Womens Engineering Society: Inspiring women as engineers, scientists and technical leaders

Maria Sabatini

Maria Sabatini

From a very early age, I was always into music. Looking back, I think I knew more about heavy rock music than was physically healthy! Nevertheless, growing up at home, I was surrounded by audio technology from my grandfather’s 8 track tape recorder to my brothers’ Hi-Fi system.

At school my favourite subjects were Physics and Music, and after attending an event at Strathclyde University encouraging women to study engineering, I always had ambitions to become a sound engineer in the music industry. Once I left school, I studied Electronics with Music at Glasgow University. As part of my degree I learned a lot about music technology, recording, mixing and editing techniques.

Looking to put what I learned into practice, I volunteered for a summer placement working in the Brill Building Recording Studios in Glasgow. There I gained some invaluable experience working with some great sound engineers and established names of the Glasgow music scene. Although it was a lot of fun, it’s a cut throat industry with very little job security and I soon learned that it wasn’t for me.

I then had a go at broadcasting and volunteered for Glasgow’s Hospital Broadcasting Service. My job was mostly behind the scenes. Twice a week I would visit my local hospital to collect requests. On Sunday mornings I would record the requests on my mini disc player and edit them to prepare a request show which aired on a Sunday night. As I recall the Verve’s “The Drugs Don’t Work” and Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On” were top favourites with our listeners at the time! All in all, it made for a great working environment. Everyone there was a volunteer and I really learned a lot by being around experienced broadcasting professionals who were really passionate about their profession.

When I graduated in 1998 I couldn’t find a job which suited my interests at home, so I moved to London to work for a company making audio communication systems for military aircraft. After a few months working in hardware design I accidentally found my niche developing software. Although the technology and the work were interesting, I felt a certain disconnect with the product, as it was something I would never use nor would ever see used in practice.

In 2000 I was offered a job working for Panasonic Mobile developing low level control software for mobile phones. This was an amazing opportunity to work for a large commercial company and to break into the consumer industry at a time when mobile phones were still in their infancy. My job was to design and implement low level software drivers for the audio subsystem and I found that, because audio was such an integral part of the product, I was interacting with teams both in the UK and Japan. It wasn’t long before I became the ‘go-to’ person for all things audio related. It was great to see our products on shop shelves and seeing people enjoy using the product.

In 2004 the mobile phone market was becoming saturated and I was offered a job working with a high end Hi-Fi manufacturer developing software for DVD players. A real eye opener since I would spend 6 months working in Shenzhen and Hong Kong. Despite the long hours and the outrageous deadlines I made some great friends and I learned a lot about the Asian working culture.

After a year I moved back home to Scotland, this time working for SanDisk. They were looking for someone to help develop their Sansa media players. My experience working with engineers offsite really came into its own as I had to work completely remotely. The team spanned US, Australia and Korea with 3rd party developers distributed at various locations over mainland Europe. I gained a lot of experience in managing 3rd party software developers and organising work between different team members offsite. There was a lot of travel which I liked and I also found a niche for myself doing system integration and fixing system level issues, which although were challenging, I found a rewarding part of the job. 

The economic downturn of 2008/9 hit the consumer industry hard and I felt it was time to try something new. 

In 2009 I found my current job. I was hired as Dialog Semiconductor’s first DSP engineer to help develop software for their first DSP embedded audio codec. This was a real baptism of fire as we had no software at all at that time. Within a year our audio software portfolio was taking shape and we were gaining customer interest.

I now manage a group of 16 people distributed over a number of European locations. The disciplines are varied encompassing audio and acoustic design, algorithm development, embedded software, evaluation and test. I’m now not only working in audio but also wireless and IOT technologies. 

The things I like most about being an engineer are problem solving, understanding how things work and making great products that are available to everyone. During my time as an engineer I’ve worked in a variety of industries and travelled to many countries. There is always something new to learn and in nearly 20 years in the industry I can honestly say that I’m still learning.

The best advice I can give anyone looking to get into engineering is to work hard, believe in yourself and not to be afraid to give things a go. Engineering covers such a wide area so it’s important you find the right field which motivates you. You will need to be able to think logically to solve problems and communicate well with people of different disciplines and backgrounds.

Of course being a woman in the industry has its challenges but that doesn’t mean that the opportunities aren’t there. Far from it, in fact. 



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