We all know the importance of hiring people with the right ‘fit’ for the role. Of course, ‘fit’ means much more than just ticking skills and experience boxes; it’s about your personality, qualities and perspectives – it’s about who you are. And while some employers still define ‘fit’ as ‘the same as we have now’, progressive companies know better. Just ask BAE Systems and their Software Engineer, Vanessa Walsh.
From the start of our conversation, Vanessa is polite and articulate but it’s evident that she’s not keen on the limelight… or interviews. A naturally cautious person, you sense she’d much rather get back to the quiet of her office and the precision of her projects. She’s currently working on high integrity aerospace software in the defence sector, and it’s clear that her very nature is well-suited to her role.
“I’m working on projects where it has to work right every time; it can’t be rushed. I’m a thorough person and I’m very focused. I like process and patient methods so it suits me.”
A career in integrity… and adventure
BAE Systems is Vanessa’s fourth employer in a software career spanning almost 20 years. She started out in computer games but wasn’t enamoured with the working conditions, instability and pay. She spent the next decade, first in biotech, and then in the rail freight industry. She enjoyed her time in rail but opportunities were limited in the company she worked for, so in 2018, she sought a move.
“I wanted a job where I could be stimulated with lots of learning opportunities in my own profession. I also wanted to move back to a more R&D type position and this led me to BAE Systems. My experience turned out to be quite transferrable to the defence industry and the type of projects we do here.”
While there’s clear sensitivity surrounding the detail of Vanessa’s work, it’s fair to say that the scale and complexity are significant, and the stakes are high. We ask her why she chose this path:
“More conventional software work just doesn't interest me so much. Software needs to do something more real and fun, so I’ve always looked for work in more unique fields. There’s a rigorous side to high integrity software, of course. It’s very process-driven, so if you need constant new product cycles, it might not be for you. But we’re crafting something important for the customer, for a unique purpose.”
It’s intriguing. In this careful, quiet achiever, there’s a glimmer of something very different – an adventurousness and an appetite for impact. This is perfectly illustrated when she reveals an unexpected passion for vintage aeroplanes… and fighter jets.
“I just love them; it’s the noise of their engines! Even when I worked in rail, I loved that I got to go track-side on projects. To hear and feel the ground shudder as a freight train guided by your software roars past … it makes your work so much more real.”
Vanessa’s other hobbies reveal yet more contrast. Perhaps true to form, she enjoys Lego, computer games and puzzles. However, she also has a love of oil painting, printmaking and other visual arts.
“I like applying process and a method to create something. My housemate and best friend recently said to me, ‘You craft and create, and bring order to chaos’. I’d never really thought of it like that.”
Being yourself, at BAE Systems
From the stories she tells, to the way she tells them, it’s clear that Vanessa is a professional and a person unlike many others. She’s not fazed by the difference though. She clearly feels no need to assimilate to any norms, in a company which is pushing hard on diversity and inclusion (D&I).
“I’m not typical. I wouldn’t deny that I’m eccentric even but I wouldn’t want to be ‘normal’. I’m really enjoying my time at BAE Systems. I have found my supervisor and project leads supportive of my own aspirations and development, and I like that the company is making a concerted effort to improve D&I.”
Examples of BAE Systems’ efforts include their parental leave benefits, and a range of other gender diversity and cultural initiatives. This clearly matters to Vanessa, and she recommends that other jobseekers research WORK180’s endorsed employers, as she did when researching her options.
“I don’t have kids nor do I plan to, as much as I love being an Auntie. But I hate the idea of potential discrimination against women or any differentiating attribute. For me, it should make no difference to your ability to do a job, or the opportunities you get.”
What matters to me, at BAE Systems
We ask Vanessa what she loves most about working in her role at BAE Systems. Here’s her top five:
- Unique, interesting projects that you just won't get in more conventional roles.
- Some very smart, skilled people to learn from.
- Working on things that are valued and serve useful purpose for the customer.
- Market rate pay – they salary matched to get me.
- The stability and long-term nature of the projects we work on.
Finally, we ask Vanessa for any highlights so far. She says it’s early days but that she loved participating in a recent STEM initiative, in an enticing environment:
“I got to go to the Avalon Airshow and teach kids how to program Lego robots in a STEM careers tent. They were all very attentive and I really enjoyed it. Oh and I got to see some awesome and very noisy planes while I was there!”
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