Team Spotlight: Thao Nguyen & Rachel Hook / Product Design Engineers

Our amazing staff are more comfortable getting excited by new design challenges, than beating their own drum. So in this series, we turn the spotlight on our team to give you an insight how they each tick.

In light of International Women in Engineering Day (June 23), we decided to do a double Team Spotlight on two of our Product Design Engineers, Thao Nguyen and Rachel Hook. International Women in Engineering Day (INWED) aims to highlight some of the great work and achievements by women in all types of engineering roles. It also aims to raise awareness to the challenges many women face in this industry every day.

Since starting at Cobalt, Thao has worked on a multitude of projects, including the Agersens eShepherd virtual herding device, the Dermapen 4 and the Adapt Cable Trainer. Having only joined Cobalt in the past few months, Rachel is a newer member of our team who last worked at Swinburne’s Centre for Design Innovation – we are super excited to see what she gets up to. Fun fact: Thao and Rachel went to Swinburne together and have been best friends ever since! But what else is there to Thao and Rachel?

What inspired you to pursue engineering?

Thao: The power of possibilities. Unlocking new ways of thinking and designing products that was once just an idea in a conversation.

Rachel: During School I loved Physics and Visual Communication and Design , so Product Design Engineering seemed like the perfect course to combine both, a mix of creative and critical thinking. I also may have been inspired by Michael Schofield from Prison Break, he was a pretty cool engineer.

What’s your favourite aspect about your job?

Thao: The ability to innovate and create real life objects out of what was once a drawing.

Rachel: The day-to-day variety means the job is always interesting. I also love that the industry is so broad – there are so many directions you can go in your career and you never stop learning.

What’s been a highlight of your engineering career so far?

Thao: Being selected to represent Cobalt at The 2019 Good Design Awards for the product eShepherd that we designed and engineered. We had our first in-house production run for this project and is now becoming recognised and used in the community. Another one of my highlights is also seeing the satisfaction on the clients face when they see what was in their mind come to life in front of them.

Rachel: Getting a job at Cobalt is definitely up there, but at my previous job at Swinburne’s Centre for Design Innovation I got the opportunity to travel to India to visit Indian Institute of Technology Madras (IITM). While there, my colleagues and I facilitated a Human-Centred Design workshop with engineering students and graduates and visited IITM Research Park, an incredible facility set-up to incubate start-ups. IITM is a leader in the engineering space so it was a very inspiring visit, plus the food was delicious!

What are some of your general interests outside of work?

Thao: Fitness (netball, lifting weights, snowboarding). Holistic fitness, from physical, emotional to mental well-being. I see myself as an “ambassador” for wellness among the community.

Rachel: I enjoy hiking and camping, especially multi-day hikes in places like the Grampians or Freycinet in Tasmania. I also enjoy going to see live music and love travelling (when possible)!

Coolest home-brew product or project?

Thao: cOokierush – my cookies. It’s good for the soul.

Rachel: Future project, but I’m going to foster a greyhound very soon and have also recently got quite into sewing, so I’m going to combine the two and sew a cosy jacket for the (good) boy!

If you had a super-power, what would it be?

Thao: I would like the power to teleport to see different structures, designs from different cultures and the possibility to make matter materialise so I don’t have to source the materials from the earth to make these designs come true.

Rachel: It would probably have to be teleportation so that I could travel anywhere in the world.

(They answered these questions individually…great minds think alike!)

What are your thoughts on the challenges many women face in this industry?

Thao: Women face many challenges from the gender pay gap or stereotypic discrimination – and not just in this industry. One challenge I see throughout this sector, that we can actually control, is the lack of confidence and self-doubt when women are asked about their roles. We, females and males, need to embrace diversity, back ourselves in our own passion and provide support for each other, hold each other up as a person with dreams, not as a female or male.

From my experience, I feel that Cobalt sees each employee as a person. There is a support network amongst colleagues and management to push us to pursue our passion regardless of our gender. If there is a good idea, it didn’t matter who it came from for it to be considered.

Rachel: It is encouraging to see the progress we have made as a society to challenge gender biases in the workplace, moving away from the perception that careers are gendered. Whilst we have come a long way the existing gender imbalance in the engineering industry can lead women feel they have to justify their place within the industry, unlike their male counterparts.

I find the lack of women in leadership roles to be one of the biggest barriers to improving the experiences of young women studying engineering degrees and starting their careers. Without this visibility, it can be difficult to see and navigate a clear path to becoming a successful engineer, as you don’t see yourself reflected in the role you aspire to. I feel lucky that when I come to work at Cobalt there are two extremely talented and inspiring women leading the engineering and design teams, but that shouldn’t make me feel lucky, it should be normal. I’ve found that the culture at Cobalt is great for bringing people together, with a focus on team work, mentoring and knowledge sharing. Everyone is valued for their unique skills, experience and perspectives.

Until we experience equal (or close to) representation of men and women in the industry, I believe that many challenges for women will remain. As long as women are a minority in the engineering industry they will experience gender bias, whether intended or subconscious. I don’t believe we need any more proof that diversity, (whether it be gender, cultural, life experience or any other type) leads to better outcomes in the workplace, and I believe this is especially true in our industry.

What’s your advice to young girls/women who want to pursue engineering?

Thao: Don’t let others tell you what you are good at or what you should be interested in. If you have a passion in this field (or any other) live and breathe it every single day.

Know that there will be haters, there will be doubters, there will be non-believers and then there will be YOU, proving them all wrong.

Rachel: My advice to young women would be to be aware of the challenges of studying and working in male-dominated fields, but not deterred.

Engineering is a vehicle to so many diverse, creative, exciting and fulfilling career opportunities. Build your network of people who you can learn from and who can guide you, and see the women around you as confidants and not competition, they will be your biggest supporters!

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