Expert Interview with Nataly Fernandez

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There’s a lot more to being an engineer than simply making calculations and designing infrastructure. Tetra Tech Proteus Mechanical Engineer, Nataly Fernández shares her dynamic career journey from Process Engineer to Project Manager to Senior Lead Mechanical Engineer, demonstrating how career pivots have been key in building a successful career.

How long have you been working at Tetra Tech?

I joined the team in April 2021 as a Mechanical Engineer.

What got you interested in the field of Engineering?

I grew up in a mining town in my home country of Venezuela, where we were surrounded by many different mines – iron ore, bauxite, gold. At school we were always going on field trips to see mines and learn more about the industry. So it wasn’t difficult for me to choose what I wanted to be when I grew up. I said “look, I’m going to be an engineer,” and that’s what I became.

How did you commence your career?

I received my degree at the end of 1999 from Universidad de los Andes in Venezuela and started my career as a Process Engineer. It was here that I learnt very early on in my career that engineers really can solve the most complex of challenges.

I was fortunate to get a job at a company that produced silicon carbide right after I graduated. There, I noticed we had all these waste stockpiles that still contained silicon carbide just lying around for years, and the curious engineer in me wondered if could do anything with the silicon carbide in it.

I had read about work done in other countries, and that helped me to understand ways to improve the extraction process, save energy and also raw materials.

I was fortunate enough to be managing a highly experienced team as well, so once we implemented the new process, we ended up increasing production by around 24% in just over a month.

While the secondary material was only around 92% quality, there was a market for it in Argentina, so the company managed to make a generate a whole new revenue stream from this biproduct that we had lying around.

It really goes to show that by working together, using science and thinking about solutions to address problems, engineers really can make a positive difference on so many levels.

When did you pivot your career from Process to Mechanical Engineer and Project Manager?

Moving to Australia, my first job was on a refinery looking after a specific process, which was very exciting, but shortly after I started the project was put on hold. I have always had a strong self believe of “I can do anything!”, so not wanting to wait I moved into an availability for project management. I received my professional training certification and became a Project Manager which I did for about 4 years.

Then during the Global Financial Crisis, there were very few opportunities for project managers, so I thought again it’s time to see what else I can do. Thankfully there were opportunities in the mechanical engineering group, which wasn’t really a difficult adjustment because there are a lot of things in common between process and mechanical engineering.

Change is never easy, but I am proud to achieve the goals I set for myself.  Becoming the lead mechanical engineer for two refineries at my last position was a big challenge and success for me, and it is these aspects of work which I really enjoy.

Field versus Office, where do you prefer to work?

This is the first ‘office-based job’ I have ever had as a consultant! Prior to this I have always been on a plant surrounded by many processes. Now that I am based in Tetra Tech’s Perth office this environment has given me another way to see how things work and allows me to bring all aspects I have learnt from my career together across the design process.

“It is great to work with so many friendly and talented people at Tetra Tech. There’s a good culture here, and it makes collaborating on projects much easier.”

As an engineer, what is your approach to maintaining positive client engagement?

I am fortunate during my career to have worked both as the client and now as the consultant.  My experiences have given me a lot of understanding and empathy for the clients we work with- the pressures and challenges they face- because I’ve been in their position before. So, whenever I am working with clients and their projects, I always try to look at the situation from various viewpoints to really come up with the best solution.

Connect with Nataly via email Nataly.Ferná

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