BRIDGING THE DIVIDE BETWEEN APPLIED SCIENCE TECHNOLOGISTS AND ENGINEERS
Samira Harris was only six years old when she decided to become an engineer when she grew up. She was watching TV with her father in their home in Iran when a woman wearing a hard hat came on screen and walked into an oil refinery.
“Who’s that woman?” Samira asked, “She’s an engineer,” her dad replied. “I want to be an engineer,” said Samira and so, when she grew up, she became an engineer.
Now living in Vancouver with her family raising three children, Samira has a Bachelor of Technology degree in Electrical Engineering from the British Columbia Institute of Technology and is also an Applied Science Technologist.
Following several leading roles as a planner, project manager and consultant for some of the biggest water treatment projects in western Canada, Samira is now working as a senior project manager for a general contractor that is building municipal civil infrastructures.
Along the way Samira has still found time to help promote causes that are important to her such as encouraging more women to choose engineering as a career, sitting on the ASTTBC Board of Examiners and being a “hockey mom” as team manager for the Coquitlam Minor Hockey Association and the Tri-City Female Hockey Association.
As a Professional Engineer (P.Eng.), an Applied Science Technologist (AScT), a Professional Technologist (P.Tech) and a Project Management Professional (PMP), Samira straddles the loose divide between engineers and technologists providing her with a keen insight into the challenges and opportunities both sides face in collaborating on projects.
But it wasn’t always that way.
“When I came to Canada 21 years ago, I didn’t know a word of English,” she says. “So I went to BCIT and studied English for a year non-stop, six days a week from 10 in the morning to 10 at night. Then I enrolled at BCIT for a diploma in instrumentation and technology, that’s where my technology background comes from. The day after my final exam, I started working as a control systems specialist, but a couple of years later I decided I wanted to do something else, so I went back to school to get my bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering.”
That was followed by a certification in project management and a 17-year career that led eventually to senior project management positions in several major infrastructure projects.
“Project management appealed to me because I like getting things done and that’s important when you are working on multi-disciplinary projects from concept all the way to commissioning and start-up. That’s what I do,” says Samira.
Most of her work has been on water and wastewater projects for municipalities where she has managed and coordinated disciplines ranging from her specialties in electrical and instrumentation to mechanical, structural and civil work.
Samira says the difference between an engineer and an applied science technologist is a grey area.
“Technologists have the hands-on experience of a real work situation while engineers are more involved in the design of a project. Having worked as a technologist gives me a good idea, when I’m working as an engineer, of how I need to design a project to make it work in reality, and I really appreciate that,” she says.
While it was unusual 15 or so years ago for an engineer to also be accredited as a technologist, that’s changing as more universities and colleges – like BCIT – are offering programs that combine elements of both qualifications.
And that’s a good thing, says Samira, because the industry is facing a major human resources crunch.
“There has been a growing gap for some time between the older, experienced people who are on the verge of retiring and younger recruits coming in,” she adds. “It’s been very challenging to find the right people and retain them. The COVID-19 pandemic really brought that to the surface, and we’ve even seen workers in mid-career deciding to take a break and reflect on what they’re doing, especially women. As a woman working in this industry, I’ve seen that we’ve borne the brunt of it, working long hours and looking after children, home schooling them.”
Nevertheless, Samira says she finds her career satisfying.
“I take a lot of pride in days that I come home and feel that I’ve done something. Maybe it wasn’t tangible, but it felt that I contributed. It’s the satisfaction of knowing that it wasn’t just another day, but a day when something happened. Sometimes you can’t measure the satisfaction, but often you just come home after a long day and realize that ‘Yeah, it was good. I learned something. I did something. I accomplished something.’ That’s very satisfying.”