An Engineer’s Unexpected Journey to Management

Joining Systematiq has enabled Rhiannon Stratford to enjoy the opportunity to apply her engineering expertise to a range of defence projects, manage a team and work part-time.

“I’m a very comfort zone kind of person” shares Rhiannon Stratford, Systems Engineering Capability Manager at Systematiq. Yet despite describing herself this way, Rhiannon’s career has been anything but conventional.

When Rhiannon embarked on her engineering studies in the 1990s, she found herself as one of four women enrolled in aeronautical engineering at the University of Sydney.

After earning her degree, Rhiannon joined Strand 7, where she gained eight years of experience in finite element analysis software and industrial composites.

She later joined RPC Technologies as a design engineer in the water and sewerage treatment area before her parental leave, and as the sole systems engineer specialising in defence projects, after she returned.

For over a decade at RPC, Rhiannon managed intensive defence projects including delivering bridge-boat interfaces for the Land 121 Phase 3b project. Her time at RPC equipped Rhiannon with invaluable expertise in defence contracting.

It was at RPC she met and worked with Brydon Johnson, one of the founding directors of Systematiq. He encouraged her to join the team in 2020.

Testing Her Comfort Zone 

Rhiannon made the switch to Systematiq for a few reasons including the flexible working environment on offer, and the chance to contribute her significant expertise on a part-time basis.

Systematiq initially employed Rhiannon as a Systems Engineer.

Two of her most enjoyable projects involved supporting the initial designs for a smart helmet for a demonstration to what was then known as the Defence Industry Hub and the Army and working on launch and recovery trailers for unmanned aerial vehicles for Tasmanian manufacturer, Jayben.

“The helmet hosted head-up displays showing joint fires, a communication system and facial recognition.

Jayben had never worked with Defence before, so I helped steer them in the direction they needed to go writing the necessary design and verification documentation that Defence requires for this type of project and dealing with the project Prime Contractor.”

After two years, Rhiannon was presented with an opportunity that would really push her boundaries – moving into management.

Embracing A New Challenge

Although Rhiannon never pictured herself as a manager, company director, Brydon Johnson encouraged her to move out of her comfort zone and take on the role of the Systems Engineering Capability Manager.

This has required changing focus from hands-on engineering to mentoring team members and improving processes. According to Rhiannon, much of this is done through weekly meetings, social discussions and sharing a laugh with her team.

“A lot of my staff are embedded in other companies, so it’s about creating a virtual environment where we all still can chat about anything like we would if we worked in an office together.”

Rhiannon credits the support of other managers like Sam Goodman and Kathy Johnson in easing her transition. Both provided invaluable early guidance, giving Rhiannon reassurance during her first weeks in management.

While moving into management pushed her boundaries, Rhiannon emphasises the importance of being open to new experiences. She advises, “It’s a stretch to move out of your comfort zone but if you have the right support, you can do anything.”

She believes persistence and supportive employers are vital for women entering technical fields. Despite early challenges as one of few women engineers working in her field, Rhiannon persevered to deliver defence projects to the highest standard.

Life Outside the Office

Outside of work, Rhiannon enjoys spending time with her husband and son and pursuing her lifelong passion for crafts. She is an avid quilter and crocheter. Rhiannon also loves cooking and spending time gardening with her son.