It’s fair to say that parental advice often comes home to roost eventually – and that’s certainly the case for R&D Electrical Test Engineer Sarah Dorey. It was after all her mother who recommended she seek a business administration qualification that set her on a somewhat unconventional path toward engineering, and a profession she loves at Nissan’s Technical Centre Europe (NTCE) in Cranfield, UK.
Sarah admits that this qualification helped her land a job in the Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) – an early career milestone that helped her discover a passion for engineering. “The role I initially took at the FCO merged admin with project management. It was a great job in a very interesting field, but it wasn’t long before I found myself wanting to get back to working on vehicles. As it happens, I subsequently became the first person to be recruited onto the FCO’s team of vehicle technicians – maintaining trucks, cars and bikes.”
At this point it is worth pointing out that this wasn’t Sarah’s first foray into vehicle engineering, having gained two years’ experience as a Heavy Goods Vehicle (HGV) Technician while serving with both the regular and Territorial Army (TA) in Afghanistan between 2006-2008. The experience – which included an array of mechanical and electrical tasks conducted in extreme conditions – gave Sarah the perfect grounding for a vocation in engineering.
As for how she came to Nissan, after taking time out to recover from an injury sustained during active service and focus on being a mother to her young children, Sarah uploaded her CV onto a recruitment website as she looked to re-enter the world of work. The second employer she heard from back in 2013 just so happened to be the team at NTCE, who recognised her extensive skillset as being a great fit – even if Sarah didn’t at the time.
“Despite my experience in the Army and FCO, I used to think I was allergic to electrical jobs – so when I found out the role Nissan offered me was in electrics, I was quite surprised!” Now an R&D Electrical Test Engineer, Sarah is tasked with getting involved with new vehicle projects at a very early stage. “We travel to meet with electrical suppliers around Europe early in the process – testing all components thoroughly to ensure they’re ready to be allocated to the car we’re going to be building, be petrol, hybrid or all-electric drivetrain.”
As for operating in an engineering world that typically employs more men than women, Sarah has worked in the industry long enough to have witnessed things changing for the better. “There is a definitely a nurturing environment at Nissan – but during my career as a whole there have certainly been instances where people have assumed the male in the room is the project lead, when in fact it has been myself.”
A STEM Ambassador in her spare time, Sarah – who found she didn’t fit in with often-prescriptive classroom learning as a child – is also passionate about encouraging more girls to pursue careers in the industry. “The main challenge is opening eyes and dispelling myths that engineering is just about getting your hands dirty and hard manual labour. There are elements of that of course, but we’re just as likely to be found on a laptop or in a business meeting as we are breaking cars for a living!”
What’s more, Sarah is a strong advocate for the extra edge diverse organisations have over competitors. “Diversity breeds different attitudes and approaches. You have conversations that can blow a situation wide open. It’s like the saying ‘Great minds think alike’ – that’s just because it feels nice to be agreed with! I think that to make things better, quicker, you need people from different backgrounds. This makes the ideas pool you are drawing from much bigger.”
When asked for her thoughts on diversity ahead of International Women in Engineering Day on 23rd June, Sarah says, “Engineers typically aren’t the kind of people who like to shout about what we do, we do it for the love of it. But when it comes to diversity, milestones like remind us this is something we absolutely must stand up and shout about – its importance can’t be underestimated.”