Pioneering Path for 22-Year-Old Female Pakistani Engineer
GE Performance Engineer Ayesha Imtiaz is only 22 years old, but she’s already overcome and achieved more than many people twice her age. Her story is as inspiring as she is: “I tell girls I meet that they just need to find something they’re passionate about and then keep at it – no matter how many obstacles they face along the way, eventually, perseverance and hard work pay off.”
Born and raised in Lahore, Pakistan, Ayesha always loved math and science, so it was a logical choice to enroll in an engineering degree program. In doing so, however, she became the first woman in her family to pursue a professional degree. As such, she had to answer questions from family and friends wondering why she was pursuing a career, instead of getting married and raising a family. They also questioned her choice of engineering, given that it was such a traditionally male profession.
Fortunately for Ayesha, her mother supported her. It was Rukhsana Imtiaz who convinced the family that Ayesha should pursue her dreams. In return, Ayesha did her mother proud by graduating at the top of her class and winning a gold medal.
After graduation, she wanted to work as an engineer, rather than take up a teaching position that had been offered her. She heard about engineering vacancies at the Sapphire Power Plant in Muridke, a plant operated and maintained by GE. Shortlisted for a job, Ayesha was to join other candidates to be picked up from a central point in Lahore and driven to Muridke for follow-up interviews. Ayesha asked her mother to accompany her to the meeting point and promised that she wouldn’t go forward with the interview process if the other candidates did not look like ‘an acceptable crowd’. Luckily, her mother approved of those she met, and Ayesha made her way to Muridke.
Unsurprisingly, Ayesha aced the interview and was offered a position as a Trainee Engineer with a contractor engaged by GE. Through persistence and her ever-supportive mother, she talked her family into letting her take the job. Over the next year, Ayesha woke at 5am, catching the company bus from Lahore at 5:30am and not returning home until 8pm.
Even though it took a while for fellow engineers to get used to a female among them, GE’s supportive leadership team at the plant helped ease things, so that “eventually the novelty wore off.” At the plant, Ayesha was working on a global pilot project by GE Power that deployed Industrial Internet solutions that were harvesting massive amounts of data from industrial equipment at the plant and using advanced analytics to generate insights that allowed operators to run the plant more efficiently, enable preventive maintenance and dramatically reduce unplanned downtime.
“I was 21 years old, working with international experts, on a global first-of-its-kind project,” she recalls. “We used software and data analytics to increase something as tangible as power output. I knew I was working on something worthwhile. Who but GE could offer an experience like that?”
“Do you know what the implications of the work we do are?” she asks earnestly. In fact, the success of the Sapphire pilot convinced several operators elsewhere in Pakistan, and across the region in countries such as the UAE, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, India and Saudi Arabia to consider applying some of the same solutions at their facilities.
Ayesha’s dedication and hard work paid off, as she was offered a full-time engineering position with GE. However, this only brought the next challenge, which was to convince her family that it was safe and acceptable for her to live more than three hours away from them in order to work at a different facility, the Saif Power Plant in Sahiwal.
She succeeded, in part by convincing her family that working for GE on an Industrial Internet project wasn’t just about practicing standard engineering; rather, this was an opportunity for her to learn new things, be part of ground-breaking initiatives and help build Pakistan’s future. Once safe and suitable accommodations were found, the decision was made, and Ayesha became the first female engineer to ever work at the Saif Power Plant and one of a select team of people working on implementing Predictivity Enhancement and Performance Improvement solutions (PEPI) powered by GE’s Predix, the world’s first cloud-based operating system built exclusively for industrial assets and systems.
She concludes: “Though my individual contribution towards the bigger picture may be small, it’s what keeps me going every day.”
GE, whose senior leadership in the region is comprised one-third of women, promotes diversity within the region and globally through the Women’s Network; an affinity group that provides mentoring and networking opportunities for female GE employees across the company. GE supports diversity in Pakistan as well, alongside its 50 years of support to public and private sector customers in the power, oil and gas, healthcare, lighting, transportation and aviation sectors.