30-year old calculation engineer Andreea Toporas specialises in panel construction at Alewijnse International Switchboard Production, part of system integrator Alewijnse Marine. She is one of the few women currently working in the men's world of shipping. "In my opinion, I have had to work twice as hard to prove myself,” she says, “but I feel comfortable and part of the team now.”
Andreea grew up in Romania and while she excelled in science at school, she opted to study psychology afterwards. However, even then she continued to be drawn towards more technical subjects and she finally made the decision to switch courses and gained a master's degree in Electrical Efficiency and Sustainable Energy. "My dream was to live in the Netherlands,” continues Andreea, “and I was fortunate to be able to start almost immediately at Alewijnse Marine. I spotted this company quite a long time before, and when I got assigned, I immediately felt at home."
Today, Andreea has a stimulating job as a calculation engineer at Alewijnse International Switchboard Production (AISP), the panel building division of Alewijnse Marine. However, she does not see this as her final destination. Andreea has ambitions for the future and now that she has finished her studies she has her sights focused on a position in process development. Currently she specialises in calculations for electrical and automation switchboards and panels, primarily for superyachts, naval ships and offshore vessels. "I make calculations for equipment including main switchboards and distribution panels” she explains. “In addition, I develop standard calculation methods for approximate and final estimations and I advise on quality improvement, standardisation and efficiency."
She is very proud of what she has achieved. "I have succeeded in getting people and departments to work together and to focus on the same goals. Together we have achieved good results in the standardisation and improvement of calculations. Now my colleagues work with the tools I have developed; making their work easier, faster and more efficient. These successes give me a lot of energy."
A woman in a man's world
To achieve success in electrical engineering, Andreea had to work hard to prove herself as a woman in a man's world. "It began with my electrical education in Romania, where I was not really taken seriously by the male majority in the classroom. For example, I was called ‘the psychologist of the motors’, because of my degree in psychology. It was a hard time, but I carried on. These comments made me even more determined to succeed. On the completion of my Master’s degree my course leader was the first person to acknowledge my success, and did so in front of all my colleagues where he congratulated me for being in the top three out of a group of 42. That was one of the best moments in my life, and I felt super proud of myself.”
After her education when she started in the Dutch shipping industry, Andreea again went through a difficult period. She had to prove herself once again, but she managed with her skills and attitude bringing her to where she is now. "For me, it’s normal to work in technology because I was raised in a family where everybody had a technical profession,” she says. “Unlike in Romania, few women work in technology in the Netherlands, and so it was frustrating for me when male colleagues wouldn’t initially trust or accept my opinions, no matter how good they were. It required patience and wisdom to deal with this, but fortunately it has improved over time and now I am fully accepted and appreciated within the company. My colleagues even ask for my support and customers are very impressed with my knowledge."
Follow your dream
‘Follow your dream!’ is Andreea’s advise to other women considering a career in technology. "You will have to prove yourself in the beginning, but it's worth it. Electrical engineering is a wonderful profession; you can put your ideas into it and every day is different. You never get bored. For me, one of the greatest things about my work is when I see the finished product, and then I can proudly say that I contributed to that ship or structure.”