Dr. Ozak Esu is a chartered electronic and electrical engineer from Nigeria. She is the Technical Lead at the BRE Centre for Smart Homes and Buildings in the UK.
At work, she leads the research to address common challenges faced in the adoption of the Internet of Things (IoT) within the built environment, focusing on the positive impact technology can have on the design and operational performance of existing, future and modular buildings.
With a BEng and Ph.D. in Electronic and Electrical Engineering. Get to know about how Ozak charges through study and life abroad at 17, starting a Ph.D. at 20 and her current work as an Engineer.
Let’s dive in, shall we?
Did you always want to be in STEM?
Growing up, I went through phases when I was choosing my career path; I wanted to be a professional athlete and footballer, then a pilot and then a medical doctor/surgeon.
Wow, that happens to the best of us…Lol
How did you eventually get into engineering then?
I was good at Mathematics, Further Mathematics and Physics at school and I was told by my parents and tutors that these are the subject combinations required to pursue a career in engineering. Shortages in energy and power supply which I experienced growing up in Nigeria inspired me to specialize in electronic and electrical engineering so that I could contribute towards fixing the problem.
I learned you have a Ph.D. in Engineering, what is your educational background like?
I completed my primary education at Hillcrest Junior Special Needs School and secondary education at Access High Schools, both in Calabar, Nigeria. I completed my A-Levels in Lagos and shortly after, I moved to the UK for university. I studied Electronic and Electrical Engineering (BEng and Ph.D.) at Loughborough University.
Interesting…Tell us what work is like, as an IoT Engineer?
Chuckles … I will tell you about my typical workday and some projects we are working on
That is absolutely fine, please go on
My working day starts at 8:45 am and typically ends at 5 pm.
At the BRE Centre, we have multiple ongoing projects. One of our largest is the Smart Buildings Project, part of the Construction Innovation Hub, funded by the UK Government.
The Hub is driving collaboration to change the way buildings are designed, manufactured, integrated and connected within the built environment. It promotes digital and manufacturing technologies to help build smarter, greener and more efficient buildings faster and cheaper than we currently do.
Oh, nice. It must be exciting to work on relevant projects like this.
Sure, it’s exciting and challenging at the same time.
I am constantly updating my knowledge and awareness of research and industry outputs on smart building design, construction, performance, technology, networks, and data analytics by reading published articles, technical guidance and reports. I spend time extracting the salient points that pertain to the ongoing projects while managing the project team and resources.
On the BRE estate, we have physical smart homes and buildings demonstrator projects which we use for experimenting and testing. Depending on the phase of the project, my time is spent either designing or supervising the installation of new smart technology systems or assessing and analyzing measured data and deducing results for dissemination.
Within the day, I will respond to emails, organise and attend meetings with stakeholders and have a couple of tea/coffee breaks as well as an hour lunch break.
Now, that is the life of an IoT Engineer! Let’s stay away from work for a bit.
What were you doing the last time you looked at the clock and realized you had lost track of time?
Oh, I was watching funny clips, videos about food and natural hairstyles on Instagram.
A good way to waste time…Lol
Let’s talk about how you balance work with life generally
Prior to the COVID19 pandemic, I struck a balance by leaving work at the office (physically) and not taking it home with me. Although, I didn’t have a lot of control on the mental aspect. For instance, I could be watching a movie or the news after work and an idea will come to me. How I managed this was by noting it in my journal and revisiting it the next day when I was back in the office.
Okay, how do you manage working from home during this period?
I am into my fourth week of working from home full-time due to the COVID19 pandemic. I have set-up a designated workstation in my dining area consisting of my laptop, monitors and office chair. I maintain my usual routine, starting work at 8:45 am with a team daily scrum and logging off at 5 pm.
Do you deal with stress, since you work from home?
Of course, It’s different from the office. I take regular breaks to stay sharp, delegate or share the workload where appropriate and I always try to find and focus on the positives or on things within my immediate control such as staying at home
Nice, thank you for sharing this.
Favorite work tools??
My monitors and office chair. It’s all about workplace ergonomics for me. I struggle to get much done on just a laptop. When I have my monitors connected and my comfy office chair, I am instantly in “the zone” and breeze through tasks.
Awesome. Can you share your philosophy to work?
My philosophy to work is “I can’t kill myself”- Timaya. If in my reflections, I can confidently answer “Yes, I gave it my best effort”, then I am happy. If my best effort did not yield the best outcomes, it’s a learning experience; I take notes, never to repeat the same mistakes a second time.
Any particular motivation to work?
My motivations to work are impact and rewards; to be positively contributing towards advancing society while getting rewarded for it and achieving Maya Angelou’s definition of success which is, “liking yourself, liking what you do, and liking how you do it”
Any difficulties you’d like to share?
I face difficulties regularly, professionally and personally. One of my biggest technical challenges is predicting the future and keeping pace with technological advancements. There is also a lot of work being undertaken in silos by organizations within the industry, which needs to be aggregated to deliver transformation within the sector. Rallying these groups together and deriving the necessary information can be challenging and difficult.
What are some things people and organizations could do to get more women in STEM?
People and organizations need to promote and implement inclusive workplace cultures to retain diverse talent. Provide training, returnship programs, mentoring, sponsorship schemes, and leadership opportunities. Provide fair and clear information on what is required to attain leadership positions and ensure the process is transparent.
To attract new talent, host open days where young people can have sneak previews of what to look forward to should they choose to pursue careers in STEM.
Support and sponsor organizations delivering STEM programs to young people and encourage employees through paid volunteering hours to actively get involved. There may not be immediate profits, but you’ll be strengthening the talent pipeline for your organization and industry, empowering young girls into STEM, and your employees develop new and complementary skills in the volunteering process.
Highlights of your career so far?
The best things about my career so far, are that it is global, collaborative, multifaceted and at the forefront of driving positive transformation within the construction and built environment industry. I work in collaboration with multidisciplinary teams and stakeholders in the industry, academia, and government. I am continuously learning and adapting as I go along which is great. The work I do through extensive research and development will inform industry best practice, technical guidance, standards, and policies.
You are a superstar! But that doesn’t sound like everything …Lol
Thank you! Well, to summarise …
Thriving in a new country following my move from Nigeria to the UK at 17, graduating with First Class Honours in Electronic and Electrical Engineering, advancing straight to my PhD at 20 on a Loughborough University scholarship and achieving doctoral success at 25 while maintaining a full-time graduate engineering position in a different engineering discipline is my greatest professional achievement and highlight.
Also, being elected to the Institution of Engineering and Technology’s (IET) Council and winning awards in recognition of my contributions to engineering including the IET Young Professional Achievement Mike Sargeant Award and the IET Young Woman Engineer of the Year Award in 2017; and being shortlisted for the ‘Chartered Engineer of the Year 2020 Award’ are some of my high-profile accomplishments which I am very proud of.
We are proud of you too…
Your favorite “Life Lesson Quote” ??
“When you’ve worked hard, and done well, and walked through that doorway of opportunity, you do not slam it shut behind you. You reach back and you give other folks the same chances that helped you succeed” — Michelle Obama
How it’s relevant in your life?
This quote motivates me to continue seeking and taking opportunities, and it encourages me to keep using my voice, privileged insight, effort and time, towards creating new and exciting ones for others.
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