Ada Lovelace Day – First Female Railway Engineer in NSW (Australia)
Posted by Vivian Wong on March 28, 2009
“Ada Lovelace Day is an international day of blogging to draw attention to women excelling in technology. Women’s contributions often go unacknowledged, their innovations seldom mentioned, their faces rarely recognised. We want you to tell the world about these unsung heroines. Whatever she does, whether she is a sysadmin or a tech entrepreneur, a programmer or a designer, developing software or hardware, a tech journalist or a tech consultant, we want to celebrate her achievements.”
Thanks to Thomas Otter for reminding me (through his blog on Bertha Benz) that Ada Lovelace day was due this week! I am three days late for this international day of blogging – but perhaps I am just 362 days early for the next one!
In any case, I’ve decided to pay tribute to the female engineer who led the engineering design for the railway track design from Sydney airport to the Olympic Park (Homebush) in preparation for 2000 Olympics in Sydney.
This is someone who was driven by her passion and love in the field of Railway Engineering and was chosen to lead the design of such an important project that had to succeed.
Originally from China, where she taught Civil Engineering at universities for over 16 years, Lilian migrated to Australia with her two children in the early 80s. Since her credentials and experiences were not recognized in Australia, she went back to school to receive her Engineering degree (while working two jobs to support her children). She first joined SRA (State Railway Authority in New South Wales – now renamed to RailCorp) as a trainee in 1985 and was then promoted to assistant Engineer. In those days, being an Asian female in late forties, with broken English, was not easy in her male dominated, technical world. She once joked that one good thing about being the only female at work is that the ladies bathroom is never crowded.
At one time, the entire department was sent to computer (CAD) training, except her.
Racial, gender and age discrimination?
Perhaps. But she was never daunted by it. She taught herself how to use CAD, and became a CAD expert in her department. She later took the initiative to create a master template in Excel to automate complex computations (using Macros) to minimize human calculation errors for her division. Through her positive attitude, desire to excel, meticulous work, dedication and generosity to others, she often helped (and taught) her colleagues in solving complex design issues and quickly became her division’s secret weapon in auditing designs and rescuing projects.
A few years later, now in her fifties, Lilian competed with more than twenty male colleagues (many were ten to twenty years junior) for a Professional Engineer position and became the first female track design engineer at SRA in 1993.
Her reward for successfully leading the design for 2000 Olympics project? A free ride on the train.
Lilian has recently retired and picked up Art painting. True to her form, she puts love and passion in everything she does and now has an impressive portfolio. Her name is Lilian Wong, and you guessed it, she’s my mother. I am lucky to have her as the best role model and the best mum one could ask for.
Next time you take the train in Sydney, I hope the ride will bring a smile to your face – knowing your route was designed with love and safety in mind!