Surviving a man’s world

Follow your dream, says electrical engineer Andreea Toporas (Credit: Alewijnse Marine)

Andreea Toporas grew up in Romania and as she excelled in science at school, she opted to study psychology afterwards. However, even then she continued to be drawn towards more technical subjects and decided to switch courses to get a master’s degree in electrical efficiency and sustainable energy. “My dream was to live in the Netherlands,” she said. “I was fortunate to be able to start almost immediately at Alewijnse Marine. I spotted this family-owned company quite a long time before, and when I got assigned, I immediately felt at home,” she said.

Today, Toporas has a stimulating job as a calculations engineer at Alewijnse International Switchboard Production (AISP), the panel building division of Alewijnse Marine. However, she does not see this as her final destination. She has ambitions for the future and now that she has finished her studies, has eyes on a position in process development.

Currently, she specialises in calculations for electrical and automation switchboards and panels, primarily for superyachts, naval ships, and offshore vessels. “I make calculations for equipment including main switchboards and distribution panels,” she explained.

“In addition, I develop standard calculation methods for approximate and final estimations and I advise on quality improvement, standardisation, and efficiency.”

She is very proud of what she has achieved. “I have succeeded in getting people and departments to work together and to focus on the same goals. Together, we have achieved good results in the standardisation and improvement of calculations. Now my colleagues work with the tools I have developed, making their work easier, faster, and more efficient. These successes give me a lot of energy.”

A woman in a man’s world

To achieve success in electrical engineering, Toporas had to work hard to prove herself as a woman in a man’s world. “It began with my electrical education in Romania, where I was not really taken seriously by the male majority in the classroom. For example, I was called ‘the psychologist of the motors’, because of my degree in psychology. These comments made me even more determined to succeed.

“On the completion of my master’s degree, my course leader was the first to acknowledge my success, and did so in front of all my colleagues when he congratulated me for being in the top three out of a group of 42. That was one of the best moments in my life, and I felt super proud of myself.”

After her education, when she started in the Dutch shipping industry, Toporas again went through a difficult period. She had to prove herself once again, but she managed with her skills and attitude, bringing her to where she is now. “For me, it’s normal to work in technology because I was raised in a family where everybody had a technical profession,” she said. “Unlike in Romania, few women work in technology in the Netherlands, and so it was frustrating for me when male colleagues wouldn’t initially trust or accept my opinions, no matter how good they were. It required patience and wisdom to deal with this, but fortunately it has improved over time and now I am fully accepted and appreciated within the company. My colleagues even ask for my support and customers are very impressed with my knowledge,” Toporas added.

Follow your dream

Toporas advised other women considering a career in technology to follow their dreams. “You will have to prove yourself in the beginning, but it’s worth it. Electrical engineering is a wonderful profession; you can put your ideas into it and every day is different. One of the greatest things about my work is when I see the finished product, and then I can proudly say that I contributed to that ship or its structure.”