High f lier who’s living her dream
AS a child, Melanie Olsen was fascinated by the fighter jets which would occasionally zoom above her small country town of El Arish in north Queensland.
And, while her schoolfriends were inventing excuses for not doing their maths and physics homework, she was devouring the challenge of solving complex problems.
Now 25, Ms Olsen has found a way to apply her scientific mind to her obsession with cutting- edge technology.
An electronic warfare engineer with the Defence Materiel Organisation ( DMO), she works on a variety of maritime electronic warfare systems.
After graduating as an electronics engineer with first class honours from tropical north Queensland’s James Cook University in 2006 Ms Olsen applied for a position in the DMO graduate scheme.
The opportunities it has opened to her have proven to be well above her expectations.
When I applied, I really had no appreciation of the breadth and scale of work DMO manages on a daily basis,’’ Ms Olsen says.
The type of work I’m doing is similar to where I had hoped to end up once I graduated, but I didn’t expect the massive diversity of work experienced on a dayto- day basis.’’
Participants in the scheme rotate across three DMO areas within an 18- month period. Ms Olsen’s first post had her working on the Nulka project: a rocket decoy designed to protect ships from cruise missiles. She then joined the Over The Horizon Radar Systems Program Office in Adelaide working on a wide area surveillance radar.
Her training concluded in the Maritime Development section of the Capability Development Group in Canberra.
Still based in Canberra, Ms Olsen is part the engineering team the Maritime Electronic Warfare Systems Program Office.
The work itself varies substantially,’’ she says. ‘‘ I enjoy the technology side of things so that is where I have directed my career.
‘‘ That’s one of the brilliant things about the DMO - the scope of work is so broad that you can tailor your career to where you want to go.
Each day is a new experience involving new challenges - that is what helps me excel. Defence is so broad that you can really make your career exactly how you want it to be.’’
The Nulka project is still part of her work. As it is a joint project between Australia and the US, her team travels to the US annually to ensure the project team functions successfully as a unit.
With electronic warfare experts and contractors based in Adelaide and other capital centres, travel within Australia is often required - something which has greatly expanded Ms Olsen’s horizons.
I hadn’t really been south of Mackay, Queensland, before I flew to Canberra to take on this job,’’ she says. Typical tasks Ms Olsen may be involved in on a day- today basis include examining designs and proposed changes, writing and reviewing requirements, participating in and witnessing testing, managing projects and participating in engineering reviews.
‘‘ Leading edge technology is certainly what draws me to the electronic warfare side of defence,’’ she says. It is an everevolving field that is required to continually update itself with state- of- the- art technology.
This creates challenging and complex problems with stringent timelines, but that is the environment that I love working in.’’
Ms Olsen advises engineering students to do their research on the industry and their employers before taking a job.
Get as much information as you can and don’t be afraid to ask potential employers what they do,’’ she says.
Chances are they will be more than happy to help you. Also don’t be afraid to travel to a new place to achieve your goals.’’
Melanie Olsen: Facing complex challenges on a day- to- day basis