Following on from the first in our short series of “I’m an Engineer” blogs, featuring female engineers working at Ground & Water and their experiences, motivations and challenges; this week Operations Manager, Alice Tettmar shares her story.
From Technician to Operations Manager
When I was asked to write this blog about my journey at Ground & Water, I had absolutely no idea where to start… It’s been a while since I’ve sat back and reflected on my journey. I have learnt so much and love being part of an industry that is an interesting mix of project management, engineering, and construction. That said, looking back to my time studying a mixed degree of geology and geography, I – probably like many of my female peers on the course – had chosen a course I was genuinely fascinated in, but hadn’t considered it much beyond that. I felt my options were limited to either Oil and Gas or engineering on large scale projects like tunnelling or major infrastructure, which I didn’t really see myself doing.
So, when I heard more about Ground & Water and the geotechnical and geoenvironmental consulting industry in general, it sounded like it could be a good fit.
10 months on the tools
Fresh out of university, and having decided to not pursue a job in fashion marketing (which in hindsight, was a good call as I didn’t really know anything about marketing, or fashion, if I’m being honest), I embarked on a stint travelling over the summer of 2016. On my return I joined Ground & Water as graduate engineer and found myself out on construction sites for the first time, supervising drilling rigs and was fully immersed in the life of a technician, driving in and out of London in a van like it was no problem. I loved it. The hours were long, and I learned I had very specific requirements on which service station I wanted to stop at each day (shout out to Cobham and Beaconsfield services). Don’t get me wrong, being a young woman in this role was difficult. I had to develop a pretty thick skin and it was uncomfortable at times. The construction world can be brutal! Thankfully I had strong support from the team at Ground & Water and navigated my way through it with their help.
About 10 months in, I was promoted to a fully-fledged engineer and I took on my own projects. This meant managing them from start to finish and learning the ins and outs of geotechnical analysis and contamination assessments. This was a steep learning curve, as I learnt to communicate with clients in a consultancy capacity and jumped into the world of reporting (which was VERY different to what I had experienced at uni). I spent around three years in this role, balancing office life with the odd day working on site (which I had started to really miss!) and became fully engrossed in the world of consulting. I loved being able to call myself an engineer and I was also given the responsibility of mentoring one of the newer graduates, Tash, which I loved. Being a small part of her journey and helping her to navigate the world of engineering and watching her grow as a person has been a genuine privilege.
Principal Engineer or principal fraud?
I was then given the opportunity to apply for an internal role up to Principal Engineer and was very excited when I was told I had got it. I think my response, was “REALLY?!”. The title and role came with a level of responsibility and pressure I had not experienced before. I was taking more of a lead on the sales and commercial elements of the business, started managing a team and was part of overall company strategy conversations. I felt completely out of my depth and wobbled my way through the first six months, with what I now recognise as crippling imposter syndrome. I didn’t feel like I was experienced enough and when asked about how I got to the level I did at my age, my automatic response was “Oh, right place, right time!!” rather than acknowledging I had worked hard to be where I was.
Gaining in confidence
If I thought the engineering learning curve was steep, in hindsight it was nothing compared to what I have experienced over the last three years. My role as Principal Engineer recently moved to Operations Manager and I have taken a firmer lead with sales, account management, running the site operations and the technician/drilling team, as well as working with HR and the leadership team to develop and manage a team of engineers. I often miss the engineering element of my role and being out on site – there is a definite comfort in it for me and probably always will be. But I like the variety of my role now and I can take a higher level, consultancy approach to engineering, where I advise clients on how to get the best out of their Site Investigation scopes and the ground; to get the best for their design.
Inspiring the next generation
I wish I had known more about the industry when I was at university, which is why I thoroughly enjoy going back to Plymouth Uni to represent Ground & Water at their careers fair to discuss this with budding earth science students. I also recently did a talk with A-Level Geography students about potential routes they could take, which I found very rewarding. I look forward to my involvement as a STEM ambassador at more of these events and attending more networking events aimed at women in the construction or engineering industry. I never set out to be an inspiration and I find it hard to consider that maybe I am one. I’m just someone who pursued a job they loved and was good at.
However, if sharing my story does inspire someone to consider a career, they weren’t sure existed or one they felt women couldn’t succeed in… I hope I do inspire them to go for it.