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Celebrating women
in engineering

Katy Pilkington
"I think the fact that I had such positive role models in my life made it possible for me to believe, at eight years old, that I could do anything I wanted."
Image of Katy PilkingtonMy current role is based in the Typhoon Weapon System Engineering team, where I work as a Requirements Management Engineer. I work collaboratively with other engineers to determine the platform level requirements for Typhoon capability improvements which fulfil the customer’s requirements and will form the basis of the contract. I enjoy gaining the product knowledge and understanding the customer’s way of thinking, as well as collaborating with others to get to a solution.
The first time I realised I wanted to be an engineer was when I was about eight years old, and my Dad, who also worked for BAE Systems, brought the whole family to a family’s day at Warton. I remember walking around Concorde, and sitting in a Tornado (I still have the picture), but the highlight was sitting outside 302 building on the hot concrete with my hands over my ears, squinting through the dust kicked up by the Harrier in front of me. There was nothing like it.
From that point, I just knew. 
Science and Maths came pretty naturally to me, and I did double Maths, Physics and Chemistry A-levels. I then went on to study for an Engineering degree at Loughborough. My family have always been very supportive of my choices: both my parents worked in highly technical fields for the majority of their adult lives, so it’s hardly surprising that I, my brother and my sister all made our ways into technical careers. I think the fact that I had such positive role models in my life made it possible for me to believe, at eight years old, that I could do anything I wanted. In fact, the idea that there could have been limits was an alien concept to me.
I graduated with a degree in Manufacturing Engineering and Management in 2004. I worked as a Graduate Mechanical Engineer for Babcock Marine, then as a Maintenance Management Engineer at Total UK before I joined BAE Systems in 2006 as a Manufacturing Engineer on F-35. There was something satisfying about being able to say that I had a Manufacturing Engineering degree and I was working as a Manufacturing Engineer on a cutting-edge product.  I joined the Typhoon Configuration Management team in 2008, before moving to Rolls-Royce Civil Nuclear in 2012 as a Configuration Management Engineer. This was a real test of my knowledge, and it took me some time to create the Rolls-Royce to BAE Systems technical dictionary, but I eventually got there. I knew, however, that BAE Systems was my home, so when the opportunity to come back arose, I took it. 
My biggest challenge has been the fact that I am actually autistic and I didn’t realise.  I was diagnosed a couple of years ago, and then a lot of aspects of my difficulties fell into place. I was at school in the 1980s and 90s when autism was really only recognised as an issue for boys. As a very academic and fairly quiet child, any problems I was having were very effectively masked and I went undiagnosed for 36 years. I really struggled with dealing with life at university and ended up switching courses, which I found quite upsetting at the time and even to this day, given that I had been very academic before.  Engineering itself is very logical, however I find interactions with people quite difficult and exhausting, and this is apparently a very typical characteristic in women/girls with autism.  I don’t think being autistic should be a problem in Engineering, as it is just different wiring in the brain – after all, to get the best solutions, diversity of thought is essential.