Shalini Saldanha

FIEAust CPEng NER APEC Engineer IntPE(Aus)

Information Systems and Technology Principal Advisor

Rio Tinto

Shalini holds a Bachelor of Engineering (Mechanical Honours) and Bachelor of Science (Computer Science, Applied Mathematics) from the University of Western Australia. Her current positon is Information Systems and Technology Principal Advisor for Rio Tinto’s proposed Koodaideri mine. Shalini’s career has spanned across engineering, operational and corporate roles within Western Australia’s mining industry. She is also a Chartered Fellow of Engineers Australia.

Shalini believes Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (and specifically Engineering) can provide a diverse and rewarding career for others as it has done for her.

How long have you been a member of Engineers Australia?
I have been a member of EA since 1997, when I joined as a student.

Why did you pursue a career in engineering?
I remember enjoying math and science subjects from primary school days and always saw Science as my career path. I didn’t see engineering as an option until year twelve when my father took me to University of Western Australia’s (UWA) career expo. I then realised that engineering was practically applying science and math principles to better humanity. For some reason I never saw engineering as a female profession, despite being surrounded by engineers.

I enrolled in UWA’s double degree course in BSc/BE (I hedged my bets that if I didn’t like Engineering I would still graduate from Science). However, during my university I really enjoyed the Engineering subjects. I wanted a career where I could deal with people, solve problems, apply my skills to improve peoples livelihood, and make a contribution to the economy.

How can Australian communities/people/society benefit from your work now and in the future?

  •  I am a member of Engineers Australia’s Western Australia Division Committee, as well as three sub-committees; Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM), digital series and the centenary working group. I also represent Engineers Australia in industry panels at university workshops discussing key technical and personal attributes to be an effective engineer.
  •  I am an industry mentor via the University of Western Australia. I coach and inspire numerous male and female undergraduate students (domestic and international) on varied issues such as CV writing, interview preparation, women excelling in male dominated industries, international students integrating into Australia and tips on transitioning from student to professional.
  •  I have supported my employers STEM and diversity initiatives. For example, organising site visits for the Girls In Engineering program at Rio Tinto.
  •  I have supported the Institute of Engineers Sri Lanka Western Australia Chapter, and was the master of ceremonies for the 2018 dinner dance.

What is the most challenging or interesting project you’ve ever worked on?
During my career I have worked on a number of challenging/interesting projects that have broadened my knowledge, improved my expertise and given me the opportunity to work with a variety of wonderful people.

I would like to speak briefly about the current project I am on Koodaideri Iron Ore Mine in Western Australia. It is Rio Tinto’s most digital and automated mine that is scheduled to open in 2021. My role is the Principal Advisor – Koodaideri Implementation Information Systems and Technology (IS&T). This project is allowing me to use my engineering, asset management and recently acquired information technology (IT) knowledge to ensure that all the IT infrastructure and applications are deployed so that Koodaideri can be the most digital and automated mine.

What do you see as one of the biggest issues facing the engineering profession?
Engineering is a very diverse career, which is one of the reasons I encourage personnel to do it. However, I feel that Engineering is still defined as traditional discipline and specialist roles. Engineering is actually about the broad problem solving that can be used to improve people’s livelihood and contribute to the economy.

Acquiring skills in big data and the internet of things is increasing, with rising demand to increase productivity and reduce cost. The role of the traditional engineer is being replaced with modern focus on acquiring broader skills and competencies. This new approach will challenge STEM education to evolve in order to meet industry needs.

What excites you about the future of the profession or what opportunities do you see for the future?
Acquiring the skills provided in the question above will open-up new career pathways for future engineering professionals. These pathways include areas such as automation, data analytics, information systems and technology to name a few. Engineers will be challenged earlier in their careers’ to make decisions and recommendations that will have impact on the viability of solutions. There will also be a greater opportunity to interconnect with other specialist disciplines, and greater opportunity to work in global teams on global projects.

Who is your engineering hero?

I have never had just one hero, but rather several people who I have admired and that have positively influenced me. I would particularly like to mention my parents (Ione and Nihal Cooray) who never discouraged me from doing STEM, provided excellent support as a youngster (and even now) and provided a pathway for a very rewarding career – including migrating from Sri Lanka to Australia when I was a youngster. I didn’t know of the disparity in STEM between genders until I was a mature adult.

I would also take this opportunity to encourage all engineers to consider themselves being a hero to our young personnel (your kids, nieces and nephews, friends’ kids) and let them know about STEM and the opportunities an engineering career in particular can provide.

Image courtesy: Shalini Saldanha.