But Seriously, What is Engineering?

From a mechanical engineering student to entrepreneur

August 27, 2020 EAIT Marketing Season 1 Episode 1
But Seriously, What is Engineering?
From a mechanical engineering student to entrepreneur
But Seriously, What is Engineering?
From a mechanical engineering student to entrepreneur
Aug 27, 2020 Season 1 Episode 1
EAIT Marketing

We're kicking off But Seriously, What is Engineering? with the incredible journey of mechanical engineering student Isabelle Fleming.

Isabelle has followed her passion for problem solving and people, making the most of every opportunity and stepping out of her comfort zone to grow and diversify her skill set. From joining the founding team of UQ Space to becoming co-founder and CEO of Koi Pay Australia, her diverse experiences in such a short time have opened up endless possibilities for her future endeavours.

Prepare to be inspired by rockets, travel and entrepreneurship – who knows where engineering could lead you!

To learn more about studying engineering visit UQ's Future Students website.

Show Notes Transcript

We're kicking off But Seriously, What is Engineering? with the incredible journey of mechanical engineering student Isabelle Fleming.

Isabelle has followed her passion for problem solving and people, making the most of every opportunity and stepping out of her comfort zone to grow and diversify her skill set. From joining the founding team of UQ Space to becoming co-founder and CEO of Koi Pay Australia, her diverse experiences in such a short time have opened up endless possibilities for her future endeavours.

Prepare to be inspired by rockets, travel and entrepreneurship – who knows where engineering could lead you!

To learn more about studying engineering visit UQ's Future Students website.

1.  [Music plays]

2.   Kartikee
Hello, and welcome. You’re listening to But Seriously What is Engineering, with me, Kartikee Gupta. This is a 12 part series from The University of Queensland, where we talk to engineers who are working in a variety of industries, because every industry needs an engineer. The idea is to explore every corner of engineering by listening to inspirational stories through the profession. I hope you enjoy this series.

Today, is our very first episode and we talk to Isabelle Fleming. Having been involved in many ventures and two successful start-ups, Isabelle, who is a fourth year mechanical engineering student, believes that spending time developing your passion is the key to success. Welcome to you, Isabelle.

3.  Isabelle
Thank you. Happy to be here.

4. Kartikee
Isabelle, I’m keen to hear from you how and why you chose to study a mechanical engineering degree?

5. Isabelle
A bit of an interesting ride for me. So, I came in and did a flexible first year, so I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with my engineering degree, but I had a good idea that it was going to be somewhat right for me. And, I went through and I took a bunch of different courses, testing out the water so to speak, and there was one course that we rocked up to a practical exercise and we took apart a lawn mower engine and put it back together, and there was just a moment in that where I realised exactly how functional this piece of equipment was, how cool it was, and that I actually had the capability to take it apart and put it back together.  And it was that sort of fascination with moving things and things that we have in our everyday lives that we kind of take completely for granted are actually someone’s work, and I wanted an opportunity to influence that area.

6. Kartikee
And Isabelle, what does a mechanical engineering degree entail?

7. Isabelle
Mechanical engineering is all about the study of dynamics, so things that are moving, things that have parts, we need to make sure that when we put them out into the world not only do they solve a problem for someone, but that they function really well. So, anything from your ceiling fan, to the wheels on the bus that you got here this morning, each of those parts needs to be really rigorously tested and produced so that we can, you know, go about our day-to-day life.

8.  Kartikee
In a conversation earlier, you mentioned that people are your biggest assets and building relationships with passionate people is the key to your success. Tell us about how you use that in your venture with UQ Space.

9. Isabelle
One of the most important things that I’ve learnt in my time as an Engineering Student, and just as a person in general I guess, is that if people don’t believe in what you’re doing, and people don’t believe in you and your drive and your passions, they won’t follow you. So we generated, you know, this group of students who had so much passion just to build things, to change what they were doing in their everyday life, we wanted to build rockets. Like that’s crazy. But there’s no way that you can sort of just turn up and say, here’s the rocket, I built it. People aren’t going to buy into that. They don’t want to support that.

So people are definitely the biggest asset that you can have. I mean it takes, it takes a village, you know, to do something like we did with UQ space. So we started out as just a bunch of kids in a room who wanted to build rockets, and that’s not really something that happens often, and very often it’s, you know if you even get past the first few stages it’s not successful. So we had to surround ourselves with people who were not only really, really smart and great engineers, but who also were highly passionate, believed in exactly what we were doing, and then you know recognising where we were weaker in some areas. So we didn’t have the marketing smarts to bring to the table when we needed new students, so we had to go out and find the people who not only had those smarts, but really subscribed to this amazing thing that we were doing.

10.  Kartikee
Tell us about this amazing thing that you were doing. What is UQ Space?

11.  Isabelle
UQ Space was a, initially a group of about 10 students. We wanted to build and fly rockets in the Australian Undergrad Rocketry competition. And, so we grew from those sort of 10, 12 people I think it was, we approached the University and said, this is what we’d love to do, got their sponsorship and support behind us. And over I think it was the year and a half that I was there I was a Lead Engineer on two projects, we flew to 10,000 and 30,000 feet, which is three and 10 kilometres, you know roughly, building hardware from scratch, designing them ourselves, and in that year and a half we actually became the champions in Australia, so we won the whole competition, which was fantastic.

Yeah, from that position I then went out into industry, I worked in, did some Aerospace internships, one thing led to another, and I’m where I am now. So it was a pretty crazy and incredible time.

12. Kartikee
You’re in your fourth year of mechanical engineering. Tell us a bit about your work experience that you’ve done to date.

13. Isabelle
In my very first year I interned at a place called Field Orthopaedics, and I did, I had rocked up one night to a design evening and I’d bought this little robot that I had built in one of my first year courses, and I pitched it to this stranger, and I had no idea who he was, and it turned out that he was the, one of the CEOs of this company and he offered me a job. So that was my very first start-up work and it gave me a sort of taste for it. So since then I did that and UQ Space, that led me to an Aerospace position out at Jimboomba, in the Logan Region, working with Black Sky.

And then I ended up at Rio Tinto over the summer of the year just gone, working as an Asset and Maintenance Engineer, so essentially anytime anything on the plant would break we would be called in to fix it. And my job was not only to replace what was going wrong, but to actually work out the finer problems, you know we can’t just keep turning over different things. So that. And then I’m in sort of the start-up space at the moment. I worked in China briefly, studied in Japan, so I’ve kind of been, been all over the place.

14.  Kartikee
Wow. So study in Japan, did you go on an exchange program?

15. Isabelle
I did a, a short-term study program. So it was run through the New Columbo Mobility Scholarship, and I spent a couple of weeks over in Japan studying their advance manufacturing, so with companies like Toyota and Nippon Steel. I was placed at Kyushu University, and there was about, I think there was 20 students from UQ who were there.

16. Kartikee
You’re only in your fourth year of engineering, and you have done a variety of work, very diverse skills, you’ve worked in the Aerospace industry, you’ve worked at, in the mining industry, you were the founder of UQ Space.

17. Isabelle
One of the, one of the founders, yes.

18. Kartikee
One of the founders.

19. Isabelle

20.  Kartikee
What are some of the other skills that you needed while you were at work?

21. Isabelle
I think the biggest thing, you know, we’re always as engineers, working in teams, we’re always working with someone else, there’s always someone you have to communicate to, and I think engineering really prepared me for you know that workplace environment. So I always have to communicate what I’m doing, I have to, you know, share my passion and my dream of whatever the project is, and it really allowed me to come at it from an alternate perspective.
So, I’d done a lot of work in, you know, internships and my own sort of start-ups, and in different ventures, and it doesn’t matter how good you are technically, if you can’t bring that to life with other people you don’t have a lot to sort of stand on. So I think, engineering prepares you to look at something from a completely different angle. You know, I’ve worked with a lot of people in the business space, and it’s really fantastic to see that they come at it from one direction, I come at it from another, and when we work together we’re twice as strong as we would have been independently, so yeah.

22. Kartikee
Yeah, that’s great having that diversity of thought and skills is really important.

23. Isabelle

24. Kartikee
And I personally think every industry needs an engineer because we do bring those different skills to the table.

25. Isabelle

26. Kartikee
So only 20 years of age and co-founder and CEO of Koi Pay…

27. Isabelle

28. Kartikee
… I’m interested to hear about this new venture of yours.

29. Isabelle
As I said, last year I was studying in China with UQ, I was over there working in a drone start-up. We were doing strategy work for a mining drone, and while I was there I had some pretty significant difficulty integrating with the local payment space, and it was quite difficult to go over there. I was using cash. Obviously, cash is not huge over there, but I wasn’t able to use the local style of payment. And when we came back from China I thought to myself, you know, surely there’s problems that go the other way. You know, often someone has the flipside or the negative of what you have.

We started looking into Chinese payments in Australia, and you know we spent a lot of time building relationships with local students and developed a, essentially what was a Chinese payment product that ran on the Visa network, so it’s kind of like a debit card pass. And we have been working on that for about a year now. Obviously COVID was quite difficult for us, but you know there’s always, there’s always something else, there’s always something new, so you know that experience has allowed us to build out a suite of different financial products.
And engineering really helped me get there, you know it’s taking that problem, breaking it down, doing the research, connecting with people, running a solution, and failing and trying again. And the resilience behind that is really something that engineers are very good at, and I think I’ve had a lot of practice in that area.

30. Kartikee
You worked, you said you worked in China, and this sort of really stemmed while you were over there.

31. Isabelle

32. Kartikee
What sort of cultural experiences were you exposed to while you were in China?

33.  Isabelle
It’s so different. It was so wildly different. And if you’re open to throwing yourself into it there’s a lot to offer and a lot that you can learn about. The way that we do things normally, regardless of which culture that you’re from, if you put yourself out there and challenge yourself to be a beginner per se, you know to be uncomfortable all the time, I think it really helps you to grow, and to change, and to flourish under that pressure, because obviously China is hugely different. You know, I would get up in the morning and I would work like seven till seven, Monday to Friday, and it would take me three trains to get to work, and I was a vegetarian over there, which was extremely difficult, I ended up eating a lot of meat when I was there.

But the, you know the concept of face as well is really interesting, one that we don’t have here. So, I think it really taught me that you just have to embrace that discomfort and that challenge, because if you don’t do that you’ll never grow any further than where you are right now.

34.  Kartikee
Yeah. And I always find that challenges and getting out of your comfort zone really keeps me motivated and really adds to that motivation…

35.  Isabelle

36.  Kartikee
… of getting to somewhere.

37.  Isabelle
Oh absolutely. I try and do that all the time. Like I have a policy I try and do one new thing every semester, so every six months, and whether it’s like a sport, or a recipe, or a practice, or meditation, because being a beginner and being new to something I think is the only way that you can sort of develop humility and growth at the same time.

38. Kartikee
Yeah, wow, Isabelle.

39. Isabelle
It’s interesting. Yeah.

40. Kartikee
So what’s your new thing at the moment?

41. Isabelle
I am playing touch football. I’m very bad at it. Like and it’s so strange to go from being someone who, I don’t know, I feel like I achieve you know relatively high in a lot of fields, I think you get cocky almost, and it’s nice to be brought down a few pegs by my terrible touch football skills. But that’s okay.

42.  Kartikee
Yeah. Well you, well you’ll get there. And like you said, you’ve, you’re, you’re not in your comfort zone…

43.  Isabelle

44.  Kartikee
… so you will grow and develop in that area as well. That’s fantastic.

45.  Isabelle

46.  Kartikee
I love that idea. Taking on something new.

47.  Isabelle
Yeah. It’s hard, you have to actively seek it out.

48.  Kartikee

49.  Isabelle
And I think you kind of, you fight yourself on it, because why would you want to do something that you’re bad at? But it’s so, so important to build that resilience.

50.  Kartikee
Yeah, because often people get into their comfort zones and, you know, they’re…

51.  Isabelle

52.  Kartikee
… getting on about their life on a day-to-day basis.

53.  Isabelle
Yeah. I mean I was scared to do engineering. That was probably my, that was my first new thing back in 2016.

54.  Kartikee

55.  Isabelle
I didn’t know that I could do it.

56.  Kartikee
What sort of research work did you do in finding out about an engineering degree when you were at high school?

57.  Isabelle
Yeah. I mean I was pretty studious. I took a lot of pamphlets, I took a lot of books, I read a lot of, read a lot of articles, but I tried to speak to as many people as I could, and as many valuable people as I could. So, you know I had all my fantastic teachers in high school, my Head of Science was really pro-engineering, he would say to me all the time, you should really look at engineering and try it out. But I had the perception that it wasn’t for me. And then we were visited by, I think it was, I think she was a student leader actually who was a few years older actually.

58.  Kartikee
A student leader here from the Engineering Faculty?

59.  Isabelle
Yeah, from Women in Engineering I think. She talked about, you know, her life and what she had done, and what it meant to her to be an engineer, and it kind of really shifted how I looked at it. Everyone expected me to go into law, because my family’s in law, but…

60.  Kartikee
Right. So you don’t have any engineers in the family?

61.  Isabelle
No engineers in the family. Never met an engineer that I knew of. Yeah, it was a bit of a foreign field for me. Yeah, I tried to speak to as many of those students as I could.

62.  Kartikee
So did you ever think in your first year that this isn’t the career for me?

63.  Isabelle
Yeah, I mean it’s tough, you know, for anyone who’s leaving high school it can be hard, you have that shift in identity, but it was just hard because it was new. It wasn’t hard because it wasn’t for me. And I think the good thing about that general first year was that I wasn’t stuck anywhere, I didn’t, I didn’t have to confirm, you know I took a software course, and as much as I loved it, I was not good at it. I was not; it was not for me. And I think instead of panicking and thinking, you know, oh engineering isn’t right, I had that flexibility to just change, the next semester I just did something different, and that really helped me to settle in, I think.

64.  Kartikee
Great. And finally, I’d like to hear what your dream job is.

65.  Isabelle
I mean my dream job is actually in consulting, in management at the moment. So, I like to take all of the things that I’ve learnt in engineering and use them to advise and to work with businesses on their problems. It’s sort of an extension to me of engineering. So, hopefully that turns out okay.

66.  Kartikee
Yeah, wow, I mean there’s lots of companies out there that do consulting. Well we’ve reached the end of the episode, but before we go we’re going to get to know you a little bit better, so are you ready for some fast facts?

67.  Isabelle
I’m scared.

68.  Kartikee
What is the one thing about engineering that amazes you?

69.  Isabelle
The diversity of the people who are there. Yeah, it’s incredible to see people from so many different backgrounds and ages and cultures to come together and actually be able to all do the same thing and work as a team, and sprint as a team. That’s pretty phenomenal.

70.  Kartikee
What’s a go to distraction for you at home?

71.  Isabelle
Oh. Okay, I have been binging on Netflix a little bit recently.

72.  Kartikee
We all have been.

73.  Isabelle
Community is my binge at the moment.

74.  Kartikee

75.  Isabelle
But, yeah, I like to turn my brain off occasionally.

76.  Kartikee
Great. And just one, probably for the laugh, if you could bring back any fashion trend, what would it be?

77.  Isabelle
Oh, it would be shoulder pads, a hundred per cent shoulder pads. I love them. I think they’re great. I love a woman in a power suit. Yeah.

78.  Kartikee
Thank you for joining us today, Isabelle, it was great to have you.

79.  Isabelle
Thank you so much for having me.

[Music plays]

81.  Kartikee
If you’re enjoying this podcast make sure you like and subscribe wherever you get your podcast, and don’t forget to leave a review, it’ll help others to find the series. My name is Kartikee Gupta.