Women in Tech

A conversation with Gemma Donnelly, Electronics Technician at Dexory

30th March 2024
Sheryl Miles

Gemma Donnelly's career began far from the soldering irons and circuit boards of Dexory's bustling electronics labs.

Prior to being an asset in the electronics industry, she worked in the nurturing environment of childcare for seven years before recognising her unhappiness in the role. It is here that she pivoted into the world of electronics and engineering where she has worked on the intricacies of Cubesats and innovative autonomous robotics.

Now, as an electronics technician at Dexory, Donnelly is at the heart of pioneering projects.

In an exclusive Q&A with Electronic Specifier’s Sheryl Miles, Donnelly opens up about her shift to electronics, the hurdles she’s overcome, the essence of her role, and the invaluable impact mentorship and role models have had on her journey.

Her story is also a powerful reminder that it is never too late to do what you love.

What sparked your interest in electronics and technology?

My aunt was a big inspiration. She had been working in electronics for years before I took the plunge and started training with her. She was building Cubesats for the space industry and once she showed me what she was working on I was desperate to join her.

She helped me learn to solder on weekends and in our spare time, going over and over basic repetitive actions, and I’m so grateful to her for it. Her mentorship was so important for my career, and I want to pay that forward.

What are some of the most valuable lessons you learned from your aunt?

Her mentorship was crucial for me when I was moving into a completely new area of work that required a whole new skill set. Mentorship is so important for young men and women finding their feet in a career.

My aunt was fantastic, and I want to do the same for the next generation. It’s great to see how many young girls are joining apprenticeship schemes in electronics and robotics as they see female role models to look up to.

How important do you think mentorship and role models are for women in STEM?

My journey in joining a traditionally male industry isn’t unique, and having people to talk to and look up to made a huge difference. Mentorship is not just about upskilling those around you but also about fostering an inclusive and empowering environment, and that atmosphere is really present at Dexory.

I think the tech industry as a whole could better support mentorship programmes by actively promoting diversity and inclusion, providing resources for skill development and networking, and offering funding for mentorship initiatives.

More networking events would also be great for women to connect with potential mentors and role models.

Could you share examples of how female leadership has influenced you?

It’s been really inspirational to work with all the senior female leaders at Dexory. Those male-dominated work cultures I’ve experienced have been good fun but it’s great to see the representation we have here and an empowering culture that raises us all up.

To see females in leadership positions, not only at Dexory but industry wide, excites me about what is possible and gives me something to strive for.

What were some of the challenges you faced, and how did you overcome them?

Learning a whole new skill set was difficult, especially in full-time employment. My other role was extremely draining, so pivoting my career was a big ask.

Hard work and mentorship helped me get that first role and from there I was able to move up the ladder. That ruffled a few feathers with men who’d been in the industry for decades and didn’t like the speed with which I was taking on new projects and growing.

When I joined the industry, it was a very male-dominated work environment and that could feel quite intimidating, but I was so unhappy in my previous role that I’ve always had an attitude of just going for it despite my fears, and that’s paid off.

What does your role at Dexory involve, and what do you find most rewarding about it?

As an Electronics Technician, I work across various parts of the robot, with PCB work, building cables and harnesses, repair work, and any other tasks that come up to make sure the robot is running as it should.

I find it rewarding when I’m working on something I’m passionate about. The product and technology we’re working on at Dexory is incredible and this is only the beginning, it’s a very exciting time.

How do you ensure autonomous robots and digital twin technologies are developed to the highest standard?

As a team we work together closely, sharing insights, and collaborating across disciplines to push the boundaries of technology and deliver innovative solutions to our customers.

Quality is always at the forefront of everything we do, driving our commitment to excellence in design, manufacturing, and performance. Through rigorous testing, meticulous attention to detail, and a relentless pursuit of improvement, we strive to exceed industry standards and meet the evolving needs of our customers.

In this process, my role as an electronics technician is to react to changes quickly and efficiently. I collaborate closely with engineers, providing valuable input during the prototyping and development stages, offering insights into the practical implementation of electronic components. I adhere to industry standards and best practices for electronic manufacturing and assembly. This includes ensuring proper soldering techniques, component placement, and wiring to minimise the risk of electrical failures. My attention to detail and adherence to quality standards contribute to the overall reliability of the robot.

What are the biggest obstacles you’ve faced in the tech industry?

I think the biggest obstacle I’ve faced was actually in the beginning. I was doing very well in my role and was getting to work on some big projects, and this rubbed people up the wrong way. With one person in particular not being very pleasant towards me. To be honest, this just made me more determined.

What advice would you give to young women and girls interested in pursuing a career in electronics or technology more broadly?

Just go for it! Don’t let the feeling of being intimidated hold you back. Despite the challenges, I’ve had a blast working in this industry, and if it’s something you truly want, don’t let fear stop you.

I refused to let fear dictate my path after years of unhappiness in a career that wasn’t going to go anywhere. Working in the technology sector, there are a number of opportunities for you to progress and there is always something new to learn. Chase what makes you happy, and don’t let anything hold you back.

What are your professional aspirations?

I’m always looking to learn as much as I can to expand my skills and knowledge, which was a huge factor in my decision to leave the Space industry after eight years and do something different.

Since day one at Clyde Space, I had the attitude of ‘if I make a mistake, I won’t make it twice’. That attitude still applies, and it has got me to where I am today. I am very driven and take a lot of pride in what I do.

I would like to think I am a good role model for the next generation of females stepping into the industry, and who knows, maybe one day I will be an inspiring female leader in the industry.

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