When every day follows the same pattern, life is simple. You wake up at home each morning, eat lunch at the same time and mingle with familiar faces day after day. It’s reassuring, steady, safe; and is certainly a setup that works for some. But others, like Renata Nagy, take a different stance. Desperate to shun routine, these people relentlessly seek out the unstable and the uncertain, with the ambition of pushing themselves at every juncture.
Making her own way
This endless desire to push herself and experience new things began from a young age for Renata. The daughter of a teacher and a nanny, she easily could have followed in her parents’ footsteps, but she was desperate to carve out her own unique path.
Fascinated by aircraft ever since she visited a museum with her brother when she was 12, she had an idea that would go on to shape, or at least launch, her career. “I always watched aircraft in the air and would look at these big pieces of metal thinking, ‘How do they stay in the air?’ I never had anyone in my family working with aircraft or as an engineer, but it just came to my mind,” she says.
It was more than a pipe dream; she made it happen. As soon as she finished school, she signed up for college at the Hungarian Air Force to train as a helicopter and aircraft engineer. “I think I was lucky because it was even better than I imagined,” she says. “When I figured out I wanted to be an aircraft engineer, I was afraid it would be too theoretical where I would just have to sit in an office doing mathematics or working on a computer every day.”
Her initial concern couldn’t have been further from the reality of her role. Based in airfields and airports, she spent five years out there really learning everything she could about the complex machinery. “I wanted to be the one with a wrench and a hammer dismantling and assembling the aircraft and really working with the metal,” she says. “I wanted to hear and feel the engine.”
From aircraft to turbines
She could have stayed as she was for years — after all, she’d already achieved her childhood ambition so why bother trying anything else? But Renata was never going to be one to stay still. Ready for a new challenge, she researched industries that would complement her skill set, but also push her experience in a fresh direction, and by chance, she came across a Service Mechanic role for gas turbines at Siemens.
Despite no direct experience working with the giant structures, she was by no means dissuaded from giving it a go. She was offered the role and became one of an eight-person team responsible for setting up the gas turbine department in Budapest. “Of course, there were some new things and some different parts to it, but when I came here I think my knowledge of the aircraft was enough to learn and grow my experience,” she says.
Just like in her previous role, she loved the hands-on element; every day she would be pushed by new issues in need of different answers. “When you first see a turbine, it’s just nuts, bolts, and blades in small boxes. Then two weeks later, it’s running and making energy again. It’s a really fantastic feeling and you know it was your job to make it happen,” she says.
Traveling the world
It wasn’t just a different career for the former aviation expert, it was a complete change of lifestyle. But unsurprisingly, it wasn’t something that put her off. For eight years, Renata lived out of her suitcase, traveling the world and exploring unbeaten paths when servicing turbines.
Far from an occasional perk of the job, every year she’d visit up to 10 different countries, with projects lasting up to six weeks at a time. “We’d travel there, check the turbine, do the service job, and then if everything went well, we’d put the turbine back in operation again, go home and go to the next project somewhere else,” she says. It was a new way of life and one where she was rarely home. She quickly had to learn English to ensure she could collaborate as much as possible when traveling the globe.
It was a job that suited her personality — one that favors change and adventure over routine and stability. “I always say there are two kinds of people,” she says. “One who likes monotony where every day is the same, and another who really likes difference. This is the work for someone who wants to look around the world and not just be a tourist.”
And she well and truly experienced real adventure; not just within places advertised on the glossy pages of tourist brochures. “Bolivia was one of the best places I visited,” she says. “At the end of the project, before we started up the gas turbine, they did a ritual for mother earth where they put wine, food, and fruits into a fire. It was really fun to be part of this with the locals.”
Another time she’ll never forget was working in Egypt, when she was the only woman on site alongside 400 men. It was a culture she was not yet familiar with, and fellow engineers first wanted to test her mettle before handing her their trust. “I had some preparation about the country and about the culture to know how to speak to people and what not to do, and when I first arrived so many of the local guys didn’t understand why I was there.”
She knew she was just as capable as her colleagues, and thankfully, these first impressions didn’t last long. “The first time I visited they didn’t even look at me but by the third time, they said: ‘I will only do it if Renata says so.’ That was a really nice situation,” she says.
Many of these places she’d never visited before, and she had to quickly get used to lots of diverse traditions and cultures. “Of course after two to three years it became easier to talk and work with different kinds of people. I quickly realized I had to focus on getting to know about the next country I would visit, the culture and the people, as we had to work with them closely,” she says. Before she’d even leave the country she was exploring, she’d spend time extensively researching her next location to ensure she was clued up.
Teaching the next generation
Of course, it’s Renata — she wasn’t going to do the same job forever. Desperate for a new challenge and craving more home time, she switched the open road for the office two-and-a-half years ago and is now managing a team of 30 engineers. “It’s different. It’s another kind of job and it was a big change. I do miss the travel sometimes, but I really enjoy working with the guys and helping them out,” she says.
It’s now her job to build the engineering team in Hungary, where she is looking to grow their ability to commission medium and small gas turbines around the world. “I’m really excited to manage them because I know how it was when I was traveling. I have quite a lot of young and new guys in my team and I really enjoy knowing that they get the same feeling I had when I started to travel,” she says.
Reaching new heights
Just because she’s office based now doesn’t mean she can’t experience the thrill of adventure. For the past 16 years, adrenaline-junkie Renata has pushed herself to her limits by skydiving more than 900 times. “In the future, I would like to improve my knowledge and teach this unbelievable sport to other people! I became an accelerated freefall (AFF) skydiving instructor earlier this year, so I can introduce this sport to anyone who would like to learn it!”
For people like Renata, life is about the next experience. She’s restless, almost addicted to trying out — and acing — the next challenge. And let’s face it, that’s half the fun. Who knows what’s next?
Renata joined Siemens in 2008 as a Service Mechanic where she worked on mid-range turbines up to 30 megawatts. Now, she is Head of New Unit Commissioning team at Siemens Hungary. Her responsibilities include people management, project utilization, competency management, and recruitment. She is based in Budapest. Find out more about working at Siemens.