Ask an engineer: Katrina

To celebrate International Women in Engineering Day (INWED), we’ve asked six of our women engineers a series of questions about how engineering affects their lives and careers, as well as their thoughts on future innovation. 

Katrina is a Principal Program Manager.

 

On becoming and being an engineer:

What inspired you to study engineering?

I’ve always loved figuring out how things work and studying engineering was a way for me to continue to learn about science concepts, while also designing solutions to real life problems. Even though I don’t work as an engineer, there are similar themes in my career as well around understanding new technologies and how they can solve problems or create opportunities.

What one piece of advice would you give to women considering or pursuing engineering as a field of study?

You can do just about anything with an engineering degree! Engineering teaches you to think in structured ways, to solve problems creatively, to make good assumptions, to manage risks – there are so many technical and non-technical fields that value those skills.
 

Katrina Westerhof

On working in the energy industry:

How do you think your engineering education has shaped your career experience so far?

Even though I haven’t worked as an engineer, my engineering education taught me how to understand, interpret and communicate technical information. I’ve found that in many cases, that background makes me a good bridge between the scientists and engineers, who are developing and implementing new technologies, and the business analysts, who are evaluating new business opportunities. It has also given me an intuition for what’s technologically realistic and unrealistic, and it helps me identify risks and opportunities that may not be obvious. Those skills have allowed me to work in a bunch of different, fascinating roles over the course of my career that all sit at the intersection of new technologies and business strategy.

What has surprised you most about your job?

Just how dynamic it is! In my current role at National Grid Ventures, I’m helping the company tackle business opportunities in hydrogen, which is an emerging and exciting area. There’s no blueprint for how to do this and the space is changing very quickly, which means that there are no boring days – every week looks different from the last!  

How is your work changing the industry for the better?

Hydrogen has an important role to play in a future clean energy system. I’m helping to develop early, large-scale hydrogen projects that will drive down costs and provide proof points for how we can use hydrogen in the future.
 


On a more personal level:

Has your job influenced how you approach other areas of your life?

Working in the energy industry has naturally made me a more informed, engaged energy consumer!

What qualities do you have that make you good at what you do?

My curiosity has served me well – it means that I’m quick to chase down new ideas and topics that will bring value to my work, and that roles where I need to learn as I go are exciting rather than draining. That’s particularly useful working in and around the energy transition, because the rapid pace of change in the industry means there’s never a shortage of things to learn.  

Did you have an engineering role model that inspired you?

I’ve been fortunate to be inspired by many people in my life. One of the capabilities I find most inspiring is unbridled creativity, especially in spaces where there’s been one 'right' way to do things for a long time. That creativity can unlock the types of big, transformational changes that we need to solve hairy problems like climate change.
 


On innovation and the future of engineering:

What innovative technologies or advances in engineering do you find most exciting?

The energy transition is full of interesting technology spaces. Clean hydrogen is an obvious one, given my current role! Another area I like to follow is how digital technologies, like AI and robotics, are supporting the energy transition – for example, optimizing power production from renewables like solar and wind, automating maintenance and monitoring tasks, and protecting connected infrastructure from cyberattacks.  

What are you working on, or have worked on, that is considered innovative?

As we work toward a zero-carbon energy system, there are some applications where it’s hard to replace fuels like gas and oil with renewable electricity. Clean hydrogen – which is where I focus in my current role – is a carbon-free fuel that can serve those tricky applications. Because hydrogen hasn’t been used in this way in the past, there’s a lot of innovation going into how to produce clean hydrogen, store it, transport it and extract energy from it. My role isn’t to develop those technologies, but rather to develop projects that will deploy those technologies at scale.
 

Meet more of National Grid’s women engineers