‘beast’ of an engineer. Hlatshwayo works with locomotives and in her role as Lead Engineer she is responsible for the Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) reliability case solutions management in the region. She projects, manages and drives solutions case management for all fleets across SSA region which includes South Africa, Mozambique, Angola and Namibia. Her task as a reliability engineer is to ensure all customer pain points regarding the product are addressed. This would include investigating the complete design, performance related issues and any component failures.

Hlatshwayo was first introduced to engineering in high school when she attended an open day in Monash Australia and was instantly fascinated by the vast world of engineering. After much research she decided to study mechanical engineering. She completed her undergraduate degree, a BSc in mechanical engineering from the University of Cape Town after which she started working as an intern in the Early Career Development Program. She was later accepted into a global engineering program called the Thomas Edison Engineering Development Program which resulted in her spending 18 months abroad working in different teams exposed to design, root cause analysis, project management, systems engineering, optimization and various analysis. She feels that being part of the program made her a better engineer, “Learning and engaging with experts, which were truly the best in their fields is one of the greatest things that could have ever happened to me”. She also completed a postgraduate diploma in Project Management as part of the program. This year she started studying towards a Masters in Engineering at the University of the Witwatersrand and also spent five months in GE Power understanding and learning about the industry, all while reporting to her role as the lead engineer for Reliability. When asked what she loves about her profession, she admits “I’m a problem solver and innately I’m always looking for the best option. My job allows me to excel in my most natural state.”

She has strong feelings about being a woman in the STEM space and feels that as a woman you have to always work much harder than your male counterparts to prove yourself, “It’s a social issue as well, people naturally respect men, it’s something we need to change in how we raise the next generation”. Hlatshwayo has a very positive outlook with regards to STEM in Africa, “I think Africa has a lot to offer in terms of STEM; there are innovators, creators of knowledge, people pursuing their PhD’s, unconventional engineers and generally more women pursuing careers that were previously out of reach in the country. I believe the more we encourage young leaders to take up STEM the greater the prospects of growth, the more we create exposure opportunities into the work we do, the more the growth”.

Read more about this beautiful beast of an engineer conquering the field of engineering and locomotives in the interview below as this Geeky Girl shares some of her opinions and insights.

1. Describe what your work entails.
I work with locomotives; our task is to ensure the customer has a world class product that allows them to streamline operations and increase performance. My task as a reliability engineer is to ensure all customer pain points regarding the product are addressed, this means investigating all design, performance related issues and any component failures also defined as reliability cases. In my role as Lead Engineer I’m responsible for Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) reliability case solutions management in the region. I project, manage and drive solutions case management for all fleets across SSA region this includes South Africa, Mozambique, Angola and Namibia.

2. Describe your engineering journey.
Engineering was introduced to me in high school. I went to an open day in Monash Australia and I was just so fascinated by the field. My uncle at the time was pursuing his undergraduate degree, though he never completed it, he was the most innovative person I’ve ever known. I started doing the research then decided I’d study Mechanical Engineering. My undergraduate degree is a BSc in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Cape Town (UCT). I started working at GE in 2015 as an intern in the Early Career Development Program. At the completion of that program I went onto a global engineering program called the Thomas Edison Engineering Development Program which led to me spending 18 months in India working in different teams exposed to design, root cause analysis, project management, systems engineering, optimization and various analysis. I feel like it made me a better engineer, we also had to complete comprehensive courses whilst on program which solved business challenges. Learning and engaging with experts, which were truly the best in their fields is one of the greatest things that could have ever happened to me. I also completed my Postgraduate Diploma in Project Management whilst on program. This year I spent five months in GE Power understanding and learning about that industry and started my Masters in Engineering with the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits). Post program, I’m now the Lead Engineer for Reliability in the region, it’s been a tough but rewarding journey.

3. What excites you about your job? What motivates you to get out of bed every morning?
I’m a problem solver and innately I’m always looking for the best option. My job allows me to excel in my most natural state. As an Edison everyday was a new challenge and a new learning experience; I felt amazing with every week, with every phase I conquered. As a reliability engineer I get to interface with the customer and solve their issues which for me is so important, it gives meaning to my work. I also love the fact that nothing is the same so there’s always a new challenge, new approaches to be looked into and new things to learn.

4. How would you describe your experience as a woman in the STEM space?
Being a woman in the STEM space is not easy, you always must work much harder than your male counterparts. It’s a social issue as well, people naturally respect men, it’s something we need to change in how we raise the next generation. That said in the STEM space as a female you earn the respect through sheer hard work. On the other hand, because there’s so few women in this field there’s a world of opportunities which for me has been amazing and enriching.

5. What advice would you give to young women aspiring to enter the engineering field?
It is important to always be yourself no matter how tough the challenge. I’m a fashionista. The common comment I get is that I don’t look like an engineer; for years I've tried to change this but its only when I embraced my true self that I was able to passionately drive my tasks. To aspiring young women entering the STEM field I want you to know that you can be beautiful, fierce, smart, geeky and still make your mark in the industry. With the right efforts you can be where you want to be in your own way…

6. As a STEM woman in Africa, how do you foresee the growth and progress of STEM on the continent? Is Africa a “land of opportunity”?
This year’s Mail and Guardian 200 young leaders supplement had the highest nominees in science and technology with a substantial number of women in this field recognised. I think Africa has a lot to offer in terms of STEM; there are innovators, creators of knowledge, people pursuing their PhD’s, unconventional engineers and generally more women pursuing careers that were previously out of reach in the country. I believe the more we encourage young leaders to take up STEM the greater the prospects of growth, the more we create exposure opportunities into the work we do, the more the growth. What the science and technology industry also does is progressively solve and create a better life for someone at grass root level. If we look at the world of the digital revolution and how that has changed our lives to date the results are exponential; behind that brilliance lies an engineer in that field.

7. Have there been any milestone moments or eureka moments in your career?
Hahaha, lots..The biggest one though was making the Edison Program as the first African in my business. I was on a bus home when I found out and I just cried partially because I knew this would then open doors for other Africans. The second reason was that it was a step closer to being a beast of an engineer which is one of my life goals.

8. How do you maintain a work-life balance?
I make time for the things that keep me sane, so my relationships, studying, music, exercise and travel. When it’s time to work I WORK!!!! Sometimes sacrifice my weekends when I want to feel good by Monday.

9. Who is your role model? Who inspires you?
My role model is not an engineer but she’s just an amazing human and leader. Her name is Zeenith Ebrahim she was the GE South Africa GM and CEO. She inspires me because she’s a leader that believes in the potential of her team, her approach is strategic with so much passion, compassion and empathy. She also inspires me because she’s herself in everything she does and is driven and humble.

10. Where can more information or insight into your work be found? 
http://www.getransportation.com/locomotive-and-services

Instagram: @lungiez
Facebook: Lu Hlatshwayo

Lungile Hlatshwayo interviewed by Dhruti Dheda

Dhruti Dheda is a Chemical Engineer with a strong interest in media and communication. She is the editor of the Engineers without Borders South Africa Newsletter and the Community Manager – South Africa and Regional Outreach for Geeky Girl Reality. If you wish to collaborate or network, contact her at dhruti@geekyreality.com or find her on twitter @dhrutidd