I had the privilege of interviewing Yetunde Dada, a mechanical engineer and IT architect, who also happens to by the Tech Whizz and Innovation Consultant at EWB-SA… she sounds like a magician! Yetunde is intelligent, thoughtful and community-oriented. She believes that life can only be considered a success, if it is a life of purpose and empowering others. She is creative and design (particularly technical design) is coded in her heart. Yetunde displayed all these attributes during her interview, in which she covers her engineering journey, duties at EWB-SA, approach to her career and community, being a woman in the engineering space and also imparts some sagely advise to aspiring engineers.
1) Describe your engineering journey.
My engineering journey starts when I was in grade 11. At that time, I was part of the prestigious Space and Aviation Camp hosted by the University of Pretoria and MIT. One of our activities took us to Aerosud, a company that designed and manufactured parts for Airbus. We were taken on a tour by one of the design engineers and I recall him saying, “As a design engineer you get to question why things are made the way they are. Why do planes have two wings and not four? And can we build a plane with ten wings?” This encounter threw me into a world of considering engineering as a possible career because design was at the heart of it. I went on to study Mechanical Engineering at the University of Pretoria and went on to complete an Honours degree in Technology Management while working in the Aeronautics Service Centre at the CSIR. Since then I have diversified a lot but I still keep problem-solving skills and ability to grasp new concepts quickly at the heart of everything I do.
2) What prompted you to volunteer at EWB-SA?
I have been aware of Engineers Without Borders South Africa for quite a while. I remember emailing Wiebke Toussiant when I was still completing my undergraduate degree because I wanted to start a University of Pretoria chapter. I ran out of time to get one up and running but I’ve followed the progress of EWB-SA since then. I have actually run into Wiebke at a few events, like the Brightest Young Minds Summit and the WomEng networking events, and I’ve wanted to work with her because I knew I would learn from her leadership and management styles. When she put up an announcement that she was looking for a General Manager, I hopped on board.
3) Describe what your work at EWB-SA entails.
My role within EWB-SA is different from the one I applied for but it’s even cooler because I get to work on projects within EWB-SA. I work on the tech systems like the website and project portal and I’m helping set up frameworks for really cool things like the Technical Advisory Board (TAB) which is going to take our chapter projects to the next level. I’ve also been involved with setting up the Summit for this year.
4) What sparked your interest in community development?
I think I’ve always been like this. My mom often wondered if it was to my detriment that I spent so much time focusing on community projects. However, I believe that we have to do so much more to help others around us. The quote underneath my matric yearbook photo is, “If you do not make a difference you are obsolete.” I want to live a life of purpose. My life should help many change their circumstances.
5) How have you been able to utilize your skills as an engineer to assist/ empower communities?
I assist projects in a design capacity. This consists of facilitating brainstorming sessions and extends to modelling and simulation work on physical products. Some of the projects that I’ve been able to help in this way include designs for a reversible vending machine and a solar dehydrator for food preservation in rural communities.
6) What do you feel you have acquired/gained (both for your professional and personal development) through your association with EWB-SA?
My coding has improved! A lot! That’s been one of my really cool new skills sets. I still have a lot to learn but I’m going to be quite pro when some of the systems that we have in mind are up and running. I’ve also learnt how to manage client specifications in a better manner. This is with regards to collaborative design.
7) How do you maintain a balance between the work at your day job and your work at EWB-SA?
For some time my day job was EWB-SA, but now I have another day job. I’m in a lucky space because I have to develop similar IT architecture for my new job and that means that I get to work on my projects concurrently. Otherwise, I work in the evenings and on weekends. I have a real passion for pushing my work and I believe that it is important. I also use Trello, a to-do list application, to stay up-to-date with all my activities.
8) How would you describe your experience as a woman in the engineering space?
It’s an interesting space to be in because there are still so few women in engineering. It’s a blessing because there are so many opportunities available but it’s also a curse, I do believe that it puts pressure on us to be excellent because we stick out wherever we go. I have enjoyed my journey and the challenges so far because I’ve been able to mold my career into something that I love. I think all people, not just women in engineering, should try and get their passion, job and impact for people to intersect in order to find happiness. Engineering really opens many doors to do that.
9) Are there any interesting projects that you are working on currently or in the near future?
You need to stay tuned for the cool stuff that is going to come out of EWB-SA. In a personal capacity I will be launching CRNCH officially. It’s a social project incubator and that’s going to give people an opportunity to pitch and get help for social projects that they have in mind. Ultimately, I want to drive sustainable change and CRNCH is going to help me do that.
10) What advise would you give to aspiring engineers?
It’s so easy for engineers to butt into conversations with, “As an engineer…”, before they give comment on something. Rather have people know how incredible you are without the title and let them guess what you do. I'll also say that you should never stop learning. This means that it's okay to be acknowledge that you don’t know everything. Drop the arrogance that's typically associated with being an engineer and open your eyes to possibilities everywhere.
Yetunde Dada interviewed by Dhruti Dheda
Photo Credits: Simphiwe Mkhwanazi