Passionate about her career, Abbie has been recognised for her commitment to the public promotion of engineering through working as a STEM ambassador, mentor, and promoter of women in engineering roles.
Abbie Hutty works for Airbus Defence and Space as a spacecraft structures engineer, and was awarded the title of 2013 IET Young Woman Engineer of the Year last December at a London ceremony.
Currently working on the ExoMars Rover Mission, Europe’s first rover mission to Mars, she didn’t actually find her calling until she was working towards her GCSEs.
“I honestly had no idea what I wanted to do when I was doing my GCSEs. My favourite subjects were creative, like art and design and technology, but I was strongest in physics and maths. One of my teachers recommended looking into engineering, something I’d never considered before,” Abbie says.
“I thought engineering was just car mechanics and boiler technicians but it just so happened that at that time the Beagle 2 mission to Mars was in the press. I heard that British engineers and scientists were working on this and thought, oh, that’s engineering, and began to look into it.”
Space inspired Abbie, but she felt the idea of working on such a project was a pipedream and tried to be realistic about her aspirations. She thought robotics would be a fun field to go into and began looking at career pathways related to mechanical engineering, robotics and mechatronics. She chose the right A levels to move into this area, but still intrigued with space, chose a university that specialised in robotics and space science – the University of Surrey.
After completing her master’s degree first in her class, Abbie was lucky enough to join Astrium where her career dreams became a reality.
Working on the ExoMars Rover Mission
In her current role she coordinates a team of specialists that are working on developing a rover structure that will survive the rigors of a rocket launch, descent through Mars’ atmosphere, landing on its surface and lasting the operational lifetime of the mission. This project began with concept design and Abbie will follow it through manufacturing to testing and final delivery.
“I coordinate the specialist engineers work and try to make everyone pull together to come up with a technical solution,” she explains. “It’s a bit of project management, but from a technical perspective I gather all of their data, make sure the whole thing works and meets all their needs.
“Previously I was working as one of those analysts, feeding in my results to someone at the top who would decide what the technical solution would be, so it’s nice to be in a position where I get a bit more of a ‘top-down’ approach. I like having my fingers in lots of different pies so I like having a team to talk to and problem solve with,” she adds.
Working with the media to promote engineering
During her time at Airbus Defence and Space, Abbie has also began working closely with the media to promote engineering.
“It’s not something I ever intended to get involved in, but I’ve seen how poor we [engineers] are as a group when it comes to publicising what we do,” Abbie explains. “I’ve seen all the requests come in from the media and nobody acting on them. I’d much rather that somebody went and told everyone what cool work we’re doing – even if it has to be me – rather than nobody did!
“People get inspired by the Mars rover programme, its something very tangible to a lot of the public and aspirational for a lot of children. I feel very privileged to be working on a project that so many people take an interest in,” she adds.
Through this work Abbie has taken part in shows including The Sky at Night, Stargazing Live, career-focused programme Beneath the Lab Coat and Euronews.
“That goes out in 15 languages, so I’ve been dubbed - I have voice doubles! I’d love to meet Ukrainian Abbie or Arabic Abbie,” she laughs.
Volunteering as a STEM ambassador
Abbie has also undertaken a lot more volunteering work in the form of a STEM ambassador, where she’s spoken in universities and schools as well as visited exhibitions such as the Big Bang Fair and Farnborough Air Show.
“It’s good to go out and enthuse people about what we’re doing,” she says. “I get a big buzz from other people being excited about what I do. You might have had a really long day, dealing with deadlines, but then you tell someone what you’re working on and they go ‘wow, that’s amazing!’ and you think it’s all worth it. It’s really nice to see their enthusiasm and feed that.”
IET Young Woman Engineer of the Year award
Now she holds the mantle of 2013 IET Young Woman Engineer of the Year, Abbie plans to continue doing more of the same work. She feels this is a great way to show the public the reality of engineering, and change perceptions.
“I think that’s really important,” she says. “Many teenagers who might be considering a career in this area might be put off by teachers or parents who think of engineering as being ‘just a mechanic’ and say they don’t think it’s for them. If they can see things about engineers and engineering in the newspaper and online that’s a really valuable thing, because it has the potential to unlock avenues in people’s minds.”
Abbie also doesn’t consider being a role model as responsibility, but something to enjoy.
“It’s great to be in a position where people want to hear you talk about your job. I just really enjoy it,” she concludes. “I love getting other people excited about engineering and I’m really passionate about my job. I like to share my enthusiasm with anyone who will listen!”