Katherine Horne, 26, is a project engineer with Robert Benaim & Associates who has recently returned to 'the desk job' after a year on site in Bangladesh.
Route to job
I graduated from Cambridge University in 1998 with a MEng in engineering having spent a year out with Scott Wilson Kirkpatrick in Nepal on a road rehabilitation project. I joined Benaim because I wanted to be involved in construction-related design. I have analysed and designed steel and concrete bridges, and designed permanent and temporary works for a variety of civil engineering projects. I enjoyed a year in Bangladesh as a site engineer seconded to Nuttall on the Bhairab Bridge project for which Benaim designed the main bridge.
I wanted to get on site to find out what a lump of concrete really looked like compared to the drawings I'd made for the previous two years, and to appreciate the logistics of the building process - the physical scale of things.
Within weeks of starting at Benaim, I was introduced to what it meant to design structures that got built, when told to get on with the design of the deck of the Sungai Dinding Bridge, as the foundations were already being constructed!
As a women I was apprehensive about going to a Muslim country. I wasn't sure how lonely I'd get, leaving my husband behind and living in a contractor's camp.
When I arrived on site, it felt like I had gained several big brothers overnight, all keen to explain how or why things were done in a particular way - just what I needed as a beginner. There were three other women on site, not bad out of more than 1,700 people!
I soon realised the differences of being in a country with limited equipment and expensive materials but plentiful unskilled labour. No need for a crane to lift reinforcement when a group of men can do the job.
We worked from 7am to 6pm with Fridays off but each day's challenges and rewards made it worthwhile. We made the most of our social life with pub quizzes and badminton leagues among the list of events. I had a fantastic time and learnt far more than I could have ever imagined.
In Bangladesh, I had an Indonesian supervisor with a team of local carpenters, masons, and steel fixers. They were sceptical about having 'Mr' Katherine as their boss but after solving the construction problems, a few heavy rainstorms, some sweltering days and late night concrete pours, they decided that I was an engineer who could do the job and that my gender was irrelevant. As an engineer, it is your competence that counts, not your race, colour, creed or gender.