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Celebrating women
in engineering

Samantha Holliday
"There really is no limit to where you can go if you’re determined enough."
Image of Samantha HollidayI joined BAE Systems as an Engineering Apprentice in 2001 and have had a variety of experiences in the past 17 years leading to my current role of Weapon System Capability UK/NETMA Integration Manager.
 
I grew up surrounded by aircraft with both my parents serving in the RAF. My younger years were spent living in RAF Kinloss and RAF Cottesmore before my father joined British Aerospace and we moved to the North-West. My main influence though was my physics teacher at high school, even after 19 years I still remember her and have her to thank for all she did to encourage me with my interest in sciences. She was a brilliant teacher who, through her encouragement, was the reason I went on to complete A-levels in maths and physics before deciding to pursue a hands on approach to my education and successfully apply for an apprenticeship.
 
Fast forward a couple of years and having completed my apprenticeship in 2005 I was a fresh faced Flight Test Engineer. This gave me a varied introduction in to the real world of engineering where I supported test pilots and spent time in the hangars getting familiar with the aircraft. I was fortunate to have the support to continue my education studying part-time to complete a BEng Manufacturing Engineering Systems degree. I had my first business trip to Moron, Spain, which was exciting and daunting at the same time. I was representing the company in a place I had never been before so not only did I need to understand and know what I was doing, I also had to find my way to the airport, hotels and into the base as well, all without speaking the language.
 
Following this I moved into Typhoon Avionics and worked my way through the systems engineering lifecycle, starting at Systems Integration testing where I was responsible for the testing of the Navigation system and then progressed into the Armament Control System. This gave me the opportunity to gain more experience of travel across Europe and working with suppliers from UK, Italy and the US. This also allowed me to experience a secondment into the RAF at Coningsby which provided me with first-hand visibility of how the customer uses our products. 
 
Having briefly experienced working alongside our customer, I decided I wanted to experience more customer facing role whilst remaining engineering so I moved into a role within Typhoon Avionics Cockpit Group where I was the lead engineer for the introduction of Storm Shadow into the P2E design for the Royal Saudi Air Force. This gave me a taste for pre-concept work, encouraging a move into Typhoon Avionics New Business team where I was a key member of the winning bid team for the P3E contract. During this time I was actively involved in the UAE, Kuwait, Malaysia and Qatar campaigns. Within these roles I continued to experience and enjoyed travel across the UK, Europe and America.  These roles all led me into a position where I was experienced, capable and recognised as being able to progress into an executive position within the New Business team.
 
Having progressed well through my career I then had a very different life experience - motherhood. I thoroughly enjoyed my maternity leave, not so much the sleep deprivation, which I’m sure is some kind of torture and the general mess that comes out of a tiny human being (don’t ask). But being responsible for someone so helpless and cute really did bring a different perspective into my work/life balance.  
 
When I was ready to return to work there was an opportunity for a new role, which I accepted. This was completely different from my previous experiences which was both daunting and hard but equally exciting. I remained within Avionics, leading the Product Clearance and Safety team, which is made up of over 20 engineers from across the four partner nations (UK, Germany, Italy and Spain).  I continued to enjoy travel across Europe and the UK, as I represented industry within the NETMA Avionics Qualification and Certification Sub-Group. Travel now involves a lot more planning in terms of childcare as my husband also often travels for work, I still very much enjoy it and luckily my little one loves staying with his Granny and Gramps. 
 
Looking back the best advice I have had, other than what order to write down people’s names in a meeting (clockwise around the table) and how to pull off a post-it note (pull towards you not up), is that communication is key. Build up a broad network of friends, colleagues, role models and leaders, and speak to people rather than emailing as this normally has a more positive response. Remember, it’s good to talk.
 
My current role of UK/NETMA Integration Manager, which I started just before Easter, is still fairly fresh and exciting. I am gaining a lot of experience across the business and am enjoying the new challenges. I want to continue building on and developing my career further. I will continue to travel, hopefully having the opportunity to represent BAE Systems in other countries whilst my child is young enough to move around the world. Then hopefully you will one day see my name on the list of Directors. There really is no limit to where you can go if you’re determined enough.