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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.

Lilian Wong

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!

Lilian & Vivian

15 Responses to “Ada Lovelace Day – First Female Railway Engineer in NSW (Australia)”

  1. Awesome post, Vivian, about a remarkable woman! Very inspiring to all of us. Thank you for sharing.

  2. Amy Wilson said

    Oh, I thought that picture looked familiar! What an amazing story, Vivian! Lilian rocks!

  3. Noons said

    Thanks for sharing this, Vivian.
    I certainly will smile next time I use the SRA services, knowing what I know now.
    May folks like your mother forever be blessed.

  4. Louise Barnfield said

    What a terrific woman, Vivian!
    No wonder you’re so proud to call her your mum!
    The genes shine through!🙂

  5. Leaming said

    This gave me goosebumps. Thank you for sharing. How wonderful. To be a part of history but to be be your Mom. That is so awesome and inspiring!!

  6. KimThu said

    Vivian, what a privilege for me to meet and know this awesome woman who have shared her gifted daughter with the world today (and with me). You rock!

  7. Dorothy Johnson said

    Vivian, your mother is an inspiration to all women. She dreamed her dreams and made them happen, even when obstacles seemed too difficult to overcome.

    I’m sure one of her dreams was to have wonderful children….she succeeded.

  8. Paul Henville said

    When we catch the the train out to Homebush for the Easter Show I’ll be thinking of your mum.

  9. Vivian Wong said

    Thank you all for your kind words!

    While writing this blog, I finally fully “understood” my mum’s sacrifices and battles over the years.

    There are countless unsung heroines/heroes out there – thank you all for making the world a better place for all of us!

  10. Meg Bear said

    I find myself both humbled by and proud of you mom (sorry to my California ear Mum sounds impolite — odd huh?). I am not at all surprised to hear that you came from greatness, but I am completely blown away that you have such a personal story to share. We all benefit when people like Lillian are recognized. Thanks for the story!

  11. […] own Vivian’s inspiring story of her mom, a remarkable woman who overcame many obstacles to eventually lead an important […]

  12. Vivian –
    Thanks for submitting such an inspiring story. Your Mom sounds amazing.

  13. riris said

    thanks vivian for sharring your story. Your story spirit me, i also signaling engineer with broken English, i work in vialis asia pasifik. Yes, It is hard first time work in this field, from 25 person in my division, 24 is male and 1 female, that is me. But i think that is challenge for me ^.^ and i love my job. I try to do my best, hope that i can be a great women like your mom, your story inspired me . Thank you

  14. Vivian Wong said

    @Meg Bear @Riris @Dan McCarthy- thanks for your kind comments!

    @Riris – Congratulations for doing something you love! I will be thinking of you next time I see railway signals. We wish you much success in your career!

  15. lisa hartley said

    Such an inspiring story, thanks Vivian for sharing and I hope to meet your mom soon. Lisa

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