SPOTLIGHT: Mpho Radebe

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Mpho Radebe, born in Soweto, is a Mechanical Engineering graduate from the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits). Mpho currently works as a graduate engineer at Sasol. Additionally she is studying towards a Masters in Fluid  Dynamics at Wits.

Apart from engineering, her hobbies include photography and music as she is classically trained in piano. Mpho is also a volunteer at GFPA Foundation and she forms part of the Marketing and Communications team. 

In this interview, Mpho speaks about her journey highlighting what inspired her to be an engineer, her experience as a recent graduate in engineering and shares advice for young women aspiring to have careers in this field.

Can you briefly describe yourself and what you do?

I am a 26 year old, black woman raised in Johannesburg. I currently work as a  graduate engineer/ engineering in training at Sasol.

What inspired you to study Mechanical Engineering?

My parents were my biggest inspirations. When I was young my father worked as a mechanic and I would sometimes watch him work on the cars he fixed. This was the beginning of my fascination around how things worked. Since then I have been curious about how things work. My mum worked in IT and would explain to me how she’d create digitally and that exposure grew my love for creating. It was this inspired love for creating and how things work that lead me to studying towards being a Mechanical engineer.  

What does a normal day look like in your work environment where you are currently based?

A normal day in the line of work involves a lot of different aspects. The work we do involves a lot of elements that may cause harm and therefore the day begins with a discussion around safety in the projects or around the workspace. Everyone involved must be able to identify the risk and dangers of the work ahead but discuss how to mitigate or prevent it. Only then can the work day begin. Most projects involve a team of different disciplines from time to time you will have to meet up to discuss the different aspects. Project work on the plant has to be monitored and therefore presence of the plant may be required. I work 40 hours a week which amounts to 8 hours a day. And spend about 50% in the office and 50% on site. Overtime may be required for emergency work or during major scheduled maintenance work.

What subjects did you have to take in high school to qualify into Mechanical Engineering?

I took a variety of different subjects in high school but I think the ones that assisted me to qualify for my degree, and those I would strongly recommend, outside English are Mathematics and Physical Science (Physics and Chemistry). 

What qualities make a good Engineer and how have they helped you in your career?

There are quite a few qualities that make one a good engineer. Three that have helped me in my career so far are problem solving, teamwork and continuous learning. Most of the work and projects that an engineer will encounter are founded around a problem that needs to be solved. As an engineer, one needs to be able to effectively address these simultaneously thinking outside the box.Secondly projects are often conducted within a team and the success and completion of the project often lies on how well the team works together. Therefore a good quality to have is teamwork. And the last but I think the most important quality to have is continuous learning. You will quickly learn that there are a lot of things you still don’t know when you begin working but moreover technologies and methodologies are constantly changing. A learning spirit will not only help you stay up to date with the latest technological developments but expose you skills not taught in the classroom. This is definitely a recipe for being a successful engineer. 

What's your take on mentorship? Is it important?

“Indlela ibuzwa kwabaphambili” a Zulu proverb meaning “those who have gone before are the ones who can show the path.” There is so much value one can gain from those who have walked the road before. And so I would highly recommend having a mentor. It was Isaac Newton who said “If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants.” True success  comes to us when we learn from the giants that have come before us. I mentioned that the most important quality to being a good engineer is one of continuous learning and mentorship is definitely one avenue that feeds this the most. With the right mentor you not only feed your skills as an engineer but simultaneously as a person. 

What strategies have you used to advance in a male dominated space?

Though we see more women coming into these spaces there are still so many challenges that come with working in a male dominant environment. One skill I am working towards and found to be highly effective is confidence. It can get difficult to show up in the workplace, to see yourself taking up space or succeeding because those who are deemed successful don’t look like you. And many women shy away because of this. But to gain the “respect” of your male counterparts it is important that they know you’re there too. And not to say you need to be more like them or aggressive but rather showing up confidently as who you are. There is value in showing up confidently in these spaces. Don’t be afraid to exert confidence in the work you do and how you do it. Surround yourself with women in the same space that will help boost your confidence. 

What are some of the emerging technologies in engineering that you are most excited about?

Definitely Artificial Intelligence. The technology from that would not only make our lives easier but help combat so many global issues. So excited to see how the world would be made better through this new technology and excited to be in the space I am in when it happens. 

What would you still like to achieve in your career?

There are many things I would like to achieve and many things I haven't discovered that I could achieve but what I can say I am currently working towards pursuing my masters and right now that is something I hope I can obtain.

What advice do you have for other career women and young women looking to get into Engineering?

One of my favorite quotes and I think one that sums up my journey so far is, “Most of what I know, I’ve learnt by falling and getting up. The ground has taught me more about flight than the clouds ever could.” There is reward in following your purpose. The reward won’t always look beautiful and dressed in success but may be in the times you fall because it is in knowing the ground that you know which way is up. So don't lose heart when things seem to be falling apart but learn from them because these might be the skills you’d need to reach your success. 


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