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Sarah Waters

Career changer Sarah took a leap from the world of furniture design to layout engineering for the power system industry. She’s not looked back and is now focusing on becoming EngTech professionally registered.

Sarah Waters


 “It’s really rewarding to see a project that I have produced the layouts for, built and energised onto the grid.”



Always creative, Sarah Waters had a love for drawing and making things. Because of this she chose a career in design, undertaking a one-year foundation course in Art and Design focusing on three-dimensional design. From this, she developed a strong interest in furniture design and after college achieved a first class honours degree in furniture design.

Entering the engineering community

However, she ended up in the engineering sector purely by chance after returning from an 18 month trip half way around the world.

“It is not something I looked into doing, however when I returned I felt that I needed to increase my skills in order to make myself more employable in the design sector, so I went back to college to partake in an AutoCAD course,” she explains.

“While on this course, I met a colleague who made me aware of a career opportunity within ABB. Fortunately for me, the line manager was looking to find someone to train as a layout engineer in the power systems industry. 

“The reason I decided to take the job was that I thought it was a brilliant opportunity and a challenge for me to learn something completely new. The way that I saw it was that it was still a career in design - just not the same kind - but that I could still apply the skills I had developed through my academic training and previous work experience.”

Using the skills she had already gained

And that she did - her furniture design degree taught her skills such as attention to detail and how to work under pressure.

“At university I designed and produced my own furniture and, albeit on a much smaller scale, the furniture projects had similar stages, such as design and development, detailed design, sourcing materials and following a project through to completion.”

Sarah’s current role

Sarah’s current role is to produce primary system designs for 66kV to 400kV substations for projects and tenders. Her current project is on the Central Alliance where she proactively supports the project team in the development of an existing National Grid 400/132kV substation.

“One of the main aspects of my job is to provide primary layouts, civil interface drawings, detail drawings, technical specifications and calculations for transmission and distribution projects. I technically align the interfaces between supplier drawings and ensure that layout designs are fully in line with the civil designs,” she says.

Loving the opportunities a career in engineering offers

She’s certainly glad she took the opportunity as she finds the role challenging, busy and never dull. Most of her days are different, and she’s always learning about something new.

“It’s really rewarding to see a project that I have produced the layouts for, built and energised onto the grid,” she highlights. “As part of my role, I regularly attend project design meetings and continuously interface with engineers from alternative disciplines, project managers, buyers, planners, estimators and site engineers. This day-to-day communication and interaction is required for a successful project delivery and it increases my skills and knowledge within the industry.”

“I enjoy working as part of a team, and that’s within my department as well as on the projects,” she continues. “I have worked at ABB as a layout engineer for over four years and I have seen the department change and develop and I am glad to be a part of it. 

“In regards to being an engineer, I enjoy compiling all the information through existing drawings and site visits in order to get an accurate view of the existing site in order to prepare the layout for the new installation. I like the challenge of getting the equipment to fit in the optimum position, while still being able to comply with the specifications. The job is great because I am always learning and improving.”

Career goals

Looking forward, Sarah’s goal is to become a primary systems application engineer within the next two years. 

“As a primary systems application engineer, I will be responsible for the design, checking and approval of all project documentation in accordance with established standards. I will also be more actively involved in the development of work breakdown structures, time estimates for project plans and the production of design intent documents,” she explains.

“In order to develop the necessary skills required for this role, the intention is for me to no longer produce the drawings but to be a mentor and guide others in the production of the project drawings/documentation, thus becoming more responsible for the design/ checking. This in turn will free up more time to work on design intent documents etc.”

Sarah also hopes to become professionally registered as an Engineering Technician (EngTech) soon, and is using her new IET membership to help fulfil this goal.

“I will look to make use of the IET’s Career Manager tool in order to assess my competence level. I feel that it is important to recognise what skills I currently have in order to set my goals for the future. If I can achieve profession registration, it will improve my career prospects and further my development as an engineer,” she highlights.