September 16, 2020
8 min read

Making tomorrow different with Amber O’Connor

A day in the life of one of our engineers, Amber O’Connor. As the manager of a global team of gas turbine experts, she’s proof that the engineering stereotype is outdated.

At the age of 26, Amber works as an Equipment Health Monitoring & Performance Engineer and Remote Diagnostic Services Program Manager. Not only is she able to interpret a gas turbine’s 3,500 data measurements per minute, she leads a team to ensure they’re running faultlessly in every region of the world. And if that wasn’t impressive enough, she’s a mother of two and a champion of diversity.

We’re here to see Amber on a typical day, although there’s really no such thing as a typical day for her. "There's always loads of things going on, and I do a lot of juggling. But the challenge really excites me," she says. We follow her as she balances her global projects with her ambassadorial work - as well as parental duties.

Being an engineer is a chance to make an impact. I develop a solution and put it into the world, knowing that it'll make a difference.


Amber O’Connor

Be the change you want to see in the world

After preparing breakfast for her two young children, Amber starts her day with some overnight oats. It's a small detail that reveals her mindset of preparing for what’s next. "It helps to give me the confidence to tackle what's to come tomorrow,” she says. As she looks through her emails it's clear that flexibility is key. “Usually I work three days in the office and two days from home.” It’s a family-friendly flexibility that enables her to look after her children in the afternoons and talk to her team in Canada and the U.S. in the evenings.

The challenges of balancing work with motherhood is something she’s been tackling long before the pandemic. Two and a half years ago she started "Press for Progress,” a committee that drives inclusivity at the Siemens Energy site where she works in Warwick, England. "I'm really passionate about making sure that people are aware of what's offered to them." So far, it’s helped solve issues from maternity and paternity leave to training against gender biases. 

Making a global difference, remotely

With her children at daycare, Amber video calls her team. As a global team, remote working tools such as video conferencing are essential. "You can tell how someone’s doing by their body language. It gives you the opportunity to check in on their wellbeing too," explains Amber.

Her team has been even more vital during the pandemic. They’re responsible for the remote monitoring of industrial gas turbines across the globe, working with data to detect even the slightest of deviations. “Since we manufacture the turbines at our company, we know them inside out. We understand them and that’s why we are able to offer a high level of service.” Since the pandemic, they’ve developed the ability for customers to utilise live cameras directly linked into the engineering teams for remote support. This has enabled their customers to have less people onsite, something that helps to keep employees – theirs and ours – safe.

Communication is key to move in the right direction

With over 180 units worldwide in her area of responsibility, regularly updating her customers is a huge task. In the past, it’s taken her to places from the U.S. and Canada to Qatar and across Europe. Today, she checks in with her customers remotely. These calls are essential to meet their changing needs as well as helping them develop new services, from engineering techniques to greater automation.

With such diverse clients that have a wide range of needs, she often has to adapt her approach to truly understand what they want from her. It’s a skill that’s served her well at home too. “In conversations with my kids, sometimes what they say at first isn't really what they mean. I use those learnings to break it down and understand what they actually want. Or with my husband, when we need to have difficult conversations, like finances and boring things. Harnessing my communication skills for stuff like that has been really helpful.”

One growing challenge is cyber security: “It’s an issue of great concern,” warns Amber. “Our systems produce the energy that drive the world. If a hacker were to succeed in penetrating them, the consequences would be severe.” That’s why her team is constantly developing new ways to be ahead of the curve.

Engineering is for everyone

Amber also works on another project close to her heart, supporting women entering Science, Technology, Engineering and Math fields (also referred to as STEM). She believes education is the way to make them more inclusive. Amber clearly says, "Unless you see people who look like you in those jobs, you won't think they're achievable." Although she points out it's not specifically about recruiting women, but rather to "recruit people who are best for the job and that shouldn’t matter what gender you are.”

As a company, we’ve set the goal having 25% of upper management positions filled by females by 2025. Amber knows that addressing the balance means working from all sides. That’s why her educational work focuses on changing the perception of engineering. "I get my nails done. I work at a desk. That doesn't make me less of an engineer. It just means I'm a different kind of engineer." She hopes the growing interest in green energy will bring more diversity to the industry. “I’d love to walk into a company like Siemens Energy and see that everyone is completely different from one another. That’s going to really drive our future forward.”

Engineering life skills

In her lunch break, Amber turns to her other passion, modifying cars. Her love of cars and how they work helped her choose engineering as a profession. She has five cars of her own, including her wedding car that took her five years to get into the perfect condition. Now, alongside her husband who’s a mechanic, she takes on custom projects, putting her expertise into a very different kind of engine.

Connecting back to base

After lunch, she goes into the office. For Amber, not seeing her colleagues is the biggest downside to remote working. “You need those social bonds to be happy at work. When you’re happy it makes the work better too," she explains. These rare moments are important for maintaining connections as well as sharing valuable skills. With her current project underway, time at the office is vital for coordinating and planning with her colleagues.

I'm surrounded by people who motivate me, who lift me up and that's so important. 

Amber O’Connor

Championing the next generation of change agents

As her children return from daycare, Amber’s evening routine commences - playing LEGO with her three-year-old daughter. She often wonders whether her two young children will follow in her footsteps. "I see elements of engineering in them all the time. They’re curious, they’re creative. I love watching those qualities and their thought process flourish." With so many different roles within the field, there's such a wide range of skills needed. “I'm proof that you can shape your own career within the industry. It’s an industry that nurtures you.”

“It's an exciting time to be part of energy.”

Amber’s work helps her customers reduce emissions by ensuring everything runs as efficiently as possible. She’s a firm believer that making changes for a better tomorrow needs to start right now. “We need to protect the world for future generations.” But she’s optimistic about the world in which her children will grow up. “I'm excited to be involved in the future we’re heading towards.” With rapid developments in sustainable fuels such as solar, wind and hydrogen, she’s sure we’re going to get there and have the solutions to fully replace fossil fuels. She’s sure we can make tomorrow different, today.

Our world is fragile, and we need to adapt in order to protect it. It's essential that everyone changes.

Amber O’Connor

September, 2020

Combined picture and video credits: Siemens Energy